Orville Dewey.

On patriotism : the condition, prospects, and duties of the American people, a sermon delivered on fast day at Church Green, Boston (Volume 1) online

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Online LibraryOrville DeweyOn patriotism : the condition, prospects, and duties of the American people, a sermon delivered on fast day at Church Green, Boston (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 3)
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[The Congregation, at whose request this Sermon is printed, will ob-
serve that a part of it was omitted in the delivery.]



Psalm cxxii. 2, 7, and 8 verses. Our feet shall stand within thy gates,
O Jerusalem. Peace be within thy walls and prosperity within thy
palaces. For my brethren and companions' sakes, I will now say,
peace be within thee.

And Matthew xxiii. 37. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the
prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee, how often would I
have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her
chickens under her wings, and ye would not!

I CANNOT help noticing, as I pass, this extraordinary
language of Christ. Poor, neglected, unknown, a simple
teacher by the way-sides of Judea, with no position in
worldly eyes ; yet if he had been a departing king,
mourning over his people, he could not have spoken more
loftily. Is there not some strange, unborrowed, supernal
majesty in this appeal ?

But it is not this of which I am to speak now, or for
which I have drawn my text from sacred records, several
hundred years apart. It is rather to point out the abid-
ing naturalness and beauty of the sentiment of patriotism.
For thus it is, that from age to age are forever echoing,
words of every language, which proclaim how dear is
men's native land. From David, who sung that ancient
song, to him who wept over Jerusalem ; and by all men

who have felt the touches of the gentlest or of the grand-
est humanity, thus have heen repeated the words — songs,
adjurations, or words of orators or historians, which pro-
claim the sacredness of country and home. Whether we
can explain the sentiment or not, all men feel it, and no-
body ever thought of defending it. There are sentiments
indeed, that are more expansive. Our minds naturally
range beyond all local boundaries. Science and philo-
sophy are of no country. We belong to the world, it is
true ; and there is a humanity that is as wide as the
world. But, that tract of earth which I call my native
soil, my native clime: that spot where my childhood
grew, where my parents have lived, and my kindred shall
live after me ; that is holy ground, set apart and severed
from all the world beside ; and framed, ay, its very hills
and valleys, its slopes and river-banks, moulded and
framed into some mysterious ties and sympathies with
my very life and being. And I must be able to tell,
what never yet was told — to tell what this inmost life and
being are, before I can interpret all that is written on this
tablet of home and country ; before I can tell what home
and country mean.

But one thing is plain and palpable to my mind, that
when I say " my country," I say what no amplification
can add to ; that I say more than any epithets can de-
scribe ; that I speak of that which is a part of me, and I
of it; that whatever touches it, touches me; and who-
ever assails it, assails me. It must be a dull man that
feels neither pride nor shame for his native land. And
if, from a disbanded nationality, I were wandering and
fleeing, and the world should point the finger and say,

•' aha ! ye had not the force nor sense nor virtue to live,
or keep your bond, or hold together ; " that taunt would
darken the very shadow and sorrow of exile.

And yet, though as I firmly believe, there never was
a country which men have had more reason to love and
ciierish, than we have to love and cherish this country ;
yet here and among us, I think that the sentiment of
patriotism is exposed to peculiar dangers. We have no
uniting head, King or Queen, to whom the feeling of
patriotic loyalty can attach itself. Our devotion is to an
abstract Constitution ; and though it is a noble kind of
devotion if it can be sustained ; yet if you were to cross
to the father-land, you would be struck with the difference
between our respect for the Constitution and the personal
feeling wliich rises from a whole people to the fair majesty
of England ; to a crown which is at once the top of honor,
and set round with all the gems of private virtue. Then
again, there is nothing here to shield the head of the
State, from everv sort of violent and even scurrilous abuse.
Every newly-chosen President seems to be set up, not as
the image of the public order, but as a target to be shot
at. The attack of course provokes defence; but the
defence is apt to take the tone of partizanship rather than
of true and unbiased respect. All this must hurt the
sentiment of patriotism. If the head of the family, the
judge on the bench, the minister at the altar, were the
subject of this perpetual wrangling, the very institutions
they preside over — home, law, religion — must suffer
indignity and dishonor from such treatment. In a free
State, it may be said, can anytliing be done to prevent it 1
That I will consider soon; at any rate I will consider


