Orville Dewey.

A sermon, preached on the national Fast day, at Church green, Boston (Volume 1) online

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Printed by Geo. C Raud & Avery. 3 Cornhill.

S E E M O N .


I SHALL take for my text this morning, the Psalm
which I have just read to you. It is applicable to the
occasion on which we are met together. Its application
here, to-day, is even more striking than it was originally.
In this way it was that many a text of the old time was
"fulfilled," — filled fuller of meaning, when applied to
the events of a later day. And so it is now.

For here Grod hath planted a nation, far greater and
more prosperous than that of the Hebrews. He has " cast
out the heathen, and planted it.'^ It is by ordinance
divine, we believe, — though we do not defend every
human action connected with it, — that poor, ignorant,
wandering tribes were to give place to a great and civil-
ized people. This North American continent was not
meant to be a mere hunting-ground. Not wild native
growths were to overrun and occupy it ; but the seeds of
civilized empire were to be planted here. They loere

planted ; they grew, — let the toil and pains and suffer-
ings of the early time, let its nurturing blood, tell how
they grew, — till they took "deep root and filled the
land ) till the hills were covered with their shadow, and
the boughs thereof were like the goodly cedars ; till they
sent out their boughs to the sea, and their branches unto
*he river ; " till, in short, a land a hundred times larger
than Palestine, was filled with more than thirty millions
of people, all abiding under one grand sovereignty, in
such peace, and freedom, and prosperity, and abundance,
and rapid progress, as were never seen in the world

This planting of a nation, but especially of such a
nation, is something sublime and solemn to contemplate.
Grovernment of some kind, — without which social order
and private security cannot exist, — is certainly the ordi-
nance of God. And, therefore, all mankind have agreed
to brand treason as a crime against heaven and earth, and
they have stricken it with pains and penalties, with
attainders and forfeitures, beyond any other crime against
society. But if ever the footsteps of a divine providence
have been seen in the growth of any nation, it appears to
me that it is in this, our American nationality. If any
government ever were, I believe that this is an ordinance
of. Grod. And if any treason were ever more inexcusable
and monstrous than any other yet seen on earth, I believe
it is this which we witness to-day.

And, therefore, without wishing to use opprobrious
terms, I cannot but regard the language of the text as
applicable to the present painful crisis of our national
affairs. " Why hast thou broken down her hedges, so
that all they which pass by the way do pluck her ? The
boar of the wood doth waste it, and the wild beast of the
field doth devour it.'' It is a wild, self-willed, passion-
ate, mad, and reckless invasion of the public order, —
this Southern revolt; and if we have any self-respect,
any loyalty, any regard for law and lawful rule, we must
treat it accordingly. And well may we add the prayer,
" Return, we beseech thee, Grod of Hosts ! look down
from heaven, and behold and visit this vine, and the
vineyard which thy right hand hath planted, and the
branch which thou madest strong for thyself."

The President of the United States has invited us to
assemble ourselves together, to offer such a prayer ; and
this, not merely as we do every Sunday, but with some
special though tfulness, humiliation, and sorrow.

On one account, I am well disposed to do so. I do
most heartily mourn over this dreadful conflict in which
we are engaged with the revolted Departments of the
South. I mourn over this awful spectacle of Christian
men, who were lately fellow-citizens, embruing their
hands in each other's blood. I mourn with those who
mourn for the absent, the wounded, and the dead. All

war is horrible, but tbis to me is tbe most horrible of all

But, at the same time, I do most heartily respect, ap-
prove, and enter into, the feelings of those who have
sprung to the support of the government in this great
emergency. It is loyalty to law and lawful sovereignty.
It is to defend the national integrity and stability and
honor, that our people have taken up arms. And yet, I
cannot^ut wonder at the buoyancy and eagerness with
which our soldiers go into the fight, — demanding it, and
singing, shouting, as they march to the battle-field. I
would rather see them on their knees, in prayer, and
solemn self-consecration to that awful work. That awful
work, I say; and I cannot look upon it in any other light.
It is to me the most tragic spectacle under the sun. If
our people must strike this blow, as I believe they must,
yet they should strike with reluctance and sorrow. It is
the act of Brutus, slaying his own sons for treason and
conspiracy against the state.

