Leonard Woolsey Bacon.

Church papers: sundry essays in subjects relating to the church and ... online

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— the keeping of a Sabbatical day cannot, in the nature
of the case, be enforced by law; and that attempted
legislation to compel the santification of such a day is
necessarily futile and impertinent, and worse. It is of a
piece with other legislation for the enforcement of
religious rites — with compulsory baptism, and the eating
of the Lord's Supper as a condition of holding office
— things which it is shocking so much as to name.

Now all this would be true of the relation of secular
law to the sanctification of a Sabbath-day as a religious
act, even if it were admitted to be a religious duty by
the universal consent of all religions. But much more
than this is true when we consider that the particular

1. Sermons on the Sabbath Question; by Osonai B. Bacon. New York,
JScribner A Co.

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Sabbatical observance in question is the characteristic of
the Christian religion — that it is expressly intended to
commemorate an event and a doctrine which some good
citizens (alas !) deny and abhor, and to which some others
(more pity still!) are indifferent. In what essential respect
does the compelling of the Jew to keep holy — to pay
religious honor to — the memorial day of the resurrection
of Jesus of Nazareth, differ in iniquity from the compelling
of the Protestant to uncover and kneel in the street at the
passing of the Host? When we reflect, further, that
Christians themselves arc* not unanimous in regarding the
observance of this day at all as a duty enjoined by divine
law, but that a great portion of them, including some of
the best, most devout and most learned, regard it only as
an excellent custom and tradition, 1 it becomes not indeed
more true, but more obvious and palpable, that there are
no principles acknowledged in our government, or justly
acknowledged in any government, which can justify the
legal enforcement of the religious observance of the day r
or authorize the legislature to deal with the secularization
of the day as being of itself, and independently # of positive
law, an immorality.

This is the end of that argument. Until we are prepared
to advocate the establishment of religion, and not only of
religion but of Christianity , and not only of Christianity
but of certain forms and sects of Christianity, we cannot
advocate the enforcement of the religious observance of a
Sabbath as a matter of public morality.

II. We come, then, to consider another ground on

1. Those who would inform themselves as to the history of Christian theology
on this point, as indeed on all points related to the present subject, are referred to
that exhaustive work, Cox's u Literature of the Sabbath Question."

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which the interference of law is claimed in behalf of the
Lord's Day as a religious institution. If the law may not
be summoned to enforce a religious observance, may it not
be called on to protect it? Undoubtedly, yes. The principles
of religious equity, or liberty, not only do not forbid this,
they require it. If an Arab traveler should spread his
carpet down in Monument Square at the hour of noon, and
finding the direction of Mecca, should begin his curious
ritual of prostrations and crouchings, it would be the duty
of the police to protect him from molestation and
annoyance. If there were a company of such, they would
have an equal right to be protected in their devotions, a
right limited only by their duty not to perform them in
such places as to incommode the honest business of others,
or to disturb the public peace and order. If. this were a
heathen city, amid which the Christian people were but a
little flock, marked among the multitude for their regular
habit of gathering on the first day of the week for their
acts of worship, it woud be their right to be protected in
this religious usage; and to molest them in their quiet
Sunday meditation and worship and abstinence from
work would be religious persecution. And now that they
are the great dominant religion of the city, they have the
same right, no more and no less — the right to be protected
in the fulfilment of their religious duties. The fact that
they are more numerous and stronger does not add to their
rights, it only makes it easier for them to secure the
rights they had before. Might does not make Right.

