This is our year of Jubilee. A hundred years have rolled away since the Declaration of our Independence as States, and the formation of the confederacy which ripened into nationality: but little more than two hundred years since the earliest wanderers “not knowing whither they went,” ignorant whether to hope or to despair, left the shallops upon which they had braved the ocean, and sought upon this continent a new home.See also: HISTORY BEFORE and DURING THE ERA OF THE FORMATION OF THE CONSTITUTION of the UNITED STATES AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE by Samuel Adams Delivered to Congress Aug 1, 1776 THE MEANING OF THE REVOLUTION and CONTROVERSY OF INDEPENDENCE THE TRANSCENDENT GLORY OF THE REVOLUTION by John Quincy Adams
One hundred years! The life-time of some few men. Some child born this moment may see the recurrence of a century. But how brief a portion is it of the life of most nations! In the clays of Pericles, Athens had existed over one thousand years. Almost seven hundred intervened between the birth of Augustus Caesar and the building of Rome. The census of the great city thirty years before the Christian Era, made its population 4,000,000 souls. Sixteen hundred years comprise the life-time of Egypt from its foundation until Cambyses became its conqueror, while from the union of the Kingdoms of Great Britain under the name of England, until the birth of Shakespeare, was over seven hundred years; from thence till now, more than three hundred more. The greatness of America attained in one hundred years, judged by the ordinary tests of national progress, can perhaps best be appreciated by each a brief summary, exhibiting at a glance the time required for the development of other Empires, in contrast with that taken for our own.
The century over which we rejoice has been one of rare development in every quarter, and in every field of human progress. Think of the events which have distinguished it. That establishment of separation from the mother country which we wrongly term the war of the Revolution; the rightly called Revolution of France; the wars succeeding, which devastated Europe, and illustrated the career of the greatest captain of the world; the singular, romantic and varying life of his distinguished nephew, passing from a prison to a throne, and thence to inglorious flight and death in luxurious exile; the rise of the great Russian Empire from almost barbarism to the second station among civilized nations; the creation of Australia; the almost new creation of Italy; the subjugation, complete, though sudden, of France to Germany; as sudden and more complete than when the brave and adventurous Henry the Fifth brought to his knees the French monarch of his day at the bloody field of Agincourt; the romantic conquest of Mexico by our own arms; the strange revelation and settlement of California ; and springing from or at least connected with it the stupendous Civil War through which we ourselves have passed, with its momentous consequences to us, to the race so long enslaved among us, to all mankind, in that it has demonstrated the inherent toughness of Democracy, and revealed that we are a Nation which, if it may crumble, can never be overcome or fall; all these and many more historical events have distinguished this great century and made it most remarkable of all which the world has ever seen. The man whose life spans it, has beheld more stupendous changes than were ever crowded before within so short a time.
It cannot be fairly alleged that the century past excells its predecessors in individual, intellectual or moral development. Knowledge has been widely diffused, and in certain directions greatly increased. But it is not the era of great men, of deepest and most powerful thinkers. It seems as if diffusion was almost inconsistent with depth. The distinction of the ago is in discovery, more than in thought . But in this region, namely, that of material discovery, the deeds of the century have been even more remarkable than its political history. Who can enumerate them? Invention has been most prolific and successful, revolutionizing the methods and laws of life and action everywhere. In war, the clumsy firelock and insignificant though awe-inspiring ordnance of 1776 have given place to the breach-loader, the revolver, the chassepot and needle-gun, the mitrailleuse, the rifle cannon, the huge columbiad and other mighty weapons, whose roar makes that which appalled our forefathers seem nothing in comparison, while fortifications once impregnable are now regarded as utterly and absurdly unavailing. The “wooden walls of England” have come to be despised. A Yankee contriver produced a contemptible naval “cheese-box” whose marvelous success, both for offense and defense, has thrown doubt on the utility of ordinary ships, and art is now seeking in submarine navigation and the use of torpedo boats the means of naval attack and defense. It is through war that nations attain Peace, and to-day the art of war is not simply revolutionized; it is positively mystified; taught to distrust everything it knows, groping for some discovery or invention by which to contend successfully with the inventions which have made old schemes and weapons ridiculous. In agriculture, methods and means are entirely changed. True, the old plans remain. Virgil’s Georgics [The Georgics is a poem in four books, likely published in 29 BC] may still instruct the farmer. The plow, the harrow, the spade, the hoe, the scythe, the flail and the sickle still remain. But with these ancient implements, the reaper, the mower, the planter, the thresher, and a host of other labor-savers have largely done away with personal toil, whilst chemistry and science have made the earth teem with strange fertility, and the art of gardening has furnished its votaries with the power of almost creation.
In medicine and surgery the progress of the century is perhaps most remarkable. Vaccination has all but quelled the direst of all pestilences. Chemistry has supplied specifics remedying in skillful hands almost every chronic disease, while anaesthetics have robbed surgery of its terrors and made operations possible and common which before men never dared. The victories of medical and surgical skill over disease and death during the wars which have lately scourged Europe and America have illustrated a heroism, individual and professional, not excelled in any age: a devotion to duty and to scientific research of which the world may well be proud.
In mechanics what triumphs have abounded. The perfected cotton-gin brought into many times multiplied use as a fabric for clothing, warmth and decoration almost unknown before, and stimulated an agriculture, the value of which changed the seat of empire. But the steam engine—what differences to mankind have not been produced by its discovery and application. The stationary steam engine disembowels the earth or foils fable in the multiplication of mechanical production. Applied as a motive power it has changed the habits and character of the world. The steamboat upon our rivers; the magnificent steamship defying nature and making the ocean its slave; the locomotive, annihilating space and time, binding together distant realms and opposite oceans, so that no region on earth seems any longer foreign; could imagination picture what would happen were the use of steam suddenly lost? Yet before this century it was not known.
