Observations on the Importance of the American Revolution
of the American Revolution
The Means of making it a Benefit to
Having reason to hope I should be attended to in the American States and thinking I saw an opening there favourable to the improvement and best interests of mankind, I have been induced to convey thither the sentiments and advice contained in the following Observations. They were, therefore, originally intended only for America. The danger of a spurious edition has now obliged me to publish them in my own country.
I should be inexcusable did I not take this opportunity to express my gratitude to a distinguished writer (the Count de Mirabeau) for his translation of these Observations into French, and for the support and kind civility with which it has been accompanied ...
I think it necessary to add that I have expressed myself in some respects too strongly in the conclusion of the following Observations. By accounts from persons the best informed, I have lately been assured that no such dissentions exist among the American States as have been given out in this country, that the new governments are in general well settled, and the people happy under them, and that, in particular, a conviction is becoming universal of the necessity of giving more strength to that power which forms and which is to conduct and maintain their union.
Having, from pure conviction, taken a warm part in favour of the British colonies (now the United States of America) during the late war and been exposed, in consequence of this, to much abuse and some danger, it must be supposed that I have been waiting for the issue with anxiety. I am thankful that my anxiety is removed and that I have been spared to be a witness to that very issue of the war which has been all along the object of my wishes. With heartfelt satisfaction I see the revolution in favour of universal liberty which has taken place in America, a revolution which opens a new prospect in human affairs and begins a new aera in the history of mankind, a revolution by which Britons themselves will be the greatest gainers, if wise enough to improve properly the check that has been given to the despotism of their ministers, and to catch the flame of virtuous liberty which has saved their American brethren.
The late war, in its commencement and progress, did great good by disseminating just sentiments of the rights of mankind and the nature of legitimate government, by exciting a spirit of resistance to tyranny which has emancipated one European country and is likely to emancipate others, and by occasioning the establishment in America of forms of government more equitable and more liberal than any that the world has yet known. But, in its termination, the war has done still greater good by preserving the new governments from that destruction in which they must have been involved, had Britain conquered, by providing, in a sequestrated continent possessed of many singular advantages, a place of refuge for opprest men in every region of the world, and by laying the foundation there of an empire which may be the seat of liberty, science and virtue, and from whence there is reason to hope these sacred blessings will spread till they become universal and the time arrives when kings and priests shall have no more power to oppress, and that ignominious slavery which has hitherto debased the world exterminated. I therefore think I see the hand of Providence in the late war working for the general good.
Reason, as well as tradition and revelation, lead us to expect that a more improved and happy state of human affairs will take place before the consummation of all things. The world has hitherto been gradually improving. Light and knowledge have been gaining ground, and human life at present, compared with what it once was, is much the same that a youth approaching to manhood is compared with an infant.
Such are the natures of things that this progress must continue. During particular intervals it may be interrupted, but it cannot be destroy'd. Every present advance prepares the way for farther advances, and a single experiment or discovery may sometimes give rise to so many more as suddenly to raise the species higher and to resemble the effects of opening a new sense or of the fall of a spark on a train that springs a mine. For this reason mankind may at last arrive at degrees of improvement which we cannot now even suspect to be possible. A dark age may follow an enlightened age but, in this case, the light, after being smothered for a time, will break out again with a brighter lustre. The present age of increased light, considered as succeeding the ages of Greece and Rome and an intermediate period of thick darkness, furnishes a proof of the truth of this observation. There are certain kinds of improvement which, when once made, cannot be entirely lost. During the dark ages the improvements made in the ages that preceded them remained so far as to be recovered immediately at the resurrection of letters, and to produce afterwards that more rapid progress in improvement which has distinguished modem times.
There can scarcely be a more pleasing and encouraging object of reflection than this. An accidental observation of the effects of gravity in a garden has been the means of discovering the laws that govern the solar system, and of enabling us to look down with pity on the ignorance of the most enlightened times among the antients. What new dignity has been given to man, and what additions have been made to his powers, by the invention of optical glasses, printing, gun powder, etc., and by the late discoveries in navigation, mathematics, natural philosophy, etc.!
But among the events in modem times tending to the elevation of mankind, there are none probably of so much consequence as the recent one which occasions these observations. Perhaps I do not go too far when I say that, next to the introduction of Christianity among mankind, the American revolution may prove the most important step in the progressive course of improvement. It is an event which may produce a general diffusion of the principles of humanity, and become the means of setting free mankind from the shackles of superstition and tyranny, by leading them to see and know 'that nothing is fundamental but impartial enquiry, an honest mind, and virtuous practice, that state policy ought not to be applied to the support of speculative opinions and formularies of faith'. 'That the members of a civil community are confederates not subjects, and their rulers, servants not masters. And that all legitimate government consists in the dominion of equal laws made with common consent, that is, in the dominion of men over themselves, and not in the dominion of communities over communities, or of any men over other men.'
Happy will the world be when these truths shall be every where acknowledged and practised upon. Religious bigotry, that cruel demon, will be then laid asleep. Slavish governments and slavish hierarchies will then sink and the old prophecies be verified, 'that the last universal empire upon earth shall be the empire of reason and virtue, under which the gospel of peace (better understood) shall have free course and be glorified, many will run to and fro and knowledge be increased, the wolf dwell with the lamb and the leopard with the kid, and nation no more lift up a sword against nation.'
It is a conviction I cannot resist that the independence of the English colonies in America is one of the steps ordained by Providence to introduce these times and I can scarcely be deceived in this conviction if the United States should escape some dangers which threaten them and will take proper care to throw themselves open to future improvements and to make the most of the advantages of their present situation. Should this happen, it will be true of them as it was of the people of the Jews, that in them all the families of the earth shall be blessed. It is scarcely possible they should think too highly of their own consequence. Perhaps there never existed a people on whose wisdom and virtue more depended or to whom a station of more importance in the plan of Providence has been assigned. They have begun nobly. They have fought with success for themselves and the world, and, in the midst of invasion and carnage, established forms of government favourable in the highest degree to the rights of mankind. But they have much more to do, more indeed than it is possible properly to represent. In this address my design is only to take notice of a few great points which seem particularly to require their attention in order to render them permanently happy in themselves and useful to mankind. On these points I shall deliver my sentiments with freedom, conscious I mean well, but, at the same time, with real diffidence, conscious of my own liableness to error.
It seems evident that what first requires the attention of the United States is the redemption of their debts and making compensation to that army which has carried them through the war. They have an infant credit to cherish and rear which, if this is not done, must perish, and with it their character and honour for ever. Nor is it conceivable they should meet with any great difficulty in doing this. They have a vast resource peculiar to themselves in a continent of unlocated lands possessing every advantage of soil and climate. The settlement of these lands will be rapid, the consequence of which must be a rapid increase of their value. By disposing of them to the army and to emigrants, the greatest part of the debts of the United States may probably be sunk immediately. But had they no such resource, they are very capable of bearing taxes sufficient for the purpose of a gradual redemption. Supposing their debts to amount to nine millions sterling carrying interest at 5½ per cent, taxes producing a revenue of a million per ann. would pay the interest and at the same time leave a surplus of half a million per ann. for a sinking fund which would discharge the principal in thirteen years. A surplus of a quarter of a million would do the same in 20½ years. After discharging the principal, the appropriated revenue being no longer wanted, might be abolished and the states eased of the burthen of it. But it would be imprudent to abolish it entirely, £100,000 per ann. reserved and faithfully laid out in clearing unlocated lands and other improvements, would in a short time increase to a treasure (or continental patrimony) which would defray the whole expenditure of the union, and keep the states free from debts and taxes for ever.
Such a reserve would (supposing it improved so as to produce a profit of 5 per cent.) increase to a capital of three millions in 19 years, 30 millions in 57 years and 261 millions in 100 years. But supposing it capable of being improved so as to produce a profit of 10 per cent. it would increase to five millions in 19 years, 100 millions in 49 years, and 10,000 millions in 97 years.
