This eminent man, celebrated alike for his piety and sterling patriotism, was born at Boston, Massachusetts. Through the exertions of his friends, who discovered in him a desire to obtain a liberal education, he was entered at Harvard College, from which institution he graduated with credit in 1740. From college he went to Portsmouth, in New Hampshire, where he was employed to take charge of a grammar school until 1745, at which time he was invited to preach in the First Church, as assistant to Mr. Fitch. Two years after, he was ordained, and from this time until the commencement of the difficulties between England and her colonies, he continued an active laborer for the cause of the church.
Dr. Langdon was a very zealous Whig. His bold and open opposition to the measures of the British government, rendered him highly acceptable to the patriots of New England, and through the influence of John Hancock and others, he was, in 1774, installed as successor of Mr. Locke in the presidency of Harvard College. When he took the chair it gave great delight to the sons of liberty; and in 1775, a month after the commencement of the war, he was chosen to preach the election sermon. This effort will be found in the following pages.
President Langdon’s connection with the college did not prove of the most satisfactory character. His administration was a perpetual struggle with difficulties and embarrassments, amid the dangers of civil war and the excitement of a political revolution. He wanted judgment, and had no spirit of government. He did not receive that respect and kindness from the students and others connected with the college, that were due his character as a scholar and a Christian. Under these circumstances he resigned the presidency, and in 1781, became the pastor of a church at Hampton Falls, near Portsmouth, New Hampshire. In 1788 he preached the election sermon at Concord, and the same year occupied a seat in the New Hampshire Convention, in which body he took an active part, and had an extensive influence in removing the prejudices which prevailed against the Federal Constitution. At the age of seventy-four, on the twenty-ninth of November, 1794, he closed a life well spent, beloved for his piety, hospitality, and good-will to his fellow-men.
Governments Corrupted By Vice and Restored By Virtue: by Dr. Samuel Langdon 1775; Before the Honorable Congress of the Colony of the Massachusetts Bay. Assembled at Watertown, 31st Day of May, 1775. Being the Anniversary fixed by CHARTER for the Election of Counsellors;
References: The patriot preachers of the American Revolution, The Pulpit of the American Revolution, The God of Our Fathers, and The Chaplains and Clergy of the Revolution by Frank Moore, John W. Thornton, George Duffield, Jr., and Joel T. Headley respectfully.
“The longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth, that God governs
in the affairs of men.”—Benjamin Franklin.
Background of the oration:
From one of the sources of information on this topic, “it occurred to us, would be the sermons that had been delivered on other National Fast Days. Many such being just at our hand, we turned them over with no little interest and curiosity. The more we “touched the bones of the prophets,” the more we felt that virtue came out of them.
“Faithful men,” indeed, were those old Fathers, to whom the Gospel in all its relations, both temporal and eternal, might be most safely entrusted! Though a reward was offered for their heads, they preached; though a Tory party in the Church might wish to keep them quiet, still they preached; though their brethren not infrequently found vehement fault with them for so doing, yet, the Word of God “burning like a fire in their bones,” they could not do otherwise than preach. The Chinese idea which so many have been endeavoring to inculcate of late, that “to speak of politics is to be guilty of death,” by such men as Mayhew, Witherspoon, Emmons, &c, would have been laughed to scorn!” Dumb dogs that cannot bark,” could not be said of them, any more than of Calvin, and Knox, and the staunch old English Puritans! Thank God that such men lived on this side of the Atlantic, as well as the other!
There is no excuse for us if we do not try, at least, to imitate their example. If ever the pulpit is to regain that influence which it has lost in our land, it must be by preaching occasionally such sermons as the following Dr. Langdon”
Dr. Samuel Langdon was moderator of the annual convention of the ministers, held, by special invitation of the Provincial Congress, at Watertown, June 1st, following election-day, when he signed the following letter:
“To the Hon. Joseph Warren, Esq., President of the Provincial Congress of the Colony of the Massachusetts Bay, etc.
“Sir : — We, the pastors of the Congregational churches of the Colony of the Massachusetts Bay, in our present annual convention,”— at Watertown, June 1, 1775, — ” gratefully beg leave to express the sense we have of the regard shown by the Honorable Provincial Congress to us, and the encouragement they have been pleased to afford to our assembling as a body this day. Deeply impressed with sympathy for the distresses of our much-injured and oppressed country, we are not a little relieved in beholding the representatives of this people, chosen by their free and unbiased suffrages, now met to concert measures for their relief and defence, in whose wisdom and integrity, under the smiles of Divine Providence, we cannot but express our entire confidence.
“As it has been found necessary to raise an army for the common safety, and our brave countrymen have so willingly offered themselves to this hazardous service, we are not insensible of the vast burden that their necessary maintenance must”—devolve —”upon the people. We therefore cannot forbear, upon this occasion, to offer our services to the public, and to signify our readiness, with the consent of our several congregations, to officiate, by rotation, as chaplains to the army.
“We devoutly commend the Congress, and our brethren in arms, to the guidance and protection of that Providence which, from the first settlement of this country, has so remarkably appeared for the preservation of its civil and religious rights.
“SAMUEL LANGDON, Moderator.”
Langdon was appointed to deliver the election sermon. By a special vote, Dr. Langdon’s Sermon was sent to each minister in the colony, and to each member of the Congress. The contest (the Revolutionary War) had then begun—blood had flowed at Lexington and Concord, and only three weeks before the battle of Bunker Hill had been fought. Boston was in possession of the British, and the Colonial Congress assembled at Harvard. There was no election of Councillors, but it was the anniversary of the day fixed by charter for the election. The Congress was perplexed and ignorant what course to adopt. His Majesty’s Governor was not there, neither would they elect a Council for His Majesty; and yet Congress had taken no decided steps toward the inauguration of an independent government.
Nevertheless until things assumed more definite shape they would fulfill, as far as they were concerned, the conditions of the Charter. They therefore met on the appointed day, and listened to a sermon from the learned Dr. Langdon.
