William Ellery Channing.

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

. (page 95 of 169)
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nation's mind is more valuable than its soil ;
who inspirits a people's enterprise, without
making them the slaves of wealth ; who is
mainly anxious to originate or give stability
to institutions by which society may be car-
ried forward; who confides with a sublime
constancy in Justice and virtue, as the only
foundation of a wise policy and of public
prosperity ; and. above all, who has so drunk
Into the spirit of Christ and of God as never
to forgot that his particular country is a
memt)er of the great human family, bound to
all nations by a common nature, by a com-
mon interest, and by indissoluble laws of
equity and charity. Among these will be
ranked, perhaps on the highest throne, the
moral and religious Reformer, who truly
merits that name ; who rises above his times ;
who is moved by a holy impulse to sosall
vidoms establishments, sustained by fierce pas-
rions and invetonate prejudices; who rescues
great truths fivmi tne corruptions of ages ;
who, joining calm and deep thought to pro-
found feeling, secures to religion at once en-
lightened and earnest conviction ; who un-
folds to men higher fonns of virtue than they
have yet attained or conceived ; who gives
brighter and more thrilling views of the per-
fection for which they were framed, andin-
■pirei % victorious faith in the perpetual pro-
gress of our nature.

There is ono characteristic of this power
which bdongs to truly great minds, parti-
cularly desepving notice. Far fcom enslav-
ing, it makes more and more free those on
whom it is exercised ; and in this respect it



difTers wholly fh>m the vulgar sway which
ambition thirsts for. It awakens a kindred
power in others, calls their faculties into new
life, and particularly strengthens them to fol-
low their own deliberate convictions tA truth
and duty. It breathes conscious energy, self-
respect, moral independence, and a scorn of
every foreign yoke.

There is another power over men very dif-
ferent from this ; a power, not to quldcen and
elevate, but to crush and subdue; a power
which robs men of the free use of their nature,
takes them out of theh- own hands, and com-
pels them to bend to another's will. This is
the sway which men grasp at most eageriy,
and which it is our great purpose to expose.
To reign, to give laws, to clothe their own
wills with omnipotence, to annihilate all other
wrills, to spoil the individual of that self-direc-
tion which is his most precious right,— thb
has ever been deemed by multitudes the
highest prise for competition and conflict.
The most envied men are those who have
succeeded in prostrating jnidtitudes, hi sub-
jecting whole communities, to their single wiH
It is the love of this power, in all its forms,
which we are anxious to hold up to repro-
bation. If any crime should be placed by
society beyond pardon, it is this.

This power has been exerted most conspi-
cuously and perniciously by two classes of
men ; the priest or minister of rdigion, and
the civil ruler. Both rely on the same instru-
ment—that is, pain or terror ; the first calling
to his aid the fires and torments of the future
world, and practising on the natural dread oc
invisible powers ; and the latter availing him-
self of chains, dungeons, and gibbets in the
S resent life. Through these terrible applica-
ons man has, in all ages and in almost every
country, been made, in a greater or less
degree, a slave and machine ; been shackled
in all his faculties, and degraded into a tool
of others' wills and passions. The influence
of almost every political and religious institu-
tion has been to make man abject in mind,
fearful, servile, a mechanical repeater of op4-
nionli which he dares not try, and a contri-
butor of his ton, sweat, knd blood, to govem-
ments which never dreamed of the gene<*U
weal as their only legitimate end. On the
immense majority of men. thus w itmg ed aad
enslaved, the consciousness of their own na-
ture has not yet dawned ; and the ddctrine,
that each has a mind, worth more than the
material world, and framed to grow for ever
by a self-forming, self-directing energy, is
still a secret, a mystery, notwithstanding f!ie
clear annundatioii of it, ages ago, by jcns
Christ. We know not a s tron g er proof of
the intenseness and nefariousness of die klve
of power than the fact of its having virfortly
abrogated Christianity, and even tamed Iflto