Even more wonderful in its effects upon mankind has been the discovery of magnetism and the telegraph. Europe lies just across the road. Its inhabitants are our companions with whom we hold daily converse.
Catalogue a few of the mechanical inventions of this wonderful century. The steam engine, the telegraph, the photograph, the hydraulic press, the repeater, the steamboat, the steamship, the locomotive, the diving bell, the rolling mill, the sewing machine. In each word what revolutions in Science and Art and in the habits of life and society start up before the mind.
A noticeable fact in regard to most, if not all, these revolutionizing inventions is that they were the work either of Englishmen or Americans. The progress of the century is mainly due to this one branch of the human family, and the same thing is true most extensively of minor inventions and discoveries. This may be called the Anglo-American century. Other peoples have adopted what Englishmen or American have suggested or begun. But these have led in the march of society.
Whence this striking fact? Whence the prominence, and I hesitate not to stay, without stopping more carefully to prove it, the superiority of this race of mankind during the century just concluded? It was not always so. Up to the reign of Elizabeth and even to its termination in 1603, Spain was a greater power than England; Spaniards more enterprising as sailors and discoverers; more distinguished in the history of the world. A hundred years before, three hundred Spaniards had conquered Cuba. Some ninety years previous, Cortez had taken Mexico. About the same time, Magellan sailed through the straits which bear his name and thus entered the Pacific Ocean. A few years later, in 1533, Pizarro completed his wicked conquest of Peru. France at that time was likewise greater than England, and even colonized in America with greater energy and earlier. The Empire of the Western World was long the prize of doubtful struggle among these three great nations. Even North America was parceled among them. Florida, named by its Spanish Governor in 1512 and only ceded to the United States in 1821, and Canada, whose dominion by the French began in 1535 and ended in 1759, show by their very names how easily the destiny of this land of ours might have been altered.
Again do we recur to the question, why the prominence during the last century of England and America? Why their wonderful progress, while other nations, greater once than England, and far greater than infant America, even when progressive, halt and fall behind?
I speak of the progress of England during this eventful century, taking it into consideration at the same time with our own. It is right and profitable that we do so—it will tend to restrain our pride, and if rightly studied, perhaps to give us lessons for our future. Let us pause in our consideration of the great question proposed, and glance, though but a moment, at the mighty structure, the British Empire.
The area of the British Isles is some 123,000 square miles; less than California, or Dakotah, or Montana; not half as large as Texas; somewhat over twice as large as the State of New York. But the area of all other British possessions is 3,034,827 square miles, situate everywhere, so that it is true, without a figure, that Britain’s morning drum heralds the sun in its progress through the world. And this, though our arms wrested from Great Britain so much of all the immense country now belonging to the United States and its territories, comprising no less than 3,014,784 square miles.
The population of these islands in 1871 was 31,817,108. But under their sway, there were besides 208,091,858. In 1780, the population of these islands did not exceed 15,800,000. That of their possessions certainly then bore no comparison to the number existing now.
The population of the United States, in 1790 was 3,929,214; 1870, 38,558,371. The area of the original States was only 820,680. That of the Union now 3,614,784
It were enough for America to be the daughter of such a mother. The grandest proof of our progress is the fact that the population of the Union to-day exceeds that of the islands of Great Britain by some 7,000,000, while one hundred years ago, our numbers were scarcely one-fifth of theirs; nearly 12,000,000 less .
It were profitless to go further; to state the material wealth of these two great Empires or to show their increase in the century. It is enough to realize the number subject to their dominion—the extent of the world’s area over which each rules. We come back to the question most interesting, why the prominence of these two great commonwealths; why their admitted eminence in progress during this eminently progressive century?
Each owes much to isolation and abundant opportunity; much to the blood which flows in the veins of its people; much to the civil institutions which have molded their character, and through which, doubtless, both the similarities and differences of Englishmen and Americans have been worked out. But we cannot fail to observe one striking fact. The impetus of English greatness was given by the generation that settled America. It was pushed onwards by the immediately succeeding generations, following for the most part the same course of thought and practice, and from which, from time to time, successive colonies came. The England of to-day is the England first fairly developed in the reign of Elizabeth and James, and which has since only been modified, never fully changed. The America of today, departing, I fear, too carelessly from the principles of its originators, is yet great and worthy just in proportion as it adheres to them. To state the view I wish to maintain in short compass, it is this: the character and greatness of England and America, of Englishmen and Americans, are the result of the principles of tolerant Christianity, that is to say, of the open Bible and the inculcation of its precepts and doctrines. The freedom of which we rightly boast is better than any other freedom because it is that which springs from the open Bible, and is reverential and dutiful at the same time that it asserts the rights of man. The progress over which we celebrate this year of jubilee, is due, would we but see it, to the action of those elements of character, which the open Bible, revered and followed as the fathers revered and followed it originates and strengthens—and if we would maintain that progress; if we would have the Nation live more centuries; yea! if we would have the next find us a strong, united and happy people, we must retain the open Bible as a legal institution, insisting upon its use in all education regulated by law, and furthering it by all means consistent with law. This is the grand subject which I venture this day to suggest. A subject, which in fact, one can do little more than suggest, but which is super-eminently worthy of the careful thought of the distinguished society, a branch of which I have the honor to address in this Centennial year of its establishment.
