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: Zabdiel Adams 1739-1801: An Election Sermon - Charles S. Hyneman, American Political Writing During the Founding Era: 1760-1805, vol. 1 
American Political Writing During the Founding Era: 1760-1805, ed. Charles S. Hyneman and Donald Lutz (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1983). 2 vols. Volume 1.
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Zabdiel Adams 1739-1801
An Election Sermon
Zabdiel Adams was a first cousin of John Adams, the second president of the United States, and, like the latter, a second or third cousin of Samuel Adams, revolutionary leader who was three times elected governor of Massachusetts. (John, Samuel, and Zabdiel had a great-grandfather in common.) Like the two more-famous members of his family, Zabdiel demonstrated a deep, persistent interest in the struggle for independence and the establishment of republican government. Unlike them, he showed no disposition to assume roles of agitator, organizer, and public leader. His duties as a minister held first claim to his time and energy; an occasional sermon and an active correspondence satisfied his need for expression of his political views. In this election day sermon, delivered while pastor of the Congregational church in Lunenburg, the Reverend Zabdiel provides a comprehensive view of American political principles. This is a mainstream analysis for the day and provides much of the reasoning underlying the design of state constitutions in the north, at least of many of them. The essay has the additional strength of showing awareness that, when it comes to defining a political culture, what men actually do in the realm of politics is as important as what constitutions say they should do.
Ecclesiastes, 8th Chap. 4th Verse.
Where the Word of a King is, there is Power; and who may say unto him what doest thou?
Lest it should be thought, by any of this assembly, that the preacher has stumbled at the threshold in chusing a text contrary to the genius of our present constitution, it may not be amiss to observe, that according to the language of scripture, the word king signifies any kind of governor, or the ruling power of any state. Accordingly Moses is called king in the 33rd chapter of Deuteronomy; the Judges have the same appellation, Judges xvii; to the four great Monarchies, the government of some of which was democratic, viz. Greece and Rome, the same title is given; and in the new testament, the seven kings, mentioned Rev. xvii. 10, are, by some of the latest and best expositions, understood of seven particular emperors of Rome. So that by king in the text, without putting any force upon the words, may be understood the ruling power of any nation; be it called in modern language by what name soever. Were this not the truth of fact; it would be necessary for us, as we have changed our form of government, to omit a considerable part of the scripture as inapplicable to our condition. But interpreted in the manner above suggested, these passages are as proper to be used by us, as by any people under heaven. The truth of the case seems to be this. At the time the text was penned, kingly rule was the most prevalent. Those who were called by this name, were vested with different degrees of power. Some governed by standing laws; and others conducted the great affairs of states and kingdoms according to their own arbitrary pleasure. Amongst the Jews, the king was only the supreme executive magistrate. He had little or nothing to do with matters of legislation. Their code of laws was previously settled by God himself, and given to Moses for the rule of their conduct, in all the subsequent stages of their political existence. In the times of the Judges the administration of their government was in the hands of God; and hence, by the learned it is frequently called theocracy: But the Jews, tired with having Jehovah for their supreme ruler, and perceiving that the nations around them had a mortal man to stand in this place, desired, as is too common at the present day, to be in the fashion, and to have a king like others. The request, as being to their own disadvantage, was displeasing to the God of heaven. But, as he would not rule them in a manner contrary to their own inclination, he consented to their petition, after pointing out to them the oppressive manner of the king. Their kings of several generations ruled in righteousness, and made the institutes of Moses the measure of their administration. Concerning such, Solomon pronounces as in our text, where the word of a king is, there is power. Whilst they keep within constitutional limits they cannot be resisted with impunity. Disobedience to such, exposes both to temporal and eternal punishments. To temporal, as the king is vested with great authority, and may do whatever he pleases for the preservation of order and the advancement of the public happiness: To eternal also; as government is of divine institution; and it is the will of heaven that we should obey not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake, provided the ruling power be the minister of God for good.
There is no necessity of supposing the declaration of Solomon true only of kingly government, properly so called. It is, or ought to be true of all kinds of government; and if there be any concerning which the assertion of the wise man may not, with truth, be made, it is evidently defective, and ought immediately to be amended, or totally changed. Three different modes of civil rule have been prevalent among the nations of the earth, a monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy; and indeed some have a combination or mixture of all three, as England. This has been esteemed by enlightened foreigners to be the happiest of any other, and infinite ecomiums have been passed upon it. Under such a form the people were free for many centuries. Corruption has at length taken place, and deprived the community at large of many of the blessings which they formerly enjoyed.* Hence we learn that something else is necessary towards making a people free and happy, besides a good constitution.
Amidst the different forms, it has often been enquired, which is the best? To such a question it may truly be answered, that no particular one for the same people always. As the tempers and manners of nations change, a change in their government becomes necessary. The Jews, at first, lived under a free commonwealth. Advancing in vice, they chose a different one; and being indulged, they descended at last, namely, before their Babylonish captivity to a mode of civil rule, similar to that of the eastern nations, at the present day, where one man, by birth or conquest, takes the sole command, and rules according to his despotic will.—The Romans underwent many changes in this regard. Formed at first of a set of outlaws and insolvent debtors, they instituted kingly rule. This continued for a few generations, till their kings, intoxicated with power, broke over all wholesome restraints, and committed personally, and by their sons, crimes intolerable to a free and virtuous people. Brutus, teaching the evil of a certain nefarious deed, and seconded by his worthy citizens, banished the royal family from Rome. After this, they set up a government of the popular kind, under which they enjoyed their liberties in great perfection, till falling under the burden of their own vices, and descending to a thousand factions, Julius Caesar, at the head of a well-disciplined body of troops, taking the advantage of this distracted state of the republic, retired from Gaul, and thundering with his legions at the gates of Rome, struck terror into the inhabitants, and fighting a battle with Pompey, one of a wicked triumvirate, obtained a complete victory over him, and was, in consequence, declared by the senate perpetual Dictator, a title similar to that of absolute Monarch. Now, it may well be questioned, whether this, for that people, under their present temper, was not the best government they could possibly have. Holland was once governed by a monarch who bid defiance to all former laws. They groaned under his jurisdiction; they refused his edicts; and, though they suffered much, they, at last, obtained a compleat independency, and remain to this day free in constitution, though some have pretended to affirm that they are slaves in reality.