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ftn engine ot dominion a revelation which
breathes throughout the spirit of freedom,
proclaims the essential equalihr of the human
race, and directs its most solemn denuncia-
tions against the passion for rule and empire.
That this power, which consists in force and
compulsion, in the imposition on the many
of the will and judgment of one or a few, is
of a low order, when compared with the
quickemng influence over others of which
we have before ^x^en, we need not stop to
prove. But the remark is less obvious, though
not less true, that it is not onlyinferior in kii^,
but in amount or degree. This may not be
so easily acknowledged. He whose will is
possivdr obeyed by a nation, or whose creed
mplicitiy adopted by a spreading sect, may
not easily believe that his power is exceeded,
not only in kind or quality, but in extent, by
him who widds only the silent, subtle in-
fluence of moral and intellectual gifts. But
the superiority of moral to arbitrary sway in
this particular is proved by its effects. Moral
power is creative; arbitrary power wastes
away the spirit and force of those on whom
it is exerted. And is it not a mighUcr wotk
to create than to destroy? A higher energy
is required to quicken than to crush; to ek-
▼ate than to depress; to warm and expand
than to chill and contract. Any hand, even
the weakest, may take away life ; another
Agency b required to kindle or restore it. A
vulgar incendiary may destroy in an hour a
magnificent structure, the labour of ages.
Has he energy to be compared Mrith the crea-
tive intellect in which diis work had its origin ?
A fanatic of ordinary talent may send terror
through a crowd ; and b^ the cndt, which is
so often joined with fimatidsm, may fasten On
multitudes a debasmg creed. Has he power
to be compared with him who rescues from
darlcness one only of these enslaved minds,
and quickens it to think justly and nobly in
relation to God, duty, and immortality? The
energies of a single soul, awakened, by such
an influence, to the free and full use of its
powers, may surpass, in their progress, the
intellectual actiyity of a whole community,
enchained and debased by fanaticism or out-
ward force. Arbitrary power, whether civil
or religious, if tried by the only fair test, that
is, by its eflects, seems to have more affinity
with weakness than strength. It enfeebles
and narrows what it acts upon. Its efficiency
resembles that of darkness and cold in the
natund world. True power is vivifying, pro-
ductive, builds up, and gives strength. We
have a noble t3rpe and manifestation of it in
the sun. which calls forth and diffuses motion,
life, energy, and beauty. He who succeeds
in chaining men's understandings, and break-
faig their wills, may indeed number millions
fa his subjects ; but a weak, puny race axe the



products of his sway, and they can only reach
the stature and force of men by throwing off
his yoke. He who, by an intellectual and
moral energy, awakens kindred energy in
others, touches springs of infinite might,
gives impulse to faculties to which no bounds
can be prescribed, begins an action which will
never end. One great and kindling thought
from a retired and obscure man may live when
thrones are fallen, and the memory of those
who filled them obliterated, and, like an un-
dying fire, may illuminate and quicken all
future generations.

We have spoken of the inferiority and
worthlessness of that dominion over others
which has been coveted so greedily in all
ages. We should rejoice could we convey
some just idea of its naoral turpitude. Of all
ifljuritt and crimes, the most flagrant is
chargeable on him who aims to establish
dominion over his brethren. He wars with
what is more precious than life. He would
rob men of their chief prerogative and gloiy ;
we mean, of self-doounion, of that empire
which is given to a rational and moral bmg
over bis own soul and his own life. Such a
being is framed to find honour and happiness
in forming and swaying himself; in adopting
as his supreme standard his convictions of
truth and duty, in unfolding his powers by
free exertion* in acting from a principle
within, from his growing conscience. His
proper and noblest attributes are self-govern-
ment, self-reverence, energy of thought,
energy in choosing the right and the good,
energy in casting off all other dominion.
He was created for empire in his own breast,
and woe, woe to them who would pluck from
him this sceptre 1 A mind, inspired by God
with reason and conscienoe^ and capable,
through these endowments, of progress in
truth and duty, is a sacred thing ; more
sacred than temples made with hands, or
even than this outward universe. It is of
nobler lineage than that of which human
aristocracy makes its boast. It bears the
lineaments of a Divine Parent. It has not
only a physical, but moral connection with the
Supreme Being. Through its self-determin-
ing power, it is accountable for its deeds, and
for whatever it becomes. Responsibility— that
which above all things makes existence
solemn— is laid upon it. Its great end is to
conform itself, by its own energy, and by
spiritual succours which its own prayers and
faithfulness secure, to that perfection of wis-
dom and goodness of which God is the
original and source, which shines tmon us
fit>m the whole outward world, but of which
the intelligent soul is a tnier recipient and a
brighter image, even than the sun with all his
splendours. From these views we learn, that
no outrage, no injury, can equal that which

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is perpetrated by him who would break
down and subjugate the human mind ; who
would rob men of self-reverence ; who would
bring them to stand more in awe of outward
authority than of reason and conscience in
their own souls ; who would make himself a
standard and law for his race, and shape, by
force or terror, the free spirits of others after
his own judgment and will.