It is wonderful that no state has yet thought of taking this method to make itself great and rich. The smallest appropriation in a sinking fund, never diverted, operates in cancelling debts, just as money increases at compound interest and is, therefore, omnipotent. But, if diverted, it loses all its power. Britain affords a striking proof of this. Its sinking fund (once the hope of the kingdom) has, by the practice of alienating it, been rendered impotent and useless. Had it been inviolably applied to the purpose for which it was intended, there would, in the year 1775, have been a surplus in the revenue of more than five millions per ann. But instead of this, we were then encumbered with a debt of 137 millions, carrying an interest of near 42 millions, and leaving no surplus of any consequence. This debt has been since increased to 280 millions, carrying an interest (including expences of management) of nine millions and a half. A monstrous bubble, and if no very strong measures are soon taken to reduce it within the limits of safety, it must produce a dreadful convulsion. Let the United States take warning. Their debts at present are moderate. A sinking fund, guarded against misapplication, may soon extinguish them and prove a resource in all events of the greatest importance.
I must not, however, forget that there is one of their debts on which no sinking fund can have any effect and which it is impossible for them to discharge, A debt, greater, perhaps, than has been ever due from any country and which will be deeply felt by their latest posterity. But it is a debt of gratitude only of gratitude to that General, who has been raised up by Providence to make them free and independent, and whose name must shine among the first in the future annals of the benefactors of mankind.
The measures now proposed may preserve America for ever from too great an accumulation of debts and, consequently of taxes an evil which is likely to be the ruin not only of Britain, but of other European states. But there are measures of yet greater consequence which I wish ardently to recommend and inculcate.
For the sake of mankind I wish to see every measure adopted that can have a tendency to preserve peace in America and to make it an open and fair stage for discussion and the seat of perfect liberty.
Civil government is an expedient for collecting the wisdom and force of a community or confederacy in order to preserve its peace and liberty against every hostile invasion, whether from within or from without. In the latter of these respects the United States are happily secured, but they are far from being equally happy in the former respect. Having now, in consequence of their successful resistance of the invasion of Britain, united in their remoteness from Europe, no external enemy to fear, they are in danger of fighting with one another. This is their greatest danger and providing securities against it is their hardest work. Should they fail in this, America may some time or other be turned into a scene of blood and, instead of being the hope and refuge of the world, may become a terror to it.
When a dispute arises among individuals in a state, an appeal is made to a court of law, that is, to the wisdom and justice of the state. The court decides. The losing party acquiesces or, if he does not, the power of the state forces him to submission, and thus the effects of contention are supprest and peace is maintained. In a way similar to this, peace may be maintained between any number of confederate states and I can almost imagine that it is not impossible but that by such means universal peace may be produced and all war excluded from the world. Why may we not hope to see this begun in America? The articles of confederation make considerable advances towards it. When a dispute arises between any of the states they order an appeal to Congress, an enquiry by Congress, a hearing, and a decision. But here they stop. What is most of all necessary is omitted. No provision is made for enforcing the decisions of Congress, and this renders them inefficient and futile. I am by no means qualified to point out the best method of removing this defect. Much must be given up for this purpose, nor is it easy to give up too much. Without all doubt the powers of Congress must be enlarged. In particular, a power must be given it to collect, on certain emergencies, the force of the confederacy and to employ it in carrying its decisions into execution. A state against which a decision is made will yield of course when it knows that such a force exists and that it allows no hope from resistance.
By this force I do not mean a standing army. God forbid that standing armies should ever find an establishment in America. They are every where the grand supports of arbitrary power and the chief causes of the depression of mankind. No wise people will trust their defence out of their own hands, or consent to hold their rights at the mercy of armed slaves. Free states ought to be bodies of armed citizens, well regulated and well disciplined, and always ready to turn out, when properly called upon, to execute the laws, to quell riots, and to keep the peace. Such, if I am rightly informed, are the citizens of America. Why then may not Congress be furnished with a power of calling out from the confederated states quotas of militias sufficient to force at once the compliance of any state which may shew an inclination to break the union by resisting its decisions?
I am very sensible that it will be difficult to guard such a power against abuse, and, perhaps, better means of answering this end are discoverable. In human affairs, however, the choice generally offered us is 'of two evils to take the least'. We chuse the restraint of civil government because a less evil than anarchy and, in like manner, in the present instance, the danger of the abuse of power and of its being employed sometimes to enforce wrong decisions, must be submitted to, because a less evil than the misery of intestine wars. Much, however, may be done to lessen this danger. Such regulations as those in the ninth of the Articles of Confederation will, in a great measure, prevent hasty and partial decisions. The rotation established by the fifth article will prevent that corruption of character which seldom fails to be produced by the long possession of power, and the right reserved to every state of recalling its delegates when dissatisfied with them, will keep them constantly responsible and cautious.
The observations now made must be extended to money transactions. Congress must be trusted with a power of procuring supplies for defraying the expences of the confederation, of contracting debts, and providing funds for discharging them, and this power must not be capable of being defeated by the opposition of any minority in the states.
In short, the credit of the United States, their strength, their respectableness abroad, their liberty at home, and even their existence, depend on the preservation of a firm political union; and such an union cannot be preserved without giving all possible weight and energy to the authority of that delegation which constitutes the union.
Would it not be proper to take periodical surveys of the different states, their numbers of both sexes in every stage of life, their condition, occupations, property, etc.? Would not such surveys, in conjunction with accurate registers of births, marriages and deaths at all ages, afford much important instruction by shewing what laws govern human mortality and what situations, employments, and civil institutions are most favourable to the health and happiness of mankind? Would they not keep constantly in view the progress of population in the states, and the increase or decline of their resources? But more especially, are they not the only means of procuring the necessary information for determining accurately and equitably the proportions of men and money to be contributed by each state for supporting and strengthening the confederation?
The next point I would insist on, as an object of supreme importance, is the establishment of such a system of perfect liberty, religious as well as civil, in America as shall render it a country where truth and reason shall have fair play and the human powers find full scope for exerting themselves and for shewing how far they can carry human improvement.
The faculties of man have hitherto, in all countries, been more or less cramped by the interference of civil authority in matters of speculation, by tyrannical laws against heresy and schism, and by slavish hierarchies and religious establishments. It is above all things desirable that no such fetters on reason should be admitted into America. I observe, with inexpressible satisfaction, that at present they have no existence there. In this respect the governments of the United States are liberal to a degree that is unparalleled. They have the distinguished honour of being the first states under heaven in which forms of government have been established favourable to universal liberty. They have been thus distinguished in their infancy. What then will they be in a more advanced state, when time and experience, and the concurring assistance of the wise and virtuous in every part of the earth shall have introduced into the new governments, corrections and amendments which will render them still more friendly to liberty, and more the means of promoting human happiness and dignity? May we not see the dawning of brighter days on earth and a new creation rising. But I must check myself. I am in danger of being carried too far by the ardor of my hopes.
The liberty I mean includes in it liberty of conduct in all civil matters, liberty of discussion in all speculative matters, and liberty of conscience in all religious matters. And it is then perfect, when under no restraint except when used to injure any one in his person, property, or good name, that is, except when used to destroy itself.
In liberty of discussion, I include the liberty of examining all public measures and the conduct of all public men, and of writing and publishing on all speculative and doctrinal points.
