Front Page Titles (by Subject) : Nathanael Emmons 1745-1840: A Discourse Delivered on the National Fast - American Political Writing During the Founding Era: 1760-1805, vol. 2
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: Nathanael Emmons 1745-1840: A Discourse Delivered on the National Fast - Charles S. Hyneman, American Political Writing During the Founding Era: 1760-1805, vol. 2 
American Political Writing During the Founding Era: 1760-1805, ed. Charles S. Hyneman and Donald Lutz (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1983). 2 vols. Volume 2.
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Nathanael Emmons 1745-1840
A Discourse Delivered on the National Fast
wrentham, massachusetts, 1799
Born and raised in Connecticut, Emmons studied at Yale, and spent fifty of his years as a Congregational minister in the Massachusetts village of Franklin, near Rhode Island. Widely sought after for instruction in theology and the art of preaching, he had a favorite dictum: “Have something to say; say it.” For a full half-century Americans had been listening to sermons dealing with the nature of civil authority and the right of citizens to resist wrongful acts of rulers. Emmons here looks upon civil disobedience from the other side—the duty to obey constituted authorities in a new nation. Revolutionary principles are not abandoned but discussed in a balanced fashion as Americans struggle to preserve political stability during the 1790s without abandoning their heritage.
TITUS iii. 1.
Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work.
Heathens and infidels have always been disposed to represent the friends of revealed religion, as enemies to the peace and order of civil society. The nations bordering upon Jerusalem basely insinuated, that “it was a rebellious city, hurtful to kings and provinces.” The unbelieving Jews accused our Savior of being opposed to Caesar and to the laws of his country. And it was a very common practice among the Pagans, to cast the odium of their own seditions and insurrections upon the peaceable and harmless Christians. To wipe off this aspersion from the followers of Christ, the Apostle Paul, who was a Roman citizen, and well understood the nature and importance of civil government, abundantly inculcated the duty of submission to those in authority. Nor did he stop here, but exhorted other preachers of the gospel, to inculcate the same duty upon all the professors of religion. Knowing the general reluctance of mankind to legal restraint, and the peculiar prejudice of the Jewish converts against Pagan princes, he expressly enjoined it upon Titus, “to put his hearers in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, and to obey magistrates.” By these appellations, he meant to denote all orders and ranks of civil officers, under all forms of civil government. This therefore, is the plain and practical truth, which falls under our present consideration:
That ministers ought to inculcate upon subjects the duty of obedience to civil rulers.
Here it may be proper to show,
I. Let us consider who are to be understood by civil rulers.
Though God has not seen fit, under the gospel dispensation, to institute any particular form of civil government; yet he has prescribed the qualifications and duties of civil rulers. And we can hardly suppose, that he would delineate the duties and qualifications of a certain order of men, which he neither approved, nor intended should exist. It is, therefore, evidently the will of God, that there should be civil government, and that there should be a certain order of men to administer it. In this sense, we may consider civil government, as the ordinance of God, and civil rulers, as the ministers of God; though they derive all their authority from their fellow citizens. But the question before us is, who are to be understood by civil rulers, to whom submission is due. This seems to be a plain question, though it has been much agitated by the greatest statesmen and divines. Reason and scripture concur to teach us, that the powers that be, or those who are in peaceable possession of civil authority, are the magistrates whom we ought to obey.
There are three ways of men’s coming into possession of civil power. One way, and indeed the best way, is by the free and fair election of the people, who, in every republican government, enjoy the right of choosing their own rulers. This right generally is, and always ought to be, restricted to persons of a certain character and interest. Those, who are so dependent, as to have no will of their own, are totally disqualified to give their suffrages for civil magistrates. Such men, however, as are fairly chosen into office by the people, are properly civil rulers, and to be acknowledged and treated accordingly.
Another way in which men may become clothed with civil authority, is by hereditary right. Any people may make their government hereditary, if they please. And after they have adopted such a form of government, men may come into power by succession, without any formal election. The eldest son of a king, for instance, may be the rightful heir to the throne; and, upon his father’s decease, abdication, or removal, may take possession of it, without the voice of the people.
