Religion, Political, Life, Public, Principles, People
1 Corinthians, x. 31.
WHETHER YE EAT OR DRINK, OR WHATSOEVER YE DO, DO ALL TO THE GLORY OF GOD.
The solemnities of this occasion belong to a Christian people. By them religion is solicited to throw her protection and authority around the institutions of the State. The citizen and the magistrate recognise their common relation to a higher Power than the functionary or the State, and in such recognition exchange the pledge of a mutual fidelity. The custom which this day renews comes to us from the founders of the Commonwealth—men of strong faith and religious hearts, who erected their political fabric as a temple in which to worship God, and inscribed over its front the name of the one Master whom they honored, even Christ. The place to which our legislators and rulers have come upon entering on their official duties is the house of prayer and Christian instruction. Every thing that distinguishes the occasion seems to point out the course of remark in which he who addresses this audience should invite his hearers to follow him. The relation of religion to politics—the religion of political life—is the subject to which he is unequivocally directed; and of which it is my purpose to treat, at such length only as the limits of the occasion will allow, but with such plainness of speech as should alone be used before freemen by one as free as they when speaking on their common duties.
There is however what may be called a political side to this subject, on which it would be improper for me to introduce any remarks at this time. The bare mention of religion and politics in connexion alarms some minds, who fear lest the liberties of the people be invaded by zealous religionists, or the public affairs of the time be handled by honest or ambitious preachers—in either case wandering beyond their appropriate limits. Let me at the outset disclaim all intention of touching questions to which a temporary interest only can belong, or of assailing the order of our civil state. It is higher ground which I hope to occupy as I examine the religious aspects of citizenship. When I speak of the religion of political life, I mean that religion should control men in the exercise of their political rights as it should control them in all their other relations and concerns. The religion of politics is nothing else than the application of religious principles to political action, whether it be the action of a statesman or a private citizen, of an individual or of the community. The politician should respect these principles as much as any other man. Political opinion, political discussion, political life should be brought under the influence of religious convictions. This is the ground which I take, and which I shall endeavor to prove is the only ground on which a Christian can consistently stand.
Religion should govern all political sentiment and action. Why not? Why should such a claim on behalf of religion be accounted extravagant, or meet with any other than a unanimous assent? Is not religion the supreme law; so acknowledged by the people of this land, at least by the thoughtful and sober part of the people? We but repeat one of the common-places of the pulpit, which however disregarded no one thinks of denying, when we say that the influence of religion should be paramount in every department of life. We but adopt an illustration with which every one is familiar, when we speak of it as a spiritual atmosphere, that must enclose the institutions and movements of society, and insinuate itself into every form of personal existence. The authority of religion, its right to exercise sway over human wills and human hearts, is admitted on all sides. It is not monks and nuns, nor religious teachers and their families, upon whom in these days it is believed that the command to fear God and work righteousness expends its force; it is not men on sick beds and in dying moments alone, of whom it is said, that they ought to think of the duty which devolves on them in view of their relations to God and eternity; but men and women full of life, in the midst of life’s cares, temptations and labours—the young, the vigorous, the busy—merchants in their traffic, farmers in the fields, scholars in their studies, mechanics in their workshops, the wife and mother in her domestic occupations, the daughter of toil at her needle—the rich, the poor—the wise, the simple—all should be religious, heartily, truly, constantly religious. This is the doctrine of the present time; or if it is not, it should be. This is the democratic doctrine about religion, and this is the Christian doctrine about religion. It includes all men under one law, and all sinners under one condemnation. Now why shall the politician be released from the demand made upon every one else? Why shall political life form an episode in the history traced by successive generations on the tablet of the ages, which shall have not only its own rules of composition, but its own principles of moral interpretation? Shall mercantile life be required to cover itself with the sanctity of moral obligation, shall the demand of the age be for a Christian literature, shall there be a general lamentation over the want of faith and virtue; and yet an exception be made in favor—no, not in favor, but to the disadvantage and disgrace—of one class of engagements, in which all the people of this country participate? Such injustice will not bear a moment’s examination. Away with it forever!
It seems impossible to misunderstand the language of Christianity on this subject. Undeniably it affirms its right to exercise universal dominion. It takes cognisance of all human action, extends its scrutiny to motives and feelings, and allows no condition, employment or exigency to raise a barrier against its entrance as the messenger of God to deliver and enforce his commands. It has one and the same instruction for all men, whether they live in palaces or wander houseless, whether they are versed in tongues or are rude of speech, men of science or men of handicraft, subjects of a monarchy or citizens of a republic; to them all it says, Hearken and obey—walk by faith—lead holy lives—fulfil all righteousness. Even if this be called by the unbeliever the pretension or the arrogance of Christianity, he must admit that the claim which it sets up is as broad as human existence. Wherever the religion of the New Testament can reach a man, over him it asserts its authority. No place so public, no spot so private, no situation so humble, no office so high, that Christianity will not rise to its eminence, descend to its depth, penetrate its seclusion, occupy its position, and still reiterate the same language,—speaking as one having authority, because it speaks in the name and in behalf of the Almighty. From the first has it advanced this claim of unlimited empire; its prerogatives change not with the mutations of society. It still shows a charter of “divine right” for the sovereignty at which it aims. It still claims, as it always has demanded, and ever will demand till it shall acquire, dominion over all classes,—from the slave of toil to the heir of a throne, from the pauper whom the charity of the State supports to the Ruler by whom the majesty of the State is represented.
