Joseph Emerson.

Our nation. An address before the Archæan union of Beloit college. Delivered February 28, 1862 online

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Online LibraryJoseph EmersonOur nation. An address before the Archæan union of Beloit college. Delivered February 28, 1862 → online text (page 1 of 2)
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Delivered. FeT^riaary 28, 1862.






Beloit Collkge, March 3d, 1SG2.
Pkof. J. Emerson: —
Dear Sir: — It is with gratification that we transmit to you a copy
of a Resolution of the Archaean Union, adopted at a special meeting held
this evening, expressing their estimation of your Address, delivered on the
evening of the 28th of February, and request a copy of it for publication ;
hoping it will meet your pleasure to comply with the request.

^^ Resolved, That we regard the Address delivered by Professor Emerson
before this Society, on Friday evening, February 2Sth, as an impartial
exposition of our external and ititcrnal, political aud social rchitiaiis ; an
Address not only National, but Universal ; and cansidering it the result of
an unbounded love and reverence for "Our Nation," we feel greatly
indebted to him for the honor of its delivery before the Society. Believing
that its publication would gratify both those who heard it and many who
did not, we respectfully request a copy of it for this purpose."

Yours, with much respect,

Hexry S. OsnonxE,
Thomas S. McClellaxd,
Sam'l D. II.vsTixas, Ju.,


Beloit College, March 4th, 18(32.
Gextlemex : —

Your polite Qote, requesting, in behalf of the Arch;uan Union, a copy
of the lecture of Friday evening, is before me.

The aim of the Address was to lay before the members of the Society
and of the communit}', certain principles which seemed to me important
at the present crisis, when our people are rapidly coming to conclusions
which will be of lasting influence upon the future of our country and of
the world. I am gratified that those principles have been Aivorably re-
ceived by the young men to whom thoy were presented, and if, in tko
judgment of the Society, the publication of the Address wonld further
promote thena, it is at their service.

Very truly your.?,

J. Emeksox,

J/c6's;*». OnhornCf McClelland and Jfastlni/n,

Committee Arc/tcvan Union,


Our Nation ! And what is a nation ? ^^'e think of a nation as
composed of people united under one government ; and yet we do not
call the English, the Irish, the Hottentots, and the Hindoos, one
nation, though they are under one government ; and we do call the
Germans one, though under many governments. The ancient Greeks
were one nation in many states ; and the old Pkoman Empire com-
prised many nations under one conjniand, "What, then, is the unity of
a nation ? Locality and language and kindred blood have much to do
with it. Yet the master and the .slave, on one plantHtion, are not of
one nation. The Jews, scattered through all lands and speaking all
languages, are yet one nation. In our own land, English and Irish,
who never could coalesce across the sea, and Germans and Italians^
rally side by side with native Americans under the Stars and Stripes,
and all look up to that glorious banner as their own — their own as
no other banner ever had been or could be; while native Americans,
even those who a little while ago were joining in the cry of "America
for the Americans," have shown, by their treason, that they never
had the moral right to call that banner theirs.

" America for the Americans !" Most certainly ! The word
comes back to us purified in this burning atmosphere of war. "Amer-
ica for the Americans I" So mote it be! So shall it be ! But who
is the American ? Shall we recognize him by his Anglo-Saxon blood
and pedigree ? Or is that man an American, in whose heart is the love
of those principles of liberty and law, which are the soul of the Ameri-
can life ? Is not every man, of whatsoever race or language, who
accepts in his heart our Declaration of Independence, our country-
man and our brother ? and is not whosoever rejects it an alien or a
traitor ? So I think we must define the term nation, as aiJiilied ta
us. The unity of our nation is a unity of sympathy .

There are those who seem to think that a nation is a kind of part-
nership, entered into by mutual consent, and dissolvable at tlie plea-
sure of any party, so that any body of men, or any spoiled child,
might vote itself a nation. Is it so? Is a nationalify a thing of
human creation, or is it a work of God ?

Did not He, that made the worlds, " make of one blooil all nations


of men, for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and determine the
times before appointed, and the hounds of their habitation; that they
might seek after the Lord, if haply they might find him, though he
be not far from every one of u.s ?"