He took for his text Isaiah, 1. 26: “And I will restore thy judges as at the first, and thy counsel as at the beginning. Afterward thou shalt be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city.” Nothing could be more appropriate than this text. It shows in what perfect harmony the pulses of the clergy and the people beat. The latter did not now need any instruction as to their rights, or appeals to assert them. They had already asserted them at the point of the bayonet. The die was cast, and every one asked what would the end be. The capital was in the hands of the brutal soldiery, and the patriots were driven from their homes which they might never see again. In such a crisis, in such a state of feeling, how beautiful, how appropriate and encouraging is this full, rich promise.
The Sermon: “Shall we rejoice, my fathers and brethren, or shall we weep together, on the return of this anniversary, which from the first settlement of this colony has been sacred to liberty, to perpetuate that invaluable privilege of choosing, from among ourselves, wise men, fearing God, and hating covetousness, to be honorable counselors, to constitute one essential branch of that happy government which was established on the faith of royal charters?
On this day, the people have from year to year assembled, from all our towns, in a vast congregation, with gladness and festivity, with every ensign of joy displayed in our metropolis, which now, alas I is made a garrison of mercenary troops, the stronghold of despotism. But how shall I now address you from this desk, remote from the capital, and remind you of the important business which distinguished this day in our calendar, without spreading a gloom over this assembly, by exhibiting the melancholy change made in the face of our public affairs?
We have lived to see the time when British liberty is just ready to expire; when that constitution of government which has so long been the glory and strength of the English nation, is deeply undermined and ready to tumble into ruins;—when America is threatened with cruel oppression, and the arm of power is stretched out against New England, and especially against this colony, to compel us to submit to the arbitrary acts of legislators who are not our representatives, and who will not themselves bear the least part of the burdens which, without mercy, they are laying upon us. The most formal and solemn grants of kings to our ancestors are deemed by our oppressors as of little value, and they have mutilated the charter of this colony in the most essential parts, upon false representations, and new invented maxims of policy, without the least regard to any legal process. We are no longer permitted to fix our eyes on the faithful of the land, and trust in the wisdom of their counsels, and the equity of their judgment; but men in whom we can have no confidence, whose principles are subversive of our liberties, whose aim is to exercise lordship over us, and share among themselves the public wealth; men who are ready to serve any master, and execute the most unrighteous decrees for high wages, whoso faces we never saw before, and whose interests and connections may be far divided from us by the wide Atlantic, are to be set over us as counselors and judges, at the pleasure of those who have the riches and power of the nation in their hands, and whose noblest plan is to subjugate the colonies first, and then the whole nation to their will.
That we might not have it in our power to refuse the most absolute submission to their unlimited claims of authority, they have not only endeavored to terrify us with fleets and armies sent to our capital, and distressed and put an end to our trade, particularly that important branch of it, the fishery(fn1), but at length attempted, by a sudden march of a body of troops in the night, to seize and destroy one of our magazines, formed by the people merely for their own security; if, as after such formidable military preparation on the other side, matters should not be pushed to an extremity. By this, as might well be expected, a skirmish was brought on; and it is most evident, from a variety of concurring circumstances, as well as numerous depositions, both of the prisoners taken by us at that time, and our men then on the spot only as spectators, that the fire began first on the side of the king’s troops. At least five or six of our inhabitants were murderously killed by the regulars at Lexington, before any man attempted to return the fire, and when they were actually complying with the command to disperse; and two more of our brethren were likewise killed at Concord Bridge by a fire from the king’s soldiers, before(fn2) the engagement began on our side. But whatever credit falsehoods transmitted to Great Britain from the other side may gain, the matter may be rested entirely on this—that ho that arms himself to commit a robbery, and demands the traveler’s purse, by the terror of instant death, is the first aggressor, though the other should take the advantage of discharging his pistol first and killing the robber.
The alarm was sudden; but in a very short time spread far and wide; the nearest neighbors in haste ran together to assist their brethren, and save their country. Not more than three or four hundred met in season, and bravely attacked and repulsed the enemies of liberty, who retreated with great precipitation. But by the help of a strong reinforcement, notwithstanding a close pursuit, and continual loss on their side, they acted the part of robbers and savages, by burning(fn3), plundering, and damaging almost every house in their way, to the utmost of their power, murdering the unarmed and helpless, and not regarding the weakness of the tender sex, until they had secured themselves beyond the reach of our terrifying arms. (fn4)
That ever memorable day, the nineteenth of April, is the date of an unhappy war openly begun, by the ministers of the king of Great Britain, against his good subjects in this colony, and implicitly against all the colonies. But for what! Because they have made a noble stand for their natural and constitutional rights, in opposition to the machinations of wicked men, who are betraying their royal master, establishing Popery in the British dominions, and aiming to enslave and ruin the whole nation, that they may enrich themselves and their vile dependents with the public treasures, and the spoils of America.
“We have used our utmost endeavors, by repeated humble petitions and remonstrances—by a series of unanswerable reasonings published from the press, in which the dispute has been fairly stated, and the justice of our opposition clearly demonstrated—and by the mediation of some of the noblest and most faithful friends of the British constitution, who have powerfully pleaded our cause in Parliament—to prevent such measures as may soon reduce the body politic to a miserable, dismembered, dying trunk, though lately the terror of all Europe. But our king, as if impelled by some strange fatality, is resolved to reason with us only by the roar of his cannon, and the pointed arguments of muskets and bayonets. Because we refuse submission to the despotic power of a ministerial Parliament, our own sovereign, to whom we have been always ready to swear true allegiance— whoso authority we never meant to cast off—who might have continued happy in cheerful obedience, as faithful subjects as any in his dominions—has given us up to the rage of his ministers, to be seized at sea by the rapacious commanders of every little sloop of war and piratical cutter, and to be plundered and massacred by land by mercenary troops, who know no distinction betwixt an enemy and a brother, between right and wrong; but only, like brutal pursuers, to hunt and seize the prey pointed out by their masters.