It is a common opinion that there are some doctrines so sacred, and others of so bad a tendency, that no public discussion of them ought to be allowed. Were this a right opinion all the persecution that has ever been practised would be justified. For, if it is a part of the duty of civil magistrates to prevent the discussion of such doctrines, they must, in doing this, act on their own judgments of the nature and tendency of doctrines, and, consequently, they must have a right to prevent the discussion of all doctrines which they think to be too sacred for discussion, or too dangerous in their tendency, and this right they must exercise in the only way in which civil power is capable of exercising it, 'by inflicting penalties on all who oppose sacred doctrines, or who maintain pernicious opinions'. In Mahometan countries, therefore, civil magistrates have a right to silence and punish all who oppose the divine mission of Mahomet, a doctrine there reckoned of the most sacred nature. The like is true of the doctrines of substantiation, worship of the Virgin Mary, etc. in Popish countries, and of the doctrines of the Trinity, satisfaction, etc. in Protestant countries. In England itself this principle has been acted upon and produced the laws which subject to severe penalties all who write or speak against the supreme divinity of Christ, the Book of Common Prayer, and the Church Articles of Faith. All such laws are right if the opinion I have mentioned is right. But in reality, civil power has nothing to do with any such matters, and civil governors go miserably out of their proper province whenever they take upon them the care of truth or the support of any doctrinal points. They are not judges of truth and if they pretend to decide about it, they will decide wrong. This all the countries under heaven think of the application of civil power to doctrinal points in every country but their own. It is, indeed, superstition, idolatry, and nonsense, that civil power at present supports almost everywhere under the idea of supporting sacred truth and opposing dangerous error. Would not, therefore, its perfect neutrality be the greatest blessing? Would not the interest of truth gain unspeakably were all the rulers of states to aim at nothing but keeping the peace, or did they consider themselves as bound to take care, not of the future, but the present interest of men, not of their souls and their faith but of their persons and property, not of any ecclesiastical, but secular matters only? All the experience of past time proves that the consequence of allowing civil power to judge of the nature and tendency of doctrines must be making it a hindrance to the progress of truth and an enemy to the improvement of the world. Anaxagoras was condemned in Greece for teaching that the sun and stars were not Deities, but masses of corruptible matter. Accusations of a like kind contributed to the death of Socrates. The threats of bigots and the fear of persecution prevented Copernicus from publishing, during his whole life time, his discovery of the true system of the world. Galileo was obliged to renounce the doctrine of the motion of the earth, and suffered a year's imprisonment for having asserted it. And so lately as the year 1742, the best commentary on the first production of human genius (Newton's Principia) was not allowed to be printed at Rome because it asserted this doctrine, and the learned commentators were obliged to prefix to their work a declaration that on this point they submitted to the decisions of the supreme Pontiffs. Such have been and such (while men continue blind and ignorant) will always be the consequence of the interposition of civil governments in matters of speculation.
When men associate for the purpose of civil government, they do it, not to defend truth or to support formularies of faith and speculative opinions, but to defend their civil rights and to protect one another on the free exercise of their mental and corporeal powers. The interference, therefore, of civil authority in such cases is directly contrary to the end of its institution. The way in which it can best promote the interest and dignity of mankind (as far as they can be promoted by the discovery of truth) is by encouraging them to search for truth wherever they can find it, and by protecting them in doing this against the attacks of malevolence and bigotry. Should any attempt be made by contending sects to injure one another, its power will come in properly to crush the attempt and to maintain for all sects equal liberty by punishing every encroachment upon it. The conduct of a civil magistrate, on such an occasion, should be that of Gallio the wise Roman proconsul who, on receiving an accusation of the apostle Paul, would not listen to it, but drove from his presence the accusers who had laid violent hands upon him, after giving them the following admonition, If it were a matter of wrong or wicked lewdness, reason would require that I should bear with you. But if it be a question of words and names and the law, look you to it. For I will be no judge of such matters. How much happier would the world have been had all magistrates acted in this manner? Let America learn this important lesson and profit by the experience of past times. A dissent from established opinions and doctrines has indeed often miserably disturbed society and produced mischief and bloodshed. But it should be remembered that this has been owing to the establishment of the points dissented from, and the use of civil power to enforce the reception of them. Had civil government done its duty, left all free, and employed itself in procuring instead of restraining fair discussion, all mischief would have been avoided and mankind would have been raised higher than they are in knowledge and improvement.
When Christianity, that first and best of all the means of human improvement, was first preached it was charged with turning the world upside down. The leaders of Jewish and Pagan establishments were alarmed and by opposing the propagation of it, converted a religion of peace and love into an occasion of violence and slaughter and thus verified our Lord's prophecy that he was come not to send peace, but a sword on earth. All this was the effect of the misapplication of the powers of government. Instead of creating, they should have been employed in preventing such mischief and been active only in causing the Christian cause to receive a fair hearing and guarding the propagators of it against insult. The like observation may be made concerning the first reformers. What we all see would have been right in pagan and popish governments with respect to Christianity and the Reformation, would it not be now right in Christian or Protestant governments, were any attempts made to propagate a new religion or any doctrines advanced opposite to those now held sacred? Such attempts, if unsupported by reason and evidence, would soon come to nothing. An imposture cannot stand the test of fair and open examination. On the contrary, the cause of truth will certainly be served by it. Mahometanism would have sunk as soon as it rose, had no other force than that of evidence been employed to propagate it; and it is an unspeakable recommendation of Christianity that it made its way till it became the religion of the world in one of its most enlightened periods, by evidence only, in opposition to the strongest exertions of civil power. There cannot be a more striking proof that nothing but fair discussion is necessary to suppress error and to propagate truth. I am grieved, indeed, whenever I find any Christians shewing a disposition to call in the aid of civil power to defend their religion. Nothing can be more disgraceful to it. If it wants such aid it cannot be of God. Its corruption and debasement took place from the moment that civil power took it under its patronage, and this corruption and debasement increased till at last it was converted into a system of absurdity and superstition more gross and more barbarous than Paganism itself. The religion of Christ disclaims all connexion with the civil establishments of the world. It has suffered infinitely by their friendship. Instead of silencing its opponents, let them be encouraged to produce their strongest arguments against it. The experience of Britain has lately shewn that this will only cause it to be better understood and more firmly believed.
I would extend these observations to all points of faith, however sacred they may be deemed. Nothing reasonable can suffer by discussion. All doctrines really sacred must be clear and incapable of being opposed with success. If civil authority interposes it will be to support some misconception or abuse of them.
That immoral tendency of doctrines which has been urged as a reason against allowing the public discussion of them must be either avowed and direct, or only a consequence with which they are charged. If it is avowed and direct, such doctrines certainly will not spread. The principles rooted in human nature will resist them and the advocates of them will be soon disgraced. If, on the contrary, it is only a consequence with which a doctrine is charged, it should be considered how apt all parties are to charge the doctrines they oppose with bad tendencies. It is well known, that Calvinists and Arminians, Trinitarians and Socinians, Fatalists and Free-willers, are continually exclaiming against one another's opinions as dangerous and licentious. Even Christianity itself could not, at its first introduction, escape mis accusation. The professors of it were considered as atheists, because they opposed pagan idolatry, and their religion was on this account reckoned a destructive and pernicious enthusiasm. If, therefore, the rulers of a state are to prohibit the propagation of all doctrines in which they apprehend immoral tendencies, an opening will be made, as I have before observed, for every species of persecution. There will be no doctrine, however true or important, the avowal of which will not in some country or other be subjected to civil penalties. Undoubtedly, there are doctrines which have such tendencies. But the tendencies of speculative opinions have often very little effect on practice. The Author of nature has planted in the human mind principles and feelings which will operate in opposition to any theories that may seem to contradict them. Every sect, whatever may be its tenets, has some salvo for the necessity of virtue. The philosophers who hold that matter and motion have no existence except in our own ideas are capable of believing this only in their closets. The same is true of the philosophers who hold that nothing exists but matter and motion, and at the same time teach that man has no self-determining power; that an unalterable fate governs all things; and that no one is any thing that he can avoid being, or does any tiling that he can avoid doing. These philosophers when they come out into the world act as other men do. Common sense never fails to get the better of their theories, and I know that many of them are some of the best as well as the ablest men in me world and the warmest friends to me true interests of society. Though their doctrine may seem to furnish an apology for vice, their practice is an exhibition of virtue and a government which would silence them would greatly injure itself. Only overt acts of injustice, violence or defamation, come properly under the cognizance of civil power. Were a person now to go about London teaching that 'property is founded in grace', I should, were I a magistrate, let him alone while he did nothing but teach, without being under any other apprehension than that he would soon find a lodging in Bedlam. But were he to attempt to carry his doctrine into its consequences by actually stealing, under the pretence of his right as a saint to the property of his neighbours, I should think it my duty to lay hold of him as a felon, without regarding the opinion from which he acted.