There you have the key of history. The nations, like the fimilies
of men, are centers of sympathy, by which God is teaching our
Ishmaelitish nature to live in kindness and in law, and to rise to
enough of purity of heart, and symmetry and development of mind,
to seek for and to recognize and to unite itself to that Fatherly au-
thority, — that Brotherly love and Spiritual communion of the one
God, which is always " not far from every one of us," and which is
ever yearning to receive us into the fellowship of that kingdom of
God, which itself shall be the realization of the ideal of a nation.

A nation, then, is not the product of a whim or of a day ; uor is it
to be blotted out by a battle, or even by jeavs of oppression. This is
true even of those comparatively minor nations, which differ from
those about them, only as dialects of the same language differ. The
Poles, the 3Iagyars, the Irish, tlie Italians, hold their own national
sympathies unconcjucrable, even in bondage.

But, if I mistake not, ours is a nation in a different sense from that
in which the Poles or the French are nations. For all shall find
these particular nationalities grouping in larger aggregates or systems
of nations, like that Christendom which hurled itself upon the 3Ios-
lem in the Crusades. A true chart of the history of the world should
present these grand national wholes. Certain bounds of national
habitation have remained or re-established themselves with wonderful
persistence. No changes of dynasty, or even of faith, could efface
them. The Tigris, the Hellespont, and the Adriatic, have formed
dividing lines, beyond which it seemed that nations could not mingle.

But, looking iipon the work of the World-builder, we should see
Him not only letting in the seas to separate Europe from Africa and
from Asia, but also spreading out a vast ocean between all that conti-
nent and another, which for thousands of years was to be hidden
from the Old World. Every night, while those old nations were
sleeping, the sun visited it, and found it still in native wiidness, wait-
ing *' the time before appointed," when its chosen j)eople should come
and erect there a nation worth the waiting.

So patiently worketli He, at whose least word a universe would
spring into instant being, or would pass away and be no more. He
is reducing a rebellion. He is restoring the kingdom of God, in a
world disorganized by treason. His heart is in the work. There is
no treason in Him, nor loitering, nor indecision. He presses on the
war of restoration with all His skill, and all His energy, and all His
resources. And yet four thousand ycai's of anarchy and wretchedness
passed away before He sent His Son to speak, so that men could un-
derstand it, that word of deliverance, " Thou shalt love thy neighbor
as thyself," which is the only foundation of true society among men.
And even He came not with hosts of victor angels to strike off every
bond, and to cast men with ihv'w alienated hearts inlo a chaotic Jib-


crly, equality and malignily. So perhaps 3Iicliaol would liavc done,
but not so the AlMvise. He knew His world too well, mid the race
He meant to save. And so He spoke on earth that ((uict word, and
wrote it indelibly with His blood, and ascended up on hi-ih, '-Lcadint,'
captivity captive," though there was not a slave the les.s on earth.
But the word of deliverance was spoken and printed by the Spirit
upon the hearts of men, and it was sure of its fultillment. It was a new
law among men. All old constitutions were founded not on eijuality,
but on prerogative ; not on rights of man, but on rights of masters.
We talk of the old republics. In Athens and Attica were 100,000
freemen and 400, UOO slaves. South Carolina is a free state in com-
parison. But, the word of freedom once spoken, He, who sceth the
end from the beginning, was content to cherish His work in its long
fulfillment. It was nearly 1500 years more before He deemed it time
to conduct the ship of Columbus across the ocean, and to reveal
the habitation which he had prepared for the first of earth's nations.

I say the first ; for, in an important sense, we may say that there
never was a real nation on earth until the declaration of American
independence. Because, until then, the true fundamental principle
of national life was nsver made the forming and creative principle of
a people's life.

•' By the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth
standing out of the water and in the water." By ivords^ in an
intelligent universe, is every thing made that ever was made. Words
nerve and words corrupt the soul. '' The word of Caesar might have
stood against the world," because in Ca3sar's word there was vigor
enough to inspire an army, which could conquer the world. A few
w^ords expressing potent ideas, like (Jod, country, duty, mercy, home,
liberty, law, &c., make up a whole system of watchwords by which
the entire order of human life is going forward to its future hopes.