We must keep our eyes fixed on the supreme government of the ETERNAL KING, as directing all events, setting up or pulling down the kings of the earth at his pleasure, suffering the best forms of human government to degenerate and go to ruin by corruption; or restoring the decayed constitutions of kingdoms and states, by reviving public virtue and religion, and granting the favorable inter-positions of his providence. To this our text leads us; and though I hope to be excused on this occasion from a formal discourse on the words in a doctrinal way, yet I must not wholly pass over the religions instruction contained in them.
Let us consider—that for the sins of a people God may suffer the best government to be corrupted, or entirely dissolved; and that nothing but a general reformation can give ground to hope that the public happiness will be restored, by the recovery of the strength and perfection of the state, and that divine Providence will interpose to fill every department with wise and good men.
Isaiah prophesied about the time of the captivity of the ten tribes of Israel, and about a century before the captivity of Judah. The kingdom of Israel was brought to destruction, because its iniquities were full; its counselors and judges were wholly taken away, because there remained no hope of reformation. But the scepter did not entirely depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, till the Messiah came; yet greater and greater changes took place in their political affairs; their government degenerated in proportion as their vices increased, till few faithful men were left in any public offices; and, at length, when they were delivered up for seventy years into the hands of the king of Babylon, scarce any remains of their original excellent civil polity appeared among them.
The Jewish government, according to the original constitution which was divinely established, if considered merely in a civil view, was a perfect republic. The heads of their tribes, and elders of their cities, were their counselors and judges. They called the people together in more general or particular assemblies, took their opinions, gave advice, and managed the public affairs according to the general voice. Counselors and judges comprehend all the powers of that government, for there was no such thing as as legislative authority belonging to it, — their complete code of laws being given immediately from God by the hand of Moses. And let them who cry up the divine right of kings consider that the only form of government which had a proper claim to a divine establishment was so far from including the idea of a king, that it was a high crime for Israel to ask to be in this respect like other nations; and when they were gratified, it was rather as a just punishment of their folly, that they might feel the burdens of court pageantry, of which they were warned by a very striking description, than as a divine recommendation of kingly authority. Every nation, when able and agreed, has a right to set up over themselves any form of government which to them may appear most conducive to their common welfare.(fn5) The civil polity of Israel is doubtless an excellent general model, allowing for some peculiarities; at least, some principal laws and orders of it may be copied to great advantage in more modern establishments.
When a government is in its prime, the public good engages the attention of the whole; the strictest regard is paid to the qualifications of those who hold the offices of the state; virtue prevails; everything is managed with justice, prudence, and frugality; the laws are founded on principles of equity rather than mere policy, and all the people are happy. But vice will increase with the riches and glory of an empire; and this gradually tends to corrupt the constitution, and in time bring on its dissolution. This may be considered not only as the natural effect of vice, but a righteous judgment of Heaven, especially upon a nation which has been favored with the blessings of religion and liberty, and is guilty of undervaluing them, and eagerly going into the gratification of every lust.
In this chapter the prophet describes the very corrupt state of Judah in his day, both as to religion and common morality, and looks forward to that increase of wickedness which would bring on their desolation and captivity. They were “a sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evil-doers, children that were corrupters, who had forsaken the Lord, and provoked the Holy One of Israel to anger.” The whole body of the nation, from head to foot, was full of moral and political disorders, without any remaining soundness. Their religion was all mere ceremony and hypocrisy ; and even the laws of common justice and humanity were disregarded in their public courts. They had counselors and judges, but very different from those at the beginning of the commonwealth. Their princes were rebellious against God and the constitution of their country, and companions of thieves, — giving countenance to every artifice for seizing the property of the subjects into their own hands, and robbing the public treasury. Every one loved gifts, and followed after rewards ; they regarded the perquisites more than the duties of their office; the general aim was at profitable places and pensions; they were influenced in everything by bribery; and their avarice and luxury were never satisfied, but hurried them on to all kinds of oppression and violence, so that they even justified and encouraged the murder of innocent persons to support their lawless power and increase their wealth. And God, in righteous judgment, left them to run into all this excess of vice, to their own destruction, because they had forsaken him, and were guilty of willful inattention to the most essential parts of that religion which had been given them by a well-attested revelation from heaven.
The Jewish nation could not but see and feel the unhappy consequences of so great corruption of the state. Doubtless they complained much of men in power, and very heartily and liberally reproached them for their notorious misconduct. The public greatly suffered, and the people groaned and wished for better rulers and better management; but in vain they hoped for a change of men and measures and better times when the spirit of religion was gone, and the infection of vice was become universal. The whole body being so corrupted, there could be no rational prospect of any great reformation in the state, but rather of its ruin, which accordingly came on in Jeremiah’s time. Yet if a general reformation of religion and morals had taken place, and they had turned to God from all their sins, — if they had again recovered the true spirit of their religion, — God, by the gracious interpositions of his providence, would soon have found out methods to restore the former virtue of the state, and again have given them men of wisdom and integrity, according to their utmost wish, to be counsellors and judges. This was verified in fact after the nation had been purged by a long captivity, and returned to their own land humbled and filled with zeal for God and his law.
By all this we may be led to consider the true cause of the present remarkable troubles which are come upon Great Britain and these colonies, and the only effectual remedy.
We have rebelled against God. We have lost the true spirit of Christianity, though we retain the outward profession and form of it. We have neglected and set light by the glorious gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, and his holy commands and institutions. The worship of many is but mere compliment to the Deity, while their hearts are far from him. By many the gospel is corrupted into a superficial system of moral philosophy, little better than ancient Platonism; and, after all the pretended refinements of moderns in the theory of Christianity, very little of the pure practice of it is to be found among those who once stood foremost in the profession of the gospel. In a general view of the present moral state of Great Britain it may be said, “There is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land. By swearing, and lying, and killing, and stealing, and committing adultery,” their wickedness breaks out, and one murder after another is committed, under the connivance and encouragement even of that authority by which such crimes ought to be punished, that the purposes of oppression and despotism may be answered. As they have increased, so have they sinned; therefore God is changing their glory into shame. The general prevalence of vice has changed the whole face of things in the British government.