It is important however that we have right conceptions of the nature of this dominion. Christianity, as we have noticed, aims at exerting a control over the motives, feelings and unseen life. It asks not for outward deference, but for inward submission. The conscience, the heart, the will must bow to its authority. A respect which lies on the surface only of the character, or which glides from the tongue like the schoolboy’s recitation of a few well-conned sentences, is not what the Christian owes to his religion, nor what it will accept in place of that homage of the soul which is the only proof of an insight into its nature. Strange that men should ever think to deceive God by playing the parrot or the hypocrite! There are many who make the fatal mistake of substituting profession for reality; and in a community who hold religion in high regard there may be politicians who will take this course in the hope of winning their fellow-men. If they succeed, they only effect a selfish purpose; they do not illustrate the influence of religion.
Neither is it an attention to forms, however sincere, nor a use of institutions, however constant, that will satisfy the demands of Christianity. It requires something more than reverence for the means by which it binds its power upon the disciple. The age in which faith terminates in the means of religion is the precursor of an age of unbelief. Ceremonies are but the ghosts of dead professions, unless a living faith convert them into ministers of goodness. Forms are needed, institutions are all but essential; but they are only the garments in which the Divine spirit of religion must be clad for its exposure to a cold and ungenial world. Many are there who look with profound respect upon the dress, but think not whether it covers a divinity or a fiction. How have men—great statesmen and small politicians as well as others—praised the Established Church of England, and actually stood in awe of its majesty, when the thought of its spiritual relation to themselves or any one else had perhaps never crossed their minds.
It is not reverence at certain times—a periodical service—by which men are required to prove themselves disciples of Christ. Righteousness, holiness, is not confined to any hour or place. The sanctuary whose walls the hands of labour have raised, is not the only house of God. There is a temple which the Divine Architect has reared, whose walls are immortal, in which his worship must be maintained by faculties ever conscious of his presence. There is an altar, the altar of the heart, on which a perpetual sacrifice must be presented.
That sacrifice too must be a whole burnt-offering. The man must give himself to God, “a living sacrifice,” in body and in soul, which is but his “reasonable service.” I pause not from my original purpose, to show how reasonable; but I insist upon the truth that a partial obedience, in whatever sense it be partial, will not meet the requisitions of Christianity. It is neither a part of human nature, nor a part of human life, which must be devoted to religion; but the whole—the whole of life, the whole of man. The man must be thoroughly, habitually, entirely religious. His loftiest purposes and grandest conceptions, his most familiar exercises and meanest employments, his whole impulse, energy and activity must be sanctified by faith—faith in God and his will, in Christ and his revelations. “Whether he eat or drink, or whatever he do, he must do all to the glory of God.” Whatever he do. Mark the words. They leave room for no exception. Whatever be the nature of one’s engagements, public or private; wherever he be, in the house or the street; whenever his course be examined, on Sunday or week-day, morning, noon, or night; he must be found living to God’s glory,—through faith, I repeat, and through the obedience which is the consequence of faith. Character is the service which he must render.
A character of which the principle is indicated by the words of the Apostle, will obtain a twofold development, as it shall seek the direction on the one hand of piety, and on the other of morality. Each of these forms of growth will proceed from an idea as its germ; the one from the idea of God, the other from the idea of man. The idea of God,—the Supreme, Eternal, Infinite Being, whose will nothing can overrule, but whose unimpeachable perfection is a guarantee for the rectitude of his government.
God, the mighty source
Of all things, the stupendous force
On which all things depend;
From whose right arm, beneath whose eyes,
All period, power, and enterprise
Commence and reign and end.
“He is Governor among the nations; but justice and judgment are the habitation of his throne.” “Thine, O Lord, are the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty; for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is thine; thine is the kingdom, and thou art exalted as Head above all. Both riches and honour come of thee, and thou reignest over all: and in thine hand is power and might, and in thine hand it is to make great and to give strength unto all.” Worthily, so far as language could go, did the greatest of Israel’s monarchs, and one of the first of human bards, in these words celebrate the majesty of Him who is Higher than the highest, the Maker, Guardian, and Sovereign of the universe. Religion adopts this description as the groundwork of its sentiments and exercises. With God it begins, to Him it returns, in Him it rests. To Him it traces all blessing, from Him receives direction concerning the aim and course of life, and as its first and last and central principle aspires to “do all things to his glory.” Led to Him as the Creator by his works, which it contemplates, reminded of Him as the Almighty Ruler by his providence, the aspects of which it reverently studies, and taught to call Him the Father by Christ, to whose instructions it yields a joyful obedience, it revolves around the Supreme Being as its light and security, through its relation to whom it is safe amidst the world’s commotions and blessed in life’s decay.