The claim is perfectly good as far as it goes, but when
it is stretched beyond this point it is good for nothing.
When you undertake to make this right to be protected in
religious observances the ground and basis of the Sabbath

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laws, you have got your basis quite too small for your
superstructure. When you set up the claim that in order
that you may worship (rod in spirit and in truth, yomr
Jewish neighbor on one Bide, and your Rationalist
neighbor on the other, must both be compelled by law to
suspend their secular avocations, you stretch your claim
of protection till it breaks. Tou make a law of
religious liberty which is singularly akin to religious
persecution. It is worthy of note that almost the
only wanton public obstructions and interruptions of
the liberty of Christian worship in this country have
proceeded, not from an unchristian or anti-christian
quarter, but from the arrogance of one of the Christian
sects, conscious of a political influence which enables it to
defy the law, and not ashamed to obstruct the doors of
other churches by its processions, and drown the voice of
prayer with the din of shouts and brazen music beneath
their windows. This is an invasion of religious liberty.
But the pretense that shops and billiard rooms must be
closed in order to secure liberty of worship to Christians,
is so thin that it is transparent.

Do we then give up the whole system of the Sunday
laws, and yield to the demand that is now so boldly
pressed upon the Legislature of the State for the repeal
of all that makes them effective ? God forbid ! Tea, we
establish the law. Nothing has so imperiled it as the false
and insincere and inconclusive arguments by which it has
been attempted to maintain it. Its enemies have not done
it half the harm that its defenders have. It is only the
beginning of a successful defense to abandon an untenable
line of works and fall back, or move forward, rather,
upon an impregnable one. It is by far the most important

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thing to be done in protection of our Sabbath institution,
to eliminate from the pending discussion the irrelevances
and impertinences with which it has been cumbered. We
are free, now, to come to a sober argument upon the duty
of the Legislature.

III. The question before the Legislature, and therefore
before the public, their constituents, is upon the main-
tenance, not of a religious institution ; — the church (that
is, the Christian people) will take care of this; the
legislature has nothing to do with it ; — but of a civil and
u social institution." u I thank thee., Jew, for teaching
me that word ! " It is the one useful truth that appears,
clumsily enough stated, in all that series of self-stultified
resolutions which were passed a week ago in the Anti-
Sabbath meeting, u Resolved that the observation of
Sunday is a social institution, which is connected with
religion," I will not say u by sheer accident," but by no
necessary connection. If God were to smite the earth
with a curse, and all religion were to perish out of the
land to-morrow, this legal institution would still remain,
though probably it would not remain long. But what
word would have to be altered in all the present Sunday
law of the State, if religion were utterly to cease? What
word is there in all that statute, that is inconsistent, I will
not say with the principle of religious liberty as we
have here enunciated them, but even with the principles
enunciated in the resolutions of that Monday Meeting ?
Now how is this civil and social day of weekly rest to
be procured. Every body wants it ; nobody thinks of
giving it up. Even that curiously mingled meeting
gathered to clamor for a repeal of the existing law,
resolved u without a dissenting voice " that u we consider

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Sunday as a day of rest." It does not appear that any,
Christian or Heathen, Jew or (xentile, is willing to give
up a weekly day of rest, and make all days alike before
the law. Nay it does not appear but that society is
absolutely unanimous in agreeing upon the first day, of
the week as the only day which, in the present state of our
society can be secured for that purpose. We do not hear,
even from our Hebrew fellow-citizens — a class of citizens
who have many a peculiar claim on the public respect, for
many admirable virtues, and for a noble record in some
points of civil duty — a class, withal, to whom the adoption
of the first day of the week instead of the seventh as the
civil Sabbath, involves a special disadvantage — we do not
hear even from these any suggestion that any day but
Sunday should be set apart by law as a day of rest.
Society seems unanimously resolved that it will have its

