Front Page Titles (by Subject) 47: John Thayer, A DISCOURSE, DELIVERED AT THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH IN BOSTON - Political Sermons of the American Founding Era. Vol. 2 (1789-1805)
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47: John Thayer, A DISCOURSE, DELIVERED AT THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH IN BOSTON - Ellis Sandoz, Political Sermons of the American Founding Era. Vol. 2 (1789-1805) 
Political Sermons of the American Founding Era: 1730-1805, 2 vols, Foreword by Ellis Sandoz (2nd ed. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1998). Vol. 2.
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A DISCOURSE, DELIVERED AT THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH IN BOSTON
John Thayer (1758–1815). Born in Boston and graduated from Yale, Thayer became a Congregational minister and served in the Revolution under John Hancock at Castle William (1780–81). He was the first American divine to convert to Roman Catholicism; while studying in Europe he was ordained a priest by the archbishop of Paris (1787). He returned to America intent upon converting the Puritans to Catholicism and spent the period from 1790 to 1803 in missionary endeavors in New England, Virginia, and on the frontier in Kentucky. He was derided by the American ecclesiastics as “John Turncoat.” While the public responded to him well, the usually tolerant Ezra Stiles harshly commented: “Commenced his life in impudence, ingratitude, lying & hypocrisy, irregularly took up preaching among Congregationalists, went to France & Italy, became a proselyte to the Romish church, & is returned to convert America to that [church] . . . of haughty insolence & insidious talents” (Literary Digest of Ezra Stiles, 3:416). An estimated 600 Catholics lived in New England by 1785, most of them “improper Bostonians” originally from Ireland (the first Catholic church in New England was founded in Boston in 1788).
Stiles’s remarks notwithstanding, Thayer proved an effective missionary while in America, and he continued that work in his retirement in Limerick, Ireland, beginning in 1803. He conceived a plan to organize a convent in Boston, but finding little cooperation and no volunteers, he proceeded to train his own postulants. These became the nucleus of the famous Ursuline Convent in Charlestown (Boston), established in 1819 after Thayer’s death. The convent was burned down by a nativist mob in 1834.
This powerful sermon, one of Thayer’s finest, was preached in the Boston Catholic Church on May 9, 1798, designated by President John Adams as a day of humiliation and prayer. This observance was proclaimed amidst the furor in the country over the humiliating rebuff of American emissaries in Paris, Elbridge Gerry, John Marshall, and Charles C. Pinckney, by the French Republic, now under radical government by the Directory—the famous “X, Y, Z Affair.” Thayer’s tenor and his recitation of French atrocities during the Terror is indicative of the climate of opinion. Washington had been recalled as nominal commander-in-chief of the American army, which was being mobilized by Alexander Hamilton at President Adams’s direction. The fitting out of the navy was accelerated, naval war ensued, and the possibility of full-scale warfare against France loomed. So divided was the country, and so strong was the fear of Jacobin influence, that Washington himself insisted that Republicans be excluded from the army as potentially disloyal. The enactment of the repressive Alien and Sedition Acts, whereby political opposition became a crime, occurred during June and July; it was thus within weeks of Thayer’s sermon on May 9, and provides an index of the feverish temper of the times.
Pray without ceasing—give thanks.
I Thessalonians, v. 17, 18.
In the words just read, the inspired apostle inculcates on us the two important duties of prayer and thanksgiving, which the President of the United States invites us all to perform on this day. We have need to pray for the pardon of our sins, as a nation, and as individuals, and to humble ourselves profoundly before God on account of them; and we have need to pray for the continuation of the mercies, both spiritual and temporal, which we have hitherto enjoyed. To the proclamation of our Supreme Magistrate, our Right Rev. Bishop has been pleased to add his strong recommendation, in which, in addition to the objects of humiliation and prayer common to all our fellow-citizens, he urges us to beseech the Lord to put a stop to the dreadful persecution which is now ravaging his own church, and to comfort and strengthen its visible head. But, though the duty of humiliation and prayer be incumbent on us at all times, and more specifically at the present, still, seeing the astonishing change that has lately taken place in the public mind, I consider the duty of thanksgiving as yet more pressing—I shall, therefore, at this time, mention to you some of the motives which should excite us all to gratitude and thanksgiving to the great bestower of all good; and, as I proceed, I shall, from time to time, make such reflections as are proper to incline our hearts to prayer and humiliation.
During the whole course of my ministry among you, my brethren, I have never before entered into any details concerning political affairs; nor should I do it now, were it not to teach you to appreciate duly the government under which you live, and to point out your duties towards it.