The excellency of the constitution has been the boast of Great Britain and the envy of neighboring nations. In former times the great departments of the state, and the various places of trust and authority, were filled with men of wisdom, honesty, and religion, who employed all their powers, and were ready to risk their fortunes and their lives, for the public good. They were faithful counselors to kings; directed their authority and majesty to the happiness of the nation, and opposed every step by which despotism endeavored to advance. They were fathers of the people, and sought the welfare and prosperity of the whole body. They did not exhaust the national wealth by luxury and bribery, or convert it to their own private benefit or the maintenance of idle, useless officers and dependents, but improved it faithfully for the proper purposes — for the necessary support of government and defence of the kingdom. Their laws were dictated by wisdom and equality, and justice was administered with impartiality. Religion discovered its general influence among all ranks, and kept out great corruptions from places of power.
But in what does the British nation now glory? — In a mere shadow of its ancient political system, — in titles of dignity without virtue, — in vast public treasures continually lavished in corruption till every fund is exhausted, notwithstanding the mighty streams perpetually flowing in,— in the many artifices to stretch the prerogatives of the crown beyond all constitutional bounds, and make the king an absolute monarch, while the people are deluded with a mere phantom of liberty. What idea must we entertain of that great government, if such a one can be found, which pretends to have made an exact counterbalance of power between the sovereign, the nobles and the commons, so that the three branches shall be an effectual check upon each other, and the united wisdom of the whole shall conspire to promote the national felicity, but which, in reality, is reduced to such a situation that it may be managed at the sole will of one court favorite? What difference is there betwixt one(fn6) man’s choosing, at his own pleasure, by his single vote, the majority of those who are to represent the people, and his purchasing in such a majority, according to his own nomination, with money out of the public treasury, or other effectual methods of influencing elections? And what shall we say if, in the same manner, by places, pensions, and other bribes, a minister of the crown can at any time gain over a nobler majority likewise to be entirely subservient to his purposes, and, moreover, persuade his royal master to resign himself up wholly to the direction of his counsels? If this should be the case of any nation, from one seven years’ end to another, the bargain and sale being made sure for such a period, would they still have reason to boast of their excellent constitution?(fn7) Ought they not rather to think it high time to restore the corrupted, dying state to its original perfection? I will apply this to the Roman senate under Julius Caesar, which retained all its ancient formalities, but voted always only as Caesar dictated. If the decrees of such a senate were urged on the Romans, as fraught with all the blessings of Roman liberty, we must suppose them strangely deluded if they were persuaded to believe it.
The pretense for taxing America has been that the nation contracted an immense debt for the defence of the American colonies, and that, as they are now able to contribute some proportion towards the discharge of this debt, and must be considered as part of the nation, it is reasonable they should be taxed, and the Parliament has a right to tax and govern them, in all cases whatever, by its own supreme authority. Enough has been already published on this grand controversy, which now threatens a final separation of the colonies from Great Britain. But can the amazing national debt be paid by a little trifling sum, squeezed from year to year out of America, which is continually drained of all its cash by a restricted trade with the parent country, and which in this way is taxed to the government of Britain in a very large proportion? Would it not be much superior wisdom, and sounder policy, for a distressed kingdom to retrench the vast unnecessary expenses continually incurred by its enormous vices; to stop the prodigious sums paid in pensions, and to numberless officers, without the least advantage to the public; to reduce the number of devouring servants in the great family; to turn their minds from the pursuit of pleasure and the boundless luxuries of life to the important interests of their country and the salvation of the commonwealth? Would not a reverend regard to the authority of divine revelation, a hearty belief of the, gospel of the grace of God, and a general reformation of all those vices which bring misery and ruin upon individuals, families, and kingdoms, and which have provoked Heaven to bring the nation into such perplexed and dangerous circumstances, be the surest way to recover the sinking state, and make it again rich and flourishing? Millions might annually be saved if the kingdom were generally and thoroughly reformed; and the public debt, great as it is, might in a few years be cancelled by a growing revenue, which now amounts to full ten millions per annum, without laying additional burdens on any of the subjects. But the demands of corruption are constantly increasing, and will forever exceed all the resources of wealth which the wit of man can invent or tyranny impose.
Into what fatal policy has the nation been impelled, by its public vices, to wage a cruel war with its own children in these colonies, only to gratify the lust of power and the demands of extravagance! May God, in his great mercy, recover Great Britain from this fatal infatuation, show them their errors, and give them a spirit of reformation, before it is too late to avert impending destruction! May the eyes of the king be opened to see the ruinous tendency of the measures into which he has been led, and his heart inclined to treat his American subjects with justice and clemency, instead of forcing them still further to the last extremities! God grant some method may be found out to effect a happy reconciliation, so that the colonies may again enjoy the protection of their sovereign, with perfect security of all their natural rights and civil and religious liberties.