whether we should not try to do something. But once
more ; our freedom, with the unchecked opportunity it
offers for the acquisition of gains, luxuries, comforts, and
for the indulgence of all sorts of private opinions and
preferences, is liable to run out into an individualism, a
thinking and caring of each one only for himself, and a
neglect of our political duties, which are in direct antag-
onism with the love of country. There is a class of
persons in this country, and I fear it is an increasing class,
who, disgusted with politics, or fastidiously averse from
free mingling with the people, or engrossed with business,
are shrinking from their duties as citizens ; who refuse to
take office, avoid as much as they can every species of
service to the public, even that of sitting on juries, and
who neglect to deposit their ballot at the polls. In fact,
there is a disintegration of society here, that is hostile not
only to patriotic, but even to fixed party sentiments.

I have said thus much in general, with the view to open
to you the subject on which I propose to address you this
morning : and that is, our country, the love of our
country, and the circumstances in our condition that are
liable to weaken that great patriotic bond. I shall discuss a
variety of questions ; but they will have at least this unity ;
every question will come to this point, the love of our
country, the right appreciation of it, the vi^illing service
which patriotism demands to be rendered to it ; nay, the
filial consideration and loyalty with which we ought to
speak of it.

And first, let me say a word, of a reckless habit which
we have, of speaJcing about the country. It may be re-
garded as a small matter — speech, the talk of the street,

the license of debate, in caucus or Congress — but I cannot
think it so. Speech is the birth of opinion ; and opinion
is the womb of the unborn future. What we think and
say, the coming generation are hkely enough to do. Idle
talk may resolve itself into dreadful fact. Let all men
among us, talk as some men do ; and a hurricane might
pass over the land with less harm, than that idle or angry

Nay, there are those who talk, as if they did not care
how soon the worst came to pass. Disgusted with what
they call the popular tendencies ; disgusted with the up-
heaving of the popular mass, which they have never tried
to direct or control ; disgusted with the insubordination
and irreverence of the young ; disgusted altogether with
our politics, they say — I have hea7'd them say, " let the
worst come ; the sooner the better ; the worse the bet-
ter ! " Now I confess that I can never hear this kind of
talk, or anything approaching to it, without great pain.
It discourages and saddens me. It discourages every-
body. It is not good to hear. It is not good to think or
say. I know that there is often a more grave and con-
siderate talking, about popular derelictions and public
corruj)tion ; and though I cannot altogether gainsay the
justice of it, I must say it seems to me there is too much
of it — such as it is. Let us do something and not always
talk. Or if we must talk, let it be to inquire what we
can do. But it is too often cold, scornful, sarcastic, bitter
talk that I hear. If it were more painful, there would be
less of it. I sat by a couple of gentlemen lately, who
were speaking at length, of bribery and corruption in
Congress. I could not help saying, " this talk always


makes me sick." So said one of them, " it makes me
sick." But it went on. It always goes on. Fault find-
ing is always eloquent ; and it is easy. If the object
were to inquire how we can correct our own, or our peo-
ple's errors, it were profitable. But if it be only to vent
our spleen, it is perilous. We may say of it, in relation
to our country, what Burns says in another connection,
" it petrifies the feeling."