1. The first blessing which demands our cordial thanks to God is, that we live under the freest and most easy government in the world. The constitution of the United States unites a proper degree of energy with all the liberty which any reasonable person can desire. It is well-balanced, our executive, legislative and judicial authorities being independent of, and mutually checked by, each other. They all emanate from the people at large; who have always the power to put an end to any real abuses which may take place, by displacing their present representatives and appointing others that have their confidence—and as long as the great body of the people do not see the necessity of a change of men and measures, we may rest assured, that the abuses, however they may be magnified by party-scribblers and declaimers, are not of a very alarming nature. Under such a government as this, every insurrection against the constituted authorities, or opposition to them, is a revolt of a part against the general will, by which those authorities exist, and is highly criminal. Praised be God, that this happy constitution, under which persons of all denominations enjoy entire security for their lives, property, and liberty, whether spiritual or political, is still unimpaired and in full operation; and that all the attempts to overturn, or to weaken it, by concentrating all its powers in the single house of representatives, have only served to throw light upon its principles, and to give it additional strength.
2. Another cause of thanksgiving to God is, that the administration of this most excellent constitution, ever since its first establishment, has been committed to men eminent for their wisdom, firmness, and patriotic services. I need only mention a Washington, that guardian genius, that saviour of his country, that ornament of the human race, to excite in all your hearts the warmest feelings of esteem, gratitude and love. Long may he enjoy the charms of that retirement in which he has chosen to spend the evening of his life: may the blessings of this country and of the universe be yet many years his reward; and at length, enriched with every christian as well as moral virtue, may he enter the realms of everlasting felicity.
We have great reason to be thankful, that, when that approved warrior and admired statesman resigned the helm of state, and sought the repose which his age and health required, God did not permit the intrigues of a foreign, insidious nation to succeed in raising the man of their choice to the presidential chair; but inspired us with sufficient courage to place at our head a statesman and patriot, whose ability and integrity, proved in the most trying times, eminently entitle him to our confidence and affection. Such is the illustrious John Adams, the present president of these states. This great man can have nothing in view but the happiness and prosperity of his fellow-citizens, with whose fortunes his own, and those of his family, are evidently and inseparably connected.
He wishes for no power unwarranted by the constitution, and for no support incompatible with the generous spirit of freedom. Since the publication of his instructions to our messengers of peace, we have learned, better than ever, to appreciate his worth. We are now assured of his moderate and conciliatory temper, as well as of his decisive firmness. Under such a leader we have nothing to fear: never will he sacrifice the honor of his country; never will he relinquish any part of that independence which has long been the object of all his toils and labors, and for the obtaining of which so many of our brave countrymen have spilt their blood and lost their lives. Let us offer up our fervent prayers to heaven, on this day, that his invaluable life may be preserved, and his health continued; that God would give him wisdom to discern what are the best measures to be adopted for the good of his country, and the fortitude to put them into execution, in spite of every obstacle and opposition; and that all those who assist him in council may be men of ability and integrity, so that the public may receive no detriment from incapacity or dishonesty. Let us all resolve to give him a generous and cordial support, and openly avow this resolution by setting our names to the manly and spirited addresses which are now proposed for the signature of all citizens. Let us tell him, that we feel, as we ought, the value of that liberty which we enjoy, and that we pledge our fortunes and sacred honour to defend it with loyalty and fidelity, under the banners of the government which we have chosen. Let us express our indignation at the repeated insults offered to this government, which has sought peace by every possible mean compatible with the dignity and honour of an independent nation. Let us declare, with the firmness and self-respect of freemen, our readiness to unite in every effort, which shall be made, to prevent our being subjected to the degrading conditions which a foreign nation seeks to impose upon us, as preliminary to all negociation for peace, and that we consider war, with all its attendant calamities, as by far the least of the two evils. Let us show, that we love the government which protects us, and that we are not divided from it, either in interest or affection. In fine, let us express our warm and unequivocal approbation of the wise and temperate system which has hitherto been pursued with regard to foreign nations, and our increasing confidence in him who presides over us with so much wisdom and prudence.
3. A third motive, which we have, of the sincerest thanks to heaven is, that, while a spirit of disorganization and disorder has produced such baleful effects in other countries, America, in spite of the effervescence produced among us by the extraordinary exertions of foreign and domestic intriguers, yet remains in a happy state of tranquillity. France appears to have been raised up by God for the chastisement of an impious world. I speak not of France governed by the descendants of St. Louis; it was then the guardian of religion and good morals, and the asylum of the unfortunate. Happy land! where I received the most valuable part of my education, and where I passed my happiest years among esteemed friends and beloved associates! Alas! to me no more! They are all either cruelly butchered, banished, or reduced to wretchedness at home. If I forget thee, O dear, charming abode, may my right hand forget her cunning; may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth. But now; how changed! My heart sinks within me, my spirits die away, when I recal the fate of some of my dearest inmates. But soon the painful recollection is swallowed up in the consideration of the complicated distresses of that once highly favoured empire.