But, alas! have not the sins of America, and of New England in particular, had a hand in bringing down upon us the righteous judgments of Heaven? Wherefore is all this evil come upon us? Is it not because we have forsaken the Lord? Can we say we are innocent of crimes against God? No, surely. It becomes us to humble ourselves under his mighty hand, that he may exalt us in due time. However unjustly and cruelly we have been treated by man, we certainly deserve, at the hand of God, all the calamities in which we are now involved. Have we not lost much of that spirit of genuine Christianity which so remarkably appeared in our ancestors, for which God distinguished them with the signal favors of providence when they fled from tyranny and persecution into this western desert? Have we not departed from their virtues? Though I hope and am confident that as much true religion, agreeable to the purity and simplicity of the gospel, remains among us as among any people in the world, yet, in the midst of the present great apostasy of the nations professing Christianity, have not we likewise been guilty of departing from the living God? Have we not made light of the gospel of salvation, and too much affected the cold, formal, fashionable religion of countries grown old in vice, and overspread with infidelity? Do not our follies and iniquities testify against us? Have we not, especially in our seaports, gone much too far into the pride and luxuries of life? Is it not a fact, open to common observation, that profaneness, intemperance, unchastity, the love of pleasure, fraud, avarice, and other vices, are increasing among us from year to year? And have not even these young governments been in some measure infected with the corruptions of European courts? Has there been no flattery, no bribery, no artifices practiced, to get into places of honor and profit, or carry a vote to serve a particular interest, without regard to right or wrong? Have our statesmen always acted with integrity, and every judge with impartiality, in the fear of God? In short, have all ranks of men showed regard to the divine commands, and joined to promote the Redeemer’s kingdom and the public welfare? I wish we could more fully justify ourselves in all these respects. If such sins have not been so notorious, among us as in older countries, we must nevertheless remember that the sins of a people who have been remarkable for the profession of godliness, are more aggravated by all the advantages and favors they have enjoyed, and will receive more speedy and signal punishment; as God says of Israel: “You only have I known of all the families of the earth, therefore will I punish you for all your iniquities.” (Amos 3:2)
The judgments now come upon us are very heavy and distressing, and have fallen with peculiar weight on our capital, where, notwithstanding the plighted honor of the chief commander of the hostile troops, many of our brethren are still detained, as if they were captives;(fn8) and those that have been released have left the principal part of their substance, which is withheld, by arbitrary orders, contrary to an express treaty, to be plundered by the army.(fn9)
Let me address you in the words of the prophet: “O Israel! return unto the Lord thy God, for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity.” My brethren, let us repent, and implore the divine mercy; let us amend our ways and our doings, reform everything which has been provoking to the Most High, and thus endeavor to obtain the gracious interpositions of Providence for our deliverance.
If true religion is revived by means of these public calamities, and again prevails among us, — if it appears in our religious assemblies, in the conduct of our civil affairs, in our armies, in our families, in all our business and conversation, — we may hope for the direction and blessing of the Most High, while we are using our best endeavors to preserve and restore the civil government of this colony, and defend America from slavery.
Our late happy government is changed into the terrors of military execution. Our firm opposition to the establishment of an arbitrary system is called rebellion, and we are to expect no mercy, but to yield property and life at discretion. This we are resolved at all events not to do, and therefore we have taken up arms in our own defence, and all the colonies are united in the great cause of liberty.
But how shall we live while civil government is dissolved? What shall we do without counselors and judges? A state of absolute anarchy is dreadful. Submission to the tyranny of hundreds of imperious masters, firmly embodied against us, and united in the same cruel design of disposing of our lives and subsistence at their pleasure, and making their own will our law in all cases whatsoever, is the vilest slavery, and worse than death.
Thanks be to God that he has given us, as men, natural rights, independent on all human laws whatever, and that these rights are recognized by the grand charter of British liberties. By the law of nature, any body of people, destitute of order and government, may form themselves into a civil society, according to their best prudence, and so provide for their common safety and advantage. When one form is found by the majority not to answer the grand purpose in any tolerable degree, they may, by common consent, put an end to it and set up another, — only, as all such great changes are attended with difficulty and danger of confusion, they ought not to be attempted without urgent necessity, which will be determined always by the general voice of the wisest and best members of the community.
If the great servants of the public forget their duty, betray their trust, and sell their country, or make war against the most valuable rights and privileges of the people, reason and justice require that they should be discarded, and others appointed in their room, without any regard to formal resignations of their forfeited power.
It must be ascribed to some supernatural influence on the minds of the main body of the people through this extensive continent, that they have so universally adopted the method of managing the important matters necessary to preserve among them a free government by corresponding committees and congresses, consisting of the wisest and most disinterested patriots in America, chosen by the unbiased suffrages of the people assembled for that purpose in their several towns, counties, and provinces. So general agreement, through so many provinces of so large a country, in one mode of self-preservation, is unexampled in any history; and the effect has exceeded our most sanguine expectations. Universal tumults, and all the irregularities and violence of mobbish factions, naturally arise when legal authority ceases. But how little of this has appeared in the midst of the late obstructions of civil government! — nothing more than what has often happened in Great Britain and Ireland, in the face of the civil powers in all their strength; nothing more than what is frequently seen in the midst of the perfect regulations of the great city of London; and, may I not add, nothing more than has been absolutely necessary to carry into execution the spirited resolutions of a people too sensible to deliver themselves up to oppression and slavery. The judgment and advice of the continental assembly of delegates have been as readily obeyed as if they were authentic acts of a long-established Parliament. And in every colony the votes of a congress have had equal effect with the laws of great and general courts.
It is now ten months since(fn10) this colony has been deprived of the benefit of that government which was so long enjoyed by charter. They have had no General Assembly formatters of legislation and the public revenue; the courts of justice have been shut up,(fn11) and almost the whole executive power has ceased to act; yet order among the people has been remarkably preserved. Few crimes have been committed, punishable by the judge; even former contentions betwixt one neighbor and another have ceased; nor have fraud and rapine taken advantage of the imbecility of the civil powers.
The necessary preparations for the defence of our liberties required not only the collected wisdom and strength of the colony, but an immediate, cheerful application of the wealth of individuals to the public service, in due proportion, or a taxation which depended on general consent. Where was the authority to vote, collect, or receive the large sums required, and make provision for the utmost extremities? A Congress succeeded to the honors of a General Assembly as soon as the latter was crushed by the hand of power. It gained all the confidence of the people. Wisdom and prudence secured all that the laws of the former constitution could have given; and we now observe with astonishment an army of many thousands of well-disciplined troops suddenly assembled, and abundantly furnished with all necessary supplies, in defence of the liberties of America.