All excellence, whether intellectual or moral,
involves, as its essential elements, freedom,
energy, and moral independence, so that the
invader of these, whether from the throne or
the pulpit, invades the most sacred interest
of the human race. Intellectual excellence
implies and requires these. This does not
consist in passive assent even to the highest
truths ; or in the most extensive stores of
knowledge acquired by an implicit faith, and
lodged in the inert memory. It lies in force,
freshness, and independence of thought ; and
is most conspicuously manifested by him
who, loving truth supremely, seeks it re-
solutely, foIk>ws the light without fear,
and modifies the views of others by the
patient, strenuous exercise of his own facul-
ties. To a man thus intellectually free, truth
is not, what it is to passive multitudes, a
foreign substance, dormant, lifeless, fruitless,
but penetrating, prolific, fijU of vitality, and
ministering to the health and expansion of
the soul. And what we have said of intel-
lectual excellence is still more true of moral.
This has its foundation and root in freedom,
and cannot exist a moment without it The
very idea of virtue is, that it is a free act. the
produ<2l or result of the mind's self-detennin-
ing power. It is not good feeling, infused by
nature or caught by sympathy ; nor is it good
conduct into which we fcAve slidden through
imitation, or which has been forced upon us
by another's will We ourselves are its
authors in a high and peculiar sense. We
indeed depend on God for virtue ; for our
capacity of moral action is wholly his gift
and Inspiration, and without his perpetual aid
this capacity would avail nothing. But his
aid is not compulsion. He respects, He
cannot violate that moral freedom which is
his richest gift. To the individual, the
decision of his own character is left. He
has more than kingly power in his own soul.
Let him never resign it. Let none dare to
interfere with it. Anrtue is self-dominion, or,
what is the same thing, it is self-subjection
to the principle of duty, that highest ^w in
the soul. If these views of intellectual and
moral excellence be just, then to invade men's
freedom is to aim the deadliest blow at their
honour and happiness ; and their worst foe
is be who fetters their reason, who makes his
will their law, who makes them tools, echoes,
copies of himself.



Perhaps it may t)e objected t6 the fepresai-
tation of virtue as consisting in self-dominion,
that the Scriptures speak of it as consisting
in obedience to God. But these are perfectly
compatible and harmonious views; forgenuixM!
obedience to God is the free choice and adop-
tion of a law, the great principles of which
our own minds approve, and our own con-
sciences bind on us ; which is not an arbitrary
injunction, but an emanation and expression
of the Divine Mind ; and which is intended
throughout to give energy, digni^, and en-
largement to our best powers. He, and he
only, obeys God virtuousljr and acceptably,
who reverences right, not power; who has
chosen rectitude as his supreme rule; who
sees and reveres in God the fulness and bright-
ness of moral excellence, and who sees in
obedience the progress and perfection of his
own luiture. That subjection to the Deity,
which, we fear, is too common, in which tibe
mind surrenders itself to mere power and
will, is anything but virtue. We fear that it
is disloyalty to that moral principle which is
ever to be reverenced as God's vicegerent in
the rational souL

