Thomas B. (Thomas Brackett) Reed.

Modern eloquence; (Volume 11) online

. (page 5 of 43)
Online LibraryThomas B. (Thomas Brackett) ReedModern eloquence; (Volume 11) → online text (page 5 of 43)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

is more precious in His sight than that of millions of His
suppliant creatures, who do justice, love mercy, and walk
humbly with their God ! No, in the judgment of Heaven
there is no other superiority among men than a superiority
in wisdom and virtue. And can we have a safer model in
forming ours ? The Deity, then, has not given any order
or family of men authority over others; and if any men
have given it, they only could give it for themselves. Our
forefathers, 'tis said, consented to be subject to the laws of
Great Britain. I will not, at present, dispute it, nor mark
out the limits and conditions of their submission ; but will
it be denied that they contracted to pay obedience and to
be under the control of Great Britain because it appeared
to them most beneficial in their then present circumstances
and situations? We, my countrymen, have the same right
to consult and provide for our happiness which they had to


promote theirs. If they had a view to posterity in their
contracts, it must have been to advance the felicity of their
descendants. If they erred in their expectations and pros-
pects, we can never be condemned for a conduct which they
would have recommended had they foreseen our present

Ye darkeners of counsel, who would make the property,
lives, and religion of millions depend on the evasive inter-
pretations of musty parchments; who would send us to
antiquated charters of uncertain and contradictory mean-
ing, to prove that the present generation are not bound to
be victims to cruel and unforgiving despotism, tell us
whether our pious and generous ancestors bequeathed to
us the miserable privilege of having the rewards of our hon-
esty, industry, the fruits of those fields which they pur-
chased and bled for, wrested from us at the will of men
over whom we have no check. Did they contract for us
that, with folded arms, we should expect that justice and
mercy from brutal and inflamed invaders which have been
denied to our supplications at the foot of the throne? Were
we to hear our character as a people ridiculed with indiffer-
ence? Did they promise for us that our meekness and
patience should be insulted ; our coasts harassed, our towns
demolished and plundered, and our wives and offspring ex-
posed to nakedness, hunger, and death, without our feeling
the resentment of men, and exerting those powers of self-
preservation which God has given us? No man had orce
a greater veneration for Englishmen than I entertained.
They were dear to me as branches of the same parental
trunk, and partakers of the same religion and laws ; I still
view with respect the remains of the constitution as I would
a lifeless body, which had once been animated by a great
and heroic soul. But when I am aroused by the din of
arms; when I behold legions of foreign assassins, paid by
Englishmen to imbrue their hands in our blood ; when I
tread over the uncoffined bodies of my countrymen, neigh-
bors, and friends; when I see the locks of a venerable father
torn by savage hands, and a feeble mother clasping her
infants to her bosom, and on her knees imploring their lives
from her own slaves, whom Englishmen have allured to
treachery and murder; when I behold my country, once


the seat of industry, peace, and plenty, changed by English-
men to a theater of blood and misery, Heaven forgive me,
if I cannot root out those passions which it has implanted
in my bosom, and detest submission to a people who have
either ceased to be human, or have not virtue enough to
feel their own wretchedness and servitude!

Men who content themselves with the semblance of truth
and a display of words talk much of our obligations to
Great Britain for protection. Had she a single eye to our
advantage? A nation of shopkeepers are very seldom so
disinterested. Let us not be so amused with words; the
extension of her commerce was her object. When she de-
fended our coasts, she fought for her customers, and con-
voyed our ships loaded with wealth, which we had acquired
for her by our industry. She has treated us as beasts of
burden, whom the lordly masters cherish that they may
carry a greater load. Let us inquire also against whom she
has protected us? Against her own enemies with whom
we had no quarrel, or only on her account, and against
whom we always readily exerted our wealth and strength
when they were required. Were these colonies backward
in giving assistance to Great Britain, when they were called
upon in 1739 to aid the expedition against Carthagena?
They at that time sent three thousand men to join the Brit-
ish army, although the war commenced without their con-
sent. But the last war, 'tis said, was purely American.
This is a vulgar error, which, like many others, has gained
credit by being confidently repeated. The dispute between
the courts of Great Britain and France related to the limits
of Canada and Nova Scotia. The controverted territory
was not claimed by any in the colonies, but by the Crown
of Great Britain. It was therefore their own quarrel. The
infringement of a right which England had, by the treaty
of Utrecht, of trading in the Indian country of Ohio, was
another cause of the war. The French seized large quanti-
ties of British manufacture and took possession of a fort
which a company of British merchants and factors had
erected for the security of their commerce. The war was
therefore waged in defense of lands claimed by the crown,
and for the protection of British property. The French at
that time had no quarrel with America, and, as appears by