But is it proper or safe for the colony to continue much longer in such imperfect order? Must it not appear rational and necessary, to every man that understands the various movements requisite to good government, that the many parts should be properly settled, and every branch of the legislative and executive authority restored to that order and vigor on which the life and health of the body politic depend? To the honorable gentlemen now met in this new congress as the fathers of the people, this weighty matter must be referred. Who knows but in the midst of all the distresses of the present war to defeat the attempts of arbitrary power, God may in mercy restore to us our judges as at the first, and our counselors as at the beginning?
On your wisdom, religion, and public spirit, honored gentlemen, we depend, to determine what may be done as to the important matter of reviving the form of government, and settling all necessary affairs relating to it in the present critical state of things, that we may again have law and justice, and avoid the danger of anarchy and confusion. May God be with you, and by the influences of his Spirit direct all your counsels and resolutions for the glory of his name and the safety and happiness of this colony. We have great reason to acknowledge with thankfulness the evident tokens of the Divine presence with the former congress, that they were led to foresee present exigencies, and make such effectual provision for them. It is our earnest prayer to the Father of Lights that he would irradiate your minds, make all your way plain, and grant you may be happy instruments of many and great blessings to the people by whom you are constituted, to New England, and all the united colonies. Let us praise our God(fn12) for the advantages already given us over the enemies of liberty, particularly that they have been so dispirited by repeated experience of the efficacy of our arms; and that, in the late action at Chelsea, when several hundreds of our soldiery, the greater part open to the fire of so many cannon, swivels, and muskets, from a battery advantageously situated,—from two armed cutters, and many barges full of marines, and from ships of the line in the harbor, — not one man on our side was killed, and but two or three wounded; when, by the best intelligence, a great number were killed and wounded on the other side, and one of their cutters was taken and burnt, the other narrowly escaping with great damage.(fn13)
If God be for us, who can be against us? The enemy has reproached us for calling on his name, and professing our trust in him. They have made a mock of our solemn fasts, and every appearance of serious Christianity in the land. On this account, by way of contempt, they call us saints; and that they themselves may keep at the greatest distance from this character, their mouths are full of horrid blasphemies, cursing, and bitterness, and vent all the rage of malice and barbarity. And may we not be confident that the Most High, who regards these things, will vindicate his own honor, and plead our righteous cause against such enemies to his government, as well as our liberties? O, may our camp be free from every accursed thing! May our land be purged from all its sins! May we be truly a holy people, and all our towns cities of righteousness!
Then the Lord will be our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble, and we shall have no reason to be afraid though thousands of enemies set themselves against us round about, — though all nature should be thrown into tumults and convulsions. He can command the stars in their courses to fight his battles, and all the elements to wage war with his enemies. He can destroy them with innumerable plagues, or send faintness into their hearts, so that the men of might shall not find their hands. In a variety of methods he can work salvation for us, as he did for his people in-ancient days, and according to the many remarkable deliverances granted in former times to Great Britain and New England when popish machinations threatened both countries with civil and ecclesiastical tyranny.(fn15)
May the Lord hear us in this day of trouble, and the name of the God of Jacob defend us, send us help from his sanctuary, and strengthen us out of Zion! We will rejoice in his salvation, and in the name of our God we will set up our banners. Let us look to him to fulfill all our petitions.”
About Samuel Langdon
This eminent man, celebrated alike for his piety and sterling patriotism, was born at Boston, Massachusetts. Through the exertions of his friends, who discovered in him a desire to obtain a liberal education, he was entered at Harvard College, from which institution he graduated with credit in 1740 (The same year in which Samuel Adams graduated). From college he went to Portsmouth, in Now Hampshire, where he was employed to take charge of a grammar school until 1745, at which time he was invited to preach in the First Church, as assistant to Mr. Fitch. Two years after, he was ordained, and from this time until the commencement of the difficulties between England and her colonies, he continued an active laborer for the cause of the church.
Dr. Langdon was a very zealous Whig. His bold and open opposition to the measures of the British government, rendered him highly acceptable to the patriots of New England, and through the influence of John Hancock and others, he was, in 1774, installed as successor of Mr. Locke in the presidency of Harvard College. When he took the chair it gave great delight to the sons of liberty; and in 1775, a month after the commencement of the war, he was chosen to preach the election sermon, as seen above. After an able administration, in a period of peculiar embarrassment, he resigned the presidency of the college.
President Langdon’s connection with the college did not prove of the most satisfactory character. His administration was a perpetual struggle with difficulties and embarrassments, amid the dangers of civil war and the excitement of a political revolution. He wanted judgment, and had no spirit of government. He did not receive that respect and kindness from the students and others connected with the college, that were due his character as a scholar and a Christian. Under these circumstances he resigned the presidency, and in 1781, became the pastor of a church at Hampton Falls, near Portsmouth, New Hampshire. In 1788 he preached the election sermon at Concord, and the same year occupied a seat in the New Hampshire Convention, in which body he took an active part, and had an extensive influence in removing the prejudices which prevailed against the Federal Constitution, and was prominent in securing the adoption of it. At the age of seventy-four, on the twenty-ninth of November, 1794, he closed a life well spent, beloved for his piety, hospitality, and good-will to his fellow-men, revered for his private and public life.
(fn1) Mr. Sabine’s learned “Report on the Principal Fisheries of the American Seas,” 1833, is an invaluable contribution to American history. It is essential to a correct knowledge of American colonization, and of much of our subsequent history.
(fn2) Mr. Frothingham presents the results of an able and conscientious study of these events in his ” History of the Siege of Boston,” — ” The best of our historic monographs.”— Bancroft in Allibone. See also Mr. Henry B.Dawson’s elaborate pages in “The Battles of the United States.”