France revolutionized is more truly the scourge of God, than was ever Attila, or any other barbarous conqueror recorded in history. Its tyrants, like Satan, their father, may be literally said to go about, seeking whom they may devour. If we cast an eye over the map of the world, we shall find, in almost every part, most dreadful traces of their destructive plans. The miseries which they have spread throughout the globe are beyond all the powers of calculation; miseries so universal as to have excited the horror of all who have the feelings, or merit the name, of human beings—miseries which will never be effaced from the memory of mankind, and which entire ages of peace and tranquillity will be scarcely able to repair. What unparalleled calamities have they not inflicted on their own wretched country! what wanton cruelties and atrocities have they not committed there! Their own writers confess, that, by the different modes of destruction, the guillotine, shooting, drowning, and the like, upwards of 30,000 persons were killed at Lyons, and that that once magnificent city was in great part levelled to the ground, that, at Nantz, according to the lowest estimate, 27,000 (some say, 40,000) were murdered, chiefly by drowning,* so that the water of the Loire, on which it stands, became putrid, and was forbidden to be drunk, that at Paris, 150,000, and in la Vendee 300,000 were destroyed. They own themselves, that, since the beginning of their execrable revolution, two millions of their nation have been sacrificed, of which 250,000 were women, and 30,000 children: and in this immense carnage are not included the soldiers who have perished in camp and fallen in battle, nor the unborn infants who were destroyed together with their mothers. Look into that country, and examine its present state. Though, by plunder, forced loans, contributions, and other iniquitous means, its lordly rulers have made a very great part of the riches of Europe to concentre there; still, by their narrow policy, by the ruin of all manufactures, commerce, and every other regular source of wealth and revenue, and by the entire subversion of all public confidence, they have reduced the wretched inhabitants to a state little short of actual beggary and starvation. No slavery can be equal to their’s: their condition is the most degraded that can be conceived. Every thing they possess, and even their very persons, are in a constant state of requisition; that is, they must be given up at the call of their rapacious masters, under pain of death, if they refuse. No man there dares write, print, speak, or even indicate, by the smallest sign, any disapprobation of whatever measures may chance to be dictated by the faction actually in power. Every press is seized that sends forth the least word in opposition to the mandates of the haughty directors, and the editors are put to death, imprisoned or banished. The people have no stable, fixed laws, by which to regulate their conduct: one edict is scarcely rendered public before it is annulled by another directly contrary; so that what is considered as lawful, and even patriotic, to-day, may to-morrow be accounted a crime worthy of death and confiscation.
Under these accumulated calamities, the wretched slaves might find their yoke less galling, their burdens less insupportable, if they could enjoy, as it were by stealth, the consolations of religion, for which they hunger and thirst. But no; their tyrants have nearly dried up this source of comfort. And here, my friends, what horrid scenes present themselves to our recollection! Many years before the revolution burst forth, the self-styled philosophers, a tribe composed of deists, atheists and materialists, had, by their secret clubs, by impious and obscene publications, and by various other means, suggested by the infernal spirit, attempted, and in part succeeded, to corrupt the different classes of society in France. But never could their system of impiety take effect upon the great mass of the citizens, who found, and ever will find, their happiness in the belief of religion. They had long plotted the utter extirpation of all religion, but, in the first place, of that which, by its greater extension and superior attachment to order and good government, stood more immediately in the way of their nefarious projects: this religion was the Roman Catholic: its overthrow was, therefore, resolved on; and the moment they had trampled down the ancient authorities of the kingdom, they employed every artifice, and made every effort, to effect their purpose. They began their impious attack on the church, by degrading her ministers in the eyes of the populace, by stripping them of those distinctive garments of their order, which, for ages, had rendered them respectable to the faithful. They then deprived them of their livings and other possessions, and represented them as inimical to the true interests of the country, because they would not take oaths which tended to nothing less, than the renunciation of the authority of the sovereign pontiff and of the bishops; in a word, of the catholic religion, which had been transmitted to them through several succeeding centuries. Upon their noble and almost unanimous refusal to apostatize from their faith, one of the most horrible persecutions (and perhaps the most so), that was ever levelled against the ministers of the altar, commenced, and has continued, with almost unabating fury, until the present moment: according to the very last authentic accounts, the priests are still hunted down, and very great rewards are offered for delivering them up. Thousands of these holy men, of these generous confessors of Jesus Christ, have been put to death, by drowning, shooting, and guillotining, or have perished through want and ill treatment. Thousands and tens of thousands of them have been banished from their homes, destitute of all means of subsistence, by the bloody edicts of the monsters of France; or have gone into voluntary exile, and are now wandering in foreign climes, where they either suffer all the horrors of indigence, or prolong their existence by the precarious charities of strangers. I need not inform you, my brethren, that the two excellent priests, who govern this flock with so much profit, and who are so deservedly dear* to you all, are here only in consequence of the terrible vexations in their own country.
