William Ellery Channing.

The complete works of W.E. Channing: with an introduction online

. (page 124 of 169)
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deepiv lament the necessity of shedding human
blooa. In such wars oiur country claims and
deserves our prayers, our cheerful serriceSk



the sacrifice of wealth and even of life. In
such wars we have one consolation, when our
friends fall on the fiekl of battle ; we know
that they have fallen in a just oause. Such
conflicts, adlich our hearts and oonsdcnoes
approve, are suited to call forth g ener ou s
sentiments, to breathe patriotism and forti-
tude through a community. Could I view the
war in which we are engaged in this Ug^t,
with what different fadings, my friends, shookl
I address you 1 We might then look vip to
God and commit to Him our co un tr y with a
holy confidence. But, in our present state,
what can I say to you ? I would, but I can-
not, address you in the language 6i enco n r ay e-
ment We are precipitated into a war, which,
I. think, cannot be justified, and a war which
promises not a benefit, that I can disooici;
to this countiy or to the world.

A solemn question now ofien itsdi. Ukat
conduct belongs to a good dtian in oar pre-
sent trying condition ? Tothiisatilealtttitt
your serious attendoo.



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DUTIES OF THE CITIZEN. 5/53

Oar condition induces me to begin with enough to crush at a blow every symptom of

urging on you the important duty of cherish- opposition.

ing respect for civil gorerament, and a spirit These general remarks on the duty of sub-
of obedience to the laws. I am sensible that mission are by no means designed to teach
many whom I address consider themsehres as that rulers are never to be opposed. Because
called to oppose the measures of our present I wish to guard you against that turbulent
rulers. Let this opposition breathe nothing and discontented spirit, which precipitates
of insubordination, impatience of authority, free communities into an anuchy, and thus
or love of change. It becomes you to se- prepares them for chains, 3rou will not con-
member that gpvemment is a divine institu- sider me as asserting that all opposition to
tion, essential to the improvement of our government, whatever be the occasion, or
nature, the spring of industry and enterprise, whatever the form, is to be branded as a
the shield 01 property and life, the refuge of crime. The dtisen has rights as well as
the weak and oppressed. It is to the security duties. Government is instituted for one and
which laws afford that we owe the successful a single end— the benefit of the governed, the
application of human powers. Government, protection, peace, and welfare of society;
though often perverted by ambition and other and when it is perverted to other objects, to
selfish passions, still holds a distinguished purposes of avarice, ambition, or party spirit,
rank among those influences by which man we are authorised and even bound to make
has been rescued from barbarism, and con- such opposition as is suited to restore it to its
ducted through the ruder stages of society to poper end, to render it as pure as the imper-
the habits of order, the diversified employ- lection of our nature and state will admit,
mcnts and dependencies, the refined and The Scriptures have sometimes been thought
softened manners, the intellectual, moral, to enjoin an unqualified, unlimited subjection
and religious improvements of the age ht to the " higher poweis T but in the passages
which we live, we are bound to respect which seem so to teach, it is supposed that
government, as the great security for social these powers are " ministers 01^ God for
happiness; and we should carefully cherish good, are a terror to evil doers, and an
that habit of obedience to the laws, without encouragement to those that do welL When
which the ends of government cannot be a government wants this character, when it
accomplished. All wanton opposition to the becomes an engine of oppression, the Scrip-
oonstituted authorities ; all censures of rulers, tures enjoin subjection no longer. Expediency
originating in a factious, aspiring, or envious may make it our duty to obey, but the govem-
spirit ; all unwillingness to submit to laws ment has lost its rights; it can no longer urgte
which are directed to the welfare of the com- its claims as an ordinance of God.
munity, should be rebuked and repressed by There have, indeed, been times when sove-
the frown of public indignation. reigns have demanded subjection as an in-