From this view of the matter, it is apparent, that the character of a people is to be taken into account, in order to pronounce what mode of civil policy is best for them. This may, on the whole, be affirmed, that no people can be said to enjoy freedom, who have not the choice of their rulers, either mediately or immediately, in their own power. A different doctrine, I am sensible, has frequently been preached. Time-serving priests and fawning sycophants have sometimes flattered kings that they enjoyed their places jure divino; and scripture has been quoted in defence of the absurd tenet. Thus St. Paul has been supposed to patronize the doctrine, when he tells us, that the powers which be are ordained of God. But as this cannot intend that rulers are elevated to their places by the immediate agency of heaven; so neither does it mean that Peter, Richard, John, Charles, Henry or George are particularly designated to office. From that passage we learn only, that government is of divine appointment, and that rulers have no other qualifications for their places, but what God, in the course of his providence, has given them. King Solomon has been produced as an advocate for the doctrine of passive obedience and non-resistance, the divine hereditary right of rulers. My text has been quoted in support of this opinion by men, from whose genius and learning we might have expected more sober and rational sentiments. But, is it possible that a book written by divine guidance should teach the doctrine of unreserved obedience! The second verse of my context plainly demonstrates the contrary. Hear what the wise man says; I counsel thee to keep the king’s commandment, and that in regard of the oath of God. Now, can we suppose it is the pleasure of heaven that we should obey the unrighteous and oppressive commands of those in power, and that, not merely for wrath, but for conscience sake. What! Does the command of heaven make it necessary that we should take an oath of fealty and allegiance to all kinds of authority; and that, by virtue of it, we are obliged to obey even those magistrates who command us to practise idolatry, or any other evil work? The case is too evident to need many words. All that Solomon, therefore, meant was, that it is impious and dangerous to resist the authority of those who rule for God, and consult the common good.
My following discourse will be to shew how the supreme authority of any state should be appointed and conduct, in order to its coming with power in its several edicts and commands; and then, secondly, show what is the proper application of this power.
1st. The ruling power of every state or kingdom should be elected by the body of the people. As no man is born a ruler, so there is no possible way for him to get regularly into office, but by the election of his fellow-citizens. Dominion by conquest, by artifice, by saintship, or grace, is justly to be reprobated. It is our duty to resist such usurpers whenever we are able. Under God, the original source of all power, mankind enjoy, or ought to do so, the liberty of governing themselves. The powers of government are vested in the body of the people, and they may exercise them as they please, either personally, or by representatives. Their local situation and numbers make it inconvenient to do the former; hence the latter mode usually prevails.
Government by deputation does not consist with that plenitude of liberty in the people that they might enjoy, could they give their suffrages personally. However, when our representatives are regularly chosen, are amenable to our tribunals, and their election is not of long duration, then we may be said to be as free as the state of the world will commonly admit. To be deprived of the power of chusing our rulers, is to be deprived of self dominion. If they are appointed over us, by those over whom we have no controul, we are in a state of slavery. There is no difference, in this respect, between such a people, and the horses they ride on; neither are governed by their own will, in which the essence of all freedoms consists. Indeed, it is generally allowed at the present day, by men of the first character, that the choice of the people is the only source of power; and that republican government looks best on paper, but that it is not sufficiently energetic and decisive to answer the necessities of the state. There has been, it must be confessed, too much reason for the above observation. Very popular governments have sometimes been found too weak to prevent tumults, insurrections and factions. A wise people, therefore, in the organization and establishment of a constitution, will take all possible care to guard against such a defect. But how shall this be done? Shall they recur to the long since exploded doctrine of the divine right of rulers; and labor to possess the body of the people with an opinion that damnation will be the inevitable consequence of opposing tyrants? Shall they give up the claim of election, and assert that magistrates are sent immediately from heaven, and govern independently of them? This would be speaking wickedly for God. There is no necessity of recurring to any such paltry expedients. To give energy to governments erected with our own hands nothing more is necessary than a union of all the most enlightened and virtuous people in support of them. And if our elections are made in wisdom, if we choose out able men, who fear God and hate covetousness, then among such a people, obedience will be chearful and prompt. All laws bind by consent. The majority can, and does always govern. It is their consent and concurrence; their countenance and support that give energy and power; and in order to obtain this, nothing more is necessary, than to have the whole government administered for the public good. This makes it the interest of the people in general to obey. Individuals having a different interest may be disposed to resist and even to call others into their vortex; but their feeble efforts may be easily overcome by the contrary exertions of the more numerous, the more virtuous and more rational part of their fellow citizens.
Republican governments are said not only to be destitute of energy, but to be slow and unperforming. This defect may be removed by allowing such prerogatives to a single person as are necessary to the vigor and dispatch of public measures. However, in large assemblies, where there is a diversity of interests and opinions, matters of importance will never be speedily discussed. This is an inconvenience to which we must submit, and it is the price we pay for our liberties. It ought to be remembered there is safety, tho’ there is expence in these slow and tedious discussions; and if we allow it a defect, we certainly can find no form of government, but what is chargeable with as great or greater.
In all free states the people have a right, not only to say who shall be their rulers, but also by what tenure they shall hold their offices, and the steps by which they shall arrive at them.
In order to avoid the feuds and factions that the election of a chief magistrate would occasion in some large nations, the constitution provides, that certain families should rule by hereditary right. Though this establishment avoids some, it is exposed perhaps to greater inconveniences. By means hereof, they may oftentimes have for their first ruler, tho’ not a compleat ideot, yet perhaps one separated therefrom, only by a thin partition. Further, when children are born heirs apparent to some high and important station in government, their education is commonly such, as to fill them with ideas of superiority, unfriendly to the rights of mankind. To govern well, with justice, clemency and mercy, we ought to be acquainted with human nature in the lowest walks of life.