The idea of man—this is the other point of departure from which religion will seek its appropriate issues; of man in those attributes which are the universal endowment of our race, and not in the artificial prerogatives which distinguish a part of mankind—one nation, or one class in society; of man the partaker of a common humanity, before whose indestructible capacities, rights and destinies the distinctions of colour, wealth and office fade away, as the glare of night-lamps which shed illumination over a few feet of space before the beams of the sun which enwrap the whole land in their brightness. This idea of man, as everywhere the creature of God, and therefore dependent, everywhere the child of God, and therefore in his nature proclaiming himself of a nobler lineage than if he could show an ancestral register bearing the names of half the monarchs of the earth, as everywhere the same in virtue of his indefeasible possession of reason, conscience and immortality, and therefore entitled to fraternal treatment from his fellow-men,—this idea whence came it? Where did our fathers learn that men were “born free and equal”? From the religion of the New Testament, for centuries a sealed book, and from whose truths when opened the darkness of ages did but slowly disappear. “Equal;” not “free” only,—this latter word might seem to be used with some license of speech,—but equal, in the essential gifts and purposes of existence. Christianity by addressing the common nature and unfolding the immortal destiny of mankind has shown a broad ground, on which all may meet and lift up the chorus of a united and acknowledged brotherhood. The framers of our Declaration of Independence thought they were proclaiming a political axiom, when they republished one of the great revelations of the Gospel, the full meaning of which can be learned only through sympathy with him who came to save the lost and reconcile the estranged. “The common people,” it is said, “heard him gladly.” And the people it is who should welcome his religion, which condemns the selfishness alike of the tyrant and of the demagogue, and rebukes at once the arrogance of an aristocratic and the meanness of a servile spirit by its pregnant charge to “honor all men.” All men? What, of every class and condition? Yes, men of every name, rank, and complexion. Hear it, ye slaves, and ye masters of America. Hear it, ye nobility, and you the starving millions of Britain. Hear it, ye rulers, and ye defrauded and oppressed subjects of Continental Europe. Aye, hear it, ye nations of the East, where first the blessed words were spoken, though since long buried in oblivion. Words of righteous and joyful import to those to whom false opinion and unjust institutions have denied the place which by the will of their Creator they are entitled to hold,—standing erect by the side of their fellow-men, and not crouching submissively at the feet which trample or spurn them. Alas! how few yet comprehend the law, on which the morality of every Christian people, and every Christian believer, should be built—“Thou shalt love thy neighbour,” be he who he may, thou shalt love him “as thyself.”
It must now appear in what sense I use the expression, the religion of politics. We sometimes hear of the morality of political life, but the term is not comprehensive enough for my purpose. I do not indeed acknowledge a morality that is not based on faith in God, whose will is the only standard, as from his government must be derived the sanctions, of virtue. But a compliance with the requisitions of morality is not all that should be demanded of him who enters political life, or of any one in the discharge of his functions as a citizen. He should remember what is due to God, as well as what is due to man. Let us see how the principles which we have laid down will affect political action.
First, a man must carry into political life a sense of God as the Source of power and privilege. The air and the light are not more truly his gifts than are the civil institutions which we enjoy. We are fond of describing the virtues and deeds of our ancestors; our grandsires are regarded with mingled admiration and gratitude. It is well that we turn back to those days of fortitude and energy, and seek there the springs of our present prosperity. But our gratitude must not rest in the men of that period. They were but the instruments of a higher will, the agents of a mightier strength than their own. Those patriots of the revolution, and their progenitors who planted the seed of liberty wherever they took up their habitation on this soil, were the last men to have claimed for themselves the praise, as if in their own self-derived wisdom or force they had achieved the works which history will connect with their names. “Not unto us, not unto us,” would have been their cry, if they could have foreseen the sentiments of their posterity, “but to thy name, O Lord, be the glory.” Nay, such was their language. The Pilgrims, with all their faults—for faultless they were not—were men of an ardent piety, whose faith rose up to heaven with an almost profane confidence and laid hold on the arm of God as their sustaining and guiding power. The heroes of the revolutionary struggle—that struggle which began long before blood was shed on yonder height—looked up to Heaven to approve their cause, and when He whom they invoked had crowned it with success poured out their thanksgiving at his altars. And shall we, their sons, forget the God whom our fathers acknowledged? It is a good thing to celebrate their deeds and keep their memories hung round with fresh tributes of love; but let them not receive our final homage. Oh no! Let that pass beyond them to the Eternal Fountain of good, from whom our liberties and our institutions have been received through these channels which his Providence selected. Look abroad, my hearers, upon this great land, with its spreading population. See what a country is yours,—washed by two oceans, and stretching from the arctic to the torrid zone. Note its immense resources; its mountains reaching to the skies, its vallies nestling in the bosom of sunshine, its rivers on which a nation’s traffic may be borne, and its lakes on which the navies of the earth might ride. Mark its capacities in their as yet incipient state of development; its various fertility, its mineral wealth, its gigantic promise of support for future generations. Survey the people of this Union, pursuing their several branches of enterprise and industry, with none to hinder or molest. Ponder the statistics of your country’s growth. See the iron rods of communication along which the electricity of life will be transmitted from the Atlantic shores to the distant West. Examine the architecture of that social order under whose security you live, simple, yet firm, a model for other communities in its principles, and a blessing to ourselves in the protection it extends over us,—all the protection (but no more) that a freeman needs. And when you have filled your contemplation with the spectacles presented by your own beloved Republic, then bless the Lord for his goodness and his wonderful loving-kindness; for it is He who has given us this ample heritage. If ever men were bound to own that God is good, it is the people of these United States. If ever a community on earth should be distinguished by religious sensibility, it is this of which we are a part.