letters sent from their commander-in-chief to some of the
colonies, wished to remain in peace with us. The part,
therefore, which we then took, and the miseries to which
we exposed ourselves, ought to be charged to our affection
to Britain. These colonies granted more than their pro-
portion to the support of the war. They raised, clothed,
and maintained nearly twenty-five thousand men, and so
sensible were the people of England of our great exertions,
that a message was annually sent to the House of Commons
purporting, " that his majesty, being highly satisfied with
the zeal and vigor with which his faithful subjects in North
America had exerted themselves in defense of his majesty's
just rights and possessions, recommend it to the House to
take the same into consideration, and enable him to give
them a proper compensation."

But what purpose can arguments of this kind answer?
Did the protection we received annul our rights as men,
and lay us under an obligation of being miserable?

Who among you, my countrymen, that is a father,
would claim authority to make your child a slave because
you had nourished him in infancy?

'Tis a strange species of generosity which requires a re-
turn infinitely more valuable than anything it could have
bestowed ; that demands as a reward for a defense of our
property a surrender of those inestimable privileges, to the
arbitrary will of vindictive tyrants, which alone give value
to that very property.

Political rights and public happiness are different words
for the same idea. They who wander into metaphysical
labyrinths, or have recourse to original contracts, to deter-
mine the rights of men, either impose on themselves or
mean to delude others. Public utility is the only certain
criterion. It is a test which brings disputes to a speedy
decision, and makes its appeal to the feelings of mankind.
The force of truth has obliged men to use arguments drawn
from this principle who were combating it in practise and
speculation. The advocates for a despotic government and
non-resistance to the magistrate employ reasons in favor of
their systems drawn from a consideration of their tendency
to promote public happiness.

The Author of Nature directs all His operations to the


production of the greatest good, and has made human virtue
to consist in a disposition and conduct which tends to
the common felicity of His creatures. An abridgment of
the natural freedom of men, by the institutions of political
societies, is vindicable only on this foot. How absurd,
then, is it to draw arguments from the nature of civil society
for the annihilation of those very ends which society
was intended to procure ! Men associate for their mutual
advantage. Hence, the good and happiness of the mem-
bers, that is, the majority of the members, of any state, is
the great standard by which everything relating to that
state must finally be determined; and though it may be
supposed that a body of people may be bound by a volun-
tary resignation (which they have been so infatuated as to
make) of all their interests to a single person, or to a few,
it can never be conceived that the resignation is obligatory
to their posterity; because it is manifestly contrary to the
good of the whole that it should be so.

These are the sentiments of the wisest and most vir-
tuous champions of freedom. Attend to a portion on
this subject from a book in our defense, written, I had
almost said, by the pen of inspiration. "I lay no stress,"
says he, "on charters; they derive their rights from a
higher source. It is inconsistent with common sense to
imagine that any people would ever think of settling in a
distant country on any such condition, or that the people
from whom they withdrew should forever be masters of
their property, and have power to subject them to any
modes of government they pleased. And had there been
expressed stipulations to this purpose in all the charters of
the colonies, they would, in my opinion, be no more bound
by them than if it had been stipulated with them that they
should go naked, or expose themselves to the incursions of
wolves and tigers."

