Front Page Titles (by Subject) 12: Samuel Sherwood, SCRIPTURAL INSTRUCTIONS TO CIVIL RULERS - Political Sermons of the American Founding Era. Vol. 1 (1730-1788)
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12: Samuel Sherwood, SCRIPTURAL INSTRUCTIONS TO CIVIL RULERS - Ellis Sandoz, Political Sermons of the American Founding Era. Vol. 1 (1730-1788) 
Political Sermons of the American Founding Era: 1730-1805, 2 vols, Foreword by Ellis Sandoz (2nd ed. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1998). Vol. 1.
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SCRIPTURAL INSTRUCTIONS TO CIVIL RULERS
Samuel Sherwood (1730–1783). A 1749 graduate of Yale, Sherwood took his second degree there also and was later awarded an A.M. by the College of New Jersey at Princeton, where he tutored and where his uncle, Aaron Burr, Sr., was president. In 1757 he settled in Weston, Connecticut, as the first pastor of a church consisting of twelve members. There he remained for the rest of his relatively short life.
Only two of Sherwood’s sermons have survived, and they are accorded such importance that both are reprinted in the present volume. The first, entitled Scriptural Instructions to Civil Rulers, and all Free-born Subjects (1774), is one of the most famous of all Revolutionary War sermons. An “address to the Freemen of the Colony” of Connecticut, it takes as one of its title-page epigraphs Acts 22:28: “And the chief Captain answered, With a great sum obtained I this freedom; and Paul said, but I was born free.” Ranging through biblical and classical sources, and appealing to the English constitution as well, Sherwood eloquently urges the necessity of just rule for free men. In a passage reminiscent of Patrick Henry’s famous speech, he writes: “No free state was ever yet enslaved and brought into bondage, where the people were incessantly vigilant and watchful; and instantly took the alarm at the first addition made to the power exercised over them.”
A long Appendix (some forty pages in the original) has been omitted here. Written by Ebenezer Baldwin, pastor of Danbury and a powerful voice in the move to revolution, it details the transgressions of Britain against its American colonies. It sounds the persistent refrain: “When our lives and property are subject to the arbitrary disposal of others; what have we valuable to call our own?” Baldwin died in the field at New York in 1776 at age 32.
to the respectable freemen, of the english colony of connecticut
My Dear Countrymen and Friends,
The ensuing discourse was delivered on a very solemn occasion, before an auditory apparently serious and devout in their attention; and is now made public at the desire of some of my public spirited friends. Such as it is, I cheerfully offer it as my poor mite, into the public treasury; while others are casting in of their abundance. And I hope and trust that your candor will be such, amidst all the inaccuracies and imperfections that attend such an hasty composition, as to accept it for a real token and proof of my undissembled love and heart-felt concern for my dear country, under the dark and threatning aspects of divine providence on our most invaluable liberties and privileges. While I observe with the most sensible grief, and anxious concern, some of my countrymen, sunk into a state of worse than brutal stupidity and insensibility, who secretly rejoice in the distressing miseries and calamities brought on our suffering brethren at Boston; and ardently wish and pray, in the most profane manner, if I may be allowed the expression, that our charter and birth-right privileges may be taken from us; that we may be ruled by the iron rod of oppression, and chained down to eternal slavery and bondage. Whose factious and rebellious leaders improve every opportunity in their power, to impeach a loyal people; and to send misrepresentations of us to their correspondents that have access to the British court, to hasten our intended ruin and destruction. I say, while these clandestine, mischievous operations are carrying on against us, as black and dark as the powder-treason plot; it revives my soul, and rejoices my heart to find that the main body of the people, or at least, the most sensible and judicious part of them, are in some degree, awakened by the loud thunders in Providence, and have their eyes opened to the danger and ruin we are threatened with; that they are so far raised above that infamous herd of vile miscreants, as to know that they are men, and have the spirits of men; and not an inferior species of animals, made to be beasts of burden to a lawless, corrupt administration. This manly, this heroic, and truly patriotic spirit, which is gradually kindling up in every free-man’s breast, through the continent, is undoubtedly a token for good; and will, if duly regulated by Christian principles and rules, ensure success to American liberty and freedom. No free state was ever yet enslaved and brought into bondage, where the people were incessantly vigilant and watchful; and instantly took the alarm at the first addition made to the power exercised over them. They are those only of the tribes of Issachar, who keep in profound sleep; and like strong and stupid asses, couch down between heavy burdens; that insensibly sink into abject slavery and bondage. It is a duty incumbent upon us at all times, to keep a watchful attention to our interests (especially in seasons of peril and danger), to watch and pray that we fall not.
I do not mean to encourage evil jealousies and groundless suspicions of our civil rulers, the guardians of our liberties; nor to countenance seditious tumults in the state, so destructive to our civil happiness and peace. I am a firm friend to good order and regularity; that all ranks of men move in strait lines, and within their own proper spheres: That authority and government be supported and maintained so as to promote the good of society, the end for which it was instituted; perfectly consistent with which, a people may keep a watchful eye over their liberties, and cautiously guard against oppression and tyranny, which I detest and abhor, and solemnly abjure.
But you, gentlemen freemen, have been so well indoctrinated in the principles of loyalty and good policy, have been so constantly taught from your infancy, to fear God, and honor the king, that ’tis needless to add any particular instructions on this head. However, as my heart, at this threatning period, is so full of apprehension of danger, you will not, I trust, take it as any reflection on your understanding and integrity as a body, should I drop the hint, that there may possibly be some here and there in disguise, against whose plausible pretences, and artful insinuations, it might be well for you to guard.
Men (says the truly ingenious and patriotic Farmer, in Pennsylvania), who either hold or expect to hold certain advantages by setting examples of servility to their countrymen; men, who trained to the employment, or self-taught by a natural versatility of genius; serve as decoys, for drawing the innocent and unwary, into snares; it is not to be doubted but that such men will diligently bestir themselves on this, and every like occasion, to spread the infection of their meanness as far as they can. On the plans they have adopted, this is their course; this is their method to recommend themselves to their patron: they act consistently in a bad cause. From them we shall learn how pleasant and profitable a thing it is, to be, for our submissive behaviour, well-spoken of at St. James’s, or St. Stephen’s, at Guild-hall, or the Royal-exchange. Specious fallacies will then be drest up with all the arts of delusion, to persuade one colony to distinguish herself from another by unbecoming condescentions, which will serve the ambitious purposes of great men at home; the way to obtain considerable rewards. It will be insinuated to us with a plausible affectation of wisdom and concern, How prudent it is to please the powerful—How dangerous to provoke them. And then comes in the perpetual incantation that freezes up every generous purpose of the soul, in cold inactive expectation, that if there is any request to be made, compliance will obtain favourable attention. Our vigilance, and our union are success and safety. Our negligence and our division are distress and death; nay, worse, they are shame and slavery. The persons here meant (says the abovesaid gentleman), are those base spirited wretches, who may endeavour to distinguish themselves by their sordid zeal in defending and promoting measures which they know, beyond all question, to be destructive to the just rights and true interests of their country. It is scarcely possible to speak of them with any degree of propriety; for no words can truly describe their guilt and meanness; but every honest bosom, on this being mentioned, will feel what cannot be exprest.