It is, perhaps, too much to expect of a people^ — a
whole people, — that it will take up arms altogether in
this spirit. We must take men as they are \ and few
are the men that can fight in pure sorrow for those whom
they assail. But so, if possible, sliould men strike for
the right. So should they wound and kill their fellows,
— in sorrow, though indignation be mingled with their
sorrow. So especially should a rebellion be put down,

where the antagonists were lately our fellow-citizens, and
may have been our friends. This is a contest, which, what-
ever passion or frenzy there be on the other side, requires
on ours much reflection and cool determination.

If we were resisting foreign invasion, — if we were
fighting people of another nation and name than our
own, it would be a different thing. But we are fighting
our own people. We wound those whom we would fain
comfort and heal. We slay those whom we love. I say
it, and maintain it. I will not be swept away from this
ground by the passions of the hour. I have known many
of the Southern people. I have seen them in their
homes. I have seen the system of domestic service, by
which their homes are supported. But, although I dis-
like their system, and think it in principle utterly wrong,
I do not hate them ; though I have brought upon myself
their displeasure by my plain speaking of slavery, yet I
held, and still hold them, in dear esteem for their many
virtues. Still, and nevertheless, I oppose them; and I
would do so, though they were the dearest friends on
earth. Though they were Christians, as holy as the
apostles, I would do so; as Paul "withstood Peter to
the face;" and for the same reason, — "because they
are to be blamed."

But, though I think them wrong, and to be blamed,
and to be resisted, yet is it right, one may say, to resist
them in this manner ? Since they desired to separate


from us, why should we not have yielded to them, and
have said, " Gro in peace ? " I answer, that to have done
so would have been to strike at the roots of all civil gov-
ernment. All lawful sovereignty, all political order, any
such thing as nationality, would be impossible upon this

But let us consider first, the question of war in gen-
eral, and then, the question of this particular war. The
sadness and horror I feel at this war, drive me -upon con-
sidering what place war has in the world, — what place
in the providence of Grod, — what place in the duties of

With regard to war in general then, in the first place,
or with regard to^ war abstractly considered, I have been
led of late, to ask whether we have not to revise our
theories. I never went to the length of some of our
Peace Societies ; but thus far I went, — I was inclined
to admit that war is never justifiable except for self-
defence. When invaded, we might fight ; but in no
other case. Now, however, I doubt whether this limita-
tion can be defended.

In reconsidering the subject I am struck at the outset
with this potent fact, — that war seems to have been a part
of the normal condition of nations, ever since the begin-
ning of the world ; in fact, just as defect, ignorance,
mistake, conflict of opinion, is a part of its norma^ con-
dition. It has been said in one of the discourses called


out by tlie present crisis,* that probably no man lias ever
lived to the period of seventy years without encountering
this fact of war ; and I am inclined to think that the
statement might be made still stronger ; namely : that no
nation has existed forty years without being engaged in
some war, external or internal. And there has hardly
been a year, or perhaps a moment of time, since the
world began, when war has not been going on somewhere.
It is computed that more than six thousand millions of
the human race have perished in battle, — about seven
times the present population of the earth. Now such a
fact must be resolved into some kind of consistency with
a providential order. The fact stands ; it stares us in
the face ; and it seems to be inevitable. How could it
be so, if all war, or all but defensive war, is contrary to
the will of God ?

Mr. Prudhon, the French writer, in a work lately pub-
lishq^, "on War and Peace," has attempted to legitimate
this fact ; to show it as incorporated into the very consti-
tution of the world, and as a part of the lawful and
ordained condition of men and nations. He maintains
that there is " a right of war," founded on " the right of
force ; " that is to say, that any nation, deprived by
another, or conceiving itself to be deprived, of what is
lawfully its own, — a fishery or territory, a fort or arse-
nal, — has a perfect right to reclaim it by force, and, if

* That of Dr. Ellis, of Cliarlestown.


necessary, by military force. He maintains tliat war is a
divine tiling; an ordinance of heaven, for tlie adjustment
of national claims, not otherwise possible ; that the right
to use such force lies at the bottom of all nationality, of
every political constitution ; that the noblest nations are
the surest to fight for their rights, and the meanest
people to surrender them. And then he goes on to glo-
rify war, as the tribunal of justice, the fountain of honor,
the source of progress and improvement among nations,
in a strain in which I confess, eloquent as he is, that he
is too hard for me.