The last and worst way of men’s coming into the seat of government, is by usurpation. This method of obtaining power has been much practised in all ages of the world. A son has often usurped the throne of his father. A prime minister, or a peculiar favorite, has often usurped the throne of his master. An enterprising and successful general has often turned his arms against his sovereign, and placed himself in his room. Though the conduct of usurpers is to be condemned and detested, yet after the people have, through fear or feebleness, acknowledged their supremacy, they are to all intents and purposes civil rulers, to whom obedience and subjection belong. It must be supposed, that the Apostle meant to include sovereigns of this description, among “principalities and powers” in the text. For it is well known, that many of the primitive Christians lived under the government of usurpers. Most of the sovereigns, in the first ages of Christianity, had unrighteously seized the thrones which they filled. And if Christians were to obey the principalities and powers then in being, they were to obey those who came into power, by unjust and unlawful means. Indeed, there seems to be an obvious reason why such men should be obeyed. After usurpers are peaceably established in their dominions, the people explicitly or implicitly engage to submit to their authority. Though they promised submission with reluctance; yet having promised, their promise is morally binding. Besides, those, who have violently seized the reins of government, may afterwards be very good rulers. And it matters not, whether they rule by written or verbal laws, provided they rule in wisdom and equity. So long as they employ their power to promote the public good, the people have reason to lead peaceable and quiet lives in all godliness and honesty. As Augustus Caesar used his usurped power with great moderation, during his long and gentle reign; so the Romans were so much obliged to obey his authority, as if he had come to the throne, by the free and general voice of the empire. But not to enlarge upon this topic at present, I would say in a word, that by civil rulers in the text and in this discourse, are to be understood all those, who are in the peaceable possession of civil power. I proceed to show,
II. That it is the duty of subjects to obey their civil rulers. And this will appear, if we consider,
1. That the Scripture expressly enjoins this duty upon subjects. The Apostle Paul requires them to “be subject to principalities and powers, and to obey magistrates.” The Apostle Peter, in his first Epistle, exhorts believers to be good subjects of civil government, in order to adorn their Christian profession, and recommend their religion to those, who were strongly prejudiced against it. “Dearly beloved,” says he, “I beseech you to have your conversation honest among the Gentiles: That whereas they speak against you as evil doers, they may by your good works which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation. Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man, for the 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, or for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God, that with well-doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men.” There is another passage in the thirteenth of Romans, which more fully and forcibly inculcates, upon all, the great duty of submission to civil magistrates. “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore 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 doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. For, for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers attending upon this very thing.” Here submission to those in authority, is most expressly enjoined upon all, as a moral and Christian duty. Many passages of a similar import might be adduced from the Old Testament: but I choose to draw the proof of this duty, from the precepts of Christianity, which are unquestionably binding upon subjects at this day, under whatever form of government they live.
2. The duty of submission naturally results from the relations, which subjects bear to their rulers. There would be no propriety in calling the body of the people subjects, unless they were under obligation to obey those in the administration of government. Every people either directly or indirectly promise submission to their rulers. Those, who choose their civil magistrates, do voluntarily pledge their obedience, whether they take the oath of allegiance or not. By putting power into the hands of their rulers, they put it out of their own; by choosing and authorizing them to govern, they practically declare, that they are willing to be governed; and by declaring their willingness to be governed, they equally declare their intention and readiness to obey. In every free government, the rulers and the ruled lay themselves under mutual obligations to each other. For a free government is founded in compact; and every compact, whether private or public, invariably binds all the parties concerned. The subjects of every elective government, therefore, voluntarily and expressly engage to obey those, whom they raise to places of power and trust. And as to such as live under different forms of government, they also indirectly and implicitly promise submission to the powers that be. Hence all subjects owe obedience to the civil magistrates, by virtue of their own actual engagements. There is not a single exception in this case. The man, who is born after a government is established, is as much obliged to submit to it, as if he had lived while it was framing, and had actually assisted in framing it. The man, who is born after an usurper has taken the supreme power, is as much obliged to submit to him, as if he had lived in the time of the revolution, and had personally consented to his sovereignty. Every person is born the subject of some government, and has no right, when he comes upon the stage of action, to refuse obedience to those, who are in the peaceable possession of civil power. There are no detached individuals in any civil community; but all are members of the body politic, and universally bound, by their own explicit or implicit consent to pay obedience and subjection to those, whom they have either chosen or allowed to sit in the seats of government.