So the word, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself,'' went sink-
ing silently down into the minds of men for centuries. And, all the
while, the whole world was organized upon the idea that men arc
made to be masters and slaves, and to look up one to another, and
not to look up every man frankly into the face of God, as He looketh
down upon us with a human countenance in Christ, our prophet,
priest and king. England has more liberty than any other old land ;
and yet whatever is done in that government is done "in the gracious
pleasure of her majesty," and the people are called subjects, not citi-
zens. There still stands the form of the idol, of that image in which
all royalties and all oligarchies have their place, as part of the political
idolatiy, which must perish before a really genuine nation can be in
any land. It is most true that in England, and in all the states
Avhich have grown out of the old lioman I'^mpire, tlie princii)lc of
human rights spoken by Christ has in a great degree disorganized
the monarchical principle, so that although tlic form of the old master-
ship continues, yet it is easy to sec that the iron is mingled with
clay, — such clay as it has been standing upon and despising, and that
the whole is ready to full and to crunible.


Yet tlic Director of Events does not hasten its fall. For tlie world
lias need of it yet. The nations that are to be when the world shall
need kings no more, will forever owe a debt to Cyrus and to Alexan-
der, to Cresar and to Alfred, to lion-hearted Richard and to Queen
Elizabeth, and to Napoleon. A great blessing is a true king to a
people that needs a king ; and every people does need a king which
has not learned to look up, with an intelligent mind as well as with a
reverent and obedient heart, to the " King Eternal."

By that law of Christ, " Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself,"
and by that question, "Who is my neighbor?" was the seed of
our nation sown 1800 years ago. That seed was committed to the
conscience of man. It passed into Europe, where liberty had been
an old and mighty, though a somewhat unmeaning name, and it gave
it power and significance. It melted away slavery, and is melting
monarchy. It took deep root in the strong manhood of northern
Europe, especially in the races whose enterprise brought them to the
extreme point of European land and of European progress in Eng-
land. I shall not pause to eulogize the Anglo-Saxons. God has
made them great in these ages, for great purposes ; and they are
sufficiently aware of their greatness. And when we remember the
Assyrians, Persians, Egyptians, Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Span-
iards, we may be reminded that it is wisdom for a leading race to be
not high-minded, but to fear, and to do its work well in its day. But
we may remember, thankfully, how well that seed of hope was cher-
ished in the English nation, taking root in old Saxon times, buried
under the Norman bondage as under the winter snow, springing up in
Magna Charta, slowly developed until it came to maturity in the
Puritans, when it was, by a most propitious severity, reaped and
threshed, and cast across the seas, to become, upon a continent which
had been waiting for it since time began, the right seed for the first
of the nations. And here the nation was in being, and was maturing
its strength and developing its principles for 150 years before 1776.

Nor let us, if we claim to be more truly and fully a nation than any
before, ever forget that it was only through the long labors of those
old nations that our nation became possible. Especially, as we would
" that our days may be long upon the land which the Lord our God
giveth us," let us always honor with filial aftcction that land from
■which our nation sprung, — our mother J<]ngland. God be thanked
that we may call her mother. For is she not the glory of the king-
doms, the choicest and most perfect fruit which the civilization of the
C)M World, through its thousands of years of labor, has borne, or, upon
that soil, could bear? There she stands, aloof from the Old World,
and leaning toward the new. For a thousand years she has been
gathering, and is gathering to-day with a broader sweep than ever,
the moral riches of all old lands and times ; and for centuries she has
l)een pouring them, and is pouring them to-day with more lavish
liand than ever, into the lap of her daughter. Whatsoever is thought
or said or done in i^higland worth llie hearing, is hoard by more
Americans than Endishmcn. In the most distant seas, and in lands