In elective kingdoms, the election for the most part, is either for life or for a considerable number of years. The better way is to chuse our rulers frequently. The term ought to be known and ascertained; at the expiration of which we may omit them if we please. This is true if they conduct ever so well; and there is great reason for it, if they have been guilty of mal-administration. But tho’ frequent elections may be proper, yet it must be highly imprudent, frequently to change those who are qualified for their trust and disposed to do the duties of it. This observation is true of any officer, but more especially of those who are high in command. There may be reasons for electing the chief magistrate annually; but if a new person is yearly chosen, it will lessen the influence of authority, weaken the sinews of government, crumble the people into parties, and establish habits inconsistent with the spirit of submission which is highly necessary to the good of society. A monopoly of office should never be permitted; a rotation indeed excludes it; and changes at proper intervals, excite people to a laudable application to business and books, that they may become qualified for polls of eminence and distinction. But on the contrary, if the man who holds the first place in the government, knows that he shall enjoy it but a short space, let his deportment be ever so unexceptionable, he will hardly be warm in his office, get but a miserable acquaintance with his duty, acquire no facility in the performance of it, and lose a grand stimulus to excel. Unless therefore we were born governors, legislators, etc. it must be wise in a people to elect their principal officers for a succession of years, provided they answer the end of their elevation. In this way, we shall secure to ourselves more of the beneficial influences of government, than it is possible for us in the contrary practice.
As the choice of the people is the only rational source of power, so it makes obedience the most rational act. Slaves fear the rod, but freemen are kept in the line of duty by more ingenuous principles. That society who will not be governed but by brutal force, is unworthy any degree of freedom, and will not long enjoy it. If we will not govern ourselves, we must be ruled by those over whom we have no controul.
The nation of America is remote from such a calamitous event. The whole series of our conduct, the unexampled patience with which we have waded thro’ a sea of trouble, in order to gain the present separate and independent station among the nations of the earth; the blood we have [NA] spilt in this unhappy contest, and the present determined spirit of by far the greater part of the community, will not admit the most distant thought of ever returning to a foreign jurisdiction, thro’ want of alacrity in obedience to those whom we have by our free, unbiassed suffrages constituted our rulers. But it is not to every kind of injunction they will readily submit. Several things are necessary to procure chearful obedience to laws, besides their being enacted by men in our own election. Particularly, first, they should be agreeable to the genius of the people, and the spirit of the constitution. The constitution contains the fundamental principles of the state in which we live. It is the civil compact and points out the manner in which we chuse to be governed, the privileges of the people, and the prerogatives of the governing body. These powers are ceded to others, not for the sake of aggrandizing any class of men; not for the purpose of keeping up the vain distinction among those who by nature are equal; not that some may riot in plenty, whilst others are indigent and distressed; but only that they may use them for the public good. As the rivers empty their waters into the sea, that common receptacle, in order to receive them again, that their sources may not be dried up, that they may wash their banks, spread over and fertilize the adjacent plains; so the people delegate a part of their inherent power to those whom they constitute their rulers, that it may be used in defence of their properties, their remaining liberties and their lives.—For this purpose some are cloathed with those extensive powers, which by the constitution reside in the first magistrate of the Commonwealth—He is the “mirror of the people’s majesty, and the right hand of their power.” If he were more limited in his prerogatives, he would be incapacitated to answer the exigencies of the state, and be only an empty pageant, an image of tinsel, or of gold, unworthy the confidence of the people.—The same may be said of the emoluments of his office,—poverty and power are incompatible. The poor man’s authority as well as wisdom is despised. Wealth gives influence. A splendid exterior does much towards commanding respect. Such is the nature of mankind, that with huge reluctance they obey those, on whom furtune does not smile.—Besides, his stipend is granted, partly, in order to support the dignity of the Commonwealth. He is the representative of the people’s wealth as well as power. To him foreigners of distinction resort, by him they are accommodated in a manner suited to their condition, and in him they view the ability of the state, as in him all their scattered rays of opulence are reduced to one common focal point. Further, it ought to be observed, that he who bears the burden, should reap the benefit. Rulers of exalted station have a painful service. A great weight lays upon them; they bear the cumbrance of all the people. It is therefore certainly reasonable, that they who exhaust their strength, and spend their wakeful hours in the service of the public, should reap in some measure, the fruit of their toil and vigilance. At the same time no worthy magistrate would chuse to become opulent from the profits of his office, especially at a time of general distress. Good Nehemiah was so far from this, that when his countrymen were poor and aflicted, he would not so much as eat the bread of the governor.—In conquered countries, where governors have been sent, they have frequently robbed the people of their dear earned wealth, and returned to the land which gave them birth, after a few years absence, with their coffers filled with the issues of oppression. Witness some of the pro consals of Rome. But with us, where our governors are at our own election, who are natives of the country, there is no fear of this. The probability rather is, that they will spend their own inheritance in order to keep up the dignity of the government.
The legislative body is superior in power to the executive. They hold the reins of government in their hands; but as in this, and all free countries, they constitute a numerous assembly, it is not to be expected that at the public expence, each individual should be supported in affluence. They ought however, certainly to be supported. Many of their High Mightinesses, the members of the States General, make no great personal appearance; the splendor of majesty resides in the Stadtholder. But tho’ the individuals who compose this body, may not all of them be personally very respectable, yet as a part of one great whole, they are, when acting constitutionally, an assembly with whom resides a power, which no separate parties may resist. But if this assembly stretch their prerogatives beyond constitutional bounds, they may lawfully be opposed. Power is extremely apt to dilate, or spread itself abroad. Hence there is need of vigilancy on the side of the people. They who guard the golden alter of liberty, should be possessed of eagle-eyes. This sacred depositum cannot be watched with too great attention. But then there is a wide difference between reasonable care and capricious jealousy. Allowances are ever to be made for the involuntary failings of rulers, but none for their designed faults. There are, and ever will be, in all free states, a number of restless spirits, who under the specious cloak of liberty, are perpetually raising a clamour against those in authority. We need no such prompters. A gross infraction of the constitution and oppressive measures, will be immediately perceived by an intelligent people. Public incendiaries are baneful. To be called into combinations, under the notion of supporting liberty, is always a dangerous measure, and ought never to be complied with, except in some extreme cases. A government within a government is a monster in politicks. It is attended with the most unhappy consequences. The best organized constitution in the world, may be subverted by the frequent meetings of such demagogues. Of combinations there can be no need, where our rulers are so immediately under our controul, where they are elected once a year, and where every corporate body may meet as often as they please, to give instructions to those whom they have deputed from their number. But tho’ such proceedings as I have now mentioned are justly to be dispised; yet a ready obedience is not to be expected to resolves and edicts that generally appear to sensible people to be unwise and hurtful. It concerns rulers therefore to keep within the boundaries established by common consent. A departure therefrom will bring their measures into contempt. In this case they may “resolve and resolve and dye the same.” What signified the mandatory letters of Philip the second, to the people of the United States, when the design of them was to deprive that people of the unalienable rights of men and christians? Equally unavailing were the laws of the British parliament, at the beginning of these times, when their manifest purpose was to despoil us of our chartered rights, and bring us into a state of bondage. Such acts are as little regarded as the bulls and thunders of the Vatican, at this enlightened period of christianity.