The historical allegation that the reigns of Elizabeth and her successor date the development or first impetus of English greatness, of what peculiarly marks the English character, will be, I think, generally accepted. It was indeed a most remarkable period. The wars of the Roses had toughened the hearts and sinews of the commonalty. The sentiment and habit of duty which were the strength and recommendation of the Feudal system had increased the native manliness which seems inherent in the race. The habit of using martial weapons which the law required; the enforcement of industry; the punishment and contempt of sturdy vagrancy and tramps; the simplicity of diet and of dress; the strict requisition of honest weights, measures and prices, all enforced by statute; the fierceness in fight which won Cressy and Agincourt, the simple-hearted patriotism which made every man think first of England than of himself—these had made a people fit indeed for great things.
Over them ruled the Church. Their information in holy story was mainly given by plays and pageants, mystery plays, like those still used in Germany, dramas of religion or popular legends. Not over five millions of people existed in all England; their habits of life simple in the extreme.
Then came the discovery of printing, and in due time the printed Bible. First, Tyndale’s in 1526 to 1536, the mere possession of a copy of which was its owner’s passport to the flames; then Myles Coverdale’s in 1535, patronized by Lord Cromwell; then Cranmer’s, the first Bible published in England, a copy of which in 1540 was required to be placed in every Parish Church; then Whittingham’s, Parker’s or the Bishop’s Bible dated 1560 and 1568, and finally the Douay or Catholic version in 1609.
Simultaneously or shortly before these publications which mainly effected the English people, properly so called, came the outburst of English letters and talent. The lower world was on fire; the upper a series of constellations. In Church and State, in Poetry and Drama, in Philosophy and Statesmanship, in voyages and travels, in arts and in arms, the Elizabethan age stands grandly eminent, unapproached by aught else in the history of mankind. Think of a period, and that when population was so small, that could produce a Bacon, a Shakespeare, a Spencer and a Sydney, a Cecil, a Marlowe, a Johnson, a More, a Drake, and a Raleigh, besides a crowd of others whom it were a pleasure, could we stop to remember.
But the great feature of the period, especially that ranging between the middle of the reign of Elizabeth and the meeting of the Long Parliament, was the supremacy attained by the Bible. Says an eloquent and graphic writer of modern date, “England became the people of a book and that book was the Bible.” It was as yet the one English book which was familiar to every Englishman: it was read at churches, and read at home, and everywhere its words as they fell on ears which custom had not deadened to their force and beauty, kindled a startling enthusiasm. When Bishop Bonner set up the first six Bibles in St. Paul’s “many well disposed persons used much to resort to the hearing thereof, especially when they could get any that had an audible voice to read to them.” Says an old writer, “it was wonderful to see with what joy the book of God was received, not only among the learned sort, but generally all England over, among all the vulgar and common people: and with what greediness God’s word was read, and what resort to places where the reading of it was; everybody that could bought the book, or busily read it, or got others to read it to them if they could not themselves.”
Quoting again from Mr. Green’s history of the English people, “the popularity of the Bible was owing to other causes besides that of religion. The whole prose literature of England, save the forgotten tracts of Wycliffe, has grown up since the translation of the Scriptures by Tyndale and Coverdale. No history or romance, no poetry, save the little known verse of Chaucer, existed for any practical purpose in the English tongue, when the Bible was ordered to be set up in churches. Sunday after Sunday, day after day, the crowds that gathered around Bonner’s Bible in the nave of St. Paul’s; or the family group that hung on the words of the Geneva Bible in the devotional exercises at home, were leavened with a new literature. Legends and annals, war song and psalm, state rolls and biographies, the mighty voices of prophets, the parables of Evangelists, stories of mission journeys, of perils by the sea and among the heathen, philosophic arguments, apocalyptic visions, all were flung broadcast upon minds unoccupied for the most part by any rival learning. As a mere literary monument, the English version of the Bible remains the noblest example of the English tongue. Its perpetual use made it from the instant of its appearance the standard of our language. But for the moment its literary effect was less than its social. The power of the book over the mass of Englishmen showed itself in a thousand superficial ways, and in none more conspicuously, than in the influence it exerted on ordinary speech. It formed, we must repeat, the whole literature which was practically acceptable to ordinary Englishmen, and when we recall the number of phrases which we owe to our great authors, the bits of Shakspeare or Milton which unconsciously interweave themselves in our ordinary talk, we should better understand the strange mosaic of Biblical words and phrases which colored English talk two hundred years ago. But far greater than its effect on literature or social phrase, was the effect of the Bible on the character of the people at large. Elizabeth might silence or tune the pulpits, but it was impossible for her to silence or tune the great preachers of justice, and mercy, and truth which spoke from the book which she had again opened for her people. The whole moral effect which is produced now-a-days by the religious newspaper, the tract, the essay, the lecture, the missionary report, the sermon, was then produced by the Bible alone. And its effect in this way, however dispassionately we examine it, was simply amazing. The whole temper of the nation was changed. A new conception of life and of man superseded the old. A new moral and religious impulse spread through every class. Literature reflected the general tendency of the time. “Theology rules there,” said Grotius, of England, only ten years after the Queen’s death. “The whole nation became in fact a church.””
Out of all this, and under the action of many wonderful changes and providences, upon which we can look now and plainly see that the Hand of the Almighty directed, with bluff King Harry fighting with the Pope and appealing to the “Word against him, his self-will and sensuality thus giving aid to the triumph of the open Bible—with lovely Edward piously giving himself up to the completion of the Reformation—with Mary and Philip fanatically inaugurating persecution and lighting the fires of Smithfleld and Oxford—with Elizabeth in her turn contending with Spain, and with the aid of Providence dispersing and destroying the great hostile Armada—out of all this, I say, was evolved the Puritan—not the grim precision, morose, ascetic, penurious, canting and hypocritical which that word ordinarily calls up and describes, and which, in later years too often claimed the title; but the true and original Puritan, who was not necessarily or at first even a separatist, but adhered to the Church and its ministers, and sought honestly to reform, not to destroy. It was, said Fuller, “a name used to stigmatize all those who endeavored in their devotions to accompany the minister with a pure heart, and who were remarkably holy in their conversation. A Puritan was a man of severe morals, a Calvinist in doctrine, and (at last) a non-conformist to all the ceremonies and discipline of the Church, though he did not wholly separate from it.”