tliut but ycsterdny were barbarous and oannil)al. our eoiuincrce is
sheltered by bcr law, and our travelers and our missionaries arc
protected by bcr consuls or aided by the generous benevolence of her
sons. In a mutual intercourse, wliich reaches to every harbor and
almost to every inland village, not only of the_ twolands, but of the
■whole earth, it would be very strange if no difficulties arose between
the two nations. It is very strange that they are so fcw.^ When
iMiiiland was engaged in her terrible conflict with the first Na})ole(Mi,
her'people could liardly be pleased to see the daughter-land finding
an occasion to enter the ([uarrel against the mother; and when Ire-
land threatened rebellion, we may remember that the son of the
President of the United States Avas ostentatious in public demonstra-
tions of sympathy. At a time when all the mind of this nation is
absorbed in that earnest tension of soul which is crushing this rebel-
lion, it is not strange that we should difler upon some great and
urave points of public law and right, wliich might divide honest and
deep read men. And we Americans are very ready to judge all such
matters. There are very few of us who, if angels were to be judged,
would have any scruple as to our own qualifications to sit upon the
bench ; we would only raise the question whether we could get
the appointment. Not that I find any fault with this universal and
infinite self-reliance of our countrymen. I glory in it. It is the
sanguine heart of youth, which feels itself e(iual to all things. And
so \t is. There is more truth and victory in our wildest hopes than
in our wariest fears. And because I see our nation ready to think,
ready to speak, ready to act upon any matter and in anything, I know
that there is a great future before us. 80 let us go on, assuming and
exercising our prerogative to think and to judge, — each individual
man of us with that own mind of his, which God gave him to be a
man with,— upon every question, especially upon every great ques-
tion, which our times present. Just so shall we become a great
nation, by virtue of the individual greatness of millions of minds, all
trained to act earnestly, intelligently and independently, iipon great
questions and great thoughts."^ A nation so made of thinking and
speaking uiind.s must have a voice like the sea; and as it thinks
aloud, the alternatives which it presents to itself, its tides of feeling
and of reason, necessarily roll an<l roar as they pass to and fro across
its bosom. ]3ut the great swellings of the ocean arc not lawless any
more than the agitations of a pool. The ocean bears the fleets of the
w(jrld upon his bosom as safely as the little brook floats a child's toy-
boat. And so the hopes of mankind may be as safe upon the Iree
thought of a great people, as the interests of a kingdom with a hmisc
of peers. Has there been, since there was a nation, a sublimer sight,
than when, in the late great crisis of our relations with Kngland,
there came in from all' quarters of our country to our rulers, tliat
united voice, not tremulous with passion or with fear, ''Do that which
is right V And greatly was it done. And that tide of feeling was
nobly answered by the spirit which, at the same moment, was rising
across the water against the wild cry of war that rang through I'Jig-


land at tlie supposed aggression of America upon Britain, the deep,
earnest protest which came up to the government from every reli-
gious body in the land, and from all the conscience of the people,
" Let us have arhitration, and no tear of passion loith our hfclliren in
their day cf trial." That was a voice not unworthy of our mother.
Such a voice has never failed to come over the sea to us. And it is
the true voice of the English soul. "We ought not to wonder that
some Englishmen should bo jealous of our democratic institutions ;
for we have felt and seen how our ow'n democracy inclines us to ill-
will toward nujnarchies. Xor should wc think it strange that some
Englishiuen should be jealous of our growth as a nation. Rather
ought we to admire that generosity which, in other Englishmen, and
in those who represent the England that is to be, rejoices in our in-
crease. We must own that they have the advantage over us in
magnanimity. The generosity with which they, in large loyalty to
mankind and to truth, can rejoice in our increase, challenges us to
unlearn that exclusive national pride, which appropriates our bless-
ings as our own, and forgets that we have them in trust for mankind.
But we will emulate them. Xor, again, is it strange that the same
class of British merchantmen, who for tWenty-five years withstood
the abolition of the slave-trade, should now feel the power of those
new ropes of cotton, which have been found strong enough to bind
our own Samson.