With this recognition of the Divine power and goodness must be united a sense of the responsibleness under which every one lies before God. These privileges—many and great—of which we have spoken are entrusted to us by One, the righteous principle of whose government it is, that to whom much is committed, of them will much be required. Our political advantages lay on us a peculiar weight of obligation. We are accountable, we shall be held accountable, for the use we make of freedom and of power. What is freedom? It is liberty to do right—nothing more than this; what more could an honest man desire? But mark, the liberty imposes the duty. The freeman must do right, or his immunities will enhance his guilt and deepen his condemnation. The power which is committed to the hands of every citizen of this Commonwealth—the power of controlling public sentiment through his speech and of directing the public affairs through his vote—the power of national sovereignty in which he participates as one of the sovereign people—is a solemn trust. He by whom it is abused sins; he by whom it is neglected sins. His guilt may never come under the notice of his fellow-men, but it will be established before a higher tribunal than any which they can erect. Every political act is a moral act, in view of the principle which we have expounded, that whatever we do, all must be done to the glory of God. Through the force of this principle it acquires a religious or an irreligious character; is clothed with a fearful significance, as it indicates the condition of the inward life; and is linked to everlasting consequences, as it forms part of the history of an immortal being. Whatever is done, whether in public places or in secret chambers, is done in the sight of God. And over the least as well as the greatest of human actions has He extended the law of duty. Duty! that word which expresses man’s glory and his peril. God save us from disregarding its import!
The necessary consequence of entertaining this sense of obligation will be the preservation of one’s integrity, which is the next point that claims our notice in considering the influence of religion upon politics. A man who acts religiously will act conscientiously, unless he grossly mistake the meaning of the former word. He will endeavour to maintain a clean heart and a clean tongue. Whatever would debase his character he will avoid as he would shun a pestilence; he will dread moral disease more than natural death. Let such a man enter on the performance of any service which devolves on him through his relation to the State, and he will proceed as to a work demanding high and holy principle. He will esteem it treason to his country to let go his own rectitude of soul. Temptation to sacrifice his uprightness to interest will only make him more resolute. The persuasion of example will be as vain as an open bribe. The question he will ask in each case is,—not what will custom or public opinion allow, but—what ought I to do. He will pursue this course of fidelity, alike to himself and to the trusts which he is called to execute, because he accounts the obligations of righteousness to be immutable. And here his judgment is according to the truth. There is no sphere or scene of life which gives a man the privilege of doing wrong; no land of license, nor castle of power, where he is exempt from the authority of religion. Neither the throne nor the senate-house, the secret conclave nor the popular assembly, can shield one from the force of that primary law of human action—thou shalt not sin against thine own soul. Purity of purpose and sincerity of conduct must preserve the citizen from the taint of evil, or he will become corrupt, and if he do not disgust, will corrupt others.
I have intimated that justice should pervade both the sentiment and the action of political life. I now add, that another element of the Christian character, love, must be brought into exercise. Selfishness must be banished from this ground, as from every other. Need that commandment of our religion, to which the command, to love God, alone has precedence, be observed only under certain relations; or was it meant to bind the individual, and the world, in any and all possible relations of existence? May the law of brotherly love be virtually abrogated by the institutions or the habits of society? If not, then we must consider the good of others as well as our own,—not only respect their rights, but labor to advance their interests. The Apostolic maxim should find place among the principles adopted by politicians,—“look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.” The “charity that envieth not, that vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth”—does it not almost seem as if the portraiture was drawn in view of the contrast often exhibited by men in their political relations?—this charity must be preserved, its image unbroken, amidst all the struggle and competition of public or of private life.