Some of a narrow contracted turn of mind may think that by this quotation, and some other expressions I have used, I aim to point out persons of a certain religious profession, as objects of public odium and contempt. To which I answer, no further than their temper and conduct render them worthy of it. I do not think that piety, public virtue, and a love to one’s country, are entailed to, or inseperably connected with any one mode of professing christianity; however some may have the advantage of others, in their tendency to promote these christian and political virtues; yet I believe there may be mean, base and mercenary wretches in every profession, who for one sweet delicious morsel to themselves, might be tempted to sell their country with all its liberties and privileges, as profane Esau sold his birthright. On the other hand, I believe there are many good men, of sound integrity, of unblemished morals, and truly lovers of their country in every denomination of christians. On this subject, it matters not with me, whether a man be a stated member of this or that church, whether he be in communion with that established in Old England, or in New; provided he be a good man, actuated by evangelical principles and motives, and will stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ has made him free. I disdain the low singularities of a party. I desire that every man may think and judge for himself in religion, and enjoy all the sacred rights and liberties of conscience in full. There is but one general distinction that is of essential importance in the cause now depending, and that is to be made by drawing the dividing line between the true friends to the rights of humanity, our dear country, and constitutional liberties and privileges, civil and religious: And the base, traitorous and perfidious enemies thereto. Let the first sort of such an amiable character be honoured and beloved, and promoted to all public offices and employments in the state: let the latter sort have a public brand of infamy put upon them, to mark them out as the worst of villains, the open and avowed enemies of mankind, and traitors of their country, who are secretly hoping for ministerial favours. If any under pretence of great moderation, or a pacific disposition, stand as neuters in this important cause, skulking as behind the door, and undetermined on which side they can serve themselves to best advantage, sometimes appearing friendly to this party, and sometimes to that; we can have no safe dependence on them in a day of extremity. He that will not stand forth firmly and boldly for this country, when exposed so as to need his help; is no true friend to it. And as there may possibly be some such secret dissembling enemies acting in disguise, among us; it might be well for you, gentlemen freemen, to be cautiously on your guard against them: they cannot safely be trusted with the lowest office in the state. As you have it in your power to choose your own rulers and officers, from a governor even down to a tythingman, the present state of these times makes it requisite and necessary that you be very vigilant and watchful, and get a thorough knowledge of men’s political principles, before you advance them to any seat in government, or any office in the state. If the office oaths had an additional clause to them, in this critical day, it might possibly be a stronger safeguard and security to us, viz. That every person who comes into office, solemnly swear, not only allegiance to the king, and faithfulness in general; but that he will maintain and defend the constitutional rights, and charter privileges of his country. I add but my best wishes and hearty prayers to God for the continuation of these rights and privileges to us, and our children after us, to the latest posterity. I remain your most cordial friend, and devoted humble servant,
September 8, 1774
The God of Israel said, the Rock of Israel spake to me, He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God.
II Samuel, xxiii. 3.
God the sovereign Lord and supreme Ruler of all things, has made men in such a manner, and placed them in such circumstances, as plainly to discover his will, that they should unite and combine into societies for their mutual benefit and advantage. He has not, by the light of nature, nor by any positive declarations of his will, infallibly directed what form of society he would have to prevail, nor prescribed any one particular species of civil government, as more agreeable to him, than another. But has made mankind rational creatures; and left them to choose that which they apprehend to be most perfect in its nature and kind, and best suited to their state, situation and circumstances. The divine constitution, and government of God over his intelligent creatures, is fixed; and it does not become men to exercise their invention or wisdom in seeking any alteration or change in it: but to study the most ready and cheerful submission; as they may be assured, that whatever God requires, is fit and right for his subjects to comply with. His authority and power over us is unlimited and uncontrolable, and cannot be denied, or opposed without our being guilty of the highest crime of rebellion. But no created being is invested with such absolute, unlimited power, nor qualified for the exercise of it. Error and imperfection belongs to every individual of the human race. The brightest character that was ever justly drawn among mortal men, has this dark shade in it: So that the will of none, is infallibly right in all things, and cannot therefore be complied with in all instances, consistent with a good conscience, and the superior obligations we are under to the sovereign Ruler of the world; who still maintains this rightful authority over us, and has not given it by delegation, to any one among created beings: all of whom were originally made free-agents; and considered as in a state of nature, previous to their uniting as members of society, have their liberty and free choice to agree upon such a form of government, and mode of administration in their civil and temporal affairs, as they judge most conducive to their happiness and good: any one of which has no more claim than another to be, jure divino, or of divine right, on any other principle, than its being more conformable to right reason and equity, by the eternal rules of which, God has manifested it to be his will, that his rational creatures be governed.
As societies and communities have their beginning and origin in voluntary compact and agreement; when persons have entered by consent and free choice, into society, they must acknowledge themselves under strict and sacred obligations to act toward one another agreeable to the laws and constitution of that society whereof they are members. There are certain duties required of rulers, as well as of subjects; and their obligations faithfully and punctually to fulfil them, rise in proportion to the dignity and importance of their high and elevated stations; and the effect and influence which their conduct has on the rest of the body. A man’s being raised to honour and promotion above others, is so far from releasing him from, or lessening his duty, that every step he takes in his advancement, proportionably enlarges it, and adds a new and powerful obligation to the performance of it. The most absolute of sovereign princes owe something to the meanest of their subjects; and may be very criminal in the neglect or refusal of it. Subjects have rights, privileges and properties; and are countenanced and supported by the law of nature, the laws of society, and the law of God; in demanding full protection in the enjoyment of these rights, and the impartial distribution of justice, from their rulers. And when rulers refuse these, and will not comply with such a reasonable and equitable demand from the subject; the society is dissolved; and its fundamental laws violated and broken; and the relation between the ruler and the subject ceases, with all the duties and obligations that arose from it. For it must be supposed, and every one of common sense will readily allow, that no man would ever have consented to place himself in the state of a subject, on any other consideration or footing than that of his having protection and justice from those to whom he submitted. The good of society in all its individual members, is the end for which it is formed; and for which government is instituted and appointed. And this cannot be obtained, unless rulers exert their power, influence and authority to protect their subjects in all their valuable rights and privileges; defend them against their enemies, both from without, and within; and administer impartial justice among them. David, who had, for many years, exercised an absolute sovereignty and dominion over the kingdom of Israel, had no notion of aggrandizing himself, and his nobility, by enslaving his subjects, and striping them of their property, at his own arbitrary will and pleasure, contrary to law and right: but considers himself as appointed to serve them, whose rights and privileges were esteemed by him, more sacred and inviolable than those of the royal scepter and diadem. The best and most illustrious part of his character consisted in this, that he approved himself the faithful servant of God, and his generation. His ambition and desire was to serve his generation; not to be served by them in the character of abject vassals and slaves. A king or prince of his noble and heroic spirit could have no pleasure or satisfaction in ruling over their fellow-mortals, degraded to such a low, infamous state, so far beneath humanity. But to rule over men that have the spirit of men, the spirit of loyalty and liberty; and who possess some property too; is an honour to the most dignified king or prince. And the more of this spirit of liberty, in conjunction with property among the subjects, the greater is the honour of him that sways the scepter in righteousness over them. This Jewish, or Israelitish prince was very sensible, that kings and rulers were liable to do wrong, unjust actions, as well as others; that the subjects had rights and properties that might be invaded or encroached upon by them. We therefore find among his last words, the excellent sentence now read, which he spake just as he was leaving his earthly throne and kingdom, and going to appear before a higher tribunal. He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God. David himself had been a ruler over men: he was the man who was raised up on high; the anointed of the God of Jacob, must therefore, from his own great experience and observation, be supposed to have a thorough knowledge and understanding of the subject on which he here speaks with so much seriousness and solemnity, as in the near view of eternity, which consideration adds weight and importance to his expressions; and might be sufficient to engage the attention of the most dignified rulers, and sovereign princes, to them; who must be inexcusable if they refuse to receive instruction from them, since a greater than David is here: The God of Israel has said, the Rock of Israel has spoken. That glorious Being by whom kings reign, and princes decree justice, is the author of this divine sentence here given forth: to whom sovereign rulers are as strictly accountable for all their conduct, as the meanest of their subjects—may therefore properly be called upon, and that, by the authority of the great Lord and governor of the world, to attend to, and conscientiously practice their duty in such plain, important instances of it. Be wise now therefore O ye kings, says God, be instructed ye judges of the earth; serve the Lord with fear, rejoice with trembling. Psal. ii. 10, 11.