I may add,
3. All subjects ought to obey their rulers, for the sake of the public good. It is the duty of civil magistrates to seek the general welfare of the people, and so long as they diligently and faithfully attend upon this very thing, they justly merit the obedience and concurrence of every one of their subjects. For every person ought to desire, and as far as he can, contribute to the peace and prosperity of that community to which he belongs. Let a civil constitution be ever so good, it can answer no valuable purpose, unless the people will submit to those in administration. Rulers are mere cyphers, without the aid and concurrence of their subjects. What can a general do to defend his country, if his soldiers refuse to fight? And what can the supreme magistrate do to maintain the peace and order of society, if his subjects refuse to obey? All the benefit to be derived from civil government ultimately depends upon the people’s obedience to civil rulers. The subject, therefore, is under moral obligation, resulting from the general good, to submit to the civil magistrate. And agreeably to this, the Apostle says, “He is the minister of God to thee for good. Wherefore ye must needs be subject not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.” As the conscience of every man tells him, he ought to seek the general good; so it equally tells him he ought to obey the higher powers, who are seeking the same desirable and important end.
Thus the people, in every civil society, are universally bound by the general good, as well as by their own engagements and the authority of God, to pay a cordial and conscientious obedience to all the officers of government. I now proceed to show,
III. That ministers ought to inculcate such submission to civil magistrates.
Here permit me to observe,
1. That preachers are expressly required to press this plain and important duty upon the people of their charge. “Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, and to obey magistrates.” The Apostle wrote this Epistle on purpose to direct a minister of the gospel how to conduct in his sacred office. And instead of warning against him being too officious, in treating upon the delicate subject of submission to government, he commands him, without fear or favor, to admonish his hearers of their indispensable obligation to obey every order of civil magistrates. There appears no circumstance of time or place to restrict this injunction to Titus in particular; and, therefore, we must suppose, that it equally applies to all the preachers of the gospel, in every age of Christianity. It is beyond doubt, that the Apostle intended, by the precept in the text, to teach not only Titus, but all succeeding ministers, the great importance of inculcating upon subjects that obedience and submission, which they owe to all in authority, from the highest to the lowest.
2. It becomes the preachers of the gospel, in this case, to follow the example of the inspired Teachers. John the Baptist repeatedly inculcated submission to civil authority. When some of the Publicans were about to be baptized, they seriously asked him, “Master, what shall we do?” Shall we relinquish our civil employment, and no longer gather the public taxes? “And he said unto them, Exact no more than that which is appointed you.” Defraud not the public to promote your own private interest; nor disobey the lawful authority under which you act. At the same time, “the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying, And what shall we do?” Shall we cease to be soldiers, and refuse to obey our officers? “And he said unto them, Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages.” Slay only your public enemies; abuse none of your fellow soldiers; and cheerfully take the lot and perform the duties assigned you. Our Saviour taught the same doctrine. On a certain occasion, the Pharisees sent unto him their disciples, with the Herodians, saying, “Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, tell us, therefore, what thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar or not? Then said he unto them, Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.” This was a plain and explicit command to be subject to principalities and powers, and to obey magistrates. The Apostles strictly followed the example of their divine Master, and forcibly inculcated upon subjects the duty of submission to all in authority, whether kings, or governors, or more subordinate rulers. These examples are worthy of the attention and imitation of all the ministers of the gospel. Though in some cases they have no right to imitate Christ and the Apostles; yet no reason can be assigned, why they should not follow their example in ordinary preaching, and inculcate upon subjects the same submission to government, which those infallible preachers inculcated.