Further, in order to have the word, or laws of rulers come with power, it is necessary to make frequent appeals to their constituents, and inform them of the necessity of their measures. This among an intelligent people has a weighty tendency to procure respect, and a ready obedience. Indeed this cannot always be done with safety. There is a maxim often mentioned of late, that there should be no mysteries in government. If this be understood of the theoretick principles, it is just; but if of the administration thereof, it is not always true. The necessities of the state sometimes require great secrecy. The most important expedition or negociation might otherwise fail. But where secrecy is not essential, there the authority ought to make known the necessity of their measures. As rulers should be just, so they should remember that they rule over men, who are intelligent beings, and who are commonly governed by reason. To set before them, therefore, the necessity of their proceedings especially when they are burdensome, as is always the case in time of war, is the directest way to have a cheerful compliance. If taxes are heavy, and people know not to what uses they are applied; if they are left to vain conjectures, and finally conclude that they are swallowed up in a manner not beneficial to the public, no wonder there is a reluctance in paying them. Frequent settlements with those who are intrusted with public monies, and a proper account of the expenditure of them, laid before the community, will silence all murmerings among a people, where reason is more prevalent than passion, and where every noble principle is not under the controul of avarice.
Again, if rulers would speak with power, they must speak in the language of justice. All their laws, resolves and taxes must be agreeable to the eternal rules of right. To do impartial justice to all; to preside with an even hand, and carry the balance in equilibrio, is certainly their indispensible duty. There is often times a jealousy between the different parts of a nation or commonwealth; a struggle and competition between the landed and mercantile interest. It is the business of rulers to lay all such jealousies asleep, and by their public determinations demonstrate that they are not so friends to the one or the other party, but that they are greater friends to truth and equity. The same rule is to be observed in the proportion of taxes, that are laid upon the different states in the continental confederacy. This should not only be invariably maintained, but reasonable evidence of it communicated to the constituents. Nothing gives life and spirit to any corporate body; nothing induces them to submit to burdens with greater alacrity than to find they are necessary and levied in equal proportions.
Further, those measures that are evidently calculated to promote the welfare and prosperity of the republick, are ever attended with energy and power. Government was instituted for the happiness of the community at large. Rulers are ministers of the people; they should be ministers of God for good, and where they are evidently so, there is but little danger of their commands being resisted. If the people oppose such power, thus benevolently exercised, it is an evidence they have fallen into a most distempered state, and are nigh unto cursing.
Again, in this view much depends on the conduct of the executive power. In the administration of justice and execution of the laws, much firmness, impartiality and mercy are requisite. The supreme ruler of heaven and earth has required this. He will not allow one rule of administration for the poor man, and another for the rich. He says to the Judges, take heedwhat you do; for you judge not for man but for the Lord who is with you in the judgment: Wherefore let the fear of the Lord be upon you; for there is no iniquity with the Lord, nor respect of persons, nor taking of gifts. 2 Chro. 19. 6. 7. As on the one hand, they should not take bribes and favour the rich; so on the other, an idle compassion should not lead them to befriend the poor, and indulge them in measures iniquitous, to the exclusion of a worthy part of the community from their just demands. The obstructing the course of commutative justice even in a small degree, tho’ it may be done under the notion of mercy, is, however, a very pernicious precedent, and in the issue will be found to be extremely detrimental. It discourages the most industrious part of the community, and puts it out of their power to support the burdens of government, on whose shoulders they principally fall. If any thing further can be done to prevent litigation, and the exhorbitant expences of suits instituted for the recovery of property, it certainly demands the attention of those in power.
The Judges of the supreme judicial court have deserved well of the public in these distracted times. With an even hand, with a resolute courage, and with a proper mixture of compassion have they distributed justice in their circuitous course; and much to them are we indebted for that peace and order which have been conspicuous at a time when the sinews of government have been much relaxed.
Lastly, if those in authority would have their world come with power, they must themselves be an example to others. To lay heavy burdens grievous to be borne, which they will not so much as touch with one of their fingers, is what a rational people will not suffer in those that preside over them. Hence we see the reason why the measures of Britain with regard to this country were so very disgusting. Living at ease, and rioting in luxury, they wanted assistance to support them in this course. In this state they cast a wishful look upon America: From us they proposed to draw a revenue sufficient to uphold their prodigality, and enable them to live in splendor and pleasure. Her Parliaments accordingly assumed a right of taxation, and of making laws to bind us in all cases whatever. Feeling none of the burden, and under the influence of the most rapacious desires, they would soon have brought us into the most unhappy situation, and imposed burdens upon us, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear. But now that our rulers feel themselves a proportionable part of the burden, what rational body of men can with propriety complain? Are taxes at any time heavy, and do we under the burden begin to entertain hard thoughts? It is enough to repress the rising emotion, when we remember, that the same persons who lay them, bear an equal proportion of the whole, and are taxed according to their estates. As self-interest has so predominant a sway among all orders of men, it cannot be thought, without doing violence to nature, that such taxes are laid with ill design. Imposts and duties of the same denomination with those formerly laid upon us by Britain, which were then objected against, may be reasonable now, as the objection was not against the duties themselves, but the appropriation of the monies thence arising, and the authority by which they were imposed.