(fn3) Rev. Isaac Mansfield, Jr., chaplain to General Thomas’s regiment, in his Thanksgiving Sermon ” in the camp at Roxbury, November 23, 1775,” says of the event of April 19th: “What but the hand of Providence preserved the school of the prophets from their ravage, who would have deprived us of many advantages for moral or religious improvement?” To this he adds the note following: ” General Gage, as governor of this province, issued his precepts for convening a General Assembly at Boston, designing to enforce a compliance with Lord North’s designing motion; they were to be kept as prisoners in garrison, till, under the mouth of cannon and at the point of the bayonet, they should be reduced to a mean and servile submission. To facilitate this matter, he was to send out a party to take possession of a magazine at Concord. Presuming that this might be done without opposition, the said party, upon their return from Concord, were to lay waste till they should arrive at Cambridge common; there, after destroying the colleges”— seminaries of sedition — ” and other buildings, they were to throw up an entrenchment upon the said common, their number was to be increased from the garrison, and the next morning a part of the artillery to be removed and planted in the entrenchment aforesaid. This astonishing manoeuvre, it was supposed, would so effectually intimidate the constituents, that the General Assembly, by the compliance designed, would literally represent their constituents.’ The author is not at liberty to publish the channel through which he received the foregoing, but begs to assure the reader that it came so direct that he cannot hesitate in giving credit to it. He recollects one circumstance which renders it highly probable: Lord Percy (on April 19), suspicious his progress to Concord might be retarded by the plank of the bridge at Cambridge being taken away, brought out from Boston several loads of plank, with a number of carpenters; not finding occasion to use them, he carried them on his way to Concord, perhaps about a mile and a half from the bridge; about an hour after the plank were returned. If he had intended to repass that river at night, he must have reserved the plank; if he designed to stop in Cambridge, the plank must be an encumbrance. This conduct, in returning the plank, may be accounted for upon supposition of the foregoing plan of operation.”
(fn4) Near the meeting-house in Menotomy (now West Cambridge) two aged helpless men, who had not been out in the action, and were found unarmed in a house where the regulars entered, were murdered without mercy. In another house in that neighborhood, a woman in bed with a new-born infant—about a week old—was forced by the threats of the soldiery to escape almost naked to an open outhouse; her house was then set on fire, but was soon extinguished by one of the children which had lain concealed till the enemy was gone. In Cambridge a man of weak mental powers, who went out to gaze at the regular army as they passed, without arms, or thought of danger, was wantonly shot at, and killed by those inhuman butchers, as he sat on a fence.
(fn5) “Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; …. it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute a new government, laying its foundations on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.”—Dec. of Ind., July 4th, 1776.
(fn6) Mr. Burke, in his “Thoughts on the Present Discontents,” 1770, said: “The power of the crown, almost rotten and dead as prerogative, has grown up anew, with much more strength, and far less odium, under the name of influence,” intrigue, and favoritism; and a few years later he refers to the “not disavowed use which has been made of his Majesty’s name for the purpose of the most unconstitutional, corrupt, and dishonorable influence on the minds of the members of this Parliament that ever was practiced in this kingdom. No attention even to exterior decorum,” etc.
(fn7) This contemporary observation of the English government of that period shows the watchful eye of the colonists on the administration; and by it we can better appreciate their masterly conduct of public affairs, and their superiority over the British statesmen. England knew not her colonists, but she was known of them.
(fn8) One apology for this bad faith was, that if only Tory interests remained in Boston the patriots would fire the town. It occasioned extreme anxiety and suffering. — Frothingham, 93-90
(fn9) Soon alter the battle at Concord, General Gage stipulated, with the selectmen of Boston, that if the inhabitants would deliver up their arms, to be deposited in Fanuell Hall, and returned when circumstances would permit, they should have liberty to quit the town, and take with them their effects. They readily complied, but soon found themselves abused. With great difficulty, and very slowly, they obtain passes, but are forbidden to carry out anything besides household furniture and wearing apparel. Merchants and shopkeepers are obliged to leave behind all their merchandise, and even their cash is detained. Mechanics are not allowed to bring out the most necessary tools for their work. Not only their family stores of provisions are stopped, but it has been repeatedly and credibly affirmed that poor women and children have had the very smallest articles of this kind taken from them, which were necessary for their refreshment while they traveled a few miles to their friends; and that even from young children, in their mothers’ arms, the cruel soldiery have taken the morsel of bread given to prevent their crying, and thrown it away. How much better for the inhabitants to have resolved, at all hazards, to defend themselves by their arms against such an enemy, than suffer such shameful abuse!
(fn10) Since July 17, 1771, when the General Court at Salem closed the door against the secretary sent by Governor Gage to dissolve the Assembly, chose Thomas Gushing, Samuel Adams, Robert Treat Paine, James Bowdoin, and John Adams, delegates to a congress of the colonies, passed resolves, and separated. — Ed.