It is impoKible that all the regulations of alienable right, and when the superstition of
the wisest government should equally benefit subjects has surrounded them with a mvste-
every individual ; and sometimes the general rious sanctity, with a majesty approaching
ffood will demand arrangements which will the divine. But these diays have passed,
interfere with the interests of particular mem- Under the robe of office we. my hearers,
bers or classes of the nation. In such circum- have learned to see a man like ourselves,
stances, the individual is bound to regard the There is no such sacredness in rulers as for-
inconveniences under which he suffers as in-* bids scrutiny into their motives, or condem-
separable from a social, connected state, as nation of their measures. In leaving the
the result of the condition which God has conunon walks of life, they leave none of their
appointed, and not as the fault of his rulers j imperfections behind them. Power has even
and he should cheerfuIlT sixbmit, recollecting a tendency to corrupt, to feed an irregular
how much more he receives from the commu- ambition, to harden the heart against the ,
nity than he is called to resign to it. Dis- claims and sufferings of mankind. Rulers
afifection towards a government which is are not to be viewed with a malignant jealousy;
administered with a view to the general wel- but they ought to be inspected with a watch-
fere, is a great crime ; and such opposition, ftil, tmdazzled eve. Their \'irtues and services
even to a bad government, as springs from are to be rewaraedwith generous praise: and
smd spreads a restless temper, an imwilling- their crimes, and arts, and usurpations, should
ness to yield to wholesome and necessary be exposed with a fearless sincerity to the m^
restraint, deserves no better name. In pro- dignation of an injured people. We are not
portion as a people want a conscientious to be factious, and neither are we to be ser-
regard to the laws, and are prepared to evade vile. With a smcere disposition to obey,
them by fraud, or to arrest their operation by should be imited a firm purpose not to be
▼iolence,— in that proportion they need and oppressed.

deserve an arbitrary government, strong So ftur is an existing government from

00 a



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DUTIES OP THE CITIZEN



beinif dothed with an inTiolable sanctity,
that the citixen. in particukr circumstances,
acquires the right, not only of remonstrating,
but of employing force for its destruction.
This right accrues to him when a govern-
ment wantonly disregards the ends of social
union; when it threatens the subversion of
nattoiud Uberty and happiness ; and when no
relief but force remains to the suffering com-
munity. This, however, is a right which
cannot be exercised with too much delibera-
tion. Subjects should very slowly yield to
the conviction that rulers have that settled
hostihty to their interests which authorizes
violence. They must not indulge a spirit of
complaint, and sufier their passions to pro-
nounce on their wrongs. They must remem-
ber that the best government will partake the
imperfection of all human institutions, and
that if the ends of the social compact are in
any tolerable degree accomplished, they will
be mad indeed to haard the blessings they
possess for the possibilitv of greater good.

Resistance of established power is so great
an evil, civil commotion excites such destruc-
tive passions, the result is so tremendously
uncertain, that every milder method of relief
should first be tried, and fairly tried. The
last dreadful result is never justifiable until
the injured members of the community are
brought to despair of other relief, and are so
lar united in views and purposes as to be
authorized in the hope of success. Civil
commotion should be viewed as the worst of
national evils, with the single exception of
slavery. I know that this country has passed
through one civil war without experiencing
the calamitous consequences of which I have
spokeiL But let us not forget that this was
a civil war of a very peculiar character. The
govenunent which we shook off was not
seated in the midst of us. Our struggle was
that of nation with nation, rather than of
fellow-citizens with one another. Our man-
ners and habits tended to give a considerate-
ness and a stability to the public mind, which
can hardly be expected in a future struggle.
And, in addition to these favourable circum-
stances, we were favoured by Heaven with a
leader of incorruptible integrity, of unstained
* purity ; a patriot who asked no glory but that
of ddivering his country, who desired to reign
only in the hearts of a free and happy people,
whose disinterestedness awed and repressed
the selfish and ambitious, who inspired uni-
versal confidence, and thus was a centre and
bond of union to the minds of men in the
most divided and distracted periods of our
country. The name of Washington I may
pronoimce with reverence even in the temple
of the Almighty ; and it is a name which
revives the sinking spirits in this day of oiu:
declining gkwy. From a revolution, con-



ducted by such a man. under sach dream-
stances, let no condusions be hastily drawn
on the subject of dvil commotion.