I am persuaded that few or no inconveniencies would arise from such a liberty. If the magistrates will do their duty as soon as violence begins or any oven acts which break the peace are committed, no great harm will arise from their keeping themselves neutral till then. Let, however, the contrary be supposed. Let it be granted that civil authority will in this case often be too late in its exertions, the just inference will be, not that the liberty I plead for ought not to be allowed, but that there will be two evils between which an option must be made, and the least of which must be preferred. One is the evil just mentioned. The other includes in it every evil which can arise from making the rulers of states judges of the tendency of doctrines, subjecting freedom of enquiry to the controul of their ignorance and perpetuating darkness, intolerance and slavery. I need not say which of these evils is least.
In liberty of conscience I include much more than toleration. Jesus Christ has established a perfect equality among his followers. His command is, that they shall assume no jurisdiction over one another and acknowledge no master besides himself. It is, therefore, presumption in any of them to claim a right to any superiority or preeminence over their brethren. Such a claim is implied whenever any of them pretend to tolerate the rest. Not only all Christians but all men of all religions ought to be considered by a state as equally entitled to its protection as far as they demean themselves honestly and peacably. Toleration can take place only where there is a civil establishment of a particular mode of religion, that is, where a predominant sect enjoys exclusive advantages, and makes the encouragement of its own mode of faith and worship a part of the constitution of the state, but at the same time thinks fit to suffer the exercise of other modes of faith and worship. Thanks be to God, the new American States are at present strangers to such establishments. In this respect, as well as many others, they have shewn, in framing their constitutions a degree of wisdom and liberality which is above all praise.
Civil establishments of formularies of faith and worship are inconsistent with the rights of private judgment. They engender strife. They turn religion into a trade. They shoar up error. They produce hypocrisy and prevarication. They lay an undue byass on the human mind in its enquiries, and obstruct the progress of truth. Genuine religion is a concern that lies entirely between God and our own souls. It is incapable of receiving any aid from human laws. It is contaminated as soon as worldly motives and sanctions mix their influence with it. Statesmen should countenance it only by exhibiting in their own example a conscientious regard to it in those forms which are most agreeable to their own judgments, and by encouraging their fellow-citizens in doing the same. They cannot as public men give it any other assistance. All besides that has been called a public leading in religion, has done it an essential injury, and produced some of the worst consequences.
The Church Establishment in England is one of the mildest and best sort. But even here what a snare has it been to integrity? And what a check to free enquiry? What dispositions favourable to despotism has it fostered? What a turn to pride and narrowness and domination has it given the clerical character? What struggles has it produced in its members to accommodate their opinions to the subscriptions and tests which it imposes? What a perversion of learning has it occasioned to defend obsolete creeds and absurdities? What a burthen is it on the consciences of some of its best clergy who, in consequence of being bound down to a system they do not approve, and having no support except that which they derive from conforming to it, find themselves under the hard necessity of either prevaricating or starving? No one doubts but that the English clergy in general could with more truth declare that they do not, than that they do, given their unfeigned assent to all and everything contained in the Thirty-nine Articles and the Book of Common-Prayer; and yet, with a solemn declaration to this purpose, are they obliged to enter upon an office which above all offices requires those who exercise it to be examples of simplicity and sincerity. Who can help execrating the cause of such an evil?
But what I wish most to urge is the tendency of religious establishments to impede the improvement of the world. They are boundaries prescribed by human folly to human investigation, and inclosures which intercept the light and confine the exertions of reason. Let any one imagine to himself what effects similar establishments would have in philosophy, navigation, metaphysicks, medicine or mathematicks. Something like this took place in logick and philosophy while the ipse dixit of Aristotle and the nonsense of the schools maintained an authority like that of the creeds of churchmen. And the effect was a longer continuance of the world in the ignorance and barbarity of the dark ages. But civil establishments of religion are more pernicious. So apt are mankind to misrepresent the character of the Deity and connect his favour with particular modes of faith, that it must be expected that a religion so settled will be what it has hitherto been a gloomy and cruel superstition bearing the name of religion.
It has been long a subject of dispute, which is worse in its effects on society, such a religion or speculative atheism. For my own part, I could almost give the preference to the latter. Atheism is so repugnant to every principle of common sense that it is not possible it should ever gain much ground or become very prevalent. On the contrary, there is a particular proneness in the human mind to superstition, and nothing is more likely to become prevalent. Atheism leaves us to the full influence of most of our natural feelings and social principles and these are so strong in their operation that in general they are a sufficient guard to the order of society. But superstition counteracts these principles by holding forth men to one another as objects of divine hatred, and by putting them on harassing, silencing, imprisoning and burning one another in order to do God service. Atheism is a sanctuary for vice by taking away the motives to virtue arising from the will of God and the fear of a future judgment. But superstition is more a sanctuary for vice by teaching men ways of pleasing God without moral virtue and by leading them even to compound for wickedness by ritual services, by bodily penances and mortifications, by adorning shrines, doing pilgrimages, saying many prayers, receiving absolution from the priest, exterminating heretics, etc. Atheism destroys the sacredness and obligation of an oath. But has there not been also a religion (so called) which has done this, by leading its professors to a persuasion that there exists a power on earth which can dispense with the obligation of oaths, that pious frauds are right and that faith is not to be kept with heretics?
It is indeed only a rational and liberal religion, a religion founded on just notions of the Deity as a being who regards equally every sincere worshipper, and by whom all are alike favoured as far as they act up to the light they enjoy, a religion which consists in the imitation of the moral perfections of an almighty but benevolent governor of nature, who directs for the best all events, in confidence in the care of his providence, in resignation to his will, and in the faithful discharge of every duty of piety and morality from a regard to his authority and the apprehension of a future righteous retribution. It is only this religion (the inspiring principle of every thing fair and worthy and joyful and which in truth is nothing but the love of God and man and virtue warming the heart and directing the conduct) it is only this kind of religion that can bless the world or be an advantage to society. This is the religion that every enlightened friend to mankind will be zealous to promote. But it is a religion that the powers of the world know little of and which will always be best promoted by being left free and open.
I cannot help adding here that such in particular is the Christian religion. Christianity teaches us that there is none good but one, that is, God, that he willeth all men to be saved, and will punish nothing but wickedness, that he desires mercy and not sacrifice (benevolence rather than rituals), that loving him with all our hearts, and loving our neighbour as ourselves, is the whole of our duty, and that in every nation he that feareth him and worketh righteousness is accepted of him. It rests its authority on the power of God, not of man, refers itself entirely to the understandings of men, makes us the subjects of a kingdom that is not of this world, and requires us to elevate our minds above temporal emoluments and to look forwards to a state beyond the grave where a government of perfect virtue will be erected under that Messiah who has tasted death for every man. What have the powers of the world to do with such a religion? It disclaims all connexion with them, it made its way at first in opposition to them, and, as far as it is now upheld by them, it is dishonoured and vilified.
The injury which civil establishments do to Christianity may be learnt from the following considerations.
First, the spirit of religious establishments is opposite to the spirit of Christianity. It is a spirit of pride and tyranny in opposition to the Christian lowly spirit, a contracted and selfish spirit, in opposition to the Christian enlarged and benevolent spirit, the spirit of the world in opposition to the Christian heavenly spirit.