I need go no farther in detailing the influence which religion should have on politics;—on its theory and its practice. On its theory, by banishing whatever is inconsistent with the Divine will or with the welfare of the whole human race. On its practice, by causing every one to act under a sense of God’s goodness and his own responsibleness, with uprightness of soul and in the spirit of Christian love. The principles of political action should harmonize with the principles of a perfect character, and no single act be allowed that would offend these principles. The consistent politician in a Christian land is he who can invite the scrutiny of Omniscience upon his motives, while his outward life is shaped by his inward purposes. See you a man who in the heat of a political conflict, or the toil of public service, keeps himself humble, pure and disinterested; who never violates his conscience, and never forgets his God; who never lets the prospect of loss or the hope of advantage lure him from the straight course of duty; who illustrates in his own example the fine motto of the knight of chivalry—“without fear and without reproach;” who scorns to compass an end, though noble, by unworthy means, and would reject with loathing a proposal to substitute expedients for principles; see you such an one? Honour him, be his station what it may; take him for your model; give him office, if he will accept it; give him your hearts, if he refuses your votes. The Christian politician! one of the noblest specimens of humanity; who can tread dark and perilous ways, and not stumble; can serve his fellow-men without degrading himself or offending his Maker. The Christian citizen! who asks God’s blessing upon his discharge of the functions that belong to him as the inhabitant of a free country; who appreciates the worth of his privileges, and feels the solemnity of his duties; who forms his opinions carefully, and expresses them manfully, though candidly; who when he helps to elect a fellow-citizen to take charge of the interests of the town, the Commonwealth, or the land, is impressed with the sacredness of his own act; who upholds good institutions because he wishes to see them prosper, and not for any sinister end; who supports the measures which his understanding and conscience approve, and will have nothing to do with any other institutions or measures;—such a man, though his hands be callous with labour or his clothes threadbare through poverty, deserves the respect of the community. I would rather be such a man than a second Napoleon cutting Europe into kingdoms and tossing crowns to his favorites.
All that I have now said, I trust, approves itself to the minds of those whom I address. I have raised no structure of requisition for which I had not first secured deep and broad foundations. If the views we have taken of the authority and extent of the Divine government as expounded by Christianity are just, it follows that men should be devout, upright and benevolent everywhere; that is, in all situations as well as in all places; in the State-house in Boston, and in the Capitol at Washington, in a President’s Cabinet, and in a Governor’s Council-chamber, in a political caucus, and at the freeman’s ballot-box. Religion must control and sanctify the whole life of the individual and of the nation. And yet this doctrine is repudiated; yes, openly and in high places. And this doctrine of repudiation,—not a birth of yesterday, but as old as civil government,—is that which should be most indignantly rejected by honest men and good citizens. It is said, that men need not be as scrupulous in their public as in their private relations. There is a morality for the public man, and another for the private citizen. There are two standards of conduct even for the same person, in his private and in his public capacity. I have heard it said by those who knew him well that an individual of great influence, who had been placed in the most elevated offices within the people’s gift, was a man of strict integrity and the mildest character in his private connexions, though as a politician he was distinguished for his disregard of truth, his violence, and his use of any means to carry the ends which his party espoused. And on the other hand we hear men whose private vices are notorious—profane, profligate, unprincipled—commended for the consistency and purity of their political course. Is not this wrong, is it not deplorable? Shall we for a moment countenance this distinction between public and private character, as if they were not subject to the same principles of moral judgment? Shall they in whose veins Puritan blood runs freely admit a doctrine, the bare mention of which would have made Winthrop and Bradford and a thousand more like them tremble with horror? It came not from them, it does not belong to the New England soil. It came from the corrupt Courts of Europe, from ages when Christianity was scarcely known, and from scenes where its influence was unfelt. To the Old World let it be restored; to past ages be it consigned. And let us no more hear the abominable doctrine—as irrational as it is detestable—that what would be scandalous in private life may be just and commendable in the management of political affairs. I reaffirm, that religion should purify the currents of thought and control the movements, whether secret or open, that belong to this part of human agency. And if I needed other support for this assertion than is furnished by the very terms in which it is expressed, I might quote the words of Washington, who in his Farewell Address, after remarking that “of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports,” adds, “In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labour to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and cherish them.” “And let us,” he further adds, “with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.” Words worthy to be inscribed over every hall of legislation and every place of public resort in this or any other land.
The principles which have now been presented must not be confined to individual action. They should also control the associated energy which makes politics the scene of its efforts. Political parties should respect these principles. Any organization or enterprise in which they are disregarded should meet with instant rebuke. The existence of parties may not be regretted. They are useful, and they are inseparable from any system of government which gives to the people an interest in the management of public affairs, or which even permits discussion upon public measures. Where men form and express opinions, variety of opinion will be sure to spring up; discussion will elicit sympathy and enkindle debate. Here we have at once the elements of party. Its advantages, in the more thorough examination to which measures of general or local importance are subjected, and in the restrictions which reciprocal vigilance imposes upon the use of power or opportunity, are as great as they are obvious. It is, then, both foolish and useless to inveigh against parties as in themselves evil. Let them be formed on correct principles, and conducted in a right spirit, and they will be found among the best securities of liberty and the most effectual means of intelligence. But let them be formed on unsound principles, or without principle, or let them be conducted in a greedy or vindictive spirit, and they will become the occasions of incalculable mischief. When falsehood and violence are the weapons which one party provokes another to adopt; when the passions of men are addressed, and their prejudices are fostered instead of being enlightened; when the aim is not to serve the country so much as on the one side to get, and on the other to retain power; when recourse is had to means for baffling an opponent or securing a triumph, which the very men who guide the party would be ashamed to use as private individuals; when excitement is made the great instrument of success, and the people are carried along blindfold by sympathy, like a herd of animals, moved by an impulse which they are unable to explain and care not to understand; when office is the prize that stimulates exertion, and worldly gain the object which lies at the heart of party strife; then is that which might be a blessing converted into a curse. Vice and ruin are its fruits. A despotism could not inflict on a country greater evils than must result from the action of parties born of selfishness and nursed in injustice. It is sad to believe—yet who can deny—that political parties in this country bear too much the character which we have described. Oh! for a party that shall plant itself upon principle, shall appeal to the good sense and candid judgment of the people, shall look not at reward, but at duty, and shall adopt no measures but such as virtue can approve and on which religion can invoke the benediction of a righteous God. A party composed of good men and true patriots, each of whom should interpret the charge which the Roman Senate gave to the Dictator whom public emergencies called into office as applicable to himself and as indicating the aim which he must pursue, let the cost to himself or the consequence to his party be what it may,—“see that the Republic sustain no harm,”—such a party would be the salvation and glory of our land.