It becomes us to rejoice, my friends, that
we live under a constitution, one great design
of which is, to prevent the necessity of ap-
pealing to force, to give the people an oppor-
tunity of removing, without violence, those
rulers from whom Uiey suffer or apprehend an
invasion of rights. This is one of the prin-
dpal advantages of a rraubhc over an abso-
lute government. In a despotism, there is no
remedy for oppression but force. The subject
caimot influence public affairs but by con-
vulsing the state. With us, rulers majr be
changed without the horrors of a revcdution.
A repubUcan government secures to its sub-
jects this immense privilege, by confirming to
them two most important rights.— the right
of suffrage, and the right of discussing with
freedom the conduct of ralefs. The value of
these rights in affording a peaceful noethod of
redressing public grievances, cannot be ex-
pressed, and the duty of maintaining them,
of never surrendering them, cannot be too
strongly urged. Redgn dtber of these, and
no way of escape from oppression will be left
you but dvil commotion.

From the important place which these
rights hold in a republican government, yon
should consider yourselves bound to support
every dtizen in the lawful exercise of them,
especially when an attempt is made to wrest
them from any by violent means. At the
present time, it is particularly your duty to
guard with jealousy the right of expre ^i ^
with freedom your honest convictions respect-
ing the measures of your rulers. Witnoat
this, the right of election is not worth pos-^
sessing. If public abuses may not be exposed,
their authors will never be driven from power.
Freedom of opinion, of speech, and of the
press, is our most valuable privilege, the very
soul oi republican institutions, the safeguard
of all other rights. We may learn its value
if we reflect that there is nothing which
mants so much dread. They anxiously
fetter the press; they scatter spies throu^
sodety. that the murmurs, anguish, and
indignation of their oppressed subjects may
be smothered in their own breasts; that no
generous sentiment may be nourished by
sympathy and mutual confidence. Nothing
awakens and improves men so much as free
communication of thoughts and feelings..
Nothing can give to public sentiment that
correctness which is essential to theprospenty
of a Commonwealth, but the free cu€aIatio&
of truth from the lips and pens of the wise
and good. If such men abandon the right id
free discussion; if, awed Yij threats^ ^HtBf
suppress their convictions ; if rulers Sdocadi
in silendng every voice but that which fcp*-



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E roves them ; if nothing reaches the people
ut what will lend support to men in power,
—farewell to hberty. The form of a free
government may remain, but the life, the
soul, the substance is fled.

If these remarks be just, nothing ought to
excite greater indignation and alarm than the
attempts which have lately been made to
destroy the freedom of the press. We have
lived to hear the strange doctrine, that to
expose the measures of rulers is treason;
and we have lived to see this doctrine carried
into practice. We have seen a savage popu-
lace excited and let loose on men whose
crime consisted in bearing testimony against
the present war ; and let loose not merilv to
waste their property, but to tear them from
the refuge which the magistrate had afforded,
and to shed their blood. In this, and in
otber events, there have been symptoms of a
purpose to terrify into silence those who
disapprove the calamitous war imder which
we suffer ; to deprive us of the only method
which is left of obtaining a wiser and better
government. The cry has been that war is
declared, and all opposition should therefore
be hushed. A sentiment more unworthy of
a free country can hardly be propagated.
If this doctrine be admitted, rulers have only
to declare war, and they are screened at once
from scrutiny. At the very time when they
have armies at command, when their patron-
age is most extended, and their power most
fonnidable, not a word of warning, of cen-
sure, of alarm must be heard. The press,
which is to expose inferior abuses, must not
utter one rebuke, one indignant complaint,
although our best interests and most valu-
able rights are put to hazard by an
unnecessary war ! Admit this doctrine,
let rulers once know that, by placing the
country in a state of war, they place them-
selves b^ond the only power they dread— the
power of free discussion — and we may expect
Mrar without end. Our peace and all our
interests require that a different sentiment
should prevail. We should teach our pre-
sent and all future rulers that there is
no measure for which they must render so
solemn an account to their constituents as for
a declaration of war; that no measure will be
so freely, so fully discussed ; and that no ad-
ministration can succeed in persuading this
people to exhaust their treasure and blood in
supporting war, unless it be palpably neces-
sary and just. In war, then, as in peace,
assert the freedom of speech and of the press.
Cling to this as the bulwark of all your rights
and privileges.