Such are the opinions of every virtuous and enlightened
patriot in Great Britain. Their petition to Heaven is,
That there may be one free country left upon earth, to
which they may fly when venality, luxury, and vice shall
have completed the ruin of liberty there.

Courage, then, my countrymen ! Our contest is not only
whether we ourselves shall be free, but whether there shall


be left to mankind an asylum on earth for civil and religious
liberty. Dismissing, therefore, the justice of our cause, as
incontestable, the only question is, What is best for us to
pursue in our present circumstances?

The doctrine of dependence on Great Britain is, I be-
lieve, generally exploded ; but as I would attend to the
honest weakness of the simplest of men, you will pardon
me if I offer a few words on that subject.

We are now on this continent, to the astonishment of
the world, three millions of souls united in one cause. We
have large armies, well disciplined and appointed, with
commanders inferior to none in military skill, and superior
in activity and zeal. We are furnished with arsenals and
stores beyond our most sanguine expectations, and foreign
nations are waiting to crown our success by their alliances.
There are instances of, I would say, an almost astonishing
Providence in our favor; our success has staggered our ene-
mies, and almost given faith to infidels; so we may truly
say it is not our own arm which has saved us.

The hand of Heaven appears to have led us on to be,
perhaps, humble instruments and means in the great provi-
dential dispensation which is completing. We have fled
from the political Sodom; let us not look back, lest we
perish and become a monument of infamy and derision to
the world. For can we ever expect more unanimity and a
better preparation for defense; more infatuation of counsel
among our enemies, and more valor and zeal among our-
selves? The same force and resistance which are sufficient
to procure us our liberties will secure us a glorious inde-
pendence and support us in the dignity of free, imperial
states. We cannot suppose that our opposition has made
a corrupt and dissipated nation more friendly to America,
or created in them a greater respect for the rights of man-
kind. We can therefore expect a restoration and establish-
ment of our privileges, and a compensation for the injuries
we have received, from their want of power, from their
fears, and not from their virtues. The unanimity and valor
which will effect an honorable peace can render a future
contest for our liberties unnecessary. He who has strength
to chain down the wolf is a madman if he let him loose
without drawing his teeth and paring his nails.


From the day on which an accommodation takes place
between England and America, on any other terms than as
independent states, I shall date the ruin of this country.
A politic minister will study to lull us into security, by
granting us the full extent of our petitions. The warm
sunshine of influence would melt down the virtue which
the violence of the storm rendered more firm and unyield-
ing. In a state of tranquillity, wealth, and luxury, our de-
scendants would forget the arts of war and the noble activ-
ity and zeal which made their ancestors invincible. Every
art of corruption would be employed to loosen the bond of
union which renders our resistance formidable. When the
spirit of liberty which now animates our hearts and gives
success to our arms is extinct, our numbers will accelerate
our ruin and render us easier victims to tyranny. Ye aban-
doned minions of an infatuated ministry, if peradventure
any should yet remain among us, remember that a Warren
and a Montgomery are numbered among the dead. Con-
template the mangled bodies of your countrymen, and then
say, What should be the reward of such sacrifices? Bid us
and our posterity bow the knee, supplicate the friendship,
and plow, and sow, and reap, to glut the avarice of the men
who have let loose on us the dogs of war to riot in our
blood and hunt us from the face of the earth? If ye love
wealth better than liberty, the tranquillity of servitude than
the animating contest of freedom, go from us in peace.
We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick
the hands which feed you. May your chains sit lightly upon
you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen!

To unite the supremacy of Great Britain and the liberty
of America is utterly impossible. So vast a continent, and
of such a distance from the seat of empire, will every day
grow more unmanageable. The motion of so unwieldy a
body cannot be directed with any despatch and uniformity
without committing to the Parliament of Great Britain
powers inconsistent with our freedom. The authority and
force which would be absolutely necessary for the preserva-
tion of the peace and good order of this continent would
put all our valuable rights within the reach of that nation.