Sentiments are advanced which contradict this view of duty. Maxims of political action have been promulgated,—not only in the fierce struggle that attends an election, but in calmer moments,—which shock common sense as well as religious feeling. It is said, but by no one it may be presumed who has any sense of character, that all is fair in politics; as if success were the only thing to be regarded. But I need not stop to expose such an atrocious rule of action, which would justify whatever is base or criminal. It is urged, however, in vindication of methods of acquiring influence which offend a clear-sighted conscience, that if a party cannot prevail but by using the weapons with which it is attacked, it must resort to these means of self-preservation. What is this but another way of expressing the doctrine on the enormity of which we have just remarked? Self-preservation should not be the object most studied by a party. The preservation of a character which will stand the test of moral principle should be far dearer. If a party cannot live without adopting what it condemns, let it perish; let falsehood and shamelessness triumph. It will be only for a season. From the ashes of a party that has fallen a sacrifice to its own rectitude will arise another phenix of political virtue, with fresh vigour and immortal hope. It is sometimes contended, that a man must go with his party, though it be against his conscience. Mischievous and infamous language. What! a man put himself into chains, that he may plead captivity as an excuse for sin? Shall the partisan with his own hand efface the prerogatives of his humanity, and dare to trample on the laws of God, though he has not, and because he has not, the courage to break the leash in which he is led along like a hound watching his master’s eye? No. Every one of us is bound by higher obligations than those which connect him with a party. If the higher and the inferior obligations come in conflict, let the true man snap the latter, as if they were bands of tow and not fetters of iron.
The most powerful instrument that a political party can use for the accomplishment of its ends, whether good or bad, is the press, and therefore this should be placed under the control of moral and religious conviction. A press which violates the sanctity of truth and lends itself to unrighteous uses, is a disgrace to the community which gives it support, and which cannot long endure its presence without feeling its disastrous influence. If men sit beneath the shade of the poison-tree, they cannot but inhale its noxious atmosphere. The press should be consecrated to intelligence and virtue; but if, instead of the service which it may render to the highest interests of man, it condescends to become the pander of his prejudices and the slave of his passions, to do the scavenger-work of a party in the unclean ways of falsehood and calumny, it deserves only scorn and reprobation. An independent press is a blessing to a land; but a vagabond or a hireling press is a nuisance. The independence of the press! much talked about, but little exemplified, and probably little understood. It does not consist in recklessness of assertion, or violence of language, in gross misrepresentation, and grosser assault on character; but in maintaining itself above the fluctuations of opinion in the serene heaven of truth and principle, in trying political theories and measures by the standard of a pure morality, in breasting the current of popular or party sentiment when it runs towards evil, and in advocating the right though it have few to speak on its behalf. Why cannot we have a press that shall exhibit this character? Ought it not to exist in a Christian nation? Now, with honorable exceptions, our public journals give no evidence that the conception of such a character was ever entertained, or at best indicate that it is regarded as an ideal excellence, about which practical men need not trouble themselves. The tone of a large portion of the political press on the eve or during the progress of an election—and in our country but little time falls without this description—is unchristian, immoral, barbarous. Strange as it may sound, I believe that the words with which the birth of the Redeemer was celebrated by the heavenly host, “Glory to God in the highest; on earth peace, goodwill among men,” express the aims which the press should adopt and the spirit in which its labours should be pursued.