“What manner of men and women these were, or might be, consistently with this title, the same author from whom I quote graphically describes. Of one of them he chronicles the personal beauty which distinguished his youth, taking note from a wife’s description of him,“of his teeth, even and white as the purest ivory, his hair of brown, very thick-set in his youth, softer than the finest silk, curling with loose, great rings at the end.” Serious as was his temper in graver matters, he was fond of hawking and piqued himself on his skill in dancing and fence. His artistic taste showed itself in a critical love of “engravings, sculpture and all liberal arts,” as well as in the pleasure he took in his gardens, in the improvement of his grounds, in planting groves, and walks, and fruit trees! If he was diligent in his examination of the Scriptures “he had a great love for music, and often diverted himself with a viol, on which he played masterly.” The temper of the Puritan gentleman was just, noble and self-controlled. The larger geniality of the age that had passed away shrank into an intense tenderness within the narrow circle of the home. “He was as kind a father,” goes on the description already begun, “as dear a brother, as good a master, as faithful a friend as the world had. Passion was replaced by manly purity. Neither in youth nor ripe years could the fair or enticing woman draw Viim so much as into unnecessary familiarity or dalliance. Wise and virtuous women he loved, and delighted in all pure and holy and unblemished conversation with them, but so as never to excite scandal or temptation. Scurrilous discourse even among men he abhorred, and though he sometimes took pleasure in wit or mirth, yet that which was mixed with impurity he never could endorse. The play and willfulness of life, the Puritan regarded as unworthy of its character and end. His aim was to attain self-command; to be master of himself, of his thought and speech and acts A certain gravity and reflectiveness gave its tone to the lightest details of his daily converse with the world about him. His temper, quick as might be, was kept under strict control. In his discourse he was ever on his guard against talkativeness or frivolity, striving to be deliberate in speech, and ranking the words beforehand. His life was orderly and methodical, sparing of diet and self-indulgence; he rose early ; he never was at any time idle, and hated to see any one else so. The new sobriety and self-restraint marked itself even in his change of dress. Gorgeous colors and jewels disappeared. This no doubt reflected a certain loss of color and variety in life itself; but it was a loss compensated by solid gain. Greatest among them was the new conception of social equality. Their common call, their brotherhood in Christ, annihilated in the mind of the Puritans that overpowering sense of social distinctions which characterized a preceding age. The meanest peasant felt himself ennobled as a child of God. The proudest noble recognized a spiritual equality in the poorest saint. Of one of the representative men it is written” he had a loving and sweet courtesy to the poorest; he never disdained the meanest nor flattered the greatest.
Such was puritanism among the highest. Akin to it was Puritanism among the lower classes. Milton, John Bunyan, Penn, Hampden—these names suggest classes from which they sprung and show us who they were who laid the foundations of English and American greatness. It were delight to dwell upon personal descriptions and live awhile among such men and women. But it is impossible. We must endeavor to hasten on with the subject involved.
Nor can we stop to show how this sort of people changed; how their characteristics exaggerated, intensified, and became unnatural; how, in later days, piety became sanctimony; sobriety, moroseness; sense of right, tyrannous, self-will; frugality, covetousness; virtue, too often hypocrisy; toleration and charity, the very incarnation of their original merit, bitter intolerance and iron compression of opinion. All this, too true of latest puritanism, did not belong to the earlier. It evidently was a natural growth under the conditions of contest, legal repression and general conflict to which puritanism was exposed. But it was not a necessary one-—with judicious treatment, it would have been avoided.
The gardener, seeking successfully to propagate a noble plant, chooses the best stock at its healthiest prime, and then selecting the most promising bud, fullest of sap and vitality, he severs it, and carefully conveying and nursing it, in due time grafts it on some hardy stock, assured that it will permeate and renew it . And so the Divine Gardener and Creator selected the exact moment when the open Bible had done its noblest work, developed and bruit up the purest, holiest character, and then permitting wrongs and conditions likely to effect that object, He directed an emigration, a conveying of the best part of England to the distant wilderness, there to grow into a nation, like the other, yet even more progressive; of a freedom similar though perhaps more self-asserting, likely to produce a type of men with more active energy than that of those who remained; a nation which, daughter of England not only, but a child of England’s special freedom, the freedom of the open Bible, would take its place beside her as a bulwark of tolerant Christianity, a dispenser through all ages of the blessings to mankind which naturally spring therefrom.
No thoughtful man can fail to note the difference between the motives which generally brought the first settlers to America and those which have actuated other emigration. It was lust of gold which led the Spaniard to Mexico and Peru and Cuba and elsewhere, mingled with the stern missionary martyr spirit which distinguished Jesuit self-sacrifice. It was lust of gold which in our day settled California and Australia. It was lust of wealth and power which made Great Britain mistress of the Indies. But with those who from 1610 on to 1700, when large emigration well nigh ceased, defied the storms and sought homes in America, whence soever they came and with scarce an exception, whether from Holland, Sweden, Denmark or England, the motive of expatriation was the full enjoyment of the open Bible— of the right, that is, to believe, and to act upon their belief, of what it teaches; to enjoy the freedom of which it tells, and which it prompts; a freedom which establishes social equality among all men combined with and because of subjection to the will of God: a freedom which implies law, self-restraint, love and regard of one’s neighbor, mutual respect among all citizen’s; a freedom which prompts activity, self-improvement, progress; a freedom different in character from that which consists with Atheism, Theism or irreligion precisely in that point which has made these two nations so progressive, to wit, that man is intrinsically so capable of elevation that it is his duty ever to seek it.