3. It no less belongs to the office of gospel ministers, to teach men their duty towards civil rulers, than to teach them any other moral or religious duty. This appears from the manner, in which the Apostle commands Titus to address the various characters among his people. He first directs him to instruct the aged, the young, and those in a state of servitude; and then immediately exhorts him to “put all persons in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work, to speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, shewing meekness to all men.” In this connection, the Apostle plainly teaches ministers, that they are under the same obligation to inculcate upon their hearers the duty of submitting to civil rulers, as to exhort them to be peaceable, and gentle, and ready to every good work. It is an essential branch of the ministerial office, to explain and inculcate all the duties, which God has enjoined upon all persons of every age, relation, and connection of life. Those in the gospel ministry, therefore, as truly act in character and agreebly to their sacred office, while they teach and exhort subjects to obey magistrates, as while they teach and exhort them to love God with all the heart, or to love their neighbours as themselves. And I may still further observe,
4. That there are some peculiar reasons, why the duty of submission to civil authority should be more especially inculcated upon the minds of subjects. Men are extremely apt to forget that, they are under any moral obligation to obey the rulers of the land. This the Apostle plainly suggests, by his mode of expression in the text. “Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers.” The people are very ready to imagine, that there is no moral evil in violating the laws of their country. They are much more disposed to regard the power, than the authority, of civil magistrates. If they obey, it is for wrath, and not for conscience sake. If they disobey, they feel no remorse nor regret, unless they receive the due reward of their deeds. How frequently are the good and wholesome laws against gaming, tavern haunting, sabbath breaking, and such like evils, trampled upon by multitudes, without once reflecting, that they have poured contempt upon the ordinance of God? The general respect paid to civil authority seems to be much more owing to a principle of prudence, than to a sense of duty. Hence there appears to be a peculiar necessity of inculcating the duty of obedience and submission to all orders of civil rulers. As no duty is more generally forgotten or neglected than this; so no duty needs to be more frequently and powerfully inculcated.
Besides, there is scarcely any duty more disagreeable to the human heart, than submission to civil government. Men are naturally unwilling to be controlled, and especially by human laws, the reasons of which they seldom understand. Some have no capacity, some have no inclination, and some have no opportunity, to examine the wisdom and rectitude of public measures. But even supposing, that those in administration could demonstrate to the apprehension of every individual, that all the laws and measures of government were calculated to promote the general good; yet there is no reason to think, that this would satisfy the minds of people in general. For the public good is a light object, when thrown into the scale against private interest. Just so long, therefore, as men are disposed to prefer private good to public, they will feel a strong reluctance to the obedience and submission which they owe to civil rulers. And since it is well known, that this is the prevailing disposition of mankind, it must be granted, that subjects need to be often and solemnly admonished, to sacrifice their private interest to the public good, and submit to every ordinance of man, for the Lord’s sake.
There is still another plain and important reason, why submission to government should be strongly inculcated. The safety and happiness of the whole body politic more essentially depend upon each member’s performing this, than any other duty. A subject may neglect any other duty, and injure only himself, or a few individuals, with whom he is intimately connected. But if he rise against government, or disobey the laws of the land, his disobedience is like the disobedience of a centinel who exposes both himself and the whole army to destruction. A seditious and disorganizing spirit is extremely contagious. It will suddenly and almost imperceptibly enflame the minds of the largest people. And when this spirit once seizes the majority, neither their numbers, nor their riches, nor their arms can afford them the least protection. The most excellent and patriotic rulers, and the most peaceable and virtuous citizens are liable to fall victims to the fury and revenge of lawless and ungovernable rebels. Where there is no subordination, there can be no government; and where there is no government, there can be no public peace nor safety. Such an absolute necessity of submission to civil authority, in every civil community, renders this duty of the highest political importance. And this importance loudly calls upon the ministers of the gospel of peace, to inculcate upon subjects, in the most plain and pungent manner, their indispensable obligation to be subject to principalities and powers, and to obey magistrates, and every order and distinction.
This subject now suggests some seasonable and useful reflections.
1. There is no ground to complain of the ministers of the gospel, for inculcating political duties. Those who dislike public men and public measures are very apt to complain of preachers, if they undertake to adapt their discourses to the present state of public affairs, and press obedience and subjection to the powers that be. In the beginning of this century, there was a party in Britain friendly to the Pretender, who bitterly complained of Bishop Hoadly and other clergymen, for supporting the house of Hanover, and inculcating loyalty and subjection to those in the peaceable possession of the reins of government. And there are many now in America, who are friendly to France, and who publicly reproach those preachers of the gospel, who presume, at this interesting crisis of public affairs, to step forth in the cause of their country, and inculcate the duty of submission to those patriotic rulers, who are seeking the safety and interest of the nation. But, if what has been said in this discourse be true, their complaint of the clergy is altogether unscriptural, unreasonable, and inconsistent. It is unscriptural, because ministers are required by the precepts of the gospel and the practice of Christ and the Apostles, to inculcate submission to government. It is unreasonable, because ministers have the common right of citizens, to form their own opinions, and to speak their own sentiments, upon such public measures, as relate not merely to the local politics of a town or parish, but to the great body of the nation. And it is inconsistent; because those who complain, are highly pleased to hear ministers preach in favor of the government they like, and in support of the measures they approve. They now condemn the same kind of preaching, which, less than twenty years ago, they highly applauded. They have no real objection against political preaching, but against what is preached upon political subjects. It is readily admitted, if ministers recommend tyranny to rulers, or sedition to subjects, they deserve to be censured; but on the other hand, if they preach sound doctrine in politics and morals, their preaching ought to be candidly heard, and religiously followed. And for my own part, I verily believe, there is now a special call in providence to all the ministers of the gospel, to put men in mind of the duty and importance of supporting the constitution, and submitting to the administration, of our present free and excellent government.