In further discoursing from these words, I shall,
I. ’Tis highly necessary and important, that civil rulers should be just. Such are concerned in the rules of justice and righteousness, as well as other men; and indeed, more so, in proportion as they are raised above others; and have it in their power to do greater good or evil, according as they are inclined. Was the doctrine true, That all property is vested in the king, or chief rulers; and that they can do no wrong to their subjects: Such scripture precepts and directions from the sovereign Ruler of the world as that in my text, would be entirely needless and impertinent; and seem, on this supposition, to argue his want of wisdom and knowledge, on this important subject. But however bold some conceited, ambitious mortals may be, in censuring others, when advanced a little above them in wealth and power; yet, I would hope that few or none will dare openly to attack divine revelation, and censure the ruling wisdom of God. Let God be true, tho’ every man be found a liar. Let God be wise, tho’ every man be found a fool. If those that rule over men, must be just; there is certainly some rule of justice and righteousness for them to observe in this office and character: and it may be infered by just consequence, That they are capable of doing wrong; and as liable so to do as other men, that those who stand related to them as subjects, have really something to call their own, that they have rights and properties distinct from their sovereign, are capable of suffering injustice, oppression and wrong, even from them; and that, in a greater degree than from any of their fellow-subjects, in proportion to the greater degree of their strength and power. The aforesaid doctrine therefore, advanced by some, That kings and sovereign rulers with their ministry, can do no wrong, is so far from being true, that it is the most false, absurd doctrine that was ever preached in the world; and of most pernicious bad consequence both to ruler and ruled, directly tending not only to the temporal, but eternal destruction of both. As rulers are capable, when they rightly improve the superiour advantages of their high and elevated stations, of doing more towards promoting justice and righteousness among their fellow-men: so, when of a contrary temper and disposition, that i[s] to say, when they neglect, and refuse to attend to those good laws and rules of equity; and take it into their heads to act in an arbitrary, tyrannical manner, to oppress and enslave their subjects; they do the highest injustice and wrong, and the greatest mischief and evil of any men in the world; and are the biggest plagues, and heaviest judgments upon a society that can be sent upon them.
Corruptio optimi est pessima.
None therefore that are promoted to the office and character of civil rulers, ought to think themselves above the observation of the eternal rules of justice and righteousness, by which they themselves, as well as their subjects, will be tried hereafter, and justified or condemned by the righteous judge of the world.
But that I may, to better advantage, illustrate the great necessity and importance of justice in civil rulers, I shall briefly consider them in their several capacities, and shew the necessity of their being just, while acting in them.
Now, under the name of rulers, are comprehended; both those who enact laws, and those who execute them; those who are cloathed with legislative authority, and those who have that which is judicial and ministerial.
When men first joined in society, ’twas impossible for them to form at once, a complete, perfect system of laws, to suit all exigences, and particular cases that might happen: they could not foresee all future events, and make provision for them. The body politic, is like the natural body; subject to a variety of distempers and diseases, ’tis sometimes strong, healthy and vigorous, and every part performs its proper office and function, without impediment or obstruction: At other times, it declines, grows weak and relaxed in all its nervous parts; and to use the significant and beautiful language of inspiration, The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint; from the sole of the foot, even unto the head, there is no soundness in it. And as it is liable to be thus sickly and distempered; so ’tis liable to be dissolved and die.
Now, as a man finds it necessary to regulate himself in regard to diet, exercise, physic, &c. and suit his way of living to the present condition of his body, as will best serve to promote the health and activity of all the members of it; so there is the necessity of the like wise, prudential methods of administration in government, suited to the different state and circumstances of the body politic. And as circumstances vary, and new and different scenes open to view; new laws become necessary for the health and benefit of the community. All governments have therefore a legislative authority lodged in some hand or other; not to be exercised at the arbitrary will and pleasure of one or more individuals; but in the exercise of it to be restrained and limited, at least by the eternal rules of justice and righteousness, as it is designed, not for the destruction, but for the health and preservation of the body. And as it is necessary for the well-being of society, that good laws be made; so ’tis likewise necessary that they be duly put in execution; and that, both in civil and criminal cases: this being the life of the law, without which it signifies nothing toward answering the end for which it was made. Now, in order to this, some persons must have authority to judge between a man and his neighbour, and to put their judgments in execution.
Thus rulers considered either in their legislative or executive capacity, are designed for the general and public good of the community they serve; they are the ministers of God, instituted and ordained to attend continually unto this very thing; and in both these capacities, they must be just. Particularly,
1. There is justice to be observed in making laws. The legislative authority is usually stiled supreme. The power of making laws is undoubtedly the highest in every society. The executive officers are obliged to observe the rule prescribed them by the legislators; and all the subjects of every order, to yield obedience to their laws; provided they are not prejudicial to, but salutary and for the good of society; and do not interfere with the duty they owe to the great Sovereign of all men; and do not contradict the end for which men unite, as members of society; nor run counter to the fundamental constitution on which they are settled. While a society subsists, no man, or number of men, have authority to call to account those who are vested with supreme authority: which makes it extremely difficult to correct disorders in a state, when the foundations are out of course. But tho’ sovereign rulers cannot, while they continue in their high office and character, be called to account, by any under them; yet ’tis possible for them, by acting contrary to the design and intention of their office, to dissolve the society over which they rule; and so, at once lose all their sovereign power and authority: after which, they can have no more than other men, to screen them from such punishment as their crimes deserve. And when such a melancholy event takes place, that a civil society is dissolved, and men return to a state of nature; they have the same liberty they at first had, to form themselves into society again, in what form, and on what terms they please.