In a word, the freedom here established, and preserved, and existing in the mother country by English law, illustrates at least in comparison with other nations civilized or barbarous which have it not, what is declared by the Divine Founder of Christianity: “if the truth therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.”
I call it “the freedom of the open Bible“-—into which phrase enter two great doctrines: first, that it is not, as with many, merely a book, however to be admired and comparatively regarded, but the Bible—authoritative, true, supreme—next, that it is to be open—open to all, not to be kept for sacerdotal or other exposition merely—not to be followed in the way of some rather than of others, but for each human being to follow in his own way, according to private judgment, with such wisdom as he can acquire and on his own responsibility. Worshipful reverence for the Book, combined with toleration towards all who conscientiously follow it, whatever their differences, and with pitiful regard to such as conscientiously and respectfully impugn it, this is the foundation of the freedom which has done such great things for England and for America, and through them for the world.
How in each Nation this fundamental law of the open Bible, whose natural product is tolerant Christianity, has been established and preserved, through all the changes and chances of the life of nations, is a subject full of interest. In the British Isles, Puritanism, the first fruits as I have insisted of the open Bible, found an established Church, part of the law of the land; a pillar of the State, and of the Crown: in Scotland following one form of sectarian theology, in England another. Struggling for influence within the Church, it found obstacles, and then occurred contention which affected the character of both contestants. Antagonism shaped both, and neither party was the better in the end. But, for all that, with both the two great blessings remained: the Bible, in the Church as out of it was the Book, and religious belief of every sort was tolerated. True, exceptions to this toleration, or at least restrictions, on the manifestations of contrary belief, occurred both abroad and here. But this has always been temporary and at last rejected, and while we in America have always scouted an established Church with a remnant to-day of the rancor of the fathers against it, we yet may doubt whether, without the establishment of Churches in England, Scotland, Holland and other commonwealths, our form of Christianity could have been so strong, or civilization and progress so advanced and secure.
For the forces opposed to the open Bible were, and are even still, so organized and so supported by civil power, that like organization and support were perhaps necessary. The ends of Providence, one may almost think he sees, required that England, the chosen chief champion of Protestant Christianity and illustration of its effects, a European power with others to contend with or to influence, should be for all these centuries more of a monarchy than a republic, while America, afar off, to whom all must come over the seas, but with an inimitable future in its immense area, could with safety at once exemplify that republicanism to which the open Bible leads. And so in the Providence of the Most High, there came about for Britain the established Churches of the two Kingdoms, combined with their noble Universities and schools, while in America the hearts of men were led to the establishment of the system of Public Schools, in itself and by itself insufficient, except that in them, as everywhere else, there was permitted the open Bible, and except Colleges and Universities, developing a higher culture than is possible in Public Schools, were consecrated to positive instruction in religion.
It is these great agencies at home and abroad that have done the great work of this marvelous century; the Church, the College and the School, all fostered by the Civil Law and shaped by Providence with a skill in adaptation equal to that in physical culture for the production of the peculiar growths required there and here.
A word more on this topic, tiresome though I may be. The distinction of the British Constitution is its composite nature, the harmony with which it commingles all three of the known forms of government. Its outward strength lies in its aristocracy which remains in England, though it has perished almost everywhere else, and exerts a conservative force whose value can hardly be overestimated; especially because it supplies reward for merit and exertion, and thus constantly keeps up the existence of intellectual ability and strong character. The greatness of Britain is largely due to this. The number of men of force and culture there, as well as the extent of culture when it exists, is very great.
And yet it is not difficult to see that this is in a great degree the fruit of the Puritanism I have described, the true Puritanism, earliest offspring of the open Bible. It was this earnest religion that created most, if not all, of those numerous endowed schools everywhere to be found; in all of which religious teaching is a prominent feature, and which are the nurseries of Scholarship. From the lowest, meritorious pupils pass as a reward to some higher, one and from that to some still higher, until at last the peculiar few reach Oxford or Cambridge, where industry and success reap exalted reward in fellowships, in the Church, or even Parliamentary membership. And then professional success and merit are rewarded by office, honor and hereditary nobility, so that the aristocracy is constantly renewed with a new and vigorous growth—and the race of Englishman proper is perpetuated.
The system established here under the inspiration of the earliest settlers, and wrought into the frame work of our civil polity, was calculated to attain like results without repression of popular power. It is easy to see how it has shaped American characteristics and promoted American individualities. It had, like the other, several distinct means. First, the Public School, and in it always and everywhere and originally as a means of instruction, the open Bible. Second, Endowed Schools, Colleges and Seminaries, all for the most part under denominational influence, and all thus teaching religious truth. Third, Voluntary Churches with their educational adjuncts, the great source after all of popular and universal education, and upon which, today, the liberty and progress of America depend more directly than upon any other foundation. Through these we have as yet prospered; very much because of that feature of our Constitution, out-growth itself of evident Providence, by which we are divided into separate states or communities, and enabled thus more thoroughly to attend to these important fundamental forces. It is under their stimulus that American character is so independent, so self-asserting, so intelligent, so progressive, so universally, perhaps, audacious in every field of thought and action. The differences between American and English character are plainly traceable to the universal diffusion of education among us—to its comparatively superficial character—to the exclusively materialistic nature of the rewards to be gained by exertion. And alas, with all, there is clear experience of one great inherent defect: so great that unless it is met speedily, the end of all may come, that the Bible which created and shaped our freedom, and veneration and love for which, originated our schools, is, practically, no longer open there; is in fact, in many places, the only book legally and by name forbidden and excluded. Such a possibility, it is plain, never occurred to the fathers, whether of the seventeenth or the eighteenth century. Had they dreamed of it, they would have framed our Constitution so as always to avoid it. A horror of religious tyranny, an enthusiasm for religious freedom and for the formularies of religious toleration, led them to forget the dangers which might spring from the toleration of systematic irreligion and from the acts of those who, too highly valuing their own creed, first undermine public education by obtaining the exclusion of religion from Schools, and then prepare to attack the system as therefore positively and absolutely injurious.