And is it not a very strange thing 1 Was the like
ever seen before ; a people so recklessly criticizing itself;
smiting the government, the country, and the country's
hope, in one suicidal blow ? This passes the ordinary
limits of party animosity. Is there anything like it in
England or France ? Was there in old Rome ^ till its
disastrous and declining days came, and seemed to justify
the despair of Cicero, and the satire of Tacitus. But in
its prosperous days were such words ever spoken 1 Why,
I have heard a man standing in the high Senate of these
United States — I have heard a senator say, " The presi-
dent, and his cabinet, and both houses of congress, ought
to be taken and pitched into the Potomac." If he had
said such a thing in old Rome, he would himself have
been pitched into the Tiber, and would have deserved it.
And lately, in a speech in Congress, I hear the president
called a " brigand ! "

I take it upon me to rebuke such mad speaking. It
should not have been possible to say or to hear such
things in the Capitol. The man who undertook to say
them, should have been drowned in hisses if it had been
in a popular assembly, or if in the Senate, he should have
been withered by its awful frown. I do not deny that


there should he a strict and solemn inquisition into the
ways of the government and of the nation ; l)ut I do deny-
that such indecent and abnsive language should be used.
I will not admit that it is right ever to speak thus of our
country, or its government. This sublime nationality ;
this embodied life of thirty millions of human souls ; this
gathering under the awful wings of Providence, of six
millions of families ; this majestic Rule that ])resides over
them ; this struggling welfare and sorrow and hope of a
great people, all bound up in the country's jirosperity and
progress ; this whole stu[)endous evolution of the fortunes
of Imiiiaiiity, is it to be treated as lightlv as if it were a
game of football, or as angrily, with as much passion
and desj)ite, and rash exclamation of oaths or curses, as
if it were a pugilistic fight I How ditierent was the
spirit, how reverent, protective, and tender, with which
Jesus looked uj)on his people ! And, indeed, what com-
manding dignity aj)pears in his address to it ! And how
evenly and perfectly was the balance held in him, between
indignation and love ! The government was in bad
hands enough ; and he was disowned, and rejected, and
persecuted ; the Pharisees, the rulers, the Sanhedrim
would not know him ; and yet sadly and indignantly as
he speaks of all the w'rong and evil there was in high
places — vet no reckless satire or scorn ever fell from his
lips ; but his great and loving heart burst out in uielting
exj)ostulation, saying, '• O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou
tluit killest the prophets and stonest them that are sent
unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy chihhen
even as a lieu gathereth her chickens under her wings,
and ve would not ! "


But the true question, I may be told, were, whether
the country and government deserve to be spoken of with
satire and scorn. This question concerns two very
different tilings — the country and the government — and
I shall treat of them separately.

Does the government deserve it 1 Is it as bad as it is
often said to be ? Has it become more corrupt than it
was in former days I Has it declined from its ])ristine
integrity ? It may be true ; I am afraid it is true ; but
it is to be remembered that our saying so does not prove
it. Just as hard things have been said all along, of all the
administrations, after the first ; and even that, even Wash-
ington's, did not escape the most bitter reproaches. But
just as hard, nay, harder things, were said of Jefferson
and John Adams, and Madison and Monroe. Party
animosity raged even more fiercely then, than it does now.

I have had, for my part, some salutary experience upon
this matter. 1 remember the time when I was taught by
those around me, to regard Thomas Jefferson as the basest
and most dissolute and unprincipled of men. And I do
not doubt that there are some here, who could tell me,
that John Adams was treated with scarcely more decorum.
Well, I have lived to see these two men in their old age,
treating one another with respectful consideration, writing
amiable and friendly letters to one another ; and I have
lived to see the time wdien they died on the same day —
on that memorable fourth of July ; and then I heard the
voice of loud lament and eulogy bursting forth from the
whole country ; from all parties alike. It was a great
lesson to me ; and I resolved that I would never listen to
the words of party clamor any more. And how is it