But the cruelty of the persecutors was not confined to the different orders of the clergy; it extended even to the poor, innocent, defenceless nuns, who, by almost entire exclusion from exterior conversation, and a consecration to the tranquil exercises of devotion, were become far more timid than the weakest of their sex who live in the world. Bands of armed ruffians were sent into their sacred asylums, who used every species of violence to force them to take the sacrilegious oath to give up their religion. Many of those unoffending virgins expired under the murderous lash, to preserve inviolate fidelity to their vows. Very few of them indeed were terrified, or even seduced, into a compliance with the orders of their tyrants. At length, when all means of perversion had been essayed in vain, a barbarous edict strips them of all their property at one stroke; their convents are declared to belong to the nation; and, in one day, all those helpless victims, to the number of 30,000, are turned out by force to all the miseries attendant on a state of poverty and want. Many of them had grown old in the cloister; many of them were sick and infirm; all of them had given up, under the sanction of former laws, whatever they possessed in the world, and of course found themselves in the utmost distress. No consideration of this kind was capable of touching the more than adamantine hearts of their enemies, who, to aggravate their wretched and forlorn situation, forbad all persons, under the severest penalties, to harbour more than two of them together. All the eloquence that ever fell to the lot of a mortal would be totally inadequate to point out, in their real turpitude, only a small part of those deeds of horror which have taken place in France within these few years past. The many traits of savage barbarity related in the history of the world, all collected and united together, appear tender mercies, when compared with the refined cruelties of the sanguinary factions of that country; cruelties not committed by a few unlicensed individuals, amid the disorders of a revolution, but by commission from the men in power, and under their immediate eye. Were I to enter into a few details, such as are given by the writers of their own party, the hairs of your heads would stand erect; an involuntary tremor would seize every joint and limb of your bodies; loving husbands and wives, you could not resist the shock; tender mothers, you would faint at the recital; and your modesty, my virgin hearers, would be indeed most sensibly wounded. I, therefore, turn from these abominable scenes.
To all their inhuman deeds, they have added the most horrid impieties and profanations. They have stripped the churches of the holy vessels, vestments and other things consecrated to the worship of God, and have converted them all to common uses. Some of these venerable temples they have turned into play-houses, stores, rope-walks, stables, and the like; and others they have devoted to the worship of impious men and prostituted women, to whom they have paid the most extravagant honours. They have respected nothing that has the least relation to religion. They have commanded all bibles, prayer-books, sacred images, &c. to be brought forth, and have consumed them in one common mass. Nor, in this respect, has one religious profession been more favoured than another; for the dissenting meeting-houses, and even the Jewish synagogues, were emptied also, and their contents committed to the flames. They have spared no one of the sacred institutions of Christianity; and, in order to obliterate it entirely from the memory of mankind, they have made it a crime to pass the first day of the week in exercises of religious worship (a practice co-eval with the existence of the Christian religion), and have introduced, in its stead, the decade, a day wholly devoted to profane amusements.
But the funest effects of the revolution in France have not been limited to that country—it has also proved a sweeping deluge to their West-India colonies: it has carried devastation and ruin into those once flourishing islands, under the pretext of spreading among them the blessings of freedom: the slaves have been let loose upon the whites; the richest towns have been given up to plunder, and burnt; and a war of extermination has been declared, and still furiously rages.
If we look into the European world, and consider the countries which the French have either conquered, or seduced to fraternize with them (as they term it), we shall see every where, that, notwithstanding their most solemn promises of liberty of conscience, of security of life and property, they have uniformly robbed the churches, taken away the lives and estates of those who would not join in all their atrocities, deprived the people of the freedom of religion, plundered them by their armies, levied upon them the most grievous contributions, forced them to give up their strong-holds, and to maintain their conquerors among them for the purpose of keeping themselves in subjection. Holland* was an hive of bees; her sons flew on the wings of the wind to every corner of the globe; and returned laden with the sweets of every climate. Belgium was a garden of herbs, the oxen were strong to labour, the fields were thickly covered with the abundance of the harvest. Unhappy Dutchmen! they still toil, but not for their own comfort; they still collect honey, but not for themselves! France seizes the hive as often as their industry has filled it. Ill-judging Belgians! they no longer eat in security the fruits of their own grounds; France, all-grasping France (whose never-ceasing cry is, “give, give”), finds occasion, or makes occasion, to participate largely in their riches; it is more truly said of themselves than of their oxen, they plough the fields, but not for their own profit.