My Fellow Citizens: If I have seemed thus far desultory and not practical, I trust it has been only in appearance. I meet you on the threshold of a new century, a century called by the world the second century of the Republic, but really the third, substantially, of the formation of the American nation, a graft, yet a separate stock from England in this continent, then the region of vastness and mystery. The train of thought I have thus far followed I trust is natural and pertinent. The chief distinctions of the century; to whom they specially belong; that they have resulted from the natural action, under Providence, of that peculiar sort of freedom which is British in contradistinction to that of any other nationality; the origin and individualities of that freedom, its intrinsic characteristics and worth: how it has been nurtured and maintained abroad—how here among ourselves; these are the great topics at which I have glanced, suggesting them merely to your future reflection, and all along with a practical purpose, to wit, to sound the alarm for the future of the Public School, and of the country, whose institutions confessedly depend upon it, and to appeal to all to uphold and extend collegiate education under denominational influences as a means beyond the reach of political majorities, whereby the open Bible may still be a positive institution, its precepts positively inculcated, and the freedom and progress which depend upon it thus perpetuated. For, if we will’ only observe and think, we must plainly see that, so far, no freedom has lasted, anywhere, where there was not the open Bible—that is to say, the Christian religion, with perfect toleration.
It is just here that I am met with the ordinary and plausible objection that the American Constitution acknowledges no religion, and does not even mention a God, and that its only reference to it is the amendment ” that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” the argument being that nothing which teaches religion can be done under the provisions of law. To which there is easy reply : first, that the subject is one not intended to belong to Congress, nor to the national Legislature; that it concerns internal police, a topic entirely reserved to the States; that if this is not fully correct still the very amendment, construed by the established rule “Expressio unius est exclusio, alterius,” (Translation: Expression of one is the exclusion of the other) legalizes all legislation by Congress on the subject of religion not implying its establishment nor the prohibition of its free exercise—and that it is to the Christian religion beyond all doubt that this amendment relates. And this view is strengthened by a later amendment which makes a difference in guilt between those in arms against it who have taken an oath (appealing thereby to God) to support the government, and those who have not. I add that Congress has, from the beginning, legislated and acted so as to acknowledge religion as by requiring an oath of office and oaths from witnesses and by punishing perjury, by establishing by rule the opening of their sessions with prayer, and by constituting chaplains, both for themselves and for troops, and manifold other acknowledgments of the Supreme Being and the Christian religion which He has ordained.
And going back to documents still operative, except so far as expressly and by necessary implication repealed, we find the articles of confederation recite that “it has pleased the Great Governor of the world to incline the hearts of the Legislatures of the various States to ratify this perpetual union;” we find the Declaration of Independence asserting the being of God, His Creation and the equality He established among men, appealing to Him as the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of the intentions of its signers, and expressing that they rely on “Divine Providence for protection” in the struggle they initiated; we find Congress after the Revolution passing the celebrated ordinance of 1787, for the government of the territory Northwest of the River Ohio, and declaring certain articles of compact between the original States and the people and States in the territory, forever unalterable save by common consent, in order to “extending the fundamental principles of civil and religious liberty which form the bases whereon these republics, their laws and constitutions are erected, and to fix and establish those principles as the basis of all law and constitutions, and governments which forever shall be formed in the said territory;” and among these articles is the following: “Religion, morality and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, Schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.” If these citations, with the practice of the Continental Congress and that which succeeded it, the successive Presidents and the various Departments, Executive and Judicial, all in acknowledgment of the claims of the Christian religion, do not negative the allegation that the Nation, as such, has no religion, it is difficult to say how such a charge can as to any nation be disproved.
The ordinance of 1787, when it mentioned religion and morality and made schools and education having them for its purpose or effect an unalterable compact between the old Thirteen and all its Northwest future, referred to the Christian religion; that religion which was held by all the people then within the newly-established confederation. That ordinance remained in force, notwithstanding the subsequent Constitution, and by it the government positively declared that it had a religion; that that religion was Christian, and that it was forever to remain and be promoted by schools.