As the administration of government requires firmer and
more numerous supports in proportion to its extent, the


burdens imposed on us would be excessive, and we should
have the melancholy prospect of their increasing on our
posterity. The scale of officers, from the rapacious and
needy commissioner to the haughty governor, and from
the governor, with his hungry train, to perhaps a licentious
and prodigal viceroy, must be upheld by you and your
children. The fleets and armies which will be employed to
silence your murmurs and complaints must be supported
by the fruits of your industry.

And yet with all this enlargement of the expense and
powers of government, the administration of it at such a
distance, and over so extensive a territory, must necessarily
fail in putting the laws into vigorous execution, removing
private oppressions, and forming plans for the advancement
of agriculture and commerce, and preserving the vast em-
pire in any tolerable peace and security. If our posterity
retain any spark of patriotism, they can never tamely sub-
mit to such burdens. This country will be made the field
of bloody contention till it gain that independence for which
nature formed it. It is, therefore, injustice and cruelty to
our offspring, and would stamp us with the character of
baseness and cowardice, to leave the salvation of this coun-
try to be worked out by them with accumulated difficulty
and danger.

Prejudice, I confess, may warp our judgments. Let us
hear the decision of Englishmen on this subject, who can-
not be suspected of partiality. ' The Americans," they
say, "are but little short of half our number. To this
number they have grown from a small body of original
settlers by a very rapid increase. The probability is that
they will go on to increase, and that in fifty or sixty years
they will be double our number, and form a mighty empire,
consisting of a variety of states, all equal or superior to
ourselves in all the arts and accomplishments which give
dignity and happiness to human life. In that period will
they be still bound to acknowledge that supremacy over
them which we now claim? Can there be any person who
will assert this, or whose mind does not revolt at the idea
of a vast continent holding all that is valuable to it at the
discretion of a handful of people on the other side of the
Atlantic? But if at that period this would be unreason-


able, what makes it otherwise now? Draw the line if you
can. But there is still a greater difficulty.

"Britain is now, I will suppose, the seat of liberty and
virtue, and its legislature consists of a body of able and
independent men, who govern with wisdom and justice.
The time may come when all will be reversed ; when its
excellent constitution of government will be subverted;
when, pressed by debts and taxes, it will be greedy to draw
to itself an increase of revenue from every distant province,
in order to ease its own burdens; when the influence of the
crown, strengthened by luxury and a universal profligacy
of manners, will have tainted every heart, broken down
every fence of liberty, and rendered us a nation of tame and
contented vassals; when a general election will be nothing
but a general auction of boroughs, and when the Parlia-
ment, the grand council of the nation, and once the faithful
guardian of the state and a terror to evil ministers, will be
degenerated into a body of sycophants, dependent and
venal, always ready to confirm any measures, and little
more than a public court for registering royal edicts. Such,
it is possible, may, some time or other, be the state of Great
Britain. What will, at that period, be the duty of the col-
onies? Will they be still bound to unconditional submis-
sion? Must they always continue an appendage to our
government and follow it implicitly through every change
that can happen to it? Wretched condition, indeed, of
millions of freemen as good as ourselves! Will you say
that we now govern equitably, and that there is no danger
of such revolution? Would to God that this were true!
But you will not always say the same. Who shall judge
whether we govern equitably or not? Can you give the
colonies any security that such a period will never come?"
The calamities were at our door. The rod of oppression
was raised over us. We were roused from our slumbers,
and may we never sink into repose until we can convey a
clear and undisputed inheritance to our posterity ! This day
we are called upon to give a glorious example of what the
wisest and best of men were rejoiced to view, only in specu-
lation. This day presents the world with the most august
spectacle that its annals ever unfolded millions of free-


men, deliberately and voluntarily forming themselves into
a society for their common defense and common happiness.
Immortal spirits of Hampden, Locke, and Sidney, will it
not add to your benevolent joys to behold your posterity
rising to the dignity of men, and evincing to the world the
reality and expediency of your systems, and in the actual
enjoyment of that equal liberty, which you were happy,
when on earth, in delineating and recommending to man-