It would take up far more time than could be possibly given to one discourse, to follow their murdering bands to all the places through which, like destroying angels, they have spread terror and desolation. Wherever they have met with the least resistance, especially if an individual Frenchman was killed in the conflict, whole bodies of respectable magistrates have been made to expiate, with their lives, the pretended rebellion; entire cities have been threatned with extermination for the same offence, and nothing but enormous sums of money have been able to save them from the impending ruin. Like impetuous torrents, in the rapidity of their course, they have borne down every thing before them; and, without distinction of friends and enemies, they have effaced, from the list of independent nations, Geneva, Genoa, Venice, and the papal territory.
The pope had been for ages, by the liberality of Christian princes, a very considerable temporal sovereign. His dominions had been secured to him by the same solemn treaties, which had hitherto bound kingdoms and states to each other. Yet, in spite of those treaties, no sooner was the National Assembly formed, than it forcibly wrested from him a valuable part* of his possessions, under a pretext, which would sanction every robbery, viz. that it would be a very convenient addition to the French empire. From that first aggression they have never desisted, one moment, from their project of destroying the temporal sovereignty of the Roman pontiff, and, if possible, of putting an end to his spiritual supremacy in the church. And, though our Holy Father has constantly shown himself the most pacific of men, a true disciple of the meek and humble Jesus; though this his disposition has been evident before the eyes of all Europe, as Buonaparte† is obliged to acknowledge; though his unfeigned piety, his firmness and moderation amidst the greatest difficulties, his spirit of sacrifice and concession wherever his conscience and duty were not implicated, have drawn on him the veneration and love of all good men, the admiration and esteem of his enemies, and have created a lively solicitude, among the most judicious dissenters from our faith, for the preservation of his person and temporalities; notwithstanding all this, the terrible and all-devouring republic has, at length, made an occasion to rob him of all his states; and, in order to secure the co-operation of his own subjects, in the iniquitous work, she has flattered their ears with the syren sound of freedom, which will very soon terminate in the most wretched slavery.
Let me here fix your attention, for a few moments, on the common father of all the faithful. Perhaps, while I am now speaking, he is exposed to the most ignominious treatment, is insulted and reviled, as was the Redeemer of the world, whom he represents on earth; perhaps he is now confined to a horrid dungeon, loaded with chains, as was St. Peter, to whom he is a most worthy successor; or, perhaps, he has fallen a victim to the fury of the enemies of God and man, and has thus become a glorious martyr for the holy catholic faith. Children are obliged to pray for their parents; the church is bound to pray for her head: thus did the primitive Christians for St. Peter, who, on account of their prayers, was delivered from prison by the miraculous interposition of an angel. Our reverend bishop has ordered every priest to pray for the sovereign pontiff, in an especial manner, during six successive months. It is a duty which we most cheerfully undertake. We hope, that each one of you, who has the smallest love for his religion, will unite his prayers to those which are ascending, from every part of the catholic church, for the same important object. But, while we urge you earnestly to pray, we, at the same time, exhort you not to be discouraged at the present gloomy aspect of affairs in the church. Though some fanatics, in the jacobinic vehicles of slander and abuse, have lately very much exulted over the misfortunes of the pope, as if the fall of anti-christ* were near at hand; we catholics despise such ranting stuff, knowing, as we do, with the certitude of divine faith, that all their silly forebodings will prove vain; and that the church will stand and triumph, in spite of earth and hell combined against her. God has declared, that the gates of hell shall not prevail against her; and his word will be fulfilled. She has past through far more grievous trials: all the powers of the world were leagued against her from her very infancy; and for three hundred years together the greatest part of her chief pastors spilt their blood in her defence. Her past preservation is a pledge of future protection. All her sufferings were foretold by her Divine Founder, who took care to build her upon so solid a rock, that she will ever stand immoveable amidst all the floods and storms of persecution and impiety which may beat against her. Pope Pius the VIth is the successor of St. Peter, the prince of the apostles; he is the vicar of Jesus Christ on earth, and the visible head of his church; and, therefore, whatever may be his fate, yet, as sure as God is true, so sure he will have a successor, even until the end of ages. Mighty revolutions shall take place throughout the globe: kingdoms shall be changed into republics, and republics into kingdoms: civilization shall succeed to barbarism, and barbarism to civilization: Amid all these vicissitudes, still the bark of St. Peter, with his successors at the helm, shall sail triumphantly down the stream of time; and never will the pilot appear more venerable, than when he guides the vessel amidst the howling tempest and raging billows. We ought, indeed, to be deeply humbled, that iniquity is permitted to go to such lengths against God’s holy church; we ought, each one, to consider our sins as, in part, the causes of this terrible calamity; we ought, therefore, to resolve on a reformation of life, especially at this time, when the charity of very many catholics is become cold, when the enemies of the church are her own favoured children, whom she has brought up with the tenderest care and affection, and fed with the word of God and the sacraments. But, I repeat it; we must not be dismayed, as if all were lost. God’s promise will have its full and perfect effect: he is still the strong and Almighty Lord: his arm is not shortened; he will yet protect his church, which he has purchased with his own precious blood: her enemies will all be defeated and confounded; and she, like gold tried in the fire, will be purified from all her dross* in the crucible of tribulation, and will shine more bright and glorious than ever. Let these reflections be your consolation.†