And no wonder. On the institution of the civil Sabbath,
reinforced as it is by the religious feeling of the mass of
the community, depends no man can tell how much of our
material prosperity, our social order, our prevailing
culture, to say nothing of our religious worship and our
public charity and humanity. It is on the institution of
the public Sal)bath, planting its frequent waymarks along
the course of time, that we depend for the division of time
into weeks ; and how much of the general thrift, activity
and regularity of business depends on this, no man can
guess, that has not seen, in lands without a Sabbath, how
business drags on its dull, unbroken, interminable course,
never resting, and therefore never speeding. So interlaced
are the roots of this "social institution" with the whole
fabric of our American society, that it could not be torn



up without disturbing the entire structure. Thoughtful
foreigners acknowledge the advantages of this institution
in words .which those men would do well to ponder, who
are in a hurry to tamper with its safeguards. The
illustrious Count de Montalembert, the glory of the
Catholic Church of Prance in his generation, in advocating
in the French Legislative Body, some twenty years since,
v bill to secure the better observance of the Lord's Day,
answered the cavils of the materialists and economists
that the nation could not affora to suspend all productive
labor for one seventh part of the year, by pointing to
Great Britain and the United States of America, the two
countries of all the world in which the Sabbath rest is>
most rigorously enforced, and the two in which all
productive industries are most prosperous. 1

Society is agreed then that it will have its Sunday of
rest. But how is Society to get it? Will it come of
itself? Will the unanimous consent of the people that
the day should be kept free from the encroachments of
business, be a sufficient security for it, without law ? Just
as much as the unanimous agreement of the property
owners on Baltimore Street would, without law, preserve
the line of the street from encroachments — just so much
and no more. It is the general interest of the whole
property and every part of it, on both sides of the way,
that the width of that street should not be reduced. You.
eould get a unanimous remonstrance from every person in
the city against an act making it possible for the owners

1. I quote from my memory of the debate as reported in the French newspapers
of the time. The only answer made to this argument of the Catholic Count was
a cry from the opposite benches u These are two Protestant countries," — which
was undoubtedly true, and perhaps embarrassing to the speaker, but, after all,
not much to the purpose.

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of frontage on that street to build out on it a single yard.
What is the need of law, then, to protect the line of that
street ? And yet is there any one so dull as not to know
that it is only by the force of law that the object of the
unanimous desire can be secured ? — that but for the law,
encroachment would follow encroachment, the encroach-
ment of one excusing and necessitating the encroachment
of his neighbor, until the great thoroughfare was choked,
and the interest of the whole had been defeated by the
selfishness of the individuals ? It is so with the great
common rest opened in the midst of the toil of the week,
like the village green reserved for public refreshment and
delight amid the bustling streets of a New England
village, sacred from the invasion of business, where the
children of the rich and poor may play alike, where the
sacred graves of other generations wake tender thoughts
and holy memories, and amongst them the church of
Christ invites to prayer and praise, u and points with taper
spire to heaven." The whole people wants it ; everybody
is willing to reserve it, on condition that the rest shall be
required to reserve it too. Only, if there is to be no law
about it, and these immemorial rights of the public are to
be left open to a general scramble, in which the earliest
squatter on the public privilege will get the biggest share,,
then it is too much to hope from human nature that the
scramble will not begin.

We reach, then, this clear and unmistakable principle


a Law of Rest fob all.

It has been found, in the course of the. agitations of
u the Sunday question" which have prevailed so sharply
of late in England that there is rarely any difficulty in

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getting the general petition of the men of any business —
the barbers for instance — that all the shops of their own
business may be closed on Sunday by law. Why by law ?
If nearly all the barbers in London want their shops
closed, why don't they close them ? Simply because the
opening of any half-dozen of them almost necessitates the
opening of the rest. There is no Liberty of Rest without
a Law of Best. It is for the State to say whether it is
consistent with the public good to grant the privilege of
rest, by law, to this vocation, or whether, like the
business of physicians, or of the employees of the city
rail-road, it is of such a nature as to require to be
excepted from this privilege.

This "social institution," then, of a public day of rest,.
which we are all agreed that we want and will have, is
the creature of positive law. And what the law creates
the law can regulate. The moment that the authors of
these resolutions admit that they want any Sunday rest at
all, that they are not in favor of sweeping the statute-
book clean of all distinction of days and making every
day, alike, they give up their whole case.