For I believe that peace is a diviner thing, — which he
also seems to admit; I believe that patience and forgive-
ness are more divine than exaction and force; and that,
as the world improves, there will be less war, and, ulti-
mately, none at all ; and that nations will yet find a way,
by conventions and arbitrations, to settle their disputes
without bloodshed, as citizens of the same State now^ do.

Still, I cannot refuse to see that something of what Mr.
Prudhon says, is true. Force does lie at the bottom of
all political order ; and there are occasions when it must
be used, and, in the imperfectness of our present civiliza-
tion, must be used in war.

And if I go back to the natural and essential con-
dition of humanity, I can come to no other conclusion.
Suppose, — I hope you will pardon the homeliness of my
illustration for its appositeness, — suppose, I say, that I


and my neiglibor are living side by side, in a state of
nature, with no common government to appeal to; and he
says to me, " This piece of land, this farm on which you
live, is mine ; '^ and I reply, " No, it is mine ; it was my
father's before me; he gave it to me, and it is mine.'^
" Nay,'^ he says, "It is mine;" and he comes on
with the strong hand to take possession. What am
I to do ? Am I to acquiesce ? May I not resist
him ? And if, when I do so, he pulls a stake from
the fence, and I another, and they become as spears in
our hands, — nay, and if I am beaten down by him,
better that I should fall asserting my right, than tamely
to yield it to wrong, I should at least have bravely set
forth my sense of justice ; and I should help, though
falling, to spread the sense of justice among my neigh-
bors. But if I did nothing, and all men around me did
nothing, in such a case, to vindicate the right, all justice
would fall to the ground. And I myself should be de-
spoiled on every hand. One man has taken my land,
another would take my house, saying, " lie will not re-
sist ; " another would snatch my purse ; and I should be
turned out*, shelterless, to perish. No, that must not be ;
that was not meant to be. On the contrary, I believe
that God has given me the right to protect my life, my
person, and my property, in giving me the power and the
instinctive will to do so.

So it is with nations. What sort of a nation would


that be whicli should form its constitution in this wise ?
" We think it advisable that we should be one people,
and should have a form of government ; we hope that all
the citizens will respect and obey it; — we wish that no
one would steal or rob on the highway, or murder any-
body, for we think it is very wrong ; — and we desire
that other nations will let us alone ; that they will never
attack our ships or our cities ; that nobody will take
our forts or arsenals, for we should be very much dis-
pleased at it." No ; that might be a constitution for a
flock of sheep, but not for a nation of men. No, a
mighty will lies at the bottom of every nationality ; a will
to use force to preserve its integrity and to execute its
laws ; and its language is : We, the king ; or, we, the
nobles; or, we, the people ordain the constitution and
the laws ; and we will use all necessary force to restrain
and punish all crime, and, above all, the crime of treason.
within ; and to resist and overwhelm all invaders of our
rights loithout. This latter is war.

And now let it be considered, that justice is not always
palpably on one side. Nay, I believe that there is a con-
science on both sides, always, at the bottom of every war ;
for war is not robbery nor piracy, where the marauder
knows that he has no right, but a solemn levying of the
national force. I do not believe that nations fight but
upon the ground that they have the right upon their side.
The greatest mystery, — if I sought to find one, — in the


system of Providence, is this difference of opinion, witli
all its consequences ; and yet I see, tliat among imperfect
beings, it is inevitable 3 tliat it was, in the nature of things,
impossible to constitute a race of moral and imperfect be-
ings, without this element of trouble. And the standards
•of war are the bloody signals lifted up to proclaim and
defend opinions. Cousin has somewhere said that every
battle is the conflict of ideas ', nay, more, and that the
right always gains the victory. This can be true only in
one sense, viz : that the moral verdict of the world is
always, ultimately, given in favor of the right, even
though it sinks in the visible contest. Thus the Three
Hundred at Thermopylae fell; but the ages have rung
with celebration and triumph over that mighty deed.
Fallen, sunk in death, they are crowned with immortal