Secondly, religious establishments are founded on a claim of authority in the Christian church which overthrows Christ's authority. He has in the Scriptures given his followers a code of laws to which he requires them to adhere as their only guide. But the language of the framers of church establishments is 'We have authority in controversies of faith and power to decree rites and ceremonies. We are the deputies of Christ upon earth who have been commissioned by him to interpret his laws, and to rule his church. You must therefore follow us. The Scriptures are insufficient. Our interpretations you must receive as Christ's laws, our creeds as his doctrine, our inventions as his institutions.'
It is evident, as the excellent Hoadly has shewn, that these claims turn Christ out of the government of his own kingdom and place usurpers on his throne. They are therefore derogatory to his honour and a submission to them is a breach of the allegiance due to him. They have been almost fatal to true Christianity and attempts to enforce them by civil penalties have watered the Christian world with the blood of saints and martyrs.
Thirdly, the difficulty of introducing alterations into church establishments after they have been once formed is another objection to them. Hence it happens that they remain always the same amidst all changes of public manners and opinions and that a kingdom even of Christians may go on for ages in idolatrous worship after a general conviction may have taken place that there is but one being who is the proper object of religious adoration and that this one being is that one only living and true God who sent Christ into the world and who is his, no less than he is our God and father. What a sad scene of religious hypocrisy must such a discordance between public conviction and the public forms produce?
At this day in some European countries the absurdity and slavish-ness of their hierarchies are seen and acknowledged but, being incorporated with the state, it is scarcely possible to get rid of them.
What can be more striking than the state of England in this respect? The system of faith and worship established in it was formed above two hundred years ago, when Europe was just emerging from darkness and barbarity. The times have ever since been growing more enlightened, but without any effect on the establishment. Not a ray of the increasing light has penetrated it. Not one imperfection, however gross, has been removed.
The same articles of faith are subscribed. The same ritual of devotion is practised. There is reason to fear that the absolution of the sick, which forms a part of this ritual, is often resorted to as a passport to heaven after a wicked life and yet it is continued. Perhaps nothing more shocking to reason and humanity ever made a part of a religious system than the damning clauses in the Athanasian creed and yet the obligation of the clergy to declare assent to this creed, and to read it as a part of the public devotion, remains.
The necessary consequence of such a state of things, is, that, fourthly, Christianity itself is disgraced and that all religion comes to be considered as a state trick and a barbarous mummery. It is well known that in some Popish countries there are few Christians among the higher ranks of men, the religion of the state being in those countries mistaken for the religion of the Gospel. This indeed shows a criminal inattention in those who fall into such a mistake, for they ought to consider that Christianity has been grievously corrupted and that their ideas of it should be taken from the New Testament only. It is, however, so natural to reckon Christianity to be that which it is held out to be in all establishments of it, that it cannot but happen that such an error will take place and produce some of the worst consequences. There is probably a greater number of rational Christians (that is, of Christians upon enquiry) in England, than in all Popish countries. The reason is that the religious establishment here is Popery reformed, and that a considerable body dissent from it and are often inculcating the necessity of distinguishing between the Christianity established by law and that which is taught in the Bible. Certain it is that, till this distinction is made, Christianity can never recover its just credit and usefulness.
Such then are the effects of civil establishments of religion. May heaven soon put an end to them. The world will never be generally wise or virtuous or happy till these enemies to its peace and improvement are demolished. Thanks be to God they are giving way before increasing light. Let them never shew themselves in America. Let no such monster be known there as human authority in matters of religion. Let every honest and peaceable man, whatever is his faith, be protected there and find an effectual defence against the attacks of bigotry and intolerance. In the united States may religion flourish. They cannot be very great and happy if it does not. But let it be a better religion than most of those which have been hitherto professed in the world. Let it be a religion which enforces moral obligations, not a religion which relaxes and evades them. A tolerant and catholic religion, not a rage for proselitism. A religion of peace and charity, not a religion that persecutes, curses and damns. In a word, let it be the genuine gospel of peace, lifting above the world, wanning the heart with the love of God and his creatures, and sustaining the fortitude of good men by the assured hope of a future deliverance from death, and an infinite reward in the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour.
From the preceding observations it may be concluded that it is impossible I should not admire the following article in the declaration of rights which forms the foundation of the Massachusett's constitution:
'In this state every denomination of Christians demeaning themselves peaceably and as good subjects of the commonwealth shall be equally under the protection of the law, and no subordination of any one sect or denomination to another shall ever be established by law.'
This is liberal beyond all example. I should, however, have admired it more had it been more liberal, and the words, all men of all religions been substituted for the words, every denomination of Christians.
It appears farther from the preceding observations that I cannot but dislike the religious tests which make a part of several of the American constitutions. In the Massachusett's constitution it is ordered that all who take seats in the House of Representatives or Senate shall declare 'their firm persuasion of the truth of the Christian religion'. The same is required by the Maryland constitution, as a condition of being admitted into any places of profit or trust. In Pensylvania every member of the House of Representatives is required to declare that he 'acknowledges the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by divine inspiration'. In the state of Delaware, that 'he believes in God the Father, and in Jesus Christ his only Son, and in the Holy Ghost, one God blessed for evermore'. All this is more than is required even in England where, though every person however debauched or atheistical is required to receive the sacrament as a qualification for inferior places, no other religious test is imposed on members of parliament than a declaration against Popery. It is an observation no less just than common that such tests exclude only honest men. The dishonest never scruple them.
Montesquieu probably was not a Christian. Newton and Locke were not Trinitarians and therefore not Christians according to the commonly received ideas of Christianity. Would the United States, for this reason, deny such men, were they living, all places of trust and power among them?
Such is the state of things which I wish to take place in the united American states. In order to introduce and perpetuate it, and at the same time to give it the greatest effect on the improvement of the world, nothing is more necessary than the establishment of a wise and liberal plan of Education. It is impossible properly to represent the importance of this. So much is left by the author of nature to depend on the turn given to the mind in early life, and the impressions then made, that I have often thought there may be a secret remaining to be discovered in education which will cause future generations to grow up virtuous and happy and accelerate human improvement to a greater degree than can at present be imagined.
The end of education is to direct the powers of the mind in unfolding themselves and to assist them in gaining their just bent and force. And, in order to this, its business should be to teach how to think, rather than what to think, or to lead into the best way of searching for truth, rather than to instruct in truth itself. As for the latter, who is qualified for it? There are many indeed who are eager to undertake this office. All parties and sects think they have discovered truth and are confident that they alone are its advocates and friends. But the very different and inconsistent accounts they give of it demonstrate they are utter strangers to it and that it is better to teach nothing than to teach what they hold out for truth. The greater their confidence, the greater is the reason for distrusting them. We generally see the warmest zeal, where the object of it is the greatest nonsense.
Such observations have a particular tendency to shew that education ought to be an initiation into candour, rather than into systems of faith, and that it should form a habit of cool and patient investigation, rather than an attachment to any opinions.
But hitherto education has been conducted on a contrary plan. It has been a contraction, not an enlargement, of the intellectual faculties, an injection of false principles hardening them in error, not a discipline enlightening and improving them. Instead of opening and strengthening them, and teaching to think freely, it hath cramped and enslaved them, and qualified for thinking only in one track. Instead of instilling humility, charity, and liberality, and thus preparing for an easier discovery and a readier admission of truth, it has inflated with conceit, and stuffed the human mind with wretched prejudices.
The more has been learnt from such education, the more it becomes necessary to unlearn. The more has been taught in this way, of so much the more must the mind be emptied before true wisdom can enter. Such was education in the time of the first teachers of Christianity. By furnishing with skill in the arts of disputation and sophistry, and producing an attachment to established systems, it turned the minds of men from truth, and rendered them more determined to resist evidence and more capable of evading it. Hence it happened that this heavenly instruction, when first communicated was to the Jews a stumbling block, and to the Greeks foolishness, and that, in spite of miracles themselves, the persons who rejected it with most disdain, and who opposed it with most violence, were those who had been educated in colleges and were best versed in the false learning of the times. And had it taught the true philosophy instead of the true religion, the effect would have been the same. The doctrine 'that the sun stood still, and that the earth moved round it', would have been reckoned no less absurd and incredible, than the doctrine of a crucified Messiah. And the men who would have treated such an instruction with most contempt would have been the wise and the prudent, that is, the proud sophists and learned doctors of the times who had studied the Ptolemaick system of the world and learnt, by cycles and epicycles, to account for all the motions of the heavenly bodies.