If it is right, and just, and constitutional, and consistent
with religious liberty to have any Sunday at all, it is right
to have a whole Sunday, If it is constitutional to shut
up a dry-goods store, it is constitutional to shut up a
grog-shop. If it is right to shut up a broker's office, or a
bank, it is right to shut up a theatre. If it is right to
close a book-store, it is right to close a billiard room. If
it is right to shut any of these till one o'clock, it is right
to keep them shut till midnight.

Why, look for at moment at the blockhead impudence-
of these resolutions. It appears that they were translated

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into English for the benefit of those in that meeting that
were acquainted with the English tongue. The translation
was not well done. Let me render them into a little
plainer English :

1. Resolved, That this meeting being largely composed
of aliens and foreign-born citizens more or less
unacquainted with the language in which the Constitutions
and Laws are written are unanimously agreed that the
immemorial laws made by the people who made the
Constitution are unconstitutional.

2. Resolved, That since these laws are unconstitutional,
and therefore null and void, and incapable of being
enforced, it is very important to our liberty that they
should be repealed by the legislature.

3. Resolved, That although is it grossly unjust,
oppressive, unconstitutional, and inconsistent with religious
liberty to make any man shut up his store at all; never-
theless we advocate a law requiring that stores, shops and
places of business of every sort shall be closed every
Sunday until one o'clock p.m.

4. Resolved, That although we hold it to be unjust and
unconstitutional, we are further in favor of interdicting by
law the exercise of all ordinary honest and useful trades
and employments from one o'clock p.m., till midnight.

5. Resolved, That in view of the strong claims upon the
special and exceptional favor of the State, presented by
liquor-shops, theatres, bar-rooms, concert-saloons, dance-
houses, and the like, as promoters of sound morality,
material prosperity, public intelligence, domestic
happiness, and peace and good order in society, they
ought to be specially privileged by Act of Legislature

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above all other forms of business, by having the time from
one p.m. till midnight on Sunday of each week set apart
for their exclusive advantage and behoof, no commercial
business within those hours being lawful, excepting the
retail trade in beer, whisky and cigars.

Pah ! the whole movement smells of its birth-place ! It
has the stale bar-room odor of bad whisky and tobacco.

But glance for an instant at the proposition in another
aspect. Have the employees of all these privileged forms
of business . no rights of rest which we are bound to
respect ? Is there to be do respite to their wasting,
dissipating labor ? To permit one theatre to open is, as
we have seen, to compel them all to open, and to make
this privileged day the busiest day, for them, of all the
week ? Have we no mercy on the toilsome profession of
the stage, that we should forbid to its jaded followers the
common privilege of the public ?

These be brave reformers, protesting against arbitrary
distinctions ! What law have we now so arbitrary,
capricious, despotic, as this which they present to us in
the name of equal rights ? By what principle do they
discriminate ? If beer-shops may open, why not fancy
stores ? If the shop-boy must have his billiards and his
cigars, may not the shop-girl have her ribbon, and her
brooch, and the dear delight of shopping ? By what
tyrannical distinction do your forbid our Hebrew fellow-
citizens, now bearing with such honorable fidelity the
burden of a double Sabbath, to open their shops of fancy
wares ? and if these, why not others ? and why not turn
our tranquil Sunday, the glory of Baltimore among the
cities of the land, into a universal market day ?

No, gentlemen of the Legislature! If you accept this

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petition, call your enactment by its true name! Let it be
an act entitled An Act to give Special Privilege and
Encouragement to the Sale of Intoxicating Liquors, and
Special Advantages in Business to those who have no
religious regard for the Christian Sabbath.