But notwithstanding the sovereignty of legislators, they are under strict and sacred obligations to observe the rule of justice, in enacting laws. ’Tis a great and very dangerous mistake to suppose, that legislators have a power absolutely arbitrary; or that their authority is under no limitation or restraint at all. Right and wrong, are founded in the nature of things; and cannot be altered and changed, even by the voice of such kings and monarchs as are betrusted with the power of making laws. The Psalmist mentions, A throne of iniquity which frameth mischief by a law. And if he had not mentioned such a thing, any person of common sense and understanding, who considered things with the least degree of attention, would soon be convinced, that ’twas in the nature of things, possible to establish iniquity by a law. And any one who is acquainted with the history of former ages; or even with the present state of the world, cannot but know, that this has in fact, been often done. No intelligent friends to the christian institution doubts, but the laws made by the heathen emperors for extirpating Christianity, and destroying the professors of it, were unjust. All sound protestants, I suppose, will agree on passing the same sentence on the laws which establish an inquisition in some popish countries. And it must be a pleasure to all lovers of liberty and virtue, to observe, that the number of those who wish that no penal laws might be enacted in matters merely religious, that no person might be liable to any penalty, or lie under any incapacity, on account of any opinion or practice in religion, which does not at all affect the peace and happiness of human society, is daily increasing.
Now, if there be any such thing as acting unjustly in making a law, ’tis plain that rulers, considered in their legislative capacity, are obliged to observe some rule of justice. For where there is no duty or obligation of this sort, there can be no such thing as acting unjustly.
’Tis a part of justice in legislators to enact such laws as are suited to the circumstances of the society for the regulation of which they are intended: such as conduce to the public good: And such as, instead of destroying, will secure and protect the just rights and privileges of every individual member: such as will in an equitable manner, decide controversies between particular subjects; and defend the weak, and prevent their becoming an easy prey to the strong: such, finally, as may be a terror to evil doers, and an encouragement to those that do well.
There is further, justice to be observed between the community and particular persons; under which head, are to be reckoned the granting proper reward to those who faithfully serve the public in any capacity: paying public debts: and sacredly observing the public faith. Here likewise may be mentioned the penalties annexed to laws. Penal laws are intended for the public good: The great intention of punishing the transgressors of them is, that others may be kept in awe. And legislators have a right to annex such penalties to their just and equitable laws, as are sufficient to maintain their authority, and secure the observation of them. But yet, there is justice to be observed in proportioning punishments to crimes: and no doubt, it would be unjust, cruel and barbarous, to affix the most severe punishments that could be invented, to small and trifling offences.
2. Rulers considered in their executive capacity as putting laws in execution, must be just. Executive officers are obliged to proceed according to the received and established laws of their country. By these, they are to judge and determine all controversies, both of a civil and criminal nature, which come before them; doing strict, impartial justice to all men, without respect of persons. Their duty is not to oppress: but to deliver the poor that cry to them; the fatherless, and him that hath none to help. They ought to endeavour that the blessing, not the curse of him that is ready to perish, may come upon them: and to cause the widow’s heart to sing for joy. It concerns them to put on righteousness, and to clothe themselves with judgment, as with a robe and diadem. They must be eyes to the blind, and feet to the lame, and fathers to the poor; and the cause which they know not, ought to be searched out. To them it belongs to break the jaws of the wicked; and to pluck the spoil out of his teeth: to curb and restrain the violent; and let the oppressed go free. But it being so evident, and universally acknowledged, that those who put the laws in execution, ought to be just men, I shall not enlarge upon this head: but proceed briefly to show the necessity and importance of rulers being just; or to mention some of the obligations they are under to this great duty. And here,
1. This is necessary to their answering the design of their office, and promoting the welfare and good of human society. Public good is the end of government of every sort. ’Tis with a view of promoting and securing this, that men enter into society. ’Tis for obtaining this, that some are appointed to rule over others; and that those submit to, and obey them. Now, this important end cannot be obtained, unless rulers act uprightly and justly. When civil rulers, forgeting the end of their institution, and the proper duties of their station, neglect and trample upon the rules of justice; and consult only to gratify their own pride and ambitious humour and passion: when they consider their subjects as an inferior species of beings, made as beasts of burden, for their pleasure or profit; when, instead of observing the reason and nature of things, they make their own mere will and pleasure, the rule of acting; and govern in an arbitrary, tyrannical manner; ’tis impossible to describe the evils and mischiefs they bring on mankind. These have been so great and terrible, that some have been ready to question, Whether civil rulers have not done more hurt than good, in the world. When we see an haughty and ambitious monarch, or corrupt ministry spending the blood and treasure of their subjects, in carrying on an unrighteous quarrel and contention with them, or against their neighbours; from a mistaken notion of glory; distressing their towns and cities with their troops and armaments, depopulating their country, and seeming to aim at the universal destruction of mankind; we may well be shock’d at the sight, and look on such a lawless, arbitrary ruler, as the heaviest calamity and judgment, that a righteous God can send upon a sinful people. But notwithstanding the dark and dismal prospect which a scene of tyranny and oppression affords; ’tis undoubtedly true, that civil government is designed for the good of men; and when administered with justice and mercy, it does excellently well answer this design. As tyrants are the greatest of temporal judgments, as being the cause of all the most distressing evils that can be imagined; so good rulers are the greatest blessings to the world, and the instruments in God’s hand, of securing all our other good things. But then, to render them such, they must be just, considered both in a legislative and executive capacity.
2. Rulers are obliged to be just, on account of the great trust reposed in them. Sovereign authority is the greatest trust that can be reposed in any man. The power of making laws is very great, and extensive in its nature, and of the utmost importance in the exercise of it. And next to this, is that of putting laws in execution. The man that is appointed to judge another, with authority to decide all controversies among his fellow-subjects: to determine and pass sentence upon the lives and properties of such vast numbers of men; has a very great and important trust reposed in him. And the weight and importance of the trust reposed in any inferiour executive officer, is proportioned to the authority vested in him. Now, the receiving such a trust lays a man under very great obligations to faithfulness in the discharge of it. Men in such high places of trust and authority, instead of being released from the laws of God, and having their obligations to faithfulness in the discharge of duty, lessened and diminished; have them increased, in proportion to their advancement; and it is not beneath the dignity of their stations, to attend very seriously to the advice and exhortation of the Psalmist, Be wise now therefore, O ye kings; be instructed ye judges of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear; kiss the son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. ’Tis of importance, if men have but one talent, that they improve it: but if they have ten, and neglect and refuse so to do; the punishment will be tenfold greater. If a private man neglects his duty, he, and others connected with him, may suffer. But if a chief ruler is unjust and unfaithful, the whole community or body politic suffers. As much therefore as the welfare and happiness of such a community, or body, is to be valued above, and preferred to the happiness of an individual; so much higher and greater are his obligations to faithfulness, than the obligations of a private member of society; and if he refuses to discharge them uprightly and conscientiously, as in the fear of God; a proportionably heavy and aggravated punishment must he expect to receive, when judged by him.
3. The exercise of justice is necessary in civil rulers, to their own present comfort, and future happiness. ’Tis a common observation, that the greatest tyrants are the greatest and most miserable slaves. Those rulers who invade the rights and liberties of their own subjects, in an arbitrary, tyrannical manner, and seek to oppress and enslave them; are always in fear of being themselves destroyed by them. They are obliged, at vast expence, to keep up large armies to distress and enslave their peaceable subjects; who, under such a grievous yoke of bondage, cannot be easy and satisfied; but will be naturally struggling after liberty; and be ready, when it galls their necks, to turn against and depose such oppressing tyrants; and sometimes, to imbrue their hands in their blood: of which, many instances are to be found in the histories of the Roman, and of the Turkish empire. Whereas, when princes rule in a just and constitutional way, with mildness and benignity; and seek the good and welfare of their subjects; they may always put full, unreserved confidence in them, and depend on being supported and defended by them, at the expence of all that is dear and valuable to them; yea, at the expence of their lives, which will not be thought too dear a sacrifice for the safety and honour of such a worthy prince.