nov)^ with Webster, and Clay, and Calhoun ! Why, it is
coming' to be generally admitted, even by their opponents,
that however they may have erred, however they may
have acted under biases and prejudices, they loved their
country ; and that in the circumstances in whicli they were
placed, they did what they thought was right. Can any
more be said of the integrity of statesmen than this \
And if there be men now standing high among us — I
say not this or that man — but if there be any who may
meet with a similar reversal of the popular or party
award, from tlu; calm judgment of posterity, nay, and are
likely enough, judging from the past, to do so, ought it
not to stir a sacred caution in our minds, how we treat
them \ Doubtless a government may grow more and
more corrupt. Doubtless there are found, from time to
time, in seats of power, bad men and bad magistrates.
But it must be a sad thing, it nmst be a terrible thing, for
us on mere party and mistaken biases, to admit that the
whole government of the country is sinking deeper and
deeper in corruption every year. Neither Statesmen, nor
any (tthcr men, can fairlv he expected to be better than we
account thciii to be. This constant depreciating and vili-
fying of the govermnent, by one half of the people, tends
to bring about the very state of things we lament over,
and we may help to verify in misery and disgrace, the
very prophecy of our haste and wrath.

I admit that in some respects, there is a descent from
the dignity and ])erha})S virtue of former days. It is
constantly said, that an inferior class of men is chosen to
public office ; and I will not deny it. Every nation
perhaps, has its golden age ; or what seems to be such.


111 the early times of the RepuUic, the natural anxiety of
the people, called the highest men into the public service.
We have ^rown easy and careless. But this is not all.
The representative principle was not at once developed
here in its full force ; or rather it was not abused, as it is
now. For a long time there was a class of men, regarded
as superior persons, to whom the people naturally looked
as their leaders and legislators. That natural aristocracy
is now to a certain extent disowned ; and the candidate
for office is preferred perhaps, because he is not of that
class. It is an unfortunate reaction. Then too, men of
culture and refinement, are more and more shrinking and
retiring from public life. It is an unfortunate tendency.
The consequence of all this, is seen in a deterioration of
manners, in our high places. We hear of rude and
abusive personalities in debate, nay, of actual combats
and blows in the halls of Congress; of blows more
wounding to the public heart, even than to the unworthy
combatants. That rule in Congressional speeches which
is called the " one hour rule," however necessary it may
have been, and however just and reasonable, has undoubt-
edly had the eHect to lower the dignity of debate.
Formerly, a few leading members discussed great ques-
tions. Now, a much larger class are brought upon the
floor ; and the manners are worse. Then again, terrible
questions are now brought forward, questions about the
public lands, about annexation of territory, about slavery,
which try the integrity, the virtue, the comj)osure, the
self-})ossession of public men, more than they were tried
in former days. All this, I trust, is transitional, and will
pass away. It does not prove to me that the natural


tendency of free suffrage and a free Constitution, un-
der fair conditions, is to carry a government down-

But the more serious question is about the moral pro-
gress or deterioration of the whole country. Government
is, to the people, a mystery. The eye of the popular
conscience is not fairly opened to it. Hence it comes to
pass that things are abetted in public, which would not
be tolerated in private life. This separation between
political and personal njorality, which is doing so much
mischief all over tlie world, it is to be hoped is tempo-
rary liere, and will be searched into and stigmatized and
stamped witli utter reprobation, by a more enlightened
public opinion. Men, I trust, will come to look at the
persons who administer public affairs, as keenly as they
investigate the conduct of bank or radroad directors, nay,
and will judge and act as stockholders, in the great na-
tional interest, demanding, irrespective of party biases, —
demanding, I say, probity in the one as much as in the
other, resolving to elect no man to public affairs who is
not an honest and good man.

But the (juestion about the national character is dis-
end)arrassed from these considerations ; and it cuts deeper.
It is a momentous question certainly, and demands the
gravest and most anxious study. It is a question for
ourselves. It matters little comparatively what others
say of us, though they are saying nmch on the other side,
at the present moment. Nor is this surprising ; for the
example of universal suffrage and of popular rule, which
we have set up here, must of course be subjected to the
severest scrutiny. Does it work well \ is the question.


Theories are notliing" ; does it work well ? And there is
a party in England which maintains that it does not.
They say that everything is running down here.