A public holiday is a public peril. A necessity it may
be, — it is; but the history of all nations shows it to be a
dangerous necessity. The State which by positive
enactment institutes this dangerous blessing, striking off
all the common restraints of regular industry, is bound to
guard it to the utmost from abuse. It has no right with
one hand to lock the door of the factory against honest
industry, and turn the artisan population into the street,
and with the other hand to fling wide all the enticing
portals of temptation. Wives and mothers who tremble
now when New Year's morning dawns, in fear lest at night
those whom they love shall be tumbled in upon them
through the street door, drunk — have a righteous claim
upon the State that it shall not make fifty-two such holidays
in the year, nor loose the iron band of industry without
tightening the rein of salutary law. The great productive
and commercial industries of the State have rights in this
matter. They know the financial loss there is in a
disordered Sabbath; and they may well take their resolute
stand at the door of the State-house, and demand, in a tone
not to be disregarded, that if the State interferes to take
their employees out of business on Saturday night, it shall
also interfere to save them from being returned to business
on Monday morning, exhausted, demoralized, debauched.

In pointing out the duty of the State in this matter,
we need not go beyond the formula of the merest

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Benthamite utilitarianism: the State must consult the
Greatest Good of the Greatest Number.

Where shall it find the people's Greatest Good ? In

frolic and gaiety — in concerts, dancing and theatricals —

in unrestricted beer, whisky and billiards? We would

refer these profound students of the Constitution to the

clauses in which that instrument shows in what esteem

the State holds Religion as a public good. Here is all

that Religion asks of the State — to give her a fair chance

— just an opportunity; and this is all that the State can

do for her. She stands beside the State as Paul, the

chained Apostle, stood beside the Roman governor upon

the castle stairs, while underneath the people cried " Away

with him," — and said to the chief captain u I beseech

thee, suffer me to speak to the people." She asks for an

interval of silence, amid the tumult and roar of this busy

throng, that people may hear in their own tongue the

wonderful works of God; for one quiet day of sober

thought, in which men may, if they will, hear the voice

of wisdom lifted in the streets, and crying to the simple

ones. She asks no privilege above infidelity and error.

She bids them welcome to the same opportunity, — to

open their halls and circles, and bring forth their strong

reasons before the public. Religion does not fear the

result. The thoughtful verdict of a sober people on that

issue never has been doubtful. For shame, Infidelity !

You dare not meet the Church of God before a sober

people on a quiet Sunday ! * You are skulking from the

encounter behind this rabble-rout of greedy rum-sellers

and showmen ! You have appealed from Philip sober to

Philip drunk — if you can make him drunk !

And the good of the Greatest Number — how is this to

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be attained ? Would you have an example of how to
deal with this question in the spirit of the broadest
republican equality ? Seek it in the terms of that ancient
statute-book, which from an antiquity of more than three
thousand years before the Declaration of Independence,
presents to us still the fairest pages in the history of
jurisprudence : — a In it thou shall not do any work, thou,
nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy manservant, nor
thy maidservant nor thy ox, nor thy ass, nor any of thy
cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates; that thy
manservant and maidservant may rest as well as thou." In
the very spirit of this just and equal law is that existing
law of Maryland which provides a Sabbath for the whole
people ; — which interferes with no man's religious
convictions, either to violate them or to enforce them; but
without respect of persons imposes for a few sacred hours
on all the stormy competitions of the week, — on its
grinding toil, its heady passions, its noisy amusements,
the blessed Truce of God-
It is the remark of no religious zealot, but of one of the
coolest and shrewdest observers of practical politics,
Horace Greeley, in one of his letters from Europe, that
we are shut up to the choice between the Puritan Sabbath
and the Parisian Sabbath. Shall we halt long between
the two? Is the legislature sitting in Annapolis, or
likely to sit there any time this century, that will venture
to vote away the birthright of this people — the universal
equal privilege of rich and poor — and substitute for it that
miserable French delusion, a Parisian holiday, through
which half the people are condemned to toil, that the

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Online LibraryLeonard Woolsey BaconChurch papers: sundry essays in subjects relating to the church and ... → online text (page 19 of 26)