In like manner, when the improvement of logick in Mr. Locke's Essay on the Human Understanding was first published in Britain the persons readiest to attend to it and to receive it were those who had never been trained in colleges and whose minds, therefore, had never been perverted by an instruction in the jargon of the schools.
To the deep professors of the time, it appeared (like the doctrine taught in his book on the reasonableness of Christianity) to be a dangerous novelty and heresy, and the University of Oxford, in particular, condemned and reprobated the author. The like happened when Sir Isaac Newton's discoveries were first published. A romance (that is, the philosophy of Descartes) was in possession of the philosophical world. Education had rivetted it in the mind of the learned, and it was twenty-seven years before Newton's Principia could gain sufficient credit to bring it to a second edition. Such are the prejudices which have generally prevailed against new lights. Such the impediments which have been thrown in the way of improvement by a narrow plan of education. Even now the principal object of education (especially in divinity) is to teach established systems as certain truths, and to qualify for successfully defending them against opponents and thus to arm the mind against conviction and render it impenetrable to farther light. Indeed, were it offered to my option which I would have, the plain sense of a common and untutored man, or the deep erudition of the proud scholars and professors in most universities, I should eagerly prefer the former, from a persuasion that it would leave me at a less distance from real wisdom. An unoccupied and simple mind is infinitely preferable to a mind warped by systems, and the entire want of learning better than a learning such as most of that is which hitherto has been sought and admired. A learning which puffs up, while in reality it is nothing but profounder ignorance and more inveterate prejudice.
It may be worth adding here that a narrow education (should it ever happen not to produce the evils now mentioned) will probably produce equal evils of a contrary nature. I mean, that there will be danger when persons so educated come to see the absurdity of some of the opinions in which they have been educated, that they will become prejudiced against them all and, consequently, throw them all away and run wild into scepticism and infidelity. At present, in this part of the world this is a very common event.
I am by no means qualified to give a just account of the particular method in which education ought to be conducted so as to avoid these evils, that is, so as to render the mind free and unfettered, quick in discerning evidence, and prepared to follow it from whatever quarter and in whatever manner it may offer itself. But certain it is that the best mode of education is that which does this most effectually, which guards best against silly prejudices, which enflames most with the love of truth, which disposes most to ingenuity and fairness, and leaves the mind most sensible of its own need of farther information. Had this always been the aim of education, mankind would now have been further advanced. It supposes, however, an improved state of mankind, and when once it has taken place it will quicken the progress of improvement.
I have in these observations expressed a dislike of systems, but I have meant only to condemn that attachment to them as standards of truth which has been too prevalent. It may be necessary in education to make use of them or of books explaining them. But they should be used only as guides and helps to enquiry. Instruction in them should be attended with a fair exhibition of the evidence on both sides of every question, and care should be taken to induce, as far as possible, a habit of believing only on an overbalance of evidence, and of proportioning assent in every case to the degree of that overbalance, without regarding authority, antiquity, singularity, novelty, or any of the prejudices which too commonly influence assent. Nothing is so well fitted to produce this habit as the study of mathematics. In these sciences no one ever thinks of giving his assent to a proposition till he can clearly understand it and see it proved by a fair deduction from propositions previously understood and proved. In these sciences the mind is inured to close and patient attention, shewn the nature of just reasoning, and taught to form distinct ideas and to expect clear evidence in all cases before belief. They furnish, therefore, the best exercise for the intellectual powers and the best defence against that credulity and precipitation and confusion of ideas which are the common sources of error.
There is, however, a danger even here to be avoided. Mathematical studies may absorb the attention too much, and when they do they contract the mind by rendering it incapable of thinking at large by disqualifying it for judging of any evidence except mathematical and, consequently, disposing it to an unreasonable scepticism on all subjects which admit not of such evidence. There have been many instances of this narrowness in mathematicians.
But to return from this digression, I cannot help observing on this occasion, with respect to Christianity in particular, that education ought to lead to a habit of judging of it as it is in the code itself of Christianity, that the doctrines it reveals should be learnt only from a critical and fair enquiry into the sense of this code, and that all instruction in it should be a preparation for making this enquiry and a communication of assistance in examining into the proofs of its divine original, and in determining to what degree of evidence the proofs amount, after allowing every difficulty its just weight. This has never yet been the practice among Christians. The New Testament has been reckoned hitherto an insufficient standard of Christian Divinity and, therefore, formularies of human invention pretending to explain and define it (but in reality misrepresenting and dishonouring it) have been substituted in its room, and teaching these has been called teaching Christianity. And it is very remarkable that in the English Universities lectures in the New Testament are seldom or ever read, and that, through all Christendom, it is much less an object of attention than the systems and creeds which have been fathered upon it.
I will only add on this subject that it is above all things necessary, while instruction is conveyed, to convey with it a sense of the imbecility of the human mind and of its great proneness to error, and also a disposition even on points which seem the most clear, to listen to objections, and to consider nothing as involving in it our final interest but an honest heart.
Nature has so made us that an attachment must take place within us to opinions once formed, and it was proper that we should be so made, in order to prevent that levity and desultoriness of mind which must have been the consequence had we been ready to give up our opinions too easily and hastily. But this natural tendency, however wisely given us, is apt to exceed its proper limits and to render us unreasonably tenacious. It ought, therefore, like all our other natural propensities, to be carefully watched and guarded, and education should put us upon doing this. An observation before made should, in particular, be inculcated, 'that all mankind have hitherto been most tenacious when most in the wrong, and reckoned themselves most enlightened when most in the dark'. This is indeed, a very mortifying fact but attention to it is necessary to cure that miserable pride and dogmaticalness which are some of the worst enemies to improvement. Who is there that does not remember the time when he was entirely satisfied about points which deeper reflexion has shewn to be above his comprehension? Who, for instance, does not remember a time when he would have wondered at the question, 'Why does water run down hill?' What ignorant man is there who is not persuaded that he understands this perfectly? But every improved man knows it to be a question he cannot answer, and what distinguishes him in this instance from the less improved part of mankind is his knowing this. The like is true in numberless other instances. One of the best proofs of wisdom is a sense of our want of wisdom, and he who knows most possesses most of this sense.
In thinking of myself I derive some encouragement from this reflexion. I now see that I do not understand many points which once appeared to me very clear. The more I have inquired, the more sensible I have been growing of my own darkness, and a part of the history of my life is that which follows.
In early life I was struck with Bishop Butler's Analogy of religion natural and revealed to the constitution and course of nature. I reckon it happy for me that this book was one of the first that fell into my hands. It taught me the proper method of reasoning on moral and religious subjects, and particularly the importance of paying a due regard to the imperfection of human knowledge. His sermons also, I then thought, and do still think, excellent. Next to his works, I have always been an admirer of the writings of Dr. Clark[e]. And I cannot help adding, however strange it may seem, that I owe much to the philosophical writings of Mr. Hume, which I likewise studied in early life. Though an enemy to his scepticism, I have profited by it. By attacking, with great ability, every principle of truth and reason, he put me upon examining the ground upon which I stood and taught me not hastily to take any thing for granted. The first fruits of my reading and studies were laid before the public in a treatise entitled A review of the principal questions and difficulties in morals. This publication has been followed by many others on various subjects. And now, in the evening of a life devoted to enquiry and spent in endeavours (weak indeed and feeble) to serve the best interests, present and future, of mankind, I am waiting for the great teacher, convinced that the order of nature is perfect, that infinite wisdom and goodness govern all things, and that Christianity comes from God. But at the same time puzzled by many difficulties, anxious for more light, and resting with full and constant assurance only on this one truth; that the practice of virtue is the duty and dignity of man and, in all events, his wisest and safest course.