But this argument for the Bible in the schools does not stop with the consideration of the national Constitution. As already said, the subject does not ex natura (Trans: From Nature) belong to Congress nor to national matters; it concerns internal police, a topic entirely reserved to the States, and when we consider the question in this light, all doubt dissipates. For those who will study the history of the various Colonies, will find in each that the maintenance and propagation of the Christian religion was one of their chief motives. If this was conspicuously true in New England, it was also true elsewhere, and especially in this our State of New Jersey. The Dutch who peopled Bergen and Somerset, the Quakers who found their home at Salem and Burlington, as well as the English Puritans who settled at Elizabeth, Newark and Woodbridge, and the Scotch who came later direct to Raritan Bay, all brought with them a deep sense of religion and sought its perpetuation. The laws of the early colonists stamped their form of Christianity on the commonwealth, and they have never been repealed. Our latest constitution formally adopts the Common law of which it is part, and in an illustration of it there yet appears upon our statute book a law in the words following : “all impostors in religion such as personate our Saviour Jesus Christ, or suffer their followers to worship or pay divine honors, or terrify, delude or abuse the people by false denunciation of judgments, shall, on conviction, suffer fine and imprisonment.” And another: “if any person shall willfully blaspheme the holy name of God, by denying, cursing or contumaciously reproaching His being or providence, or by cursing or by contumaciously reproaching Jesus Christ or the Holy Ghost, or the Christian religion or the holy word of God (that is, the canonical Scriptures contained in the books of the Old and New Testament) or by profane scoffing at or exposing them or any of them to contempt and ridicule, any person so offending shall, on conviction, be punished by fine,” or in State’s Prison. The first constitution of the State, whose date is July 2, 1776, a Declaration of Independence prior to that in Philadelphia, made by a convention convened a month before and in session a century ago this day, declares in Article xix. that “there shall be no establishment of any one religious sect in this Colony, in preference to another, and that no Protestant inhabitant of this Colony shall be denied the enjoyment of any civil rights merely on account of his religious principles, but that all persons professing a belief in the faith of any Protestant sect shall fully and freely enjoy every privilege and immunity enjoyed by others, their fellow subjects.”
The present Constitution, confirmed June 29,1844, begins with the fitting preamble, “We, the people of the State of New Jersey, grateful to Almighty God for the civil and religious liberty which He hath so long permitted us to enjoy, and looking to Him for a blessing upon our endeavors to secure and transmit the same unimpaired to succeeding generations, do ordain and establish this Constitution.” Succeeding sections secure and perpetuate the fund for free schools for the equal benefit of all the people of the State. Can a reasonable man contend that in endeavoring to secure and transmit civil and religious liberty, a people grateful to Almighty God for it, and looking to Him for a blessing, can begin by driving His word from the schools, the chosen means of securing this security?
It is objected that this fund is for the equal benefit of all, and that if the Bible be in the school, those who deny it, or oppose its inculcation, pay tax without a benefit. I answer, that the context describes the public school as for the equal benefit of all, and so it is if all may, if they please, have advantage from it. Whatever the reason for which I do not choose to use it, it is my fault, if not my loss. I pay taxes for roads which I never use, for sewers with which I will not connect, for gas which I will not introduce. All taxes suppose equal benefit to all the assessed. No one can resist payment if by possibility, living within the district, he may have the benefit he refuses. , It is insisted by some that no use of the Bible can be made without in some degree teaching the opinions, held by the teacher, and that therefore the rights of sects are involved. The answer is that the risk is nothing to the harm which mast occur if anything like morals or religion is excluded from the schools. Beside, the argument would interdict all legal proceedings. Why should it be that the Bible should be acknowledged by oaths taken upon it, its Author daily appealed to as the final Judge of the World; belief in a future state of rewards and punishments made the test of the capacity to speak truth; and yet the Book and the name of the Almighty be excluded from the schools. What is this but to teach irreligion? And what is that but to make education a curse, instead of a blessing? Says wise and good Sir Thomas Moore in his Utopia: “If you allow your people to be badly taught, their morals to be corrupted from their childhood, and then when they are men punish them for the very crimes to which they have been trained in childhood—what is this, but first to make them thieves, and then to punish them?”
Some say: divide the cost of public education among the sects, on condition of their maintaining the schools. Such a course would be resigning to others a duty which belongs to the State. Its result would be the abandonment of the fundamental principle of the Republic, expressed by Burke in the oft-repeated saying that “education is the cheap defense of nations;” more directly, that public safety requires the State to see to it that her citizens are fit to rule. In truth, the State ought to compel every child to attend some school. She cannot confide to others a duty so vital.
I should be ashamed, fellow citizens, to apologize for the seriousness of my subject . Its importance and propriety cannot be over estimated. No Fourth of July should be disgraced by bombast and self-adulation by exhilarants or anaesthetics. It is the National Sabbath, and like a sabbath, should be dedicated, not simply to rest and joy, but also to self-improvement. But this Centennial anniversary is a day of peculiar solemnity. Its arrival is a test of our national stability. We have invited the world to meet and rejoice with us. Only through God’s; mercy does it come to us. We have been snatched as the brands. from the very fire. It might have been a day of silence, of; shame and despair. The occasion calls for gravity, self-examination, truth, resolution of amendment, as well as for thankfulness and hope. Honest self-scrutiny forbids unmixed confidence. True, the nation has passed through many dangers. Foreign war has only strengthened it. Out of the terrific civil conflict from which we have just emerged, whose embers still smoke and every now and then almost blaze, it has come, politically, stronger than ever. But while the edifice stands erect when the people of the earth doubtful through the amazing struggle, are astonished and in view of the great things enacted before their eyes, the great mountain, whose top stone has been brought forth with shoutings, cry, “grace unto it,” while we hail the day as a minister of fraternity—a day of hand-shaking that is no longer a bloody chasm—a day of the fatted calf without a jealous brother, there are suddenly revealed signs of evil, occasions of grave anxiety. What timber in our edifice is sound? What stone beyond risk of crumbling? What spikes free from rust? What fastenings wholly secure? How dreadfully are we not illustrating the wisdom of Plato the Divine, when he said “as long as beggars hungering and thirsting for office, rush into the administration of public affairs, political life will be but a fierce contest for shadows, a strife for civil preeminence, as though this were in reality the highest good: laws will be but the remedies of quack physicians, giving temporary relief, yet ultimately aggravating what they cannot cure, whilst the rottenness of the foundation will finally bring down the superstructure, whatever may be the external form to which its security may be fondly confided.” The passage I quote seems well nigh inspired. Corruption, moral rottenness is the great danger of this Republic. Not in politics alone; far less in the action of one party or the other. What we find there, is but illustrative of what is elsewhere, yea, everywhere, Materialism is so triumphant. It has so eaten into the heart of all good things–I had almost said, of all good men. The higher life is so unpopular, so derided, so despised. What is generally desired that is not gilded? How few despise glitter and sound? How insane is the appetite for success? How dolefully do we all gaze around, searching for men—men such as we have read of—such as some of us have known—fit to be called statesmen. I do not say we have none. Thank God! we have, but, comparatively, how few. Most are but aspirants for personal success—the success of sound, of glitter, of shoddy style. It is the fault of our educational habits that their scope is so contracted. We hurry into action. The sooner at work, every man thinks, the better. So men are in action unequipped. And even the best rush by the shortest road towards their meditated goal. How many wait and seek the formation of character, make that their motive, and then seek or accept life’s tasks as duties. And so. general rottenness goes on, till even the horrid expositions on which the press batters to-day would be almost welcomed as necessary to the hope of better things, if it were not for the fear that familiarity with scandal and filth may breed contempt for evil accusation.