Is it true 1 A)'e we becoming a more unprincipled,
vicious, dissolute people 1 Are we less honest, less tem-
perate, less benevolent, less reverent, less pure in man-
ners and morals, than our predecessors were half a
century ago ] Has our freedom run out into general
license ? Or is there to be seen in the country at large,
any tendency of the kind ]

This is not the place to say how humble is the estimate
which every right-minded people must form of its virtues ;
or how deep is the sense, which every conscientious and
thoughtful man must entertain of the national defects ;
let the nation be which it will, American or French or
English. Next to the burden which his own faults lay
upon such a man, I believe, is the sad feeling he has, in
contemplating the too common depravity and degradation
around him, the baseness in high places and low, the
drunkenness and debauchery, the sins, secret and open,
which cover all the world with darkness, and fill it with
tears. Tiiis is doubtless a wise direction of men's
thoughts, whether in this country or any other country ;
whether for a Fast Day or any other day. And I will
not leave it to be inferred, from anything I shall say,
that I am insensible to this humbling and painful contem-
plation of our moral condition. Before a righteous con-
science let every peojde bow low ; before accusers speak-
ing in the interest of king-ship and aristocracy, and trying
to discredit free governments, it must assume a different


And the question here, let it be observed, is not how
bad we are, but whether we are reg-ularly and constantly-
growing worse ; whether we are going down in national
character ; and I deliberately say, I do not believe it ;
I do not admit any such thing. Nay, it is rather ob-
servable, that the men who are wont to speak the most
bitterly of their country — I mean the ultra-reformers,
the abolitionists, for instance, and come-outers of all sorts
— do nevertheless comfort themselves with the belief,
that their labors have not been in vain ; that there is
a better tone of sentiment and a better state of morals
among us, than there was twenty years ago.

But I do not deny that there are some bad indica-
tions, explicable, I think, however, on other grounds
than that of a general tendency and sweep downwards.
In the moral condition of a people, there will always
be oscillations. There are local circumstances, affecting
moral conduct ; there are great movements of society ;
there are reactions ; all writers on statistics know this,
and the moral critic is bound to consider it. Thus, in
the education of the young, obedience fails to be en-
forced among us. to an extent positively alarming ; but
I believe that it is a reaction from the old parental rigor ;
and I think I already see indications of return to whole-
some discipline. Then again, we have heard much of
social disorders ; of the bowie-knife and lynch-law on
our Western border. 'Jliis state of things is evidently
owing to circumstances; and, what is especially to be
observed, this border line of semi-civilized life, instead
of coming this way, as it should, according to the argu-
ment of deterioration, is constantly retreating. So in our


cities, we have seen violence and sad misrule, enough to
furnish a loud argument against us on the other side
of the water, and' loud admonition to ourselves. The
truth is, we have been slowly learning, how, under our
popular system, to govern cities. And I think we are
solving the problem. And again I say it is observable
that the disturbance is retiring ; it is passing, so to say,
along down our coast cities ; and in one after another
it is controlled. We had mobs in Boston, New Bedford,
Providence, New York. We have them no more. Dis-
orders still prevail in Philadelphia, especially among the
fire-engine companies — organizations which I hope will
ere long be entirely supplanted by the use of steam-
engines — and in Baltimore, from political causes. The
truth is, and we are finding it out, that nothing but
military force will hold in check the lower populace of
our cities. With regard to misrule, to corruption in
our city governments, the only remedy lies in agencies
far more difficult to be called forth. For until the su-
perior classes in our cities, the men of wealth and educa-
tion, will consent to take the part which they ought to
take, in our elections and in our numicipal affairs, there
will be misrule and corruption, injuring the ))ublic in-
terest, and shaming all good men. The evil is growing
so monstrous, that I cannot help believing, it will drive
us upon the obvious remedy. Then once more, it is said
that crime is increasing in this country faster than ])op-
ulation. Is it strange that it should do so? Does it
fiiirly indicate the general character of our people, when
it is well known that so much of it is imported from

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Online LibraryOrville DeweyOn patriotism : the condition, prospects, and duties of the American people, a sermon delivered on fast day at Church Green, Boston (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 3)