In the preceding observations I have aimed at pointing out the means of promoting the progress of improvement in the united states of America. I have insisted, particularly, on the importance of a just settlement of the Federal Union and the establishment of a well-guarded and perfect liberty in speculation, in government, in education, and in religion. The united states are now setting out, and all depends on the care and foresight with which a plan is begun, which hereafter will require only to be strengthened and ripened. This is, therefore, the time for giving them advice, and mean advice (like the present) may suggest some useful hints. In this country when any improvements are proposed or any corrections are attempted of abuses so gross as to make our boasts of liberty ridiculous, a clamour immediately arises against innovation, and an alarm spreads lest the attempt to repair should destroy. In America no such prejudices can operate. These abuses have not yet gained sacredness by time. There the way is open to social dignity and happiness, and reason may utter her voice with confidence and success.
I have observed in the introduction to this address that the American states have many dangers to shun. In what follows I shall give a brief recital of some of the chief of these dangers.
The danger from an endless increase of public debts has been already sufficiently noticed.
Particular notice has been likewise taken of the danger from internal wars. Again and again, I would urge the necessity of pursuing every measure and using every precaution which can guard against this danger. It will be shocking to see in the new world a repetition of all the evils which have hitherto laid waste the old world. War raging where peace and liberty were thought to have taken their abodes. The points of bayonets and the mouths of cannon settling disputes, instead of the collected wisdom of the confederation and perhaps one restless and ambitious state rising by bloody conquest above the rest, and becoming a sovereign state, claiming impiously (as Britain once did), 'full authority to make laws that shall bind its sister states in all cases whatever', and drawing to itself all advantages at their expence. I deprecate this calamity. I shudder when I consider how possible it is and hope those persons are mistaken who think that such are the jealousies which govern human nature, and such the imperfections of the best human arrangements, that it is not within the reach of any wisdom to discover any effectual means of preventing it without encroaching too much on the liberty and independence of the states. I have mentioned an enlargement of the powers of Congress. Others have proposed a consolidation of the powers of government in one parliament representing all the states and superseding the particular parliaments by which they are now separately governed. But it is obvious that this will be attended with greater inconveniencies and encroach more on the liberty of the states than the enlargement I have proposed of the powers of Congress. If such a parliament is not to supersede any of the other parliaments, it will be the same with Congress as at present constituted.
It is a trite observation 'that dominion is founded on property'. Most free states have manifested their sense of the truth of this observation by studying to find out means of preventing too great an inequality in the distribution of property. What tumults were occasioned at Rome, in its best times, by attempts to carry into execution the Agrarian law? Among the people of Israel, by the direction of heaven, all estates which had been alienated during the course of fifty years returned to their original owners at the end of that term. One of the circumstances that has been most favourable to the American states in forming their new constitutions of government has been the equality which subsists among them.
The happiest state of man is the middle state between the savage and the refined, or between the wild and the luxurious state. Such is the state of society in Connecticut and some others of the American provinces where the inhabitants consist, if I am rightly informed, of an independent and hardy yeomanry, all nearly on a level, trained to arms, instructed in their rights, cloathed in homespun, of simple manners, strangers to luxury, drawing plenty from the ground, and that plenty, gathered easily by the hand of industry and giving rise to early marriages, a numerous progeny, length of days, and a rapid increase the rich and the poor, the haughty grandee and the creeping sycophant, equally unknown protected by laws which (being their own will) cannot oppress, and by an equal government which, wanting lucrative places, cannot create corrupt canvassings and ambitious intrigue. O distinguished people! May you continue long thus happy, and may the happiness you enjoy spread over the face of the whole earth! But I am forgetting myself. There is danger that a state of society so happy will not be of long duration, that simplicity and virtue will give way to depravity, that equality will in time be lost, the cursed lust of domineering shew itself, liberty languish, and civil government gradually degenerate into an instrument in the hands of the few to oppress and plunder the many. Such has hitherto been the progress of evil in human affairs. In order to give them a better turn, some great men (Plato, Sir Thomas More, Mr. Wallace, etc.) have proposed plans which, by establishing a community of goods and annihilating property, would make it impossible for any one member of a state to think of enslaving the rest, or to consider himself as having any interest distinct from that of his fellow-citizens. Such theories are in speculation pleasing, nor perhaps are they wholly impracticable. Some approaches to them may hereafter be made and schemes of government may take place which shall leave so little, besides personal merit, to be a means of distinction as to exclude from society most of the causes of evil. But be this as it will, it is out of doubt that there is an equality in society which is essential to liberty and which every state that would continue virtuous and happy ought as far as possible to maintain. It is not in my power to describe the best method of doing this. I will only observe that there are three enemies to equality against which America ought to guard.
First, granting hereditary honours and tides of nobility. Persons thus distinguished, though perhaps meaner than the meanest of their dependents, are apt to consider themselves as belonging to a higher order of beings, and made for power and government. Their birth and rank necessarily dispose them to be hostile to general liberty, and when they are not so, and discover a just zeal for the rights of mankind, it is always a triumph of good sense and virtue over the temptations of their situation. It is, therefore, with peculiar satisfaction that I have found in the Articles of Confederation an order that no titles of nobility shall be ever granted by the united states. Let there be honours to encourage merit, but let them die with the men who have earned them. Let them not descend to posterity to foster a spirit of domination and to produce a proud and tyrannical aristocracy. In a word, let the united states continue for ever what it is now their glory to be a confederation of states prosperous and happy, without lords, without bishops and without kings.
Secondly, the right of primogeniture. The tendency of this to produce an improper inequality is very obvious. The disposition to raise a name by accumulating property in one branch of a family is a vanity no less unjust and cruel than dangerous to the interest of liberty and no wise state will encourage or tolerate it.
Thirdly, foreign trade is another of the enemies against which I wish to caution the united states. But this operates unfavourably to a state in so many more ways than by destroying that equality which is the basis of liberty that it will be proper to take more particular notice of it.
Foreign trade has, in some respects, the most useful tendency. By creating an intercourse between distant kingdoms it extends benevolence, removes local prejudices, leads every man to consider himself more as a citizen of the world than of any particular state, and, consequently, checks the excesses of that love of our country which has been applauded as one of the noblest, but which, really, is one of the most destructive principles in human nature. Trade also, by enabling every country to draw from other countries conveniencies and advantages which it cannot find within itself, produces among nations a sense of mutual dependence, and promotes the general improvement. But there is no part of mankind to which these uses of trade are of less consequence than the American states. They are spread over a great continent and make a world within themselves. The country they inhabit includes soils and climates of all sorts, producing not only every necessary, but every convenience of life. And the vast rivers and widespread lakes which intersect it create such an inland communication between the different parts as is unknown in any other region of the earth. They possess then within themselves the best means of the most profitable traffic, and the amplest scope for it. Why should they look much farther? What occasion have they for being anxious about pushing foreign trade, or even about raising a great naval force? Britain, indeed, consisting as it does of unarmed inhabitants, and threatened as it is by ambitious and powerful neighbours, cannot hope to maintain its existence long after becoming open to invasion by losing its naval superiority. But this is not the case with the American states. They have no powerful neighbours to dread. The vast Atlantic must be crossed before they can be attacked. They are all a well trained militia, and the successful resistance which, in their infancy and without a naval force, they have made to the invasion of the first European power, will probably discourage and prevent all future invasions. Thus singularly happy, why should they seek connexions with Europe and expose themselves to the danger of being involved in its quarrels? What have they to do with its politics? Is there any thing very important to them which they can draw from thence except infection? Indeed, I tremble when I think of the rage for trade which is likely to prevail among them. It may do them infinite mischief. All nations are spreading snares for them and courting them to a dangerous intercourse. Their best interest requires them to guard themselves by all proper means, and, particularly, by laying heavy duties on importations. But in no case will any means succeed unless aided by manners. In this instance, particularly, there is reason to fear that an increasing passion for foreign frippery will render all the best regulations ineffectual. And should this happen, that simplicity of character, that manliness of spirit, that disdain of tinsel in which true dignity consists, will disappear. Effeminacy, servility, and venality will enter, and liberty and virtue be swallowed up in the gulph of corruption. Such may be the course of events in the American states. Better infinitely will it be for them to consist of bodies of plain and honest farmers, than of opulent and splendid merchants. Where in these states do the purest manners prevail? Where do the inhabitants live most on an equality and most at their ease? Is it not in those inland parts where agriculture gives health and plenty, and trade is scarcely known? Where, on the contrary, are the inhabitants most selfish, luxurious, loose, and vicious, and at the same time most unhappy? Is it not along the sea coasts and in the great towns where trade flourishes and merchants abound? So striking is the effect of these different situations on the vigour and happiness of human life, that in the one, population would languish did it receive no aid from emigration, while in the other, it increases to a degree scarcely ever before known.
