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The 5th Day of Christmas: Samuel Cooper on the Articles of Confederation and peace on earth (1780)

The Massachusetts clergyman Samuel Cooper (1725-1783) gave a patriotic sermon in 1780 to celebrate the adoption of the Articles of Confederation. He concludes by urging his listeners to help build “the new city” in America by making the wilderness fruitful, inviting the injured and oppressed to come to America, and to create a country which “breaths” the principles of “peace on earth, and good will towards men”:

Our mountains, our rivers and lakes have a singular air of dignity and grandeur. May our conduct correspond to the face of our country! At present an immense part of it lies as nature hath left it, and human labour and art have done but little, and brightened only some small specks of a continent that can afford ample means of subsistence to many, many millions of the human race. It remains with us and our posterity, to “make the wilderness become a fruitful field, and the desert blossom as the rose”; to establish the honour and happiness of this new world, as far as it may be justly our own, and to invite the injured and oppressed, the worthy and the good to these shores, by the most liberal governments, by wise political institutions, by cultivating the confidence and friendship of other nations, and by a sacred attention to that gospel that breaths “peace on earth, and good will towards men.” Thus will our country resemble the new city which St. John saw “coming down from God out of heaven, adorned as a bride for her husband.” Is there a benevolent spirit on earth, or on high, whom such a prospect would not delight?

… So favourable, through the divine superintendence, is the present situation of the powers in Europe, to the liberties and independence for which we are contending. But as individuals must part with some natural liberties for the sake of the security and advantages of society; the same kind of commutation must take place in the great republic of nations. The rights of kingdoms and states have their bounds; and as in our own establishment we are not likely to find reason, I trust we shall never have an inclination to exceed these bounds, and justly to excite the jealousy and opposition of other nations. It is thus wisdom, moderation and sound policy would connect kingdoms and states for their mutual advantage, and preserve the order and harmony of the world. In all this these free states will find their own security, and rise by natural and unenvied degrees to that eminence, for which, I would fain perswade myself, we are designed.

It is laudable to lay the foundations of our republicks with extended views. Rome rose to empire because she early thought herself destined for it. The great object was continually before the eyes of her sons: It enlarged and invigorated their minds; it excited their vigilance; it elated their courage, and prepared them to embrace toils and dangers, and submit to every regulation friendly to the freedom and prosperity of Rome. They did great things because they believed themselves capable, and born to do them. They reverenced themselves and their country; and animated with unbounded respect for it, they every day added to its strength and glory. Conquest is not indeed the aim of these rising states; sound policy must ever forbid it: We have before us an object more truly great and honourable. We seem called by heaven to make a large portion of this globe a seat of knowledge and liberty, of agriculture, commerce, and arts, and what is more important than all, of christian piety and virtue. A celebrated British historian observes, if I well remember, that the natural features of America are peculiarly striking. Our mountains, our rivers and lakes have a singular air of dignity and grandeur. May our conduct correspond to the face of our country! At present an immense part of it lies as nature hath left it, and human labour and art have done but little, and brightened only some small specks of a continent that can afford ample means of subsistence to many, many millions of the human race. It remains with us and our posterity, to “make the wilderness become a fruitful field, and the desert blossom as the rose”; to establish the honour and happiness of this new world, as far as it may be justly our own, and to invite the injured and oppressed, the worthy and the good to these shores, by the most liberal governments, by wise political institutions, by cultivating the confidence and friendship of other nations, and by a sacred attention to that gospel that breaths “peace on earth, and good will towards men.” Thus will our country resemble the new city which St. John saw “coming down from God out of heaven, adorned as a bride for her husband.” Is there a benevolent spirit on earth, or on high, whom such a prospect would not delight?

O thou supreme Governor of the world, whose arm hath done great things for us, establish the foundations of this commonwealth, and evermore defend it with the saving strength of thy right hand! Grant that here the divine constitutions of Jesus thy Son may ever be honoured and maintained! Grant that it may be the residence of all private and patriotic virtues, of all that enlightens and supports, all that sweetens and adorns human society, till the states and kingdoms of this world shall be swallowed up in thine own kingdom: In that, which alone is immortal, may we obtain a perfect citizenship, and enjoy in its completion, “the glorious Liberty of the Sons of God![”] And let all the people say, Amen!

About this Quotation:

This quotation is part of a series for “The Twelve Days of Christmas” on the theme of “Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace, good will towards men” [Luke 2:14]

Cooper’s very long patriotic sermon was regarded as a model of its kind when it appeared in 1780 and was translated into other languages and circulated widely. He extolls the sacrifices made by patriots during the revolutionary war and upholds a vision of what America might become. He invokes the vision of America as the new “holy city, the new Jerusalem” spoken about by John in the Book of Revelation where the city comes “down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev. 21:14). Cooper hopes that the Americans will be able to live up to the promise of their new country. This they can do if they follow a number of conditions which he sets out: that they believe in their ability to transform the new world into a fruitful and productive land, that they do so by the “human labour and art” of the both the existing settlers as well as by millions of “the injured and oppressed, the worthy and the good” who will come to its shores, that they preserve their liberal government and institutions, that they establish friendly relations with other countries, and that they devote “sacred attention” to creating a country which “breaths” the principles of “peace on earth, and good will towards men”. One should also note an important proviso mentioned by Cooper, namely that “to establish the honour and happiness of this new world” the Americans could only make use of the land and its resources “as far as it may be justly our own.”

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