As it is the business of those in power to see justice done between man and man, and to keep the law open for that purpose, so example loudly calls upon them, as a public body, to do justice both to individuals and to other states. In short, I mean, it is of high importance, that public credit be maintained; as a failure of it is attended with a thousand difficulties.
The matter of example is to be extended still further. Rulers should not only be exemplary in matters that relate to the duties of their particular station; but in all the virtues of life, they should go before us in a shining example, if they would have their measures properly respected. Those who live at the upper end of the world are greatly observed. Their manners are contagious. They do as much to support order by their behaviour as by their laws, nay more. As every government makes laws to punish offenders, proportioned to the nature and degree of their crimes, so they ought to adopt a code of regulations which tend to prevent the commission of evil. This is the most essential and benevolent part of government. Now, laws of this kind can never be better enforced than by the examples of men in authority. The examples of men in places of eminence and distinction, have such an influence on their constituents, that the matter may be aptly illustrated by Ezekiel’s vision of the living creatures and the wheels; when the living creatures went, the wheels went by them; and when the living creatures were lift up from the earth, the wheels were lift up. When these stood, those stood; for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels.
Thus I have mentioned some of the principle things that have a tendency to give weight and influence to the public measures of authority. After all, it is not to be supposed, that every one will be contented. A few dark designing knaves, a busy plotting crew love to make distracted times. But this is certain, where a government is constituted and administered in the manner above mentioned, the body of the people; a goodly majority will always be in favour of it. For what should make them oppose it? Do they think it unnecessary? Let them try; let them live without government if they can? A few enthusiasts in former, and at the present times, thought it a useless and burdensome institution. But they are grossly mistaken. Indeed, were all men righteous there would be no need of human laws. The law was not made for the righteous man. But as there are multitudes who fear not God, and are not much influenced by future considerations; hence the restraints of human laws are necessary to keep the world in order. Without these, murder, adultery, rapine, and every evil work would frequently happen. In vain would it be for individuals to have distinct interests, were they not preserved in the enjoyment of them, by the combined power of the whole. Dreadful must be the state of the world, when every man does what is right in his own eyes; when there is no king in Israel, and when every person gives an unbounded licence to a spirit of avarice, revenge and lust. What scenes of misery would hence ensue? Altho’ a state of nature may have some attendant advantages; yet the inconveniences of it are a thousand times greater—It is a state of war. The passions of mankind being left to an uncontrouled rage, would multiply numerous spectacles of distress. Implacable revenge, under the impulse of keen resentment, would hunt the real or supposed offender, and in order to meet him, stretch the length of a spacious continent, traverse prominent mountains, wade through eternal snows, penetrate almost inaccessible woods, and when it overtakes him, inflict a punishment greatly superior to the nature of his crime. But why do I multiply words in so plain a case. Without government societies cannot live in any security.
Again, as this is necessary to the public order and happiness, so it is an appointment of heaven, the ordination of God, who is a God of order and not of confusion. By him kings reign and princes decree justice. The powers that be are ordained of God; therefore let every soul be subject to the higher powers. Whoso resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God, and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation: For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same; for he is the minister of God to thee for good; but if thou do that which is evil be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain; for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doth evil; wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. For this cause pay ye tribute also; for they are God’s minister’s attending continually on this very thing.—These are the words of St. Paul. And in perfect harmony therewith, says St. Peter; submit yourselves to every ordinance of man forthe Lord’s sake, whether it be to the king as supreme, or unto governors as unto them that are sent by him, for the punishment of evil doers, and for the praise of them that do well. From those passages it appears, not only that government is an ordinance of heaven, but also that obedience to it is a duty enjoined under the highest penalty. Upon the whole, therefore, I may be allowed to conclude that those rulers who are introduced into office by the choice of the people, and are upright and faithful in their stations, ought to be regarded as much as the Dictator, when he marched thro’ the streets of Rome, preceeded by Lictors, bearing axes and rods.
We cannot resist such government without subverting the order, and interrupting the happiness of society. Oppugnation to it is opposition to the Deity himself; it exposes to many troubles here, and to damnation in the future world. Rebellion against such authority is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness as the iniquity of idolatry.
I shall say a few things concerning the application of this power, and have done.
It should be put forth to make the people industrious. Industry is the life of all states. It is this that supports the world. When any are idle there must be a deficiency somewhere. The Chinese have a maxim, that the earth produces no more than is sufficient to maintain very industrious persons. Perhaps it is from a conviction of the truth of this observation, that the Emperor of China goes forth once a year, in solemn pomp, and sowes a quantity of seed with his own hand, in the view of numerous spectators. This industry is a matter of importance at all times, but more especially so at the present day, when demands are great for the various products of the earth. The best rulers have heretofore been called from the plow. Cincinnatus was twice taken from thence, and made dictator. Tho’ we do not desire to have all our rulers in this way employed, yet we could wish to have them industrious in their proper stations, and thereby set an example of diligence to others, who should be farther excited thereto by premiums, and other methods within the limits of the magistrate’s power.
Frugality is another important object of the rulers attention. This, both as it relates to dress and food is a matter of moment. Millions since the present war commenced might have been saved in this way. Sumptuary laws have often times been made; why they should be improper now it is difficult to say? At least the regulation of licencedhouses and a discouragement to the too copious consumption of spirituous liquors, is a matter on which the welfare of society much depends.