The same great principles of conduct which we have traced in their application to the private offices of citizenship should be adopted by public men, and by these principles should their course be judged. They should act under a sense of their relations to God and their duty to their fellow-men. The common remark is, that they are responsible to their country. But there is a higher responsibleness than this, which they must not forget. They act in the sight of God, and on each one of them devolve the obligations of personal fidelity, which requires that they never compromise their uprightness nor relinquish their hold on a virtuous character. Let the conduct of statesmen in all ages be brought to this standard, and how will it bear the test? The very principles on which statesmanship has proceeded—the principles of crooked policy and exclusive national advantage—are fatal to purity of character. It is related of Lord Stanhope, one of the ministers of George I. that one day, after musing some time in company, he started up and said as to himself, “It is impossible!” and being asked what it was that was impossible, he replied, “It is impossible for a minister to be an honest man.” Was there not sad truth as well as keen satire in this remark of one whose experience must add weight to his opinion? Still, not truth enough to justify despair; for it is not “impossible,” that men in the most conspicuous and dangerous positions should hold fast their integrity. There have been those who have passed through the ordeal unharmed. Washington alone might prove that public station and personal excellence may be maintained together. And besides other names that our own annals might supply, he whom the providence of God removed from the highest office in this nation when he had but just crossed its threshold was, if we may believe various and positive testimony, an example of moral and religious character worthy of universal imitation. By the consent of all parties, the late President Harrison was a good man; and now that he has gone to the judgment where there is no respect of persons, who does not feel that this is a better title than he could have won by the most splendid administration of our government? Impressive is the lesson of his departure, and sincere was the mourning that followed him to his grave; but the remembrance of his inflexible though modest worth will abide in the firmament of public life, a bright star sending down its calm influence through the interval of years and ages. Let the people demand of their rulers that they copy this example. Let them say to the candidate for public office,—We require moral principle, we desire religious faith, in those to whom we commit the trusts that are at our disposal; we wish for something on which we can rely, and the only thing on which we can rely is character. Let them say to the representatives of the nation’s dignity on the floors of Congress,—Conduct yourselves like men of principle; pollute not these chambers by invectives that would disgrace a dramshop nor by broils that belong to scenes of midnight riot; attend to the business for which we sent you to the national halls, and make us not ashamed of ourselves that we have chosen men, whom we cannot respect, to be our legislators.
And finally, the same principles which should sway individuals in all the relations of life are applicable to nations in respect to both their internal and their foreign affairs. The same principles of reverence, justice and generosity. Of reverence; for the Divine providence and government embrace within their oversight the largest empire as well as the humblest man, even as the same care guides a planet that shapes a drop. That prayer which the civil authority of the State puts into the mouths of the ministers of religion, “God save the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,” is not a mere form of words. It has a meaning, which the hearts of the people should confess. Of justice; for a community, be it larger or smaller, in its action but expresses the aggregate or the preponderance of certain human wills, every one of which should be subject to the law of rectitude, and whose combined force must therefore represent the prevalent morality of the members. Nothing can be more preposterous, than to maintain that a community is not bound by the laws of moral obligation. If this be the fact, then the most enormous wickedness may be perpetrated, fraud and injustice execute their projects and cruelty bathe its hands in blood, and no one be guilty; Heaven be defied, and earth be stained, but no one culpable! A State is bound to keep good faith as much as an individual. It is bound to deal righteously and glorify God, to “eschew evil and do good.” The doctrine broached in some quarters, that legislation may be dishonest and yet reproach not cleave to the State which suffers it, is as false as it is base. They by whom it is promulgated are enemies nurtured at the bosom of the Republic. Their
Mangles true judgment, and bereaves the State
Of that integrity which should become it;
Not having the power to do the good it would,
For the ill which doth control it.”
Of generosity; for the sentiment of love may warm a nation’s breast. Political institutions need not engender exclusiveness. Nations should treat one another honestly and openly, discarding that maxim on which the international relations of the world have in past ages been conducted, that the prosperity of each must be promoted by the obstacles thrown in the way of the rest. This is neither a Christian nor a sound maxim. Men are beginning to open their eyes upon the fact, that it is unsound and pernicious; yet how slow are they in coming to the real truth, that the nation which pays the most sincere respect to the rights, and shows the most liberal spirit in regard to the interests, of other nations, will most effectually secure its own rights and advance its own interests. It is time that the old Pagan notion of patriotism should be displaced by more just ideas. Love of country was once interpreted to mean hatred of all other people,—in days when virtue had no other meaning than courage, and he was thought to show the most lofty patriotism who bound the greatest number of captives to the car of victory. It is time that the more modern conception of national glory as identical with national superiority, if not in arms, in some other class of achievements, should give place to a right appreciation of the end for which a nation should labour. This end is neither aggrandizement nor superiority, but virtue. To what should a nation make all its laws and institutions and the whole action of its government subservient? To the improvement of the people; to their intellectual and moral elevation; to their individual and social advancement. As this improvement takes place, they will rise to a nobler conception of the service they may render to mankind, and patriotism will be found to harmonize with philanthropy. Then will the miserable jealousies which have been cherished and the execrable policy which has been pursued disappear before the progress of Christian sentiment. Then will governments extend to each other an open, and not a closed or mailed, hand. Then will war stand forth before their view in all its hideousness, its features distorted by rage, and its garments dripping with blood,—a mournful and a fearful spectacle. Oh! when shall the time come, that the true character of War—its horrors, its vices, its crimes, unredeemed by a single trait properly its own,—shall be understood. Almost nineteen centuries ago was the Prince of Peace born into the midst of the woes of humanity,—this the greatest of them all,—that he might drive them from the earth; and still war ravages the globe like a wild beast furious with hunger. No; I have spoken hastily. Rather should I have said, like one who feels that decay has taken hold of his strength. There is promise of a better period, when men shall be the demon’s prey no longer. Oh God, hasten that time for thy goodness’ and thy mercy’s sake!