All the miseries which the French have occasioned, and are now occasioning, are but the beginnings of what they meditate. Their object now clearly appears to be universal domination; and, without a miraculous interference of divine providence, we have much reason to fear that they will obtain it, at least on the continent of Europe. Spain, Portugal and Switzerland seem just ready to fall within the fraternal embrace of those ministers of divine vengeance. What will be the fate of England, against which their hatred and malice appear principally levelled, or, rather, for whose immense riches they have the most voracious desire, a period, not far distant, must disclose. In the mean time, we ought to wish ardently and pray fervently for the preservation of that magnanimous kingdom, the only remaining bulwark, in Europe, against the inroads of barbarism.
Let us now consider what has been the baseness and injustice of that great nation (as they insultingly call themselves), towards America. At a very early period of their revolution we acknowledged their existence as a republic, and formally received their ambassador; for which act we hazarded the displeasure of the principal powers of Europe then leagued against them, and war with the most formidable of them all. We sent them our bread when their ports were blockaded, and they were in a starving condition. We even went so far as to pay into their hands, and long before it became due, the debt which we had contracted with their good king, whom they had most inhumanly murdered. Our merchants were seduced to carry them the rich produce of our soil; and, to the eternal infamy of that swindling republic, they yet remain entirely unpaid, or else have been obliged to receive depreciated paper. Our vessels have been embargoed in their ports, to the very great damage of their owners; our merchants have been plundered, for years together, to the amount of millions; the stipulations of our solemn treaty with them have been continually violated; and all this injurious treatment was given us under the frivolous pretext of imperious necessity; the sense of which phrase is more intelligibly expressed in the high-wayman’s words; your purse or your life. The despots of France have continually interfered in the concerns of our government, from which they have endeavoured, by their spies, their bribes, and their nefarious and artful intrigues, to divide the body of the people. They have treated our chief magistrates with the utmost indignity and contempt: they have persuaded the people to despise and vilify their rulers, to controul the authorities constituted by themselves to act in their behalf, and to establish a system of disorganization and a wild, unprincipled, democracy, in place of our present rational liberty, which is supported by law and order. All these aggravated wrongs, all this accumulation of unmerited injury and abuse, we have forborne to resent, still hoping for redress from that generosity and justice which are innate in the human heart. We have used every mean of conciliation compatible with the dignity and honour of an independent, sovereign, people. Our government first sent over to them a gentleman of the highest respectability, with full powers to adjust all existing differences; but he was spurned from their presence, and treated with the most marked contempt. But, duly appreciating the great blessing of peace, our president still persisted in his conciliatory conduct; and, to the gentleman, whom they had already refused, he joined two others of our most distinguished citizens, fondly flattering himself, that this mark of condescension and deference would produce its proper effect. But no sooner do they arrive, than they are treated with the most sovereign indignity. Still they wait with patience: they supplicate: they suffer every degradation to effect a reconciliation,* or even an interview, with the insolent usurpers of despotic power. And what is the answer which their agents return to all these humiliations? It is this, my friends:
You must first put into our hands thirty-three millions of dollars, as a free gift and as a loan; that is, more silver than can be carried in a hundred waggons, each loaded with a ton weight: and all this enormous sum only to be admitted into our sublime presence, in order to be told, whether, and on what terms, we will make peace with you; for which peace, if we condescend to make it, you must give us as many millions of dollars as we shall be graciously pleased to demand; and our demand shall not be regulated by the justice of your claims which we acknowledge and laugh at, but by our power to exact and by your ability to pay—and if you refuse these conditions; if you do not give us, as long as you have any thing to give; we will ravage your coasts; we will treat you as we have treated Holland, Geneva, Genoa, and the other republics; nay, we will destroy you as a nation, and parcel you out to whomsoever we please, as we have done with the most ancient republic in the world, Venice, which we had but just before declared free and independent.