2. There appears to be no more difficulty in determining the measure of submission to civil government, than the measure of submission to any other human authority. Volumes have been written in favor of passive obedience and non-resistance to the higher powers. And volumes have been written in opposition to this absurd and detestable doctrine. But notwithstanding all the learning and ingenuity which have been displayed on both sides of this question, and the remaining diversity of opinion upon it, it seems to be attended with no peculiar difficulty but what arises from the selfish views and feelings of mankind. Many cannot endure the idea of submission to civil authority, unless it be so qualified, softened, and limited, as to allow them to disobey and resist their rulers, whenever their private opinion, or personal interest requires it. But God enjoins submission to all human authority, in the same general, and unlimited terms. The Scripture requires subjects “to submit themselves to every ordinance of man, for the Lord’s sake.” The Scripture requires children “to obey their parents in all things,” and the Scripture requires servants, “to obey, in all things, them that are their masters according to the flesh.” Who can discover, upon reading these precepts given to subjects, servants, and children, the least difference in the measure of submission? But though the Scripture no where prescribes the measure of submission to government, yet it is the plain dictate of reason, that all submission to human authority is absolutely limited. Servants, and even slaves, have the right of private judgment, and may, in certain cases, justly refuse obedience to their masters, and oppose their authority. Children have the right of private judgment, and may, in certain cases, refuse obedience to their parents, and resist unto blood. So subjects have the right of private judgment, and may, in certain cases, refuse submission to those in authority, and even destroy them. But all moral agents, who have the right of private judgment, are accountable for their exercise of it. If servants resist their masters, without reason, they deserve to be punished. If children resist their parents, without reason, they deserve to be punished. And if subjects rise in opposition to government, without reason, they deserve to suffer as criminals. In short, every subject, who resists the powers that be, is either a patriot or a rebel, and ought to be considered and treated as such. The reason why no divine nor human law fixes the measure of submission to human authority, is because the cases in which it may be right to resist, cannot be ascertained until they actually occur. Though we know before hand, that there are measures of submission to all human authority; yet no man can determine what they are, until cases actually take place, which will justify resistance. Who can tell when a servant may justly rise against his master, and destroy his life? None will pretend, that every time he feels provoked, or thinks himself injured, he may rise and redress his supposed grievances. Children often imagine they are abused, when their parents reprove, restrain, or correct them; but will any say, that, in all such cases, they have a right to resist parental authority? It also appears from observation and experience, that subjects are apt to think themselves injured and oppressed, when they are heavily taxed, or called upon to support and defend their government; but who will maintain, that every supposed or real grievance will justify resistance to legal authority? Though rulers ought not to injure any of their subjects; yet individuals cannot be justified in disturbing the public peace, for the sake of redressing their own private wrongs. Hence it is easy to see, that there is no more nor less difficulty in ascertaining the proper measure of submission to civil government, than the proper measure of submission to any other human authority. There is nothing but absolute necessity can justify a people in breaking the bands of society. It is theirs to judge when such necessity exists, and to judge according to truth. For, if they either ignorantly or wilfully rise against their rulers, without just cause, they act the part of rebels; and if there be power and virtue enough in government, they must be restrained and punished.