But to proceed to some observations of a different nature. The united States have, I think, particular reason to dread the following effects of foreign trade.
By increasing importation to feed luxury and gratify prodigality, it will carry out their coin and occasion the substitution of a delusive paper currency, the consequence of which will be that ideal wealth will take place of real, and their security come to depend on the strength and duration of a bubble. I am very sensible that paper credit is one of the greatest of all conveniencies, but this makes it likewise one of the greatest of all temptations. A public bank (while it can circulate its bills) facilitates commerce and assists the exertions of a state in proportion to its credit. But when it is not carefully restricted and watched, when its emissions exceed the coin it can command and are carried near the utmost length that the confidence of the public will allow, and when, in consequence of this, its permanence comes to depend on the permanence of public credulity, in these circumstances, a bank, though it may for a time (that is, while a balance of trade too unfavourable does not occasion a run, and no events arise which produce alarm) answer all the ends of a mine from which millions may be drawn in a minute, and, by filling a kingdom with cash, render it capable of sustaining any debts, and give it a kind of omnipotence. In such circumstances, I say, notwithstanding these temporary advantages, a public bank must at last prove a great calamity and a kingdom so supported, at the very time of its greatest exertions, will be only striving more violently to increase the horror of an approaching convulsion.
The united States have already verified some of these observations and felt in some degree the consequences to which I have alluded. They have been carried through the war by an emission of paper which had no solid support and which now has lost all value. It is indeed surprising that, being secured on no fund and incapable of being exchanged for coin, it should ever have obtained a currency, or answered any important purpose.
Unhappily for Britain, it has used the means of giving more stability to its paper-credit and being enabled by it to support expences greater than any that have been yet known, and to contract a debt which now astonishes, and may hereafter produce a catastrophe that will terrify the world. A longer duration of the late war would have brought on this catastrophe immediately. The peace has put it off for the present. God grant, if still possible, that measures may be adopted which shall put it off for ever.
Oaths are expedients to which all states have had recourse in order to obtain true information and ascertain facts by securing the veracity of witnesses. But I know not how to relish that imprecation which always makes a part of an oath. Perhaps there is no such necessity for it as is commonly imagined. An affirmation solemnly made with laws inflicting severe penalties on falshood when detected, would probably answer all the ends of oaths. I am, therefore, disposed to wish that in the united states imprecatory oaths may be abolished and the same indulgence in this respect granted to all which is now granted to the Quakers. But I am afraid they will think this too dangerous an experiment, and what is of most consequence is to avoid, first, such a multiplicity of oaths as will render them too familiar, and, secondly, a slight manner of administering them. England, in this respect, seems to be sunk to the lowest possible degree of degeneracy. Oaths among us are required on so many occasions and so carelessly administered as to have lost almost all their use and efficacy. It has been asserted that, including oaths of office, oaths at elections, custom-house oaths, etc., there are about a million of perjuries committed in this kingdom annually. This is one of the most atrocious of our national iniquities and it is a wonder if we are not to be visited for it with some of the severest of God's judgments.
The negro trade cannot be censured in language too severe. It is a traffic which, as it has been hitherto carried on, is shocking to humanity, cruel, wicked, and diabolical. I am happy to find that the united states are entering into measures for discountenancing it and for abolishing the odious slavery which it has introduced. Till they have done this, it will not appear they deserve the liberty for which they have been contending. For it is self-evident that if there are any men whom they have a right to hold in slavery, there may be others who have had a right to hold them in slavery. I am sensible, however, that this is a work which they cannot accomplish at once. The emancipation of the negroes must, I suppose, be left in some measure to be the effect of time and of manners. But nothing can excuse the united states if it is not done with as much speed, and at the same time with as much effect, as their particular circumstances and situation will allow. I rejoice that on this occasion I can recommend to them the example of my own country. In Britain, a negro becomes a freeman the moment he sets his foot on British ground.
Such is the advice which I would humbly (but earnestly) offer to the united states of America. Such are the means by which they may become the seats of liberty, science, peace, and virtue, happy within themselves, and a refuge to the world.
Often, while employed in writing these papers, have I wished for a warning voice of more power. The present moment, however auspicious to the united states if wisely improved, is critical and, though apparently the end of all their dangers, may prove the time of their greatest danger. I have, indeed, since finishing this address, been mortified more than I can express by accounts which have led me to fear that I have carried my ideas of them too high and deceived myself with visionary expectations. And should this be true, should the return of peace and the pride of independence lead them to security and dissipation, should they lose those virtuous and simple manners by which alone republics can long subsist, should false refinement, luxury, and irreligion spread among them, excessive jealousy distract their governments, and clashing interests, subject to no strong controul, break the federal union, the consequence will be that the fairest experiment ever tried in human affairs will miscarry and that a revolution which had revived the hopes of good men and promised an opening to better times will become a discouragement to all future efforts in favour of liberty and prove only an opening to a new scene of human degeneracy and misery.
14. These are the words of Montesquieu.
15. It was proposed to the convention for settling the Massachusett's constitution that one of the two houses which constitute the general court of that state should be a representation of persons, and the other a representation of property, and that the body of the people should appoint only the electors of their representatives. By such regulations corruption in the choice of representatives would be rendered less practicable, and it seems the best method of concentering in the legislature as much as possible of the virtue and ability of the state, and of making its voice always an expression of the will and best sense of the people. On this plan also the number of members constituting a legislature might be much lessened. This is a circumstance of particular consequence, to which the united states, in some future period of their increase, will find it necessary to attend. It has been often justly observed, that a legislative body very numerous is little better than a mob.
16. I do not mean by 'bishops' any officers among Christians merely spiritual, but lords spiritual, as distinct from lords temporal, or clergymen raised to pre-eminence and invested with civil honours and authority by a state establishment. I must add that by what is here said I do not mean to express a general preference of a republican constitution of government. There is a degree of political degeneracy which unfits for such a constitution. Britain, in particular, consists too much of the high and the low, (of scum and dregs) to admit of it. Nor will it suit America should it ever become equally corrupt.
17. The love of our country is then only a noble passion when it engages us to promote the internal happiness of our country and to defend its rights and liberties against domestic and foreign invasion, maintaining at the same time an equal regard to the rights and liberties of other countries. But this has not been its most common effects. On the contrary, it has in general been nothing but a spirit of rivalship between different communities, producing contention and a thirst for conquest and dominion. What is his country to a Russian, a Turk, a Spaniard, etc. but a spot where he enjoys no right, and is disposed of by owners as if he was a beast? And what is his love to his country but an attachment to degradation and slavery? What was the love of their country among the Jews but a wretched partiality for themselves and a proud contempt for other nations? Among the Romans also what was it, however great in many of its exertions, but a principle holding together a band of robbers in their attempts to crush all liberty but their own? Christianity has wisely omitted to recommend this principle. Had it done this, it would have countenanced a vice among mankind. It has done what is infinitely better. It has recommended universal benevolence.
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