Perhaps some may fear that, in otxr zeal
for the freedom and independence of the
individual mind, we unsettle government, and
almost imply tliat it is a wrong. Far from
it. We hold government to be an essential
means of our intellectual and moral educa-
tion, and would strengthen it by pointing out
its legitimate functions. Go\'emment, as far
as it is rightftil, is the guardian and friend
of freedom, so that in exalting the one we
enforce the other. The highest aim of all
authority is to confer hberty. This b true of
domestic rule. The great, we may say the
single, object of parental government, of a
wise and virtuous education, k& to give the
child the fullest use of his own powers ; to
give him inward force; to train him up to
govern himself. The same is true of the
authority of Jesus Christ He came, indeed,
to rule mankind ; but to rule them, not by
arbitrary statutes, not by force and menace,
not by mere wiU, but by setting before them,
in precept and life, those everlasting rules of
rectitude which Heaven obeys, and of which
every soul contains the living germs. He
came to exert a moral power ; to reign by the
manifestation of celestial virtues ; to awaken
the energy of holy purpose in the free mind.
He came to publish liberty to the captives ; to
open the prison door; to break the power of
the passions; to break the yoke of a oett-
monial religion which had been imposed fti
the childh(K>d of the race ; to exalt us ta a
manly homage and obedience of our CieAlor.
Of civil government, too. the great endHtD
secure freedom. Its proper and hi|^itf
fimction is, to watch over, the liberties #f



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each and all, and to open to a community the
widest 5eld for all its powers. Its very chains
and prisons have the general freedom for their
aim. They are just, only when used to curb
oppression and wrong; to disarm him who
has a tyrant's heart, if not a tyrant's power,
who wars against others' rights, who, by
invading property or life, would substitute
force for the reign of equal laws. Freedom,
we repeat it, is the end of government. To
exalt men to self-rule is the end of all other
rule ; and he who would fasten on them his
arbitrary will is their worst foe.

We have aimed to show the guilt of the love
of power and domhiion» by showing the ruin
which it brings on the mind, by enlai^ng on
the preciousness of that inward freedom which
it invades and destroys. To us, this view is
the most impressive ; but the guilt of this
passion may also be discerned, and by some
more clearly, in its outward influences; in
the desolation, bloodshed, and woe of which
it is the perpetual cause. We owe to it almost
all the miseries of war. To spread the sway
of one or a few, thousands and millions have
been turned into machines imder the name of
soldiers, armed Mrith instruments of destruc-
tion, and then sent to reduce others to their
own lot by fear and pain, by fire and sword,
by butchery and pillage. And is it light
guilt to array man against his brother; to
make murder the trade of thousands; to
drench the earth with human blood; to turn
it into a desert ; to scatter families like chaff;
to make motherswidows, and children orphans ;
and to do all this for the purpose of spreading
a still gloomier desolation, for the purpose <^
subjugating men's souls, turning them into
base parasites, extorting from them a degrad-
ing homage, humbling them in their own eves,
and breaking them to servility as the chief duty
of life ? When the passion for power suc-
ceeds, as it generally has done, in establishing
despotism, it seems to make even civilization
a doubtful good. Whilst the monarch and
his court are abandoned to a wasteful luxury,
the peasantry, rooted to the soil and doomed
to a perpetual round of labours, are raised
but little above the brute. There are parts of
Europe, Christian Europe, in which the pea-
sant, through whose sweat kings and nobles
not in plenty, seems to enjoy less, on the
whole, than the untamed Indian of our forests.
Chained to one spot, living on the cheapest
vegetables, sometimes unable to buy salt to
season bis coarse fare, seldom or never tasting
am'mal food, having for his shelter a mud-
walled hut floored with earth or stone, and
subjected equally with the brute to the rule of
a superior, he seems to us to partake less of
animal, intellectual, and moral pleasures than
the imt wanderer of the woods, whose steps
T» man fettexs; whose wigwam no tyrant



violates; whose chief toil is hunting, that
noblest of sports ; who feasts on the deer, that
most luxurious of viands ; to whom streams,
as well as woods, pay tribute; whose ad-
venturous life gives sagacity; and in whom
peril nourishes courage and self-command.
We are no advocates for savage life. We
know that its boasted f^-eedom is a delusion.
The single fact that human nature in this wild
state makes no progress, is proof enough that
it wants true liberty. We mean only to say,
that man, in the hands of despotism, is some-
times degraded below the savage; that it
were better for him to be lawless, than to live
imder lawless sway.