3. It is extremely criminal to disobey civil rulers, and oppose the regular administration of government. There is a strong propensity in mankind to trample upon human authority, and obstruct the execution of the most wise and salutary laws. And this unruly spirit infatuates their minds, and leads them to imagine, that there is little or no criminality, in striking at the foundation of public peace and safety. Indeed, many consider a restless, discontented, seditious spirit as virtuous, rather than sinful; and would be thought to be acting a noble, manly, patriotic part, while they are weakening the hands of rulers, and destroying the energy of government. But such persons ought seriously to consider, that they are violating their own voluntary engagements, opposing the public good, and disobeying the express commands of the Supreme Ruler of the universe. These sacred and solemn obligations bind their consciences to obedience and submission; and their guilt in disobeying and opposing the laws of the land, is in proportion to the obligations they violate. The Scripture calls those, who are enemies and opposers of government, heady, high minded, trucebreakers, and traitors; and represents them as deserving to be punished not only in this life, but in that which is to come. It is true, indeed, all transgressions of human as well as divine laws are not equally heinous. The violation of some civil laws is so common, and so generally winked at, that it may be supposed to be owing to ignorance, or inattention, rather than to a deliberate and wicked design. But when subjects knowingly and violently oppose the laws of the land, and aim to overturn the pillars of government, they contract a heavy load of guilt, and expose themselves to the heavy hand of human and divine justice.
4. It is criminal not only to disobey and resist civil authority, but also to countenance, cherish, and enflame a spirit of disobedience and rebellion. This is often done by some great and influential men, who are either afraid or ashamed to appear in open opposition to government. Those who wish to weaken the hands of rulers, and to pave the way to anarchy and confusion, very often conceal their views, while they use every mean in their power, to diffuse a spirit of discord and sedition in the minds of the people. They speak evil of dignities. They represent the most wise and upright rulers, as acting from mean, mercenary, and arbitrary motives, and aiming to enrich and aggrandize themselves. They complain of their public measures, and insinuate, that they are systematically calculated to enslave and destroy the people. They represent wise laws to be unwise; just laws to be unjust; necessary laws to be unnecessary; and constitutional laws to be unconstitutional. And if these methods of enflaming the passions of the populace against their rulers be not sufficient to answer their purpose, they have recourse to another, which is next to irresistable, I mean bribery. This engine both antient and modern nations have employed to promote conspiracies, insurrections, and rebellions, against government. The French have of late carried the art of bribery to the highest degree of perfection. According to the best accounts, they have corrupted every people whom they have subjugated, by this diabolical method. These are the means, which artful and designing men employ to diffuse a disobedient and rebellious spirit into the minds of those, who are unacquainted with public affairs. And we have great reason to believe, that not a few are now secretly exerting all their influence, to propagate such a dangerous spirit. We clearly discover such a strong and zealous opposition to government, as cannot be accounted for, by any visible cause. There must be, therefore, some men behind the curtain, who are pushing on the populace to open sedition and rebellion. It is highly probable, that the late insurgents in Pennsylvania were corrupted and deluded, by some artful and influential characters, who have chosen to lie concealed from the public eye. And it is no less probable, that those unhappy creatures still really believe, many of the populace, and some of the principal men, in all the United States, secretly approve and applaud their insurrection, as a bold and noble act of patriotism. But those, who thus secretly cherish and enflame a seditious and rebellious spirit, are of all subjects the meanest and vilest. They do more mischief, and contract more guilt, than the poor, deluded, infatuated mortals, who actually rise in rebellion, and attempt the subversion of government.
5. Those in executive authority are under indispensable obligation, to give rebels and traitors a just recompense of reward. They are God’s ministers to execute wrath upon them that do evil; and they ought not to hold the sword of justice in vain. They are not only to countenance and encourage obedience, but to discountenance and discourage disobedience. They are not only to reward them that do well, but to punish the lawless and disobedient, as a terror to all their subjects. It is true indeed, they ought to make distinctions among the guilty, and proportion their punishments according to the nature and aggravations of their crimes. Though they may with propriety appear lenient towards ignorant and deluded transgressors; yet the general good of society requires them to make examples of some, at least, of the more bold and malignant enemies of government. The best laws will soon lose their force, if they be not duly executed, and the transgressors of them generally entertain a hope of impunity. Though the penalties of the laws should be lenient, yet the execution of them should be speedy and rigid. For it is not the penalty of the law, but the execution of it, that strikes terror into the minds of rebels. Rebellion is an heinous crime and deserves a severe punishment; and yet there is scarcely any crime, which the great body of the people more ardently desire should be treated with lenity. They can coolly, if not cheerfully, see the murderer, money-maker, or the thief, receive the due reward of his deeds; but they are extremely apt to pity, and endeavor to screen the insurgent, or rebel, from condign punishment. This compassion towards the disturbers of the public peace, has been carried far enough, if not too far, in both the Northern and Southern States. It seriously concerns those who are entrusted with the execution of the laws to reflect, that “the judgment is God’s,” and that he allows them not to fear the face of man, nor to indulge that tender mercy towards the enemies of government, which would prove cruelty to their most virtuous and peaceable subjects.