Such is the substance of the answer given to our envoys by the haughty sultans of France—and is there a single freeman in America, whether a native or a foreigner, whose blood does not boil within him at the bare mention of so much insolence, and who does not reply to it, in the language of our envoys; we will make one manly struggle before we comply?
Though many may have been misled, in time past, from want of proper information, and from an opinion that France was fighting in the cause of liberty, no one now, since their iniquitous and oppressive conduct towards this country has come to light, unless he be a hired villain, or naturally delight in confusion, bloodshed and rapine, can find the least apology for them. The charm of the word liberty, with which they have so long fascinated the ignorant and unwary, is now dissolved. Honest men can now openly and freely express their sentiments, without any dread of that impudent, hectoring faction, which has so long terrified peaceable people into silence, and, in some measure, over-awed our government.
From a review of what has been said, we see great cause of humiliation, before God, for the extreme depravity of the human heart. In the conduct of the usurpers and people of France, we discover what men are capable of, when they renounce their God and religion, and give themselves up to their passions. We should also be humbled, in the divine presence, on considering, that we are, at least, the partial causes of the awful judgments which are abroad in the world: nor must we flatter ourselves with being less guilty than others, because we are less severely chastised. Our situation hitherto has been truly enviable. While we bewail the crimes by which we have merited God’s anger, and deprecate his wrath, we ought to give him unfeigned thanks for all our blessings. While a notable part of the civilized, christian, world has, for several successive years, heard nothing but the din of arms and the confusion of war; we have enjoyed the happy effects of tranquillity and peace. While Jacobinism, by which I mean the principles of anarchy, disorganization, plunder and murder, has spread its baleful influence throughout the fairest portions of the universe, it has evidently made but small progress in America, notwithstanding the unwearied efforts which have been made for its propagation. That this is the case, is now very visible from the unanimous determination, which has burst forth, from one end of the Union to the other, to support our happy government, and to sacrifice every thing rather than to submit to national degradation: an unanimity, in my view, far greater than that which prevailed during our revolutionary war. In that war, many of our most respectable and virtuous citizens were on the side of Great-Britain from real motives of loyalty and of conscience; but no American can plead loyalty, religion, conscience, or any other honourable motive, for dissenting, from the body of his countrymen, in the noble stand they are now making against the most unjust, imperious, insulting and impious nation that inhabits the globe. None but the basest and most treasonable of motives can influence such a wretch. I hope, my brethren, there is not an individual among you all, who does not feel the same patriotic enthusiasm which animates the breasts of native citizens. Besides the motives for indignation, which the generality of them have, against the vile miscreants of France who wish to lord it over the world, you, as Catholics, have a motive yet more powerful; which is, that they have profaned and destroyed your churches, barbarously oppressed, banished, and murdered, your bishops, priests, monks and nuns; and have carried their audacity so far, as to lay their sacrilegious, polluted, hands on the Lord’s anointed, the visible head of the church, the common father of all the faithful. May we, then, never again hear from the mouth of any Irish Catholic, that he rejoices at every victory, and applauds every action, of the French, because they are the enemies of his English oppressors. Granting the reality of the oppression of which you complain, and that you have suffered it all purely on account of your attachment to the catholic faith, which has been the glory of your nation from St. Patrick to the present day: yet what has this in common with the defence of the constitution, the government and laws of united America? This country has received you into her bosom with the greatest affection: she makes you partakers of the same privileges and* immunities which her native sons enjoy: she takes under her protection your lives, property and religion. The most of you are probably settled here for life: many of you have wives and children, to whom you are tenderly attached, and whose welfare, as well as your own, is intimately connected with the welfare of the country. It is, therefore, evidently your interest, that America remain free and independent, in order that the blessings of liberty and good government may be transmitted to your posterity. It would be the height of baseness and ingratitude not to join heart and hand in defending the land where you earn your bread, and enjoy all the happy advantages which result from social life. England, which you deem your enemy and oppressor, it is true, is grappling with the nation which is now plundering and insulting us. It is not, for that reason, the cause of England that we are called to defend. I know, that, to engage the ignorant and unwary on the side of France, it has been said by her partisans, that she is defending the cause of all the oppressed, throughout the world, against their tyrants, and the cause of republicanism against monarchy: but this language is too stale to pass current, at this time, even with the most uninformed; especially since she has swallowed up all the republics of the old world. France is the great oppressor of the universe; and, therefore, opposition to her is the common cause of the human race against their tyrants, plunderers and murderers: it is the cause of every regular government, and of all civilized society against disorganization, anarchy and terror: it is the cause of all religion and virtue against deism, atheism and every species of immorality: it is your cause; it is my cause; it is every honest man’s cause: it is a cause, in which are deeply interested our lives, our property, our liberty, our conscience, our every thing that is dear to us for time and eternity. Fly, then, to the standard of this country; and oppose, by every mean in your power, all the open or insidious attacks of the enemy. Cheerfully subscribe your names to the address of this town to the president of the Union, in which an offer of life and fortune is made to him for the efficient defence of the country. No neutrality, my brethren: “he that is not with me, is against me,” is as true with respect to the land that feeds you, as with respect to God himself. Avoid all those men who seek to inflame your passions against England, in order to range you on the side of France. Read none of those seditious, lying, papers, in which our own rulers, the men of our choice, and all their measures, are perpetually villified, calumniated, and misrepresented, and in which every thing that is done by the French, however absurd, inconsistent and infamous, is forever extolled, and held up as the model of perfection; papers which, with truth and liberty for their motto, are always replete with falsehood and with the sentiments of slaves.