(fn11) The power of public opinion in preserving order and safety during the period from the time when the king’s courts and magistrates — all legal authority — ceased to act, till the accession of constitutional authority,— a phenomenon which excited the admiration of the world, — is finely illustrated in Mr. Freeman’s account of the proceedings in Barnstable county, “on the first Tuesday of September,” 1774. As there might be appeals from the Court of Common Pleas to the Superior Court, the Chief Justice of which, Hutchinson, had accepted a salary from the crown, the people suppressed the sessions of that court throughout the province, except in Boston, where they were not in power. Fifteen hundred of the people of Barnstable, Plymouth, and Bristol counties, thoroughly organized, met in front of the court-house, at Barnstable, and, through their conductor-in-chief, Dr. Nathaniel Freeman, of Sandwich, addressed Colonel Otis, the venerable Chief Justice: . . . “Our safety, all that is dear to us, and the welfare of unborn millions, have directed this movement to prevent the court from being opened or doing any business. We have taken all the consequences into consideration; we have weighed them well, and have formed this resolution, which we shall not rescind.” The Chief Justice then calmly but firmly replied: “This is a legal and a constitutional court; it has suffered no mutations; the juries have been drawn from the boxes as the law directs; and why would you interrupt its proceedings?—why do you make a leap before you get to the hedge?” Dr. Freeman responded: “All this has been considered. We do not appear out of any disrespect to this honorable court, nor do we apprehend that if you proceed to business you will do anything that we could censure. But, sir, from all the decisions of this court, of more than forty shillings’ amount, an appeal lies; an appeal to what? — to a court holding office during the king’s pleasure, —a court over which we have no control or influence, — a court paid out of the revenue that is extorted from us by the illegal and unconstitutional edict of foreign despotism, —and there the jury will be appointed by the sheriff. For this reason we have adopted this method of stopping the avenue through which business may otherwise pass to that tribunal, — well knowing that if they have no business they can do us no harm.” The Chief Justice then said: “As is my duty, I now, in his Majesty’s name, order you immediately to disperse, and give the court the opportunity to perform the business of the county.” Dr. Freeman replied: “We thank your Honor for having done TotK duty: We Shall Continue To Perform Ours.” The court then turned and repaired to the house where they had put up. This was supposed to be the first overt act of Treason, done deliberately, in the face of day. The solemnity and sense of right which governed the people, and which was a characteristic of the revolutionary period, was grandly exhibited in their code of regulations adopted on this occasion. We give their own words:
“Whereas a strict adherence to virtue and religion is not only well pleasing in the sight of Almighty God, and highly commendable before men, but hath a natural tendency to good order, and to lead mankind in the paths of light and truth:
“Therefore, Resolved, That we will . . . avoid all kinds of intemperance by strong liquors, and no otherwise frequent the taverns than for necessary entertainment and refreshment; that we will not swear profanely, or abuse our superiors, equals, or inferiors, by any ill or opprobrious language; that we will not invade the property of any, or take of their goods or estate without their leave or consent; that we will not offer violence to any persons, or use any threatening words, otherwise than such as shall be approved of and accounted necessary by our community for the accomplishing the errand we go upon; and that we will carefully observe an orderly, circumspect, and civil behavior, as well towards strangers and all others as towards those of our own fellowship.
“Resolved, That Messrs. Aaron Barlow, Nathaniel Briggs, James Foster, Joseph Haskell, 3d, John Doty, Judah Sears, Jr., Stephen Wing, and John Pitcher, be a committee to hear and determine all offenses against morality, decency, and good manners, that shall be complained of, . . . with power to call before them, examine, acquit, or punish, according to the nature and circumstances of the offence
“Resolved, That we will, during the time of our said enterprise, aid, protect, and support our said committee in the full and free discharge of their duty and office, and use our most careful endeavors for the punishment of all offenders.
“And, forasmuch as these our public transactions are of a public nature, and, as we apprehend, laudable; and as we have no private interest to serve, or anything in view but the good of our country and its common cause:
“Therefore, Voted, That these resolves be read once every day, at some convenient time and place, during our transitory state and temporary fellowship, — so that our righteousness may plead our cause, and bear a public testimony that we are neither friends to mobs, or riots, or any other wickedness or abomination.
“And, lastly, we Resolve, That we will yield all due respect and obedience to those persons whom we shall choose and appoint for our officers and leaders,” etc.— ” History of Cape Cod,” by Rev. Frederick Freeman, Boston, 1860; a work of great value and interest, of which chapters xix. xx. are additional to previous materials, and supply a passage in the moral history of the people the most difficult to be preserved.
Mr. Burke, in March, 1775, reflecting on this singular spectacle of a people remaining in perfect order without a public council, judges, or executive magistrates, said: “Obedience is what makes government, and not the names by which it is called; not the name of governor, as formerly, or committee, as at present.”
(fn12) Governor Gage, in his proclamation of June 12,1775, a few days after Dr. Langdon’s sermon was preached, said: “To complete the horrid profanation of terms and of ideas, the name of God has been introduced in the pulpits to excite and justify devastation and massacre.”
(fn13) This action was in the night following the twenty-seventh current, after our soldiery had been taking off the cattle from some islands in Boston harbor. By the best information we have been able to procure, about one hundred and five of the king’s troops were killed, and one hundred and sixty wounded, in the engagement.(fn14)
(fn14) Frothinghatn, pp. 109, 110, says this was magnified into a battle, and dwelt upon with great exultation throughout the colonies. The loss of the enemy was probably exaggerated. — Gordon, Letter xiv.
Mr. Mansfield, in his Thanksgiving Sermon at Roxbury, November 23, 1775, said: “Providence has likewise smiled upon the camp, in permitting so few fatal accidents, and evidently been its safeguard.” He says: “I am informed that by means of upwards two thousand balls that have been thrown from the opposite lines, five men only have been taken off.
(fn15) When we consider the late Canada Bill, which implies not merely a toleration of the Roman Catholic religion (which would be just and liberal), but a Arm establishment of it through that extensive province, now greatly enlarged to serve political purposes, by which means multitudes of people, subjects of Great Britain, which may hereafter settle that vast country, will be tempted, by all the attachments arising from an establishment, to profess that religion, or be discouraged from any endeavors to propagate reformed principles, have we not great reason to suspect that all the late measures respecting the colonies have originated from popish schemes of men who would gladly restore the race of Stuart, and who look on Popery as a religion most favorable to arbitrary power? It is a plain fact that despotism has an establishment in that province equally with the Roman Catholic Church. The governor, with a council very much under his power, has by his commission almost unlimited authority, free from the clog of representatives of the people. However agreeable this may be to the genius of the French, English subjects there will be discouraged from continuing in a country where both they and their posterity will be deprived of the greatest privileges of the British constitution, and in many respects feel the effects of absolute monarchy.
Lord Littleton, in his defence of this detestable statute, frankly concedes that it is an establishment of the Roman Catholic religion, and that part of the policy of it was to provide a check upon the New England colonies. And the writer of an address of the people of Great Britain to the inhabitants of America, just published, expresses himself with great precision when he says ” that statute gave toleration to English subjects.”
I perceive likewise that by means of about three hundred balls, etc., thrown into this place”— Roxbury — “in the course of one month, viz., from September 3 to October 3, but two were wounded (one but slightly; the other died, after some time, of his wound), and no man was immediately killed. It is to be remarked further, that not one person was hurt, in the course of above three hundred shells being thrown to a fortress erected upon Ploughed Hill,” in Charlestown.