But, my friends, I should not be faithfid
were I only to call you to hold fast this free-
dom. I would still more earnestly exhort you
sot to abuse it. Its abuse may be as fatal



to otir country as its relinquishment. If
undirected, unrestramed by principle, the
press, instead of enlightening, depraves the
pubhc mind ; and, by its hcentiousness, forges
chains for itself and for the community, "nie
right of free discussion is not the right of
uttering what we please. Let nothing be
spc^en or written but truth. The influence
of the press is exceedingly diminished by its
gross and frequent misrepresentations. Each
party listens with distrust to the statements
of the other; and the consequence is, that
the progress of truth is slow, and sometimes
wholly obstructed. Whilst we encourage the
free expression of opinion, let us unite in fix-
ing the brand of infiamy on falsehood and
slander, wherever they originate, whatever be
the cause they are designed to maintain.

But it is not enough that truth be told. It
should be told for a good end ; not to frritate,
but to convince ; not to inflame the bad pas-
sions, but to sway the judgment and to
awaken sentiments of patriotism. Unhappily,
^e press seems now to be chiefly prized as an
instrument of exasperation. Those who have
embraced error are hardened in their prin-
ciples by the reproachful epithets heaped on
them by their adversaries. I do not mean by
this that political discussion is to be conducted
tamely, that no sensibiUty is to be expressed,
no indignaUon to be poured forth on wick^
men and wicked deeds. But this I mean, —
that we shall deliberately inquire whether
indignation be deserved before we express it ;
and the object of expressing it should ever be,
not to infuse ill-will, rancour, and fury into the
minds of men, but to excite an enlightened
and conscientious opposition to injurious
measures.

Every good man must mourn that so much
is continually published among us, for no
other apparent end than to gratify the male-
volence of one party by wounding the feelings
of the opposite. The consequence is, that an
alarming degree of irritation exists in our
country. Fellow-citizens bum with mutual
hatred, and some are evidently ripe for out-
rage and violence. In this feverish state of
the pubUc mind, we are not to relinquish free
discussion, but every man should feel the
duty of speaking and writing with delibera-
tion. It is the time to be firm without pas-
sion. No menace should be employed to
provoke opponents, no defiance burled, no
language used which will, in any measure,
justify the ferocious in app^ling to force.

The sum of my remarks is this. It is your
duty to hold fast and to assert with firmness
those truths and principles on which the
welfare of your country seems to depend ;
but do this Mdth calmness, with a love of
peace, without ill-will and revenge. Use
every opportunity of allaying animosities.



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DUTIES OF THE CITtZRS



Discourage, in decided and open language,
that rancour, malignity, and unfeeling abuse,
which so <^en find their way into our public
prints* Remember, that in proportion as a
people become enslaved to their passions,
they fall into the hands of the aspiring and
unprincipled ; and that a corrupt government,
which has an interest in deceivhig the people,
can desire nothing more favourable to their
purposes than a frenzied state of the public
mind.

Mv friends, in this day of discord, let us
cherish and breathe around us the benevolent
spirit of Christianity. Let us reserve to our-
selves this consolation, that we have added
no fuel to the flames, no riolence to the
storms, which threaten to desolate our
country. Though dishonotued, though en-
dangeredt it is still our country. Let us not
forsake it in this evil day. Let *us hold fast
the inheritance of our civil and religious
liberties, which we have received fhom our
fathers, sealed and hallowed br their blood.
That these blessings may not be lost, let us
labour to improve public sentiment, and to
exalt men of wisdom and virtue to power.
Let it be our labour to establish in ourselves
and in our fellow-citieens the empire of true
religion. Let us remember that there is no
foundation of public liberty but public vir-
tue, that there b no method of obtaining
God's protection but adherence to his laws.

Let us not despair of our country. If all
that we wish cannot be done for the state,
still something may be done. In the good
principles, in the love of order and liberty,
by which so many of our citixens are dis-
tinguished; in the tried virtue, deliberate
prudence, and unshaken firmness of the
Chief Magistrate, whom God in his great
goodness has given to this Commonwealth ;
in the value of the blessings which are at
stake ; in the peculiar kindness which God
has manifested towards our fathers and our-
selves, we have motives, encouragements,
and solemn obligations to resolute, persever-
ing exertion in our different spheres, and
according to otu* different capacities, for the
public good. Thus faithful to ourselves and
our country, and using vigorously every
righteous means for restoring peace and con-
firming freedom, we may confidently leave
the issue to the wise and holy providence
of Him who cannot err, and who, we are
assured, vrill accept and reward every con-
scientious effort for his own gloty and the
good of mankind.