Again. This justice and faithfulness in rulers is necessary to their having peace in their own minds and consciences. Such have consciences as well as other men, accusing or else excusing; who, upon the faithful discharge of the high trust reposed in them, will have inward peace, security and joy, and heart-felt satisfaction such as the world can neither give, nor take away. But on the other hand; if the rules of justice and righteousness be neglected and trampled upon by them, and they practise high handed tyranny and oppression: and seek to enslave and destroy their subjects; what dreadful horrors of conscience must they necessarily feel when awakened to any serious reflections on their wicked, guilty conduct, which has been so distressing and ruinous to thousands more innocent and righteous than themselves.
Lastly. This justice and faithfulness is necessary to their future happiness. Tho’ civil rulers are stiled gods, yet must they die like men; and at last, give an account of themselves to the judge of the quick, and the dead.
[II.] I now proceed to the next thing proposed, which as in the second place, to shew, That the fear of the Lord is the proper, effectual principle to influence civil rulers to the exact observance of justice.
He that ruleth over men, must be just: And that he may be so, he must rule in the fear of the Lord. If we consider human nature, as vitiated by the apostacy; we shall find, that hardly any thing but the fear of punishment, is able to keep men in awe, and due subjection. That it is thus with subjects, is evident from the many severe laws, and terrible executions of them, which the wisest and most merciful rulers in all nations, have found necessary to preserve the peace, and promote the happiness of civil society. Now, ’tis certain that the essential principles of human nature are the same in all men, whatever external relations they sustain. There is therefore great danger, that rulers will degenerate into tyrants; and of blessings, become plagues and curses to mankind; unless there be some way to keep them in awe, some principle to excite their fears, and by that means, keep them within their proper sphere, and engage them to the observation of justice. Now, this is not always to be done by a fear of men. Sovereigns are exempted from the common power of human laws; there is no ordinary authority that may judge them; and this their security may prove a strong temptation to them, to neglect the proper duties of their exalted stations. They may trust in their forces and armies to defend them from the resentment of an injured and oppressed people; and so imagine themselves perfectly secure from punishment at present; and the nearer any subordinate ruler approaches to sovereignty, the less has he to fear from men, and consequently, the greater prospect has he, of indemnification in acting unjustly. There is therefore the utmost need and necessity, that those who rule over men, should rule in the fear of the Lord; that they should have a firm belief of the being, perfections and providence of God; that they should not only fear his vindictive punishing justice, but beyond this, as the text requires, maintain an holy awe and reverence of him upon their minds; and consider him as that righteous judge to whom they must at last, give an account of the discharge of the great trust reposed in them; and from whom they shall receive a righteous sentence of absolution or condemnation.
1. What we have heard on this subject, should serve to excite our thankful acknowledgments to the supreme Ruler of the world for his great favour to us in the happy constitution of government we have hitherto lived under. The providence of God which rules the world (tho’ it does not neglect the lesser affairs of men), especially concerns itself in more important things, which respect more large societies and communities of men. Civil government is one of the principal of these. God is the judge; he setteth up one, and putteth down another; and orders all the changes and revolutions that come to pass in the kingdoms and empires of the world: whose providence has been very extraordinary, and in a manner, miraculous, in conducting our fathers into this, once howling wilderness in preserving them in their weak, infant-state, when exposed to destruction many ways; and leading them to settle on such an excellent constitution of government; which affords such full protection, and ample security to the subjects, of their lives, liberties and properties; and in providing for us in succession down to this day, such a wise, virtuous and upright set of rulers who we have reason to think, have, in the main, ruled in the fear of the Lord. Our privileges in this respect are very great, beyond what any other people enjoy in any part of the earth. The bigger part of the world have had their liberties wrested out of their hands; been opprest and enslaved by lawless and cruel tyrants: while we are yet in the possession of freedom. May God preserve it to us safe, and hand it down to the latest posterity! Our fathers went through the greatest perils and dangers to procure these privileges for us; and we ought to be willing to do our utmost to preserve them, and hand them down to our children and offspring. Our treasure, and our blood too, are not too dear and costly sacrifices for such valuable things.
2. Of what importance is it, that civil rulers be men of uprightness and integrity; men of real piety and religion; who fear the Lord, and keep up a proper awe and reverence of him upon their minds? This is necessary to their own comfort and happiness; to the peace of their consciences; and to their having a well-grounded hope of a future crown of glory in the coming world. It is likewise necessary to the good and happiness of the society, over which they are appointed to rule. If a sovereign prince or ruler be destitute of integrity and justice; and has not the fear of the great God before his eyes: all inferior motives which might have influence on men in lower stations, will be insufficient to restrain him from wicked nets of tyranny and oppression, and keep him to his duty. As such cannot well be arraigned before any human tribunal on earth, to account for their conduct; if they have no fear and dread on their minds, of appearing before, and accounting to their supreme Judge, the sovereign ruler of the world; they will be in the utmost danger, not only of ruining themselves both for time and eternity; but also, of ruining their subjects in all their dear and valuable interests; and of involving them in the greatest conceivable distresses and troubles. This is so far from being true, That such can do no wrong; that on the contrary, the experience of all ages testifies, that they are capable, when they loose the principles of justice and religion, of doing the greatest mischief and wrong, of any men in the world. As a roaring lion, and a raging bear, says Solomon, So is a wicked ruler over a poor people. He adds further, The prince that wanteth understanding is also a great oppressor.
3. What has been said on this subject, is perfectly agreeable to, and justifies the principles on which the British nation acted, as a body, in deposing king James the second, that tyrannical oppressive prince, when pursuing measures tending to their destruction; and in introducing king William of glorious memory, to the throne, to sway the scepter in righteousness. This grand revolution happened between eighty and ninety years ago. The kings who have reigned over us, since which period, in succession, can make out no just claim and title to the throne, on any other principles than those advanced in this discourse. If these are not well grounded and established; but fail; they must fail with them, and be deemed only usurpers; and the pretender on the other hand, the only rightful heir to the crown. If we embrace the abovesaid doctrine, The kings with their council and ministry can do no wrong, but must be obeyed in all their edicts and commands; we must of necessity, condemn the conduct of the nation in general, in rising up against, and deposing king James; and join with the rebels in the highlands of Scotland, in their endeavours to overthrow the present constitution of Great Britain; and to bring in one of the descendents of James, as our rightful king, and disown him that now sits on the throne; and look upon the aforesaid rebels, as the only loyal people in the kingdom; if the nation had no right to oppose the measures of that ancient king, when they evidently tended to deprive the subjects of their dear liberties and their best rights and properties. If the constitution of England forbids them to resume, and take their things into their own power, when they could not have protection from their sovereign: if it was wrong and unjustifiable for the people to think and judge for themselves, and seek the best remedy in their power, when they found themselves grievously oppressed by the unrelenting hand of arbitrary power: when they found their chief ruler fail in all the essential points of his high office and character, and to act contrary to the very end and design of its institution; then it will follow, that the very foundation-principles of government have been subverted by the revolution, and all, excepting a few that have been deemed rebels, both kings and their subjects have been upon a wrong, wicked plan, for near a century past. And to get right, we must throw up the present constitution of England and the Hanover family, that is in present possession of the throne; and return back in our allegiance to the Stuart family; and to their popish plan of government. These are the genuine consequences of the doctrine of passive obedience and non-resistance, so zealously preached up by some artful and designing men, who act as creatures of the state, and probably expect high honours and promotions from a corrupt ministry, as a reward for their labours, to be gathered out of the spoils of their country. A doctrine as unfriendly and injurious to the king, as it is dangerous to the rights and liberties of his subjects. The crown and dignity of the king can be maintained and defended, only on these just and equitable principles, on which the rights and privileges of the people are secured and established. He that denies the right which the body of the people have, to take care of their liberties when in danger, does virtually dethrone our present king, and make him only a usurper; and acts the most friendly and favourable part towards a popish pretender. For it was certainly in consequence of the people’s taking their rights and liberties into their own hands, that the illustrious house of Hanover was advanced to the throne of England.