6. The present appearance of a seditious and rebellious spirit in this happy country is extremely alarming. This spirit has often appeared in the world; and produced the most fatal effects. When the spies returned from searching the land of promise, a spirit of rebellion broke out in the camp of Israel. And though Moses and Aaron, on the occasion, fell on their faces before all the assembly of the congregation of the children of Israel; and Joshua the son of Nun, and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, employed the whole force of their eloquence, to persuade the deluded and infatuated rebels, to go forward and take possession of the land of Canaan, yet they absolutely refused to obey the authority of their wise and faithful rulers. This was highly displeasing to God, who doomed them to wander and perish in the wilderness; while he safely conducted the dutiful and obedient to a land flowing with milk and honey. The last time Jerusalem was besieged, a spirit of sedition proved fatal to the city, and to millions of its deluded inhabitants. The French were happy in their new modelled government, until a spirit of rebellion broke out, and destroyed their monarch, their nobility, their clergy, and their wisest and best citizens. Switzerland, which lately contained a number of rich, flourishing, united States, is now groaning under the fatal effects of a seditious and rebellious spirit. The same spirit has once and again disturbed the peace of America. At the close of the last war, a spirit of opposition to the Commutation act appeared in Connecticut; but was easily and happily nipped in the bud. Some time after, a levelling spirit prevailed in this Commonwealth, and produced a formidable insurrection against the courts of justice, which it required a military force to suppress. Since the establishment of our present general government, some of its enemies, at the Southward, took up arms and violently opposed the collection of duties on distilled liquors. To reduce those sons of sedition to reason and to order, was extremely troublesome and expensive to the public. And this year, the same turbulent and rebellious spirit has appeared again, and rendered it necessary to call forth an armed force against the opposers of government. The present appearance, therefore, is truly alarming. Though but small numbers have yet openly and violently opposed the laws of the land, yet the leaven of rebellion has evidently poisoned the minds of many, in various parts of the Union. It is yet unknown, what will be the effect of either lenient or severe measures towards those, who are now in the hands of public justice. The people feel deeply interested in the fate of disorganizers and insurgents. This, however, is certain, that unless a spirit of sedition can be effectually suppressed, and a spirit of subordination effectually established, there can be no peace nor safety to these United States. A very wise and experienced ruler has said, “Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft.” It is not only very contagious, but extremely infatuating. It deprives men of all sober reasoning and reflection. This is demonstrated by the effects, which it has already produced amongst us. Some very honest, and, in other respects, very judicious people have already become deaf and blind. They cannot see the increasing light thrown upon the dark designs of France; nor hear the voice of the most wise and enlightened statesmen. This presages a rapid progress of the present spirit of infatuation. And should this continue and increase, it will naturally produce one or the other of these deplorable effects. It will either bring on a general civil war, and reduce us to the dreadful system of liberty and equality; or it will render it absolutely necessary to tighten the reins of government, and lay stronger restraints upon the tongues, the pens, the hands, and the liberties of those, who are now complaining of our free government, and its wise and gentle administration. We may all be satisfied, that our general government will never be altered for the worse, so long as we remain heartily attached to it, and will faithfully exercise our right of choosing upright and able rulers, who understand the nature and estimate the worth of our excellent Constitution. But though the present prospect is, that the prevailing spirit of sedition and rebellion will be eventually suppressed; yet there is ground to fear, that if much time, great exertions, and large sums of money be employed to suppress it, the body of the people will be so irritated, that they will choose to have government strengthened and their liberties abridged, rather than be perpetually exposed to the dire effects of sedition, insurrection, and rebellion. Nothing, therefore, can prevent the horrors of civil war, or the loss of our civil liberties, but the effectual suppression of that seditious spirit, which refuses to be subject to principalities and powers, and to obey magistrates.