The promotion of learning demands the attention of the civil authority. It is never expected that all should be philosophers. The state of the world, the necessities of mankind demand a different improvement of their time and talents. All, however, ought to be taught the rudiments of science. Schools should be maintained, at the public expense, for this purpose; otherwise, in a few years, we shall not know the nature or the value of that liberty, for which we are now so justly contending. An ignorant people will never long live under a free government. They will soon become slaves, or run into anarchy. This, therefore teaches the infinite necessity of diffusing intelligence among the body of the people. Several valuable literary institutions have lately been founded by government; and the establishment adds a brilliancy to their character. These societies are still in their infancy. Much is wanting to their perfections; to make them the glory and ornament of the land. When by a series of observation and experiment, by diving into the arcana of nature, and investigating the occult qualities of things, they shall have made considerable accessions to the heep of science, then their benign influence will be felt. Speculative knowledge may please the possessor, but that which is practical is only beneficial to mankind. What can be more so than the science and art of medicine. Health is one of the noblest blessings. To have for the conservators of it, men of genius, penetration and study, who understand the human constitution, the connections, dependence and subservience of the particular parts of it, the diseases to which it is obnoxious, and the most effectual means of cure, how happy the attainment? The Medical Society, if properly encouraged, will in a few years, give us a plenty of enlightened Physicians, before whom all empiricks, all pretenders to nostrums and catholicons will hide their diminished heads.—Our University, which has for a long time supplied both state and church with men of eminence and renown, now stands with uplifted hands imploring the aid of government. Let not our academies, erected by patriotick persons, cast our alma mater into obscurity, or in any degree supersede its utility. May not the former, tho’ noble foundations, acquire such credit in the view of the authority as to put them on a par with the society which was early instituted, which is richly furnished with a library, and an apparatus in natural philosophy, and at the head of which there are men of eminent abilities.
Again; religion and morality among the people, are an object of the magistrate’s attention. As to religion, they have no farther call to interpose than is necessary to give a general encouragement to it. Matters of conscience are to be left to God and our own soul. Modes and forms of religion; sentiments concerning doctrines, etc. people should be indulged in, without molestation. If coertion would bring mankind to a uniformity of sentiment, no advantage would result therefrom. It is on the contrary best to have different facts and denominations live in the same societies. They are a mutual check and spy upon each other, and become more attentive to their principles and practice. Hence it has been observed that where Papists and Protestants live intermingled together, it serves to meliorate them both. The same may be observed of any other sects. It is however greatly to be lamented that there is not a more catholick and comprehensive spirit among different denominations of christians. Bigotry and censoriousness sour the temper and interrupt the happiness of society. The diffusion of light lessens this unhappy temper; and among people of knowledge, though of different communions, a harmonious intercourse commonly takes place. With madmen and enthusiasts there can be no agreement, except among people as distracted as themselves. But even such, where they put on a religious guise, and do not interrupt the peace of society, are not to be disturbed by the civil arm. Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. To their own master they stand or fall. But that part of religion which has an immediate aspect on the good of the community falls under the cognizance of the ruler. Every thing that tends to promote the fear of God and reverence for an oath, to advance the interests of virtue and morality in the world, should be encouraged and enjoined by those in power; for where there is not the fear of God and reverence for an oath, it will be extremely difficult to keep the world in order. The young should not only be instructed at schools in matters of science, but also in the principles of morality; and they together with the adult should attend those places where they may hear the sacred obligations of religion pointed out and inculcated. To compel them to attend any particular society in preference to any, or all others, would be an infringement on the rights of conscience. But to oblige them to attend somewhere, is what the authority have an undoubted right to, and it is moreover a most benevolent exercise of power: for should publick instructions in religion and morality be laid aside, profaneness, barbarism, and every evil work, would become triumphant. Righteousness exalteth a nation; it gives dignity, strength and firmness to every body politick. Whilst the Romans reverenced the Gods, and were nice in their notions of honour, truth and temperance, they conquered the neighbouring nations, spread themselves far and wide, and were possessed of all worldly felicity. But when they lost their virtue, they were weakened by feuds and factions; they were straightened and brought low; tyrants ruled over them; till at length, being greatly enervated by voluptuousness and effeminacy, they were overran and totally subdued by the hardy sons of the North. Sin is a reproach or debasement to any people. It is especially detrimental to free states. Statesmen may plan and speculate for liberty, but it is religion and morality alone which can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely stand. The only foundation of a free constitution is pure virtue; and if this cannot be inspired into the people at large, in a greater measure than we have reason to think they possess it now, they may change their rulers and the forms of their government, but they will not obtain a lasting liberty; they will only exchange tyrants and tyrannies. So fully was Lycurgus, the Spartan king, persuaded of this truth, that he took particular care of the youth, and had them educated in a manner suited to the genius of their government.
Lastly; The power of rulers is to be exerted in the management of the great affairs of war. We have reason to be thankful that wars do not always rage; yet so frequent are they, that they should be studied as a science, and prosecuted by the rules of art. Britain, a haughty and high-spirited nation, have been at war near half their time for some centuries past. It is lamentable to think what desolations they have made in the earth. What judgment is there greater than this? How are the civil establishments of former times subverted by war, and confusion introduced in the world? The blood of our citizens is spilt; the bands which tye together the dearest connexions are frequently in the most painful manner dissolved; the pensive widow and the prattling babe being deprived of those on whom, under God, was their main dependence. What benevolent heart can contemplate the ravages of war without pain? There are none but the fierce and savage who can delight in scenes of carnage. But, though the horrors of war are great; yet, when we come to contrast them with slavery, we find the darkness of the night-piece immediately lessens! Where slavery reigns, nothing good or great can possibly take place. Look into despotick governments, and you find no ebullitions of genius, no strokes of the sublime; but on the contrary, poverty of spirit; a depressed temper marks the character of the enslaved nation. “What a high value ought we then to set upon liberty, since without it, nothing great, or suitable to the dignity of human nature can possibly be produced? Slavery is the fetter of the tongue, the chain of the mind as well as the body.—Reason and Freedom are our own, and given to continue so. We are to use, but cannot resign them, without rebelling against him who gave them. The invaders of either ought to be resisted by the united force of all men, since they encroach on the privileges we receive from God, and traverse the designs of infinite goodness.” Where, therefore, there is no other alternative but war or slavery, there should be no kind of hesitancy. Being in this situation, we were compelled, more than seven years ago, to take up the sword and make our solemn appeal to Heaven, who has remarkably owned our cause and succeeded our military enterprizes. So wonderful were the interpositions of God’s providence, in many instances, in our favour, that we may, without presumption, adopt the words of the Psalmist and say, the Lord of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob our refuge. How did the Almighty ride on the heavens for our help, and in his excellency on the skies, in the capture of two famous generals, with their powerful forces.* Such events rarely take place, and are to be ascribed to the Lord of hosts, the God of armies. They are the Lord’s doings, and are marvellous in our eyes.