I have said these things upon war in general ; giving
only hints instead of descriptions, for which I have no
space at present ; and I have said them to show you that
war is not always unnecessary ; that all war is not unholy
^and profane ; that there may be such a thing as a right-
eous war, — and in such a war I believe we are now en-
gaged. Let us consider it.

Let me speak of this matter in the first place, as be-
tween us and the southern people, though I may have
nothing in particular to say that is new upon it. But I
have often imagined myself, knowing many of them as I


do, to debate this question with them in person, in con-
versation. I have thought of what they would say, and
what I should reply to them.

" You put the blame of this war upon us," they would
say; ^^ hut it is not upon us. We are wronged; we are
oppressed; we are fighing for our liberties. We have a-
right to separate from you. You have made us desire to
do so. You have contemned our social system. You
have made the relation of fellow-citizens utterly disa-
greeable to us. Why do you attempt to hold us ? Why
will you not let us alone ? Y/hy will you not let us de-
part in peace ? "

"In peace?'' I answer, "in peace ! do you say?
Was not your very first step to arm yourselves, and to
take your stand in armed defiance to the common Grovern-
ment over us all, to which we had all alike sworn fealty ?
Your leaders took that fatal initiative, and you followed.
It was not we who began the fight, but you. You were
lono" arming yourselves before we ever moved. — as we
have found to our cost.

" But wherein were you wronged ? What right was
denied you ? You held your slaves, and had power over
them, untouched. Slavery was a municipal institution,
with which the Greneral Government did not propose to '
interfere, and does not now. Is some Northern criticism,
grant it were severe at times, a sufficient reason for break-
ing the national bond ? And do you really demand, as the


price of a mere political union with you, that our moutlis
and minds shall be shut in silence on this subject ? It
would be greater bondage than any you complain of.
We must speak ; all the world must speak of it. The
fires of criticism are burning all around you; and the
South, instead of reasoning or letting others reason,
seems ' like scorpion girt with fire,' more likely to destroy
itself and its favorite institution together. Yes, ' the in-
stitution ! ' — this, disguise it who may, is the cause, at
bottom, of the whole difiiculty. You' are indignant with
our opinions about slavery. Only let us of the North say,
' We have changed our mind ; you have convinced us
that we were wrong ; we have come to see that slavery is
a just and admirable thing, and are sorry that we opposed
it,' and you would be good friends and good fellow-
citizens with us to-morrow.

" But, at any rate,'' they say, " we have a constitutional
right to separate." That is the fatal theory, — the other
feeling is the impulse, — but that is the fatal theory which
supports this whole Southern movement. Not' treason,
revolt, rebellion, is it, — but secession is the word that
covers up all the mischief. John Bell, of Tennessee, is
the only man that I have heard of, connected with this
movement, that plainly said, " I am going to be a rebel."
But he said what is true. For it is rebellion. It is just
as much rebellion as it would be for Normandy or Bur-
gundy, provinces of France, or for Scotland or Ireland,


parts of Britain, to break off, arm themselves, and bid de-
fiance to tbeir respective governments.

Thus should I argue with the Southern people, or any
company of them, if I could meet them face to face. But
sorrowful is the arguing which, carried into action, must
cost thousands, and perhaps ten thousands, of human lives.
I mourn over the necessity by which it is urged. A day
of thoughtfulness, humiliation, and grief, is a fit season
for it. It is fit that a great people, engaging in such a
contest, should bow down before Grod in prayer and sorrow.