7. It is just ground of humiliation before God, this day, that our free, flourishing, and highly favored nation, have become so averse from submission to civil government. There is no nation in the world, who have better laws, than the people of America; and yet there is no nation, perhaps, who pay so little regard to their own laws, as the enlightened citizens of the United States. How are the laws against gaming, profane swearing, sabbath-breaking, and the use of unjust weights and measures, trampled upon by all classes of people? And what a daring spirit of sedition and rebellion is making its dreadful appearance through every corner of our land? These are national sins; and these national sins are extremely aggravated. No nation on earth know their obligations to obey magistrates, and submit to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, better than we do. From the first settlement of our country to nearly the present period, we have been habituated to pay submission to every species of human authority. And we still enjoy the sacred Oracles, and religious instruction from sabbath to sabbath. These circumstances greatly enhance the guilt of our national disobedience and licentiousness. Let us lament the prevalence of these land-defiling iniquities. It is the proper duty and business of the day. And unless we sincerely perform this duty, this day will increase our national guilt, and ripen us for national ruin.
8. It is extremely impolitic, as well as criminal, in civil rulers, to reject Christianity themselves, and to endeavor to make their subjects reject it. It is well known, that some of our civil magistrates, who fill high seats in government, are become apostles of infidelity, and represent it as conducive to liberty and equality, and the most perfect state of civil society. But what evidence can they find in Scripture, in reason, or in experience, to establish their bold and novel opinion. It appears from what has been said in this discourse, that Christianity is calculated to strengthen the sinews of government. It commands rulers to be faithful to their trusts, and subjects to be obedient to all in authority. And it enforces these commands, by the weighty motives of eternity. It is also the dictate of reason, that the spirit of Christianity, which is the spirit of pure disinterested benevolence, forms the best rulers, and the best subjects, and eminently qualifies both for the different stations they hold in society. And when or where was it ever found, by experience, that atheism, deism, or infidelity had a favorable influence upon the peace and happiness of a civilized people? But one nation in the world have made the experiment, and they have nothing to boast of their new discovery. What tremendous havoc has infidelity made among all orders and classes of men in the French nation, and in all the nations, whom they have sacrilegiously regenerated? It is astonishing, that learned statesmen should not only embrace the principles of infidelity, but even propagate such loose and immoral sentiments. If they would consult only their personal power and influence, and the present good of society, they would certainly recommend revealed religion, and sincerely desire that the great body of the people might imbibe its spirit, and act under its powerful and benign influence.
9. It now only remains, my hearers, to put you in mind of your duty, at the present critical and alarming crisis. You see a spirit of disaffection and opposition to government prevailing among your countrymen. You have heretofore felt, and begin to feel again, the bitter effects of such a disorganizing spirit. You know the reasons, or rather pretences, which the uneasy and discontented allege for their opposition to public men and public measures. You have heard the duty and necessity of submitting to government briefly described and inculcated. It now seriously concerns you, as you regard your consciences and your country, to appear openly and decidedly in favor of your laws and of your rulers. Speak well of their characters and duly appreciate their late noble and spirited measures. Reflect upon the plain and obvious reasons, upon which the Sedition and Alien Laws are founded, and upon the urgent necessity of heavy taxes for the public defence. Can you hesitate a moment, whether it be possible to maintain your national independence, without being armed, both by land and sea, against both foreign and domestic enemies? Where can be our safety, if the navies of Europe are suffered to sail into our ports and harbors, without the least obstruction? What can hinder a sudden and awful revolution of government, if the counsels of those be followed, who are insidiously aiming to bring about such a dreadful catastrophe? Open your eyes upon the fate of other nations, and attend more to the conduct, than to the language, of the French Republic, who have long fixt their ardent wishes upon the fertile fields of America, and left no measure untried, to deceive us, to our own destruction. Think not, that you shall cease to be subject to principalities and powers, if the great nation take you under their wing. Though they have given different appellations to magistrates, yet they have not weakened their hands, nor shortened their swords. The powers that be in that tyrannical nation, are more to be dreaded than a Nero or Caligula. There appears to be but one way to escape the dangers to which you are exposed, and that is, to obey your present wise, firm, faithful magistrates, and cheerfully concur in their wise and prudent measures, to guard you against French infidelity and French tyranny. Submit yourselves, therefore, to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake; and lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour.—Amen.