If slavery still clanks her iron chains, we must resolutely persevere in a measure which has been hitherto so very successful. To arms, America, to arms! Let the former experience you have had of God’s gracious assistance, induce you to put your trust in him for the future, and say with the Apostle, he that hath delivered, and doth deliver, will still deliver. But hark! Rumours of accommodation are circulating through the air. Great-Britain, it is said, holds out the olive-branch, and makes overtures of peace. If the terms are not insidious; if our independency can be secured; and treaties formerly made with our illustrious Ally, the King of France, kept sacred, then it must be the wish of every good man in America to have the horrors of war speedily closed by such a peace. But of this our rulers in Congress must be the judges in the dernier resort. With them it lays to make peace or prolong the war; and in them we should confide. But, in order to a rational confidence in them, they should be men of wisdom, penetration, knowledge of mankind, their arts and intrigues; men of known probity, who are above the influence of venality and corruption; men of steadiness and courage; incapable of being either terrified or flattered into measures dishonourable, or incompatible with the publick weal. Of such men, there is a plenty, even at these times. It is the duty of the electors to give their suffrages for them, and to act with caution in the choice of all our officers. A neglect in this regard, will be the source of the most formidable evils. The direction of Moses is, to chuse out able men, men of truth, who fear God and hate covetousness, and constitute such to be rulers. Now, if instead of regarding this direction, people are inattentive to the qualifications of those men whom they chuse into office; if they will suffer themselves to be influenced in this matter by private piques, or favour, by party views, or sinister motives; or, if they should become generally indifferent about the election, and not attend assemblies called for that purpose; then our pleasing prospects from our republican governments will “vanish like the baseless fabrick of a vision.”
It is a matter of great importance to have wise men at helm at all times, but more especially so in times of difficulty and danger. Abler pilots are wanted in a storm, when the waves run high, and the wind is boisterous, than in a calm when the sea is smooth and placid. Now is a tempestuous time, and with difficulty is the political ship kept from rocks and quicksands, from shipwreck or foundering. How necessary then is it for the people at large to have at the helm, men who may with propriety be called Gods, for the superior qualifications of their minds and hearts? If we are favoured with such, we should treat them with peculiar reverence and honor. This honoring rulers, implies that we esteem them highly for their office and works sake. I know of no men more deserving of esteem and honor than good magistrates. He that has a suitable idea of the necessity of civil government, can not easily prevail upon himself to reproach, defame, malign those in power; because such conduct tends to weaken their hands. To honor government, is impossible, according to the apprehensions of mankind in general. We testify our respect to the office, by our respectful treatment of the officer. As speaking evil of dignities has a powerful tendency to weaken their hands and lessen their power to do good; hence God has forbidden us to speak evil of them; and those, who despise government, and are not afraid to speak evil of dignities, are ranked amongst those presumptuous and self-willed persons who are reserved to the judgment of the great day. From a conviction of the truth of the above observations, all virtuous considerate persons will bear their testimony against those discontented men who are continually raising a cry against those in power, and in this way keeping society in confusion. On the contrary, they will endeavour in all proper ways to strengthen their hands and encourage their hearts, that their united exertions may come with power; and that under their wise and equitable rule, we may lead peaceable and quiet lives in all godliness and honesty.
Such has been the wisdom of our elections in time past, that we may place a rational confidence in (I would charitably hope) all; but certainly in those who have been some time in station, and possess some of the most important places in government. We have had experience of their firmness, fidelity, love of liberty, patriotism, uniformity of conduct, and talents for command. His Excellency, the third time chosen the first magistrate of the Commonwealth, will excuse me in saying, that the suffrages of his countrymen are an attestation to his merit, greatly surpassing the encommons of an individual; and that his love of mankind, his generous soul, large as the sands of the seashore, his princely munificence, his voluntary sacrifice of ease and fortune, for the sake of placing his country beyond the reach of despotism, have set his virtues so on high, that the tongue of malevolence and slander has not been able to throw them into the shade.—May God take his Excellency, his Honor, the Council, and both branches of the Legislature under his protection and guidance, bless them and make them blessings to the people. My honored Sirs, you have taken the lead at the time of great distress, when burdens are heavy, when jealousies are strong, when clamours are rife; and when it requires the wisdom and prudence of Angels to avoid the censures of petulant and licentious tongues. It is yours faithfully to discharge the duties of your trust. In doing these you will have the approbation of your own minds, and, I dare say, the concurrence, the good wishes and support of by far the greater part of the community.
The late measures of the British Parliament and king, will embarrass your proceedings and make your path of duty more difficult than it was before. The total change of the ministry, and the introduction of those who were heretofore deemed our friends, will probably bring on a negotiation delicate in its nature and difficult in its settlement, for those before whom it properly comes.