Other nations have received their laws from conquerors;
some are indebted for a constitution to the suffering of their
ancestors through revolving centuries. The people of this
country, alone, have formally and deliberately chosen a
government for themselves, and with open and uninfluenced
consent bound themselves into a social compact. Here no
man proclaims his birth or wealth as a title to honorable
distinction, or to sanctify ignorance and vice with the name
of hereditary authority. He who has most zeal and ability
to promote public felicity, let him be the servant of the
public. This is the only line of distinction drawn by nature.
Leave the bird of night to the obscurity for which nature
intended him, and expect only from the eagle to brush the
clouds with his wings and look boldly in the face of the sun.

Some who would persuade us that they have tender feel-
ings for future generations, while they are insensible to the
happiness of the present, are perpetually foreboding a train
of dissensions under our popular system. Such men's
reasoning amounts to this: Give up all that is valuable to
Great Britain and then you will have no inducements to
quarrel among yourselves; or, Suffer yourselves to be
chained down by your enemies, that you may not be able
to fight with your friends.

This is an insult on your virtue as well as your com-
mon sense. Your unanimity this day and through the
course of the war is a decisive refutation of such invidious
predictions. Our enemies have already had evidence that
our present constitution contains in it the justice and ardor
of freedom and the wisdom and vigor of the most absolute
system. When the law is the will of the people, it will be
uniform and coherent; but fluctuation, contradiction, and
inconsistency of councils must be expected under those


governments where every revolution in the ministry of a
court produces one in the state such being the folly and
pride of all ministers, that they ever pursue measures
directly opposite to those of their predecessors.

We shall neither be exposed to the necessary convul-
sions of elective monarchies, nor to the want of wisdom,
fortitude, and virtue to which hereditary succession is
liable. In your hands it will be to perpetuate a prudent,
active, and just legislature, which will never expire until
you yourselves lose the virtues which give it existence.

And, brethren and fellow countrymen, if it was ever
granted to mortals to trace the designs of Providence, and
interpret its manifestations in favor of their cause, we may,
with humility of soul, cry out, " Not unto us, not unto us,
but to thy Name be the praise!" The confusion of the
devices among our enemies, and the rage of the elements
against them, have done almost as much toward our suc-
cess as either our councils or our arms.

The time at which this attempt on our liberty was made,
when we were ripened into maturity, had acquired a knowl-
edge of war, and were free from the incursions of enemies
in this country, the gradual advances of our oppressors
enabling us to prepare for our defense; the unusual fertility
of our lands and clemency of the seasons ; the success which
at first attended our feeble arms, producing unanimity
among our friends and reducing our internal foes to acqui-
escence these are all strong and palpable marks and assur-
ances that Providence is yet gracious unto Zion, that it wil)
turn away the captivity of Jacob.

Our glorious reformers when they broke through the
fetters of superstition effected more than could be expected
from an age so darkened. But they left much to be done
by their posterity. They lopped off, indeed, some of the
branches of Popery, but they left the root and stock, when
they left us under the domination of human systems and
decisions, usurping the infallibility which can be attributed
to revelation alone. They dethroned one usurper only
to raise up another; they refused allegiance to the pope
only to place the civil magistrate in the throne of Christ,
vested with authority to enact laws and inflict penalties in
His kingdom. And if we now cast our eyes over the nations


of the earth, we shall find that, instead of possessing the
pure religion of the Gospel, they may be divided either into
infidels, who deny the truth; or politicians, who make
religion a stalking horse for their ambition ; or professors,
who walk in the trammels of orthodoxy, and are more
attentive to traditions and ordinances of men than to the
oracles of truth.

The civil magistrate has everywhere contaminated re-

Online LibraryThomas B. (Thomas Brackett) ReedModern eloquence; (Volume 11) → online text (page 5 of 43)