4. If the rules of justice and righteousness ever allowed a people, a right to take care of their liberties and privileges, as all I trust, will readily grant; they are still possessed of this right, and may lawfully use and exert it for those salutary purposes, as they have occasion or call in divine providence. On this sure ground and footing, the wise and judicious part of the reputable inhabitants of America, proceed to consult the best measures of safety and preservation in this critical and alarming situation of our public affairs.†
The conduct of the several provinces thro’ the continent, in sending commissioners to meet in general congress, to secure the threatned liberties and properties of the people, may be justified on these principles. If the people in these American colonies, have really any property, any thing to call their own; which cannot be denied without the most injurious reflection and insult upon, and abuse of them, and their ancestors, who have been labouring and toiling for this purpose, so many years: if this, I say, be granted; then they have a right to secure and defend themselves in the possession of it; and none have a right to take it from them without their consent. But as we hold our properties and privileges by royal charter, has not the king and ministry a right to take this charter from us, and to strip us of all? I answer. No more than you that have wives, have a right to break the marriage covenant; and turn them out naked and destitute, and set them adrift. Property is prior to all human laws, constitutions and charters. God hath given the earth to the children of men. Our fathers acquired property in this land, and were rightfully possessed of it, previous to their obtaining a royal charter; as can easily be demonstrated. The charter is the most solemn stipulation and compact between the parties, the sovereign and the subject, on certain terms. “And the breaking of charters,[”] says a late excellent writer,
is making the worst war upon mankind. It involves the innocent, and those yet unborn. Every thing depends, with men, on their constitution of government. Such a measure is therefore, wantonly laying waste the territories of the earth, confounding and destroying all private property, and endeavouring to prevent Providence itself to make mankind happy thereon; unless he shall, for the undoing the works of unreasonable, ill-judging men, perform immediate miracles, and suspend, or counteract the established laws of nature, which is surely, not to be supposed, or expected.
5. As all human counsels and endeavours may be insufficient for these important purposes of securing and defending the rights and liberties of a people, when in danger of being, wrested out of their hands, by the violent exertions of arbitrary power; we see the propriety, and the reasonableness of the duty of looking to God, in a way of solemn fasting and prayer, at such a time, for deliverance and safe protection. God, the sovereign ruler of the world, has the great affairs of the kingdoms and empires of the earth, in his own hands; and can dispose of them as seems good unto him. He has the hearts of kings and ministers in his hands, and can turn them, as he turns the rivers of water. In seasons of such danger and distress, our eyes and our hearts should be lifted up to him, for that help and relief that we need. And as we are now called to this important duty, by the pious rulers of the land; all that are so far above the beasts that perish, as to know the rights, the liberties and privileges that essentially belong to humanity; and withal, have any belief of the being of a God, and of his governing providence, will, I trust, heartily unite herein, with a very serious and devout frame of mind; while the ignorant, the profane, and stupid infidals, may probably make a scoff and ridicule of these sacred solemnities.
The great controversy that has for some years, subsisted between the chief rulers in the mother country and the English colonies in America, has arisen to a very great height: and let the fault be on which side it will, we have reason to tremble at the consequences, as we are threatened with most awful ruin and destruction in all that is dear and valuable to us. A neighbouring province begins to feel very sensibly, the distressing effects thereof; as great numbers of its industrious inhabitants are reduced to a suffering state, and become real objects of charity; being turned out of the means by which they procured their daily bread. The chief rulers neither feed nor guide them: but are using means that tend to devour and destroy them; and no other colony or province on the continent has the least security from having the same cruel, oppressive and tyrannical measures used towards them. All the most judicious and sensible part of the inhabitants thro’ the whole continent of America, view themselves as interested and concerned in the consequences of this dispute; and expect to stand or fall by the issue of it. The port and harbour of Boston has, for some time been shut up; their trade and commerce stopped; their charter-rights invaded; the security of their lives, liberties and properties, taken away; with an armed force in the midst of them, to heighten their distress, and bring on their complete ruin. Which respectable province, and metropolis of New-England, being once enslaved by the cruel exertions of arbitrary power, and stript of their property for which they, and their ancestors have been, for so many years industriously labouring; some other colony or province will, no doubt, be taken in hand: and so the horrid and execrable scene of tyranny and oppression be vigorously prosecuted from place to place, until it spread over the whole continent. The aspect of our public affairs was never more dark and gloomy, than at the present day. The kingdom under such a load of debt, in such a distracted, divided and convulsed state, as forebodes its speedy ruin and destruction. The foundations of government seem awfully out of course; and the righteous in a state of utmost peril and danger, as they have no sure ground of safety to stand upon.
We are certainly threatened with the loss of our precious liberties and privileges, and of all our dear and valuable interests. Allowing that our conduct as a body, has been loyal, dutiful and obedient to our earthly sovereign; that we have given no just cause or provocation to resolve on such severe, unprecedented measures, as these in the late acts of parliament; yet, can we say, it has been strictly right and justifiable in the sight of the sovereign Ruler of the world? Whose hand is to be considered in these dark clouds that hang over, these distressing judgments that are coming on the land. Have we done nothing to provoke his divine displeasure against us? It becomes us very seriously to inquire, What meaneth the heat of his anger! Who, or what has procured the tokens of his wrath and indignation; which some, as instruments stand ready to execute upon us? And how shall we obtain his favour? Sins of any kind, when they become common; when they are openly practised, and that with impunity; bring public guilt; and it may be expected, that if men don’t testify against them, God himself will do it; and that, by sending distressing judgments on a people. And God’s judgments and threatnings of providence are sometimes of such a nature, as to point out the particular kinds of sin by which he is offended. Let us try this rule in our present circumstances.