Extracts from a Sermon delivered September
18, 1814, when an Invasion by tfu British
Forces was apprehended at Boston .•—

At such a moment as the present, idten



every mind is fixing a fearful attention oA
the state of the country, it is hnpossible that
a religious instructor should es«me partici-
pation in the common feeling. His sacred
calling does not require him to separate him-
self from the community, to forget that he is
a oitisen, to put off* the feelings of a man.
The reliction which he teaches inculcates
public spuit and a strong and tender concern
for all by whom he is surrounded. He would
be unworthy his sacred function were he not
to love his country, and to sympathize with
its prosperous and adverse fortunes. The
rdigion which it is his duty to dispense
i^^rdsmen in all their relations, and affords
instructions suited to every condition, whether
of individuals or communities. You will not,
then, consider me as leaving the province of
a religious teacher, if I speak to you of the
dangers and claims of our country, if I ad-
dress you as citizens, and attempt to point
outyour duties at the present solemn penod,
Tne present is indeed a solemn period.
The saa reverse which this countryexhibils
astonishes as well as depresses us. But a few
years ago we stood on the height of pros-
perity. Amidst the storms which desomted
nations we were at peace, and the very storms
seemed freighted with blessings for our tran-
quil shores. And is It true that from this
height we have sunk so low that our com-
merce is swept fix>m the ocean, that industry
has forsaken our cities, that the husbandman
has lesigned the ploughshare for the sword,
that our confidence is changed into fear, that
the tumult of business has given pLice to
the din of arms, that some of our citizens
are perishing in foreign prisons and others
shedding thdr blood on. a foreign soil, that
hostile fleets scatter terror through our coasts
and flames through our cities, that no man
feels secure, that the thought of inxasion
and slaughter mingles with the labcmis ol
the day and disturbs the slumbers of the
night, and that our national government,
impoverished and inefficient, can afford us
no protection from such imminent danger?
Yes, — this is true ; we need no reasoning to
convince us of its truth. We see it in the
anxious countenance, in the departing famltr,
in the care which removes our possessions, m
the obstructions and perplexities of business,
and in the events which every day brings to
our ears. At such a moment it becomes eadi
man to ask himself what are his duties, wftat
the times demand from him, in what maimer
he may contribute to the public safety. It is a
time for seriousness, for consideratiolL WMi
prosperity, we should dismiss our levity. The
period of duty may to many of us be shoKt.
Whilst it continues, let it be iroprovedL

I. The first remark I shall make H, tM ft
becomes every man at this solenm



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567



to reflect on his own character find life, to
inquire what he has done to bring down
judgments on his countiy, to confess and
renounce his sins, and to resolre on a sincere
obedience to God's commands. We ought
to remember that we live under a moral
government, which regards the character of
communities as truly as of individuals. A
nation has reason for fear in proportion to
its guilt ; and a virtuous nation, sensible of
dependence on God, and disposed to respect
his laws, is assured of his protection. Eveiy
people must indeed be influenced in a mea-
sure by the general state of the world, 1^
the changes and conflicts of other commu-
nities. When the ocean is in tumult every
shore will feel the agitation. But a people
fkitliful to God will never be forsaken. In
addition to the direct and obvious tendency
of national piety and virtue to national safety
and exaltation, a virtuous community may
expect peculiar interpositions of Providence
for their defence and pro^xrity. They are
not, indeed, to anticipate visible miracles.
Ttusy. are not to imagine that invading hosts
will be annihilated, like Sennacherib's, by
the arm of an angel. But God, we must
lemeinber, can efiiect his purposes, and pre-
serve the just, iHthout such stupendous in-



Online LibraryWilliam Ellery ChanningThe complete works of W.E. Channing: with an introduction → online text (page 124 of 169)