It is the part of Christians to look on the
passion for power and dominion with strong
abhorrence ; for it is singularly hostile to the
genius of their religion. Jesus Christ always
condemned it. One of the striking marks of
his moral greatness, and of the originality of
his character, was, that he held no fellowship
and made no compromise with this universal
spirit of his age, but withstood it in every
form. He found the Tews intoxkating them-
selves with dreams of empire. Of the ptx>-
phecies relating to the Messiah, the most
familiar and dear to them were those which
announced him as a conqueror, and which
were construed by their worldhness into a
promise of triumphs to the people from whom
he was to spring. Even the chosen disciples
of Jesus looked to him for this good. " To
sit on his right hand and on his left," or. in
other words, to hold the most commanding
station in his kingdom, was not only their
lurkwg wish, but their open and importunate
request. But there was no passion on which
Jesus frowned more severely than this. He
taught that, to be great in his kingdom, njen
must serve, instead of rtiling, their brethren.
He placed among them a child as an emblem
of the humility of his religion. His roost
terrible rebukes fell on the lordly, aspiring
Pharisee. In his own person, be was mild
and condescending, exacting no personal
service, living with his disciples as a friend,
sharing their wants, sleeping in their fishing-
boat, and even washing their feet ; and in all
this he expressly proposed himself to them as
a pattern, knowing well that the last triumph
of^ dishiterestedness is to forget our own
superiority in our sympathy, solicitude, ten-
derness, respect, and self-denying seal for
those who are below us. We cannot indeed
wonder that the lust of power should be
encountered by the sternest rebukes and
menace of Christianity, because it wages
open war with the great end of this religion,
which is the elevation of the human mind.
No corruption of this religion is more palpabki
and more enormous than that winch turns it
into an instrument of dominion, and which



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makes it teach that man's primary duty is to
give himself a passive material into the hands
of his minister, priest, or king.

The subject which we now discuss is one in
which all nations have an interest, and espe-
cially our own ; and we should jfail of our
main purpose were we not to lead our
readers to apply it to ourselves. The passion
for ruling, though most completely developed
in despotisms^ is confined to no forms of
government. It is the chief peril of free
states, the natural enemy of free institutions.
It agitates our own country, and still throws
an uncertainty over the great experiment we
are making here in behalf of liberty. We will
try, then, in a few words, to expose its in-
fluences and dangers, and to abate that zeal
with which a participation in office and power
is sought among ourselves.

It is the distinction of republican institu-
tions, that whilst they compel the passion for
power to moderate its pretensions, and to
satisfy itself with more limited gratifications,
they tend to spread it more widely through
the community, and to make it a universal
principle. The doors of office being open to
all, crowds bum to rush in. A thousand
hands are stretched out to grasp the reins
which are denied to none. Perhaps, in this
boasted and boasting land of hberty, not a
few. if called to state the chief good of a
republic, would place it in this, that every
man is eligible to every office, and that the
highest places of power and trust are prizes
for universal competition. The superiority
attributed by many to our institutions is. not
that they secure the greatest freedom, but give
every man a chance of ruhng ; not that they
reduce the power of government within the
nar^west limits which the safety of the state
admits, but throw it into as many hands as
possible. The despot's great crime is thought
to be that he keeps the delight of dominion
to himself, that he makes a monopoly of it,
whilst our more generous institutions, by
breaking it into parcels, and inviting the
multitude to scramble for it, spread this joy
more widely. The result is, that polidctd
ambition infects our country, and generates a
feverish restlessnesss and discontent, which, to
the monarchist, may seem more than a balance
for our forms of hboty. The spirit of intrigue,
which in absolute governments is confined to
courts, walks abroad through the land ; and
as iodiriduals can accomplish no political
purpQMS single-handed, they band themselves
into parties, ostensibly framed for pubUc ends,
but aiming only at the acquisition of power.
The nominal sovereign, that is, the people,
like all other sovereigns, is courted and
flattered, and toki that it .can do ik> wrong.
lU pride is pampered, iU passions inflamed,
its preiudices made inveterate. Such are the



processes by which other republics have been
subverted, and he mtist be blind who caimot
trace them among ourselves. We mean not
to exaggerate our dangers. We rejoice to
know that the improvements of sodety oppose
many checks to the love of ]x>wer. But every
wise man who sees its workings, must dread
it as our chief foe.

This passion derives strength and vehe-
mence in our country from the common idea
that political power is the highest prise which



Online LibraryWilliam Ellery ChanningThe complete works of W.E. Channing: with an introduction → online text (page 95 of 169)