The first disadvantage people in general feel and complain of, from the late judicial system of tyranny and oppression; and the severe, unexampled acts of parliament that have been published in consequence of it is, that trade and commerce, and the means of increasing our wealth and riches, are obstructed; and great loss and damages sustained; and at the same time, public charges increased, in supporting agents and commissioners to consult, and look out a way of safety and deliverance for us. Those who live at a distance in the country, from those populous cities and towns that are the chief seat of trade and commerce are not so immediately affected at first, by the operation of these cruel and inhuman acts. Yet must, in time, and in a very short time too, feel the destressing and impoverishing effects of them: which, if carried into execution in the full length and breadth of them will not only diminish our estates; but strip us of all our substance, and reduce us to the condition of slaves that have no possession or property to call their own.
And does not this point out our sins, as especially provoking to God, and procuring the present tokens of his displeasure? Is it not a plain indication that God is offended with that covetousness, or excessive love of the world which abounds? That inordinate love of money, which is the root of all evil? It is owing to this, that men murmur and complain under that public charge which the present state of things makes necessary; and which, after all our complaints, is nothing like what the generality of men are subject to, in their best times, when they have the greatest peace, and least public expence. It has been represented, that some uneasy, dissatisfied persons, who are disaffected to the privileges of their country, have gone so far as to say, They had rather that the king and his ministry might come, and take away our charter-privileges, and all that we have, than to pay such taxes for the support of government over them. To such, if there are any such among us, I would recommend a serious consideration of the awful sentence God pronounced against the murmuring Israelites in the wilderness. Numb. xiv. 28. As truly as I live, saith the Lord, as ye have spoken in mine ears, so will I do to you. I will here cite a passage from a sermon of the Rev. Mr. Trumbull, delivered at the freeman’s-meeting, in the town of New-Haven, April 12th, 1773, with his note subjoined thereto. Speaking of the advantages of free states, arising from their choosing rulers from among themselves, he observes concerning rulers thus chosen, “Their government is mild and righteous. And as they do not govern to get their bread, and advance their fortunes, at the ruin of ours; and as they can lay no burdens on us, without bearing the same weight themselves, their government is as remarkable for the little expence of it, as it is for its gentleness, impartiality and righteousness. All our expences, by way of salary to civil officers, do not, I imagine, amount annually, by considerable, to the one half of the salary of a king’s governor, in any of the neighbouring provinces.”* On the other hand, the present judgment and threatning discover God’s displeasure against us, for indulging pride and vanity, luxury and intemperance. The plain voice of providence is, that God is awfully offended with all that practise these ruinous and destructive vices.
We are further threatened with being deprived of all our civil privileges, and brought under a most cruel, arbitrary and tyrannical kind of government. The scheme of government planned out for Boston, is in its whole frame and constitution, completely despotic and arbitrary. The will of the chief ruler is law; and the subject holds his estate, and even life, only during his pleasure. This arbitrary government will, no doubt, be carried to its greatest extent through all the American colonies, and exercised in all its terrors and cruelties upon them, if the present ministry are permitted to carry the point they are contending for, in such a sanguine manner.
Now, does not this threatning point out some particular sins, as procuring it? We have been greatly favoured of God in respect to the constitution of the government more immediately over us; and the administration of our public affairs. We in this colony enjoy, not only the full liberties of Englishmen; but even some peculiar privileges, confirmed by royal charter, which distinguish us from the rest of our fellow subjects in the plantations. But how far have we been from being truly thankful for such privileges? And how ready to slight and abuse them? How earnestly have some wished themselves in the condition of the poor tenants and slaves in a neighbouring province, rather than pay a trifle to support their liberties, and freedom, and real estate, in this? How apt have we been to despise the persons, and slight the authority of the rulers of our people? To hearken to, and propagate reports prejudicial to their character? To countenance and join with the disaffected, and begrudge their reward; which is far less than magistrates in any other province have? And after all the murmuring about it, is very inadequate to the public services they perform, and the advantages we derive from their administration. There was something of this disposition in the Jews of old: They refused the waters of Shiloah that run softly—they were discontented and unthankful under a mild government, and gentle administration, that allowed them great privileges and liberties; therefore God threatens to bring upon them the waters of the river, strong and many, or to subject them to the tyrannical government of the king of Assyria.
Once more. We are awfully threatened with being deprived of the liberty of our consciences, the liberty of professing the important truths of the gospel; and attending those sacred ordinances which God has instituted with a view to advance the glory of the Redeemer, and promote the salvation of his people. This will most probably be the consequence of carrying those schemes and plans into execution, which the present ministry have projected. And does not this loudly declare, That our having neglected the worship and turned our backs upon the ordinances of God; our distrusting and despising the grace of the gospel, and trifling away the day of salvation; are to be numbered among those sins by which we have awfully provoked a righteous God to anger against us. That omissions and neglects of this kind, have abounded to an unusual, and indeed, to an astonishing degree, cannot be denied. That such sins are provoking to God, and that especially, in a country which, like this, was originally settled principally for the purposes of reformation and religion, cannot reasonably be doubted. And therefore we may justly conclude, that God is testifying against these kinds of sin in particular, and threatning us on account of them. Shame and sorrow, humiliation and abasement become us for these things. We ought, each one, to examine his own heart and life, and enquire what has been done by, or among us, to provoke the Lord to such an awful controversy; and speedily to return, by gospel-repentance, to his love and service; and to the steady conscientious practice of all religious duties he requires of us. Let us be deeply affected with the present critical and alarming situation of our public affairs; and unite in fervent prayers to that God who is higher than the kings of the earth, that he would graciously interpose for our relief; that he would avert the impending storms of vengeance, and favour us with peace and tranquility, and the full enjoyment of all our valuable liberties and privileges; that our rulers may feed us according to the integrity of their hearts, and guide us by the skilfulness of their hands.
And let us be at peace among ourselves. It is at all times contrary to the temper and spirit of the gospel; but especially unsuitable and improper in such a day as this, to be widening differences, laying unreasonable stress upon disputable points, and to set on foot controversies that tend to alienate people’s love and affection from each other, and to increase a party separating spirit, to sow the seeds of discord, and foment animosities. It rather becomes us to fix our attention upon the common cause, the public good and general interest of the land. Our strength, our glory, and our security depend very much upon our friendly agreement and firm union together. If we get divided and broken to pieces among ourselves, what will become of us? What advantage will it give an enemy to our liberties, to bring distressing burdens upon us, and lay such a yoke upon our necks that neither we, nor our posterity can bear. That to which our special attention is at this day called, is not a private by-interest, that concerns the men of one denomination only: but of a general, public nature that concerns men of every persuasion, that are well-wishers to their country’s welfare. Even those who have gone off from the scheme and plan of religion professed by the first fathers of this country, have great cause of thankfulness for their liberties and privileges which they enjoy equally with others that still retain it. They have the same advantages from that happy form of civil government; the same protection from it, of their persons and properties; have the same liberty of conscience, worship where they please without controul or oppression; or if they choose to stay at home on the Lord’s-day, and join with no worshiping assembly, it is seldom they meet with any interruption or disturbance. What more can they desire? There does not appear the least probability that either they, or we, should gain any advantage on civil or religious accounts, by giving up our privileges; and submitting to a new and different form of government in church and state; with a great additional burden of taxes which would be unavoidably connected with it; under which, who would groan and complain loudest, we cannot tell before trial be made. I hope none of us wish for such a fatal experiment and proof of a public spirit. We all doubtless think, whatever be our peculiar sentiments in religion, that we are sufficiently burdened already. The poor of the people are groaning under poverty and distress: many have a load of debt upon them, and know not which way to turn for the common daily necessaries: are loudly complaining of difficulties, and looking out for relief, some in one way, and some in another; plausible schemes are projected for this purpose, and set on foot and encouraged, to serve a present turn, without looking to the consequences; and very impolitic and imprudent measures taken by many, as a remedy which proves worse than the disease, or will do so in the end, and constantly increase the difficulties complained of. If our taxes at present, are heavy; they do not grow lighter or easier by the people’s breaking into parties and divisions among themselves, and pursuing schemes that are in opposition to the main, standing interest, and public good of the country; but are evidently increased thereby to the disadvantage and hurt of all. If some few individuals find their account herein, yet ’tis certainly distressing to the public; and must, sooner or later, be so to all concerned in it. If those who stand in the gap, on whose shoulders the interest of the country stands for its support and defence, should, in any future time, find the burden too heavy for them to bear; and be over-powered by those who direct them, to promote a contrary interest; and this building should fall; the ruin of it would be wide and great. It might fall like a mill-stone upon some who least expect any evil, and grind them to powder. Or if they survived this sad catastrophe, instead of finding easier times, might be caught under such a yoke of bondage that would be insupportably grievous to them and their children; from which, no release or deliverance could be obtained. We are at present (blessed be God), a free people in this land; and might be as happy as any in the known world, did we duly attend to our public interest and welfare; and unite in all suitable ways for the security and advancement of it. Had we union and good agreement among ourselves in the management of our civil and religious affairs; our burdens would grow lighter and easier; and the poor of the people find comfortable relief in most of their difficulties.