It is in view of this underlying want of moral tone, cropping out in every quarter that I have chosen and press my subject to-day. I have endeavored to speak as they would speak who laid the foundations of our freedom and progress, the men of 1664 who once walked these streets, who laid its broad avenues and parks, who established here religion and law, whose characteristics still live recognizable in many a descendant, whose lives and plans still contribute to the happiness we enjoy. I have endeavored to speak as they would speak who rejoiced one hundred years ago over the news of the Declaration we celebrate—a Declaration to which they came slowly, unwillingly, only from conscientious belief in its necessity, in calm religious resolution.
I have endeavored to speak as he would speak, chief promoter of the subsequent constitution, and so most of all, the Father of his Country.
Hear this Proclamation, made immediately on the completion of the Constitution, as an illustration of his views on the question whether the nation has a religion, and how intimately that religion should be connected with education.
BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.
Whereas, it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the Providence of Almighty God, to obey His Will, to be grateful for His Benefits, and to humbly implore His Protection and Favor; and whereas, both Houses of Congress have, by their joint Committee, requested me “To recommend to the people of the United States a day of public Thanksgiving and Prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful Hearts the many and signal Favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a Form of Government for their Safety and Happiness;” Now, Therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the twenty-sixth day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the Service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble Thanks for His kind Care and Protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation ; for the signal and manifold Mercies, and the favorable Interposition’s of His Providence in the Cause and Conclusion of the late War ; for the great Degree of Tranquility, Union and Plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rationale Manner in which we have been enabled to establish Constitutions of Government for our Safety and Happiness, and particularly the National one now lately instituted; for the civil and religious Liberty with which we are blessed, and the Means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful Knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various Favors which He hath been pleased to confer upon us.
And also, That we may then unite in most humbly offering our Prayers and Supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our National and other Transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private Stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually ; to render our National Government a blessing to all the People, by constantly being a Government of wise, just and constitutional Laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations, (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good Government, Peace and Concord; to promote the Knowledge and Practice of true Religion and Virtue, and the Increase of Science among them and us; and generally, to grant unto all Mankind such a Degree of temporal Prosperity as He alone knows to be best.
Given under my Hand, at the City of New-York, the third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand, seven hundred and eighty-nine.
I would speak the sentiments of these fathers on this solemn day. The price of liberty is eternal vigilance. It is ever in danger. Now from foreign enmity—now from intestine strife— at other times, as now, from the growth of corruption—irreverence for right as right, materialism, defiling everything, destroying true manhood, disgusting the good and competent with public affairs, and leaving the State to be managed and directed by cunning incompetency, seeking and using place for profit, scoffing at duty,—in a word, from moral rottenness. And the escape and, blessed be God there will be escape—I speak with no fear, for God is with us—from ruin to come, the ruin that has befallen other republics, the ruin that has so far been avoided, because our freedom is that which comes of the open Bible, is restoration and increase of its dominance and influence. Stand by it, fellow citizens, as the true Palladium of your liberties. Maintain the schools—and maintain it in the schools. Let it be an institution there, recognized and revered. Thus much can we do as citizens, nor little as it seems can we over estimate its extent. But this must not be all. In every way must we seek to saturate the community with Christian morality. The Church, the Sunday School, Colleges and Academies where religion is directly taught, the support of these is not only our duty as Christians. It is our duty also as patriots. The very infidel, if he loves his country, will aid in the promulgation of tolerant Christianity and the morality it inculcates. For, let no man doubt that just in proportion to the extent that that morality prevails, just in proportion as we remain the land of the open Bible—in that proportion, and that only, may we be assured that our freedom and progress will last, and that another century will find the Nation one great, happy, republican and free.
Originally titled: THE OPEN BIBLE; OR, TOLERANT CHRISTIANITY. The Source and Security of American Freedom and Progress. An Oration—By Hon. Courtlandt Parker, Delivered At Newark, N. J., July 4TH, 1876.See also: PATRIOT SONS OF PATRIOT SIRES by Rev. Samuel Francis Smith 1808-1895 Joseph Baldwin: Address 1892, to National Teachers Association in New York The Consequence of Bad Legal Precedent in American Legislation TRUE FREEDOM! A Poem by James Russell Lowell 1819-1891