Yet, behind jealousy and pride and selfishness, there is a live con-
science in the British people, and that conscience has been and is
with us, so far as we are true to ourselves. Conscience in man is
always in the minority, for the simple reason that it is always in ad-
vance. But it is always deathless and invincible and victorious. It
leads the forlorn hope, and around it there gather none but the
heroes. They who speak the true heart of England are the few men,
but the great. So in the days of our struggle for independence, the
great voice of Chatham was raised in our behalf, and he was sus-
tained by those men in the House of Commons whose names have
become historical. Chatham was in a poor minority in that House
of Peers ; for they were the p6ers of (leorge the Third, king of
l^j ngland, and he was the peer of George Washington, king of men.
In the midnight of our revolution, Edmund Burke, in behalf of those
who acted with him in ]*ai'lianicnt, wrote thus to the people of
America :

" Wc viev.' the establishment of the English colonics on princi-
ples of liberty, as that which is to render this kingdom venerable to
I'uture ages. In comparison of this, we regard all the victories and
conquests of our wai'like ancestors, or of our own times, as barbarous,
vulgar distinctions, in which many nations, whom wc look upon with
little respect or value, have equaled, if not fir exceeded us. This is
the peculiar and appropriated glory of England. Those tcho have and
xoho hold to that foundation of common liberty, whether on this or
on your side of the ocean. We consider as the true, and the only true
iMiiiliyhmen. Thixc who dep;irfc from it, whether there or here, arc


attainted, corrupted in blood, and wholly fallen from their original
rank and yalue."

That -was the spirit of the men who were fighting in the British
Parliament a war not less severe than our fathers fought upon their
own soil. And it is the spirit of the men, who, like Cubden aiul
Briirht, represent the present masses, the future government, and the
perpetual conscience of England.

Chatham and Burke did not think tliat in being true to America

thev were false to Englaiid. As we have seen, in the view of those

'zre'at hearts, England was the name, not so much of certain square

miles of soil, but of certain principles of national life ; and the man

m who accepted those principles, wheresoever he lived, was their coun-

■ tryman. Shall we accept tlicir lellow-citizenship, and their large
idea of nationality, and take the hand they stretch across the seas,
and say, " Yes I M'e are Englishmen, and you are Americans, — one
nation by the tie of ' that foundation of common liberty/ which was
English before it was ximerican ?" of which, indeed, as an English
idea, America was born. The coming of the Pilgrims across the
sea was only a part of that English movement for liberty which
struggled with Cromwell and triumphed with William and Mary. I
am accustomed to recur, with a kind of religious wonder, to that
Charter which King James gave while the Pilgrims were upou the
sea in the jMayflower. By that charter he gave the land between
the 40th and the 48th degrees of latitude from the Atlantic to the
South Sea, and he called it New England. Did he speak that of
himself? or being, " &y the grace of Gud, king," did he prophcsij
that that l>elt of "country was " determined," by the King of kings,
for the habitation of a people who should take the principles of old
English liljerty, and deveiop them in a free nation, whose greatness
.and whose purity should deliver not that nation only, but old Eng-
land also, and, in their time, all the nations of the earth ?

Let us remember, then, that we have these principles of liberty,
and this rising national greatness, not of ourselves, but that they are
the Icijacy of all the nations that have struggled, and of all the mar-
tyrs tiiat have died. They are part of the gifts which the dying Son

^ of Man received for men. And they are ours, not for ourselves, but

J for all mankind.

* In our Declaration of Independence was Christ's golden rule first

proclaimed to the world, as a law of national life. It was a beacon
of hoi>e for all mankind, and all nations are flowing unto it.

They come because they are attracted by its princii)les ; because
that principle of its charter calls the allegiance of their hearts. Aijd
.';o they come as coming home. Fur no nation until this has been in
its principles and in its form a home for man, as such. Of course
they come with many crude or visionary ideas as to what a land of
liberty may be. But they come to be citizens of the land of ld.)erty,
and will be apt scliolars in the conditions of liberty. Is it not right
that they should come ? For do we not owe our liberty to their na-
tions as well as to our Enulish fathers and to ourselves '.' And le not

12 orn NATION.

tliat syiiipatliy, wliicli bring-s tl'iein liove, tl'ic true nml suffieieiit cer-
tificate of their birtli-right to Gitizensliip in the nation of the free 'f
And if more title were needed, is it too much to say that our country
owes its success in the present struggle to the true and prompt loyalty
of citizens of foreign birth ^ They first rallied in force around the*
standard of the Union in the border States, and to them, more than
to the native population, must we look for loyalty in the rebel States,


Online LibraryJoseph EmersonOur nation. An address before the Archæan union of Beloit college. Delivered February 28, 1862 → online text (page 1 of 2)