I will not detain this assembly to examine at length the objections that may be brought against the doctrine advanced and applied in this discourse. It may be said, that much of what has been spoken is the language of fanaticism, with which your ears should not have been wearied. But no sentiment nor word that I have uttered can be justly stigmatized as fanatical, if the positions which I took at first, and from which I apprehend that no one dissented, were correct, and if the results to which we have been led are the legitimate consequence of taking those positions. It may be said, that this is another weak attempt on the part of the clergy to regain an influence which they have irrecoverably lost. The absurdity of the idea is its sufficient refutation. It may be said, that this is the first step, feebly put forth indeed, towards a union of Church and State. Church and State! words of wonderful power over our fears and our imaginations. But who can for a moment seriously believe that such a purpose is entertained by one who loves, or by one who understands, American institutions? A State religion does any one dread? I should think there was just now more danger of almost any thing else. It is not a national Christianity, but a Christian nation, which I desire to see; and if this wish betray an unfriendly feeling towards republican principles, then I must bear the reproach, but I shall not bear it alone. Thousands and thousands of hearts wish the same, and pray for it morning and night, year after year; and if the answer to that prayer come not before they die, they will have taught it to another generation, who will not fail to repeat it,—I trust, with a hope brightened by the nearer prospect of its fulfilment. It may be said, that our demands are unreasonable, and our aims impracticable. But our demands only include the righteousness of the land, and our aims are addressed to the sanctification of the people by means of that religion which has shown that it is fitted to exercise universal dominion, by the triumphs it has secured in every condition of society and every situation of life. It may be said, that things are in a sufficiently good state; that the country is at peace, though some men and some writers are doing their utmost to involve it in war; that our public men succeed in keeping the wheels of government in motion, though they sometimes discover a deplorable lack both of skill and of principle; and that the people are, on the whole, virtuous and perhaps religious, if they do not connect their religion with their politics. I do not believe that those whom I address will say that this description satisfies their desires in behalf of the American Republic. And if it do not, what is our duty but to contribute all the influence we can bestow, by speech or example, to introduce a change? It may be said yet again, that a change is going on; the world is growing better, and if we will only be patient, we shall grow better too, because we belong to the world and cannot be left behind. Once more I say in reply, that I am not content with no greater progress than the old States of Europe, burthened with the institutions of dark ages and tottering with infirmity, are able to make. It is for us to encourage them, by the spectacle of what may be accomplished by young and unshackled energies. It is for us to do the world a greater service than it has yet received through achievements wrought on this soil. We have asserted the principles of political liberty, and established them above the reach of overthrow. It remains for us to vindicate the principles of political virtue. We have placed the sceptre in the hands of freedom; let us enthrone religion in still loftier state. American patriotism! be it such as the world has never yet seen. American statesmanship! be it such as mankind shall wonder at, till their admiration subsides into imitation. American character! be it such as Christian sires would rejoice to see worn by their posterity, and unborn generations shall receive as the most precious inheritance that could be transmitted to them. Be morality and piety the guardians of our public welfare; and as the years roll on, may they extend a more visible protection over our interests, till the guidance which Jehovah granted of old to the people of Israel in the pillar of flame and cloud, shall be more than realized in the presence of the Lord our God with us and our children.
To you, Sir, who have again been called by the voice of this Commonwealth to preside over its concerns, I cannot doubt that the sentiments of this discourse will be as acceptable as they are familiar. If they seem but the echo of your own long-cherished purposes and habits, I need not on that account regret the course my remarks have taken. Permit me to congratulate myself, and my fellow-citizens, on the occupancy of the chair of State by one who has proved himself in various situations an upright politician and a Christian statesman; and let me hope that the year of public service on which you have now entered may still further illustrate the force of moral principle, and the beauty of religious character.
To him who is associated with the Chief Magistrate as his nearest adviser, and to the other members of his Council, I may be allowed to express my conviction, that in the discharge of their public functions they will maintain consciences “void of offence towards God and towards men,” and will prove themselves worthy of the confidence which has been reposed in them by their fellow-citizens and fellow-christians.
To the members of both branches of the Legislature I beg leave to extend my congratulations, on the opportunity afforded them of exhibiting the connexion of the highest truths with the most important offices of life. With them it remains to show how religion and politics can be united, without marring the sanctity of the one, or impairing the freedom of the other. And in closing the remarks, to which, if I could, I would frame an apology for compelling them so long to listen—but my only apology must be my interest in the subject—I know not how I can better express my gratitude for their attention, or my desire for their greatest good, than by indulging the mingled hope and belief, that they will, in the discharge of their official duties, show themselves to be “able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness,” and, whatever they do, doing “all to the glory of God.”
|Written By Ezra S. Gannett|