Considering our present critical situation, it would, no doubt, be our wisdom and prudence to make up, unite, and gather into one common interest, all the good protestants in this land; notwithstanding lesser differences among them; that we may stand or fall together: and not be devoured one of another; nor become an easy prey to foreign enemies who may seek our ruin. What are those things worth, that alienate people’s affections, and cause divisions; in comparison to our dear liberties and privileges that are endangered hereby? It may be the policy of some in power, to encourage such a party-spirit, that we may be weakened and distressed among ourselves; that the way may be prepared without resistance or opposition, to bring us into bondage, and fasten the chains of slavery upon us. And shall we be so infatuated and blind to our own interest, and that of our children’s, as to pursue measures that are destructive of it? Measures that will rejoice the hearts of our enemies, and forward their schemes, to be put into execution against us to complete our ruin? Let us lay by passion and prejudice, and seriously and soberly consider this important subject of our common welfare; meddle with nothing that is inconsistent therewith, any sooner than with the rankest poison. Let our country’s interest, glory and prosperity be uppermost in our hearts, and use our best endeavours for the advancement of it. Let all our strength center and unite in this grand point. Let us remember, this is the common interest of all the colonies; and that each particular inhabitant is concerned herein; and must expect to share the fate, in some degree, of the body he is connected with. If the foundation of our public liberties and privileges be overturned, all will be affected, and must expect to suffer in the said ruin. Let the melancholy prospect hereof, serve to unite our hearts and hands with all lovers of the rights of humanity, in upholding and defending this more valuable and important interest. Let us love as brethren and dear countrymen, that have but one common interest to pursue. Let us act on principles of moderation, candor and charity; and endeavour in meekness of wisdom to instruct those that oppose themselves, and their country’s good; and recover them to the paths of truth. Let us prize and well improve our privileges, and use our influence to promote the public good. We should be especially careful that we engage in no measures or counsels, that we attend to no reasonings or pretences, how plausible and specious soever, which are inconsistent with the common interest and public good. So far as any of us have influence on our public affairs, let us use it for the promotion and advancement of the true friends to their country. We want wise, steady, judicious rulers in such a day as this; men of sterling integrity and real religion. It is of importance that all orders of men be faithful in their several departments, for defending and promoting the public good. Let us keep stedfastly fixed in the good old principles of our fathers, and cheerfully take our lot and portion one with another; saying as Ruth to Naomi, Whither thou goest, I will go; thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God. The Lord’s hand has been very conspicuous in the first settlement, and past preservation of these plantations: He will take care of the generation of the righteous; and break the yoke of their oppressors; and give them peace and happiness. Blessed are the people that are under his care and conduct; yea, blessed are the people whose God is the Lord. Amen.
[† ]I am sensible that the present controversy between Great Britain and the American colonies stands upon a different footing from that between king James and his subjects, at the revolution. That was a controversy between the king and his subjects: This is a dispute between the parliament of Great Britain, and the colonies. We have no controversy with the king; nor in the least, dispute his regal authority over us. The king, when at home, presides in person, in the British parliament; but when he goes out of the kingdom (to Hanover for instance) he appoints a regent as his representative, to preside in his absence. In Ireland, the king presides not in person; but by his representative, the lord lieutenant. And in like manner, the king presides in the several colonies, by his representatives, the governors, which are authorised by his charters, or immediate commissions. We have therefore no controversy with our king, whose authority we cheerfully acknowledge, and most loyally obey. But the point disputed is, Whether his majesty’s legislative body in Great Britain, has a right to exercise sovereign authority over his majesty’s legislative assemblies in the colonies, for taxation, or the regulation of their internal policy. The kingdom of Ireland owes allegiance to the king of Great Britain: but their internal policy is constitutionally regulated only by their own parliament. And they have a right to deny the authority of the British parliament to tax them; or to regulate the internal policy of the kingdom. And it is a like case with the American colonies. We owe allegiance to the king of Great-Britain: but this will not oblige us to yield ourselves up to the arbitrary controul of the British parliament. The parliament of Great Britain has no constitutional right to tax, or regulate the internal policy of the colonies; any more than the legislative body of one colony has to tax or regulate the internal policy of another colony. And therefore the attempts of the British parliament to impose taxes on the colonies, may be resisted by the colonies, perfectly consistent with their allegiance to their king. Altho’ therefore our present controversy with Great Britain is on quite another footing than the contest of the nation in the days of king James; yet revolution-principles in their general nature, will fully justify the present constitutional opposition of the colonists to the arbitrary proceedure of the British court.
[* ]“The whole amount of the salaries paid annually by the government is only £. 580. The salary of the governor is £. 300, of the deputy governour £. 100, of the secretary £. 20, and of the treasurer £. 160. The judges of the Superior Court have no salary from the government. The Chief Judge is allowed 18 shillings per day, and the four side judges have 17 shillings each per day. This court is obliged by law, to set 14 weeks annually and commonly setteth, by adjournment, much longer, and the cost of it is about £. 600 per annum. The expence of it for three years and a half past, upon a careful examination, appeareth to be about £. 2100, just £. 600 per annum. The avails of it, together with the forfeitures, for the same term, with proper allowances for such as may not be recovered, amount to £. 2200. So that the Superior Court is of no cost, at present, to the colonies considered as a government. In short the whole expence of government in Connecticut is trifling. The cost of the General Assembly annually is about £. 1500. A rate of one penny on the pound, on the grand list, which raiseth about £. 6000 per annum, near the one half of which is annually taken out of the treasury for schooling, hath of late years been sufficient to defray our public charges as a government.” Mr. Trumbull’s Discourse. page 28.