And I do not wonder that the heart of a humane man
should sink within him at the prospect of this bloody en-
counter between the loyal people of America and the re-
volted States. Nor am I surprised that there are some
among ourselves who say, " Let us have peace rather than
all this sacrifice of blood and treasure j " who say, " Al-
though the Southern peopje are in the wrong, yet they
think themselves in the right, and it is hard to crush them
down, even if we can do so ) let us go on with a North-
ern and Southern republic ; there are evils and perils in
the plan, but it is better than this fratricidal war.'' And
again, I am not surprised that people abroad, looking as
idle spectators upon what is passing in a far-distant coun-
try, regard this-war as a contest between rival States, —
Mexican or South American States; or, at any rate, have
come to the conclusion that a revolt which has assumed
such immense proportions, should be considered as a sue-


cessful revolution, or as warranting a permanent political

Yet I firmly maintain that all these ways of thinking-
are wrong J here in the house of Grod, and amidst the so-
lemnities of prayer and humiliation, I firmly maintain that
neither the horror of bloodshed, nor brotherly sympathy,
nor cold, unsympathizing foreign criticism, are entitled to
be our guidance in the awful circumstances in which we
are placed.

There is a higher plane of thought, I conceive, than
that on which these considerations are placed. Above
the mere impulses of humanity and sympathy, I believe,
we must rise, if we would rise to the height of this
great argument. And we must look farther than our
foreign critics do, if we would understand the duty of
the hour.

I see, first, a grand question of right, of lawful sove-
reignty, as between ourselves and the Southern people.
There is a right, there is a lawful sovereignty, some-
where in this controversy? Whose is it? Somebody
must yield here. Who ? Some principles must give way.
Which ? Loyalty or rebellion ? The freedom interest or
the slave interest? The right of a majority, or the right
of a minority ? The conscience of a nation, or of a broken
frao-ment of a nation ? The claim, our lawful claim to the
national property and domain, — our claim to the national
fortresses, arsenals, munitiofis, and mints; or the claim to


seize and despoil tliem ? Which, I say, shall be surren-
dered, — supposing that there were an equally strong con-
viction on both sides ? When it is demanded of us that
we shall give up what we believe to be the national law
and sovereignty, or that we shall suffer the grand fabric
of the government to be broken down with impunity, can
it in justice be expected of us that we should consent to
it ? In honor, can we do it, — in conscience, in loyalty,
in obedience to any principle of virtue or religion ?

Even in a private relation, where I might have a per-
sonal right to make any sacrifice I pleased, — yet even
then, if a man were to assail me who was only half as
strong as I am, — if he were to snatch my purse, and
should lift his hand to strike me, could it be expected
that I should let him go on and work his will upon me ?
Would it be thought strange if I should lay my hand upon
him, and, using only so much force as was necessary
to restrain him, should consign him to the police or to
prison ? And certainly the plea for forbearance and hu-
manity, — the claim to be "let alone, '^ — the exclamation
that he was very hardly and cruelly dealt with, would be
thought, by every bystander, to be a very strange one in
his mouth.

And this plea for humanity, it must be remembered, has
two sides to it. There ^re other human beings to be con-
sidered, besides those who are engaged in this revolt. If
the Southern rebellion could sifcceed, the slave-trade would


be reopened ; a great slave empire would be built up upon
our borders; it would extend itself over new regions; and
all the misery and injustice of African bondage would be
perpetuated, througli what period none can tell. In the
interest of humanity and of the human race, in a just
participation in the recognised duty of all civilized na-
tions, I think we are bound to prevent that, if we can.
Not to say that if this slave government could establish
itself, and stand side by side with ours, instead of a war
of a year or two, we should open the bloody history of
endless wars.

To any man among -ourselves who dissents from a whole
loyal people in this matter, I would say, — what ground
do you take ? Do you say that secession is right ? Then,
doubtless, we are all wrong. Do you admit that it is
wrong, — politically, morally wrong, — a false and fatal
principle in all government, and without all just cause as
against ours ; and then do you say that we are to yield
everything that this false and ruinous principle demands
of us? Where is our manhood, if we can do so ? I have
heard this called a politician's war. It is utterly false to
say so. Opposition to it, rather, is a politician's oppo-


Online LibraryOrville DeweyA sermon, preached on the national Fast day, at Church green, Boston (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 2)