Some seem to be confident we shall have a speedy peace; but what honorable and lasting peace can we expect when the luxury and pride, the profaneness and debauchery, the dissipation and intemperance of the people are so great? To pave the way for so desirable a blessing, rulers and people should exert themselves to bring about a reformation. No wonder the times are perilous, when men are lovers of themselves, covetous, proud, blasphemers, false accusers, incontinent, dispisers of those that are good, lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God. When we discern a different spirit, we may rationally hope for better times. Then will our peace be as a river, when our righteousness is as the waves of the sea. Much may be done by you, civil fathers, towards bringing the people to an outward reformation. The enacting and carrying into execution wholesome laws, tending to the better observation of the sabbath; requiring persons under suitable penalties to attend, where they may hear their duty, and be reminded of the awful consequences of neglecting it; where a future world may be brought into view, and the moral character of the Deity, as governor of the universe, is unfolded, will tend much to this. Laws of this kind properly executed, would very soon put a new face upon things; especially if at the same time suitable care was taken to regulate some other matters of internal policy. I am sensible. I speak the sentiments of very many, when I assert, that serious people long to see a system of preventive jurisprudence better established, more attended to, and more generally carried into execution. This would make government easy, prevent a multitude of crimes, conciliate reverance to the persons of those that are in command, recreate the hearts of the pious, and contribute to the peace and pleasure of society.—Whilst people are fighting against the burdens of despotic rule, some of the blessings of free government should be tasted by them, least they become discouraged, and ready to say, the former times were better than these. And tho’ the war will take up much of the attention of our civil rulers, yet we hope they will find leisure to prosecute measures for bettering the morals of the people. As this may be in part effected by proclamation, by law, and advancing none to places of trust, but men of virtue; so perhaps more effectually by the shining examples of those in power. If you will tread the paths of piety, probity, truth and honor, multitudes will follow you with a resolute and persevering pace, through the whole steep ascent of duty.
You have, it must be confessed, a difficult station, a laborious task. Some perhaps may seek the place thro’ a love of power or lust of domination. But the better instructed know that there is no good in power, but the power of doing good. You have great opportunities for this. Your influence is large. If it be properly directed, you are Gods to the world; his vice regants of earth. As you have this title given to you by the great Jehovah himself, so it becomes you to imitate him in his perfections of justice and righteousness, of wisdom and truth, of patience and compassion, and especially, of benevolence and diffusive goodness.—How extensive a blessing is a good magistrate? He is a father to the poor, and the cause which he knows not, he searches out. He breaks the jaws of the wicked, and plucks the spoil out of his mouth. He delivers the poor that cries, and the fatherless and him that hath none to help him: He is eyes to the blind and feet to the lame. The blessing of him that is ready to perish comes upon him; and he causes the widows heart to sing for joy. He puts on righteousness, and it cloaths him; his judgment is a robe and diadem. Such an one is as the light of the morning, when the sun risest, even a morning without clouds, as the tender grass springing out of the earth, by clear shining after rain. This should not only reconcile those in power to the arduous and multiplied labours of their places, but also animate them to the faithful discharge thereof. This will embalm their memory, and procure them juster praise than ever was bestowed on Alexander or Caesar. Good magistrates are excited to fidelity by other and nobler considerations than those of going off the stage with the applause of their fellow men. They labour to approve themselves to the heart searching, and omniscient Jehovah. They know that though they are called God’s, yet they must die like other men, and appear before the bar of Christ, to answer for the improvement of their time and talents. Keeping this solemn event in view, they endeavour to approve themselves to their divine master, that so when they are called to account, they may receive this blessed euge from his lips, well done good and faithful servants, enter ye into the joy of your Lord.—If you, my honored Sirs, act under the impression and influence of this solemn thought, I am persuaded the elections of this day, and all the transactions of the ensuing year, will be such as to meet the approbation of the wise and virtuous, and bid defiance to the impotent attacks of disappointed ambition, or the unhallowed clamors of the licentious.
Finally, may the people at large see the importance of supporting government, and the necessity of carrying on the war with vigor. We are now in sight of the promised land. How humiliating would it be to have our independence, just brought to the birth, fail for want of strength to be delivered? To encourage us to persevere, let us anticipate the rising glory of America. Behold her seas whitened with commerce; her capitals filled with inhabitants, and resounding with the din of industry. See her rising to independence and glory. Contemplate the respectable figure that she will one day make among the nations of the earth; behold her venerable for wisdom, for counsel and for might; flourishing in science, in agriculture and navigation, and in all the arts of peace. Figure to yourselves that this your native country will ere long become the permanent seat of Liberty, the retreat of philosophers, the asylum of the oppressed, the umpire of contending nations, and, we would hope, the glory of Christ, by a strict attachment to his gospel, and divine institutions. What though the present generation may not live to see the completion and fulfilment of these grand events? If we have laid the foundation of them, and can die in expectation that our children will taste the happy fruits of our toil, it will give to benevolent parents the most heartfelt joy; and children possessing the effects of their fathers sacrifice, will rise up and call them blessed.—But if there be any on whom these noble considerations will make no impression, I would beg leave just to turn their attention to those scenes of distress and carnage, which will certainly take place, provided we fail in our present enterprize, and are brought, by artifice or power, to submit to the dominion of the British king. May the United States of America therefore bow down their shoulders to bear all the future burdens that may be devolved upon them, in the progression of this tedious and expensive conflict. A few more campaigns will determine the event of the present struggle, and doubtless land us on the rock of independence, security and peace. Expence is not to be regarded in a contest of such magnitude. What can possibly be a compensation for our liberties? It is better to be free among the dead, than slaves among the living. The ghosts of our friends, slain in war; the spirits of our illustrious ancestors, long since gone to rest, who transmitted our fair inheritance to us; a regard to children still unborn, all call upon us to make greater exertions; and will rise up in judgment against us, if, through cowardice, we desert the noble cause, in which, for many years past, we have been engaged. From these considerations, therefore, let us persevere till we have obtained the completion of our wishes, and have placed our country beyond the reach of over-bearing foes.—But let us remember that we are engaged in a higher warfare; and that, if we overcome our spiritual enemies, we shall, at last, be put in possession of that kingdom where perpetual peace will reign, and liberty, the most exalted and refined, shall be obtained. Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.
[* ] There was formerly a proper balance of power between the three constituent branches of the British constitution; and at that time it was a noble one. It had the strength and dispatch of Monarchy; the dignity and wisdom of Aristocracy, and the freedom of Democracy all combined in one. But this happy equipoise of power was destroyed, when the Commons granted to the King certain duties and customs, in lieu of personal service due to the Lord paramount, by the feudal system, together with the disposal of all the lucrative places that become necessary for the collection of those customs. This gave the king an undue influence, and enabled him to carry any point in Parliament. He is now vertually, though not nominally, an absolute monarch; especially as the people are very venal and corrupt. Innovations in government are dangerous.
[* ] Burgoyne and Cornwallis.