If you wish to escape the horrors which jacobinism has produced in France, and wherever else its pestilential maxims have gained ground, you must strive to destroy it in the bud; that is, you must suppress all insubordination, disobedience, or even disrespect, towards your civil rulers, as well as towards your ecclesiastical superiors. You have heard much of the rights of man, it is high time now to attend to the duties of man. Remember, that no one can ever have a right to do wrong, and that obedience and respect to your lawfully established rulers are among your strictest duties. The contrary conduct is extremely wrong and sinful. A spirit of disobedience and revolt is strangely prevalent among children and servants. This is, at present, a very general complaint;* and it is an abundant source of jacobinism in the state. Attend, therefore, to family discipline; keep your dependents in proper subjection, and they will contract those habits of obedience and submission which will render them good citizens, and which will effectually counteract all the attempts of disorganizers to introduce anarchy and confusion into this now peaceful and happy land.
[* ]This mode of putting people to death they blasphemously called the national baptism.
[* ]The Rev. Messrs. Matignon and Chevrus, who now superintend the catholic congregation in Boston.
[* ]Bishop Watson.
[† ]See his letter to the pope.
[* ]There are many persons who fancy, and boldly assert, that all the impieties and disorders of the French revolution are so many steps to bring about, what they term, the millenium, a mere chimerical state, which will never have an existence except in their imagination. If such be the prelude, how glorious must be the millenium itself! Strange, that they do not clearly see, that all these things, instead of being signs of the overthrow of anti-christ already established, are the predicted forerunners of his approaching reign!
[* ]By dross I mean bad members of the church, whether they be clergymen or laymen. These are separated from her by the fire of persecution. By dross I likewise intend all deviations, in practice, from the holy doctrine and morality of the Catholic church, which we hold to be always infallible and invariable. We believe also, that the church is infallible in her general discipline, that is, that her rules of government for all the societies in her communion, however varied according to circumstances, are always infallibly best, every thing considered—and this triple infallibility, of doctrine, morality and general discipline, we suppose to be fully implied in Christ’s promises, that he will be always with his church, that the gates of hell shall never prevail against her, and that the Holy Ghost shall teach her all truth and abide with her forever.
[† ]What is here said, it is hoped, is a sufficient answer to Dr. Belknap’s remarks on popery, in his fast-sermon. After “about twenty years of attentive contemplation, with the best helps,” he has at length made the ludicrous discovery, that the English and French governments are “rotten toes of Nebuchadnezzar’s image,” and that the pope is doubtless a beast and a whore. Wonderful proficiency in study! Quere. How happens it, that the word whore, which the lowest of the vulgar can scarcely utter without a blush, can be employed so freely before the most respectable congregations, consisting in great part of modest ladies? I should have thought, Doctor, that, after the observations which I addressed, some years since, to you and to your brother Lathrop, and which, to this day, remain unanswered, mere shame would have prevented your repetition of the same insipid ditty.
[* ]While this discourse was preparing for the press, the memorial of our envoys made its appearance. Their humble and adulatory language to the tyrants of France can scarcely be excused by the ardent desire of peace which dictated it. In every thing else it must be gratifying to the honest pride of true Americans.
[* ]I speak here of the federal government; for, in several of the states, as in Massachusetts, Roman Catholics are subjected to certain disqualifications.
[* ]Without being a prophet or the son of a prophet, I venture to predict, that proper subordination, among the youth of this town, can never be re-established, until the mode and degree of correction be again placed in the hands of the school-masters. Their situation, at present, is too servile and dependent.