Sermon – Artillery Election – 1809

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sermon-artillery-election-1809John Foster, a New England clergyman, was born in Massachusetts,
on April 19, 1763. He graduated from Dartmouth in 1783 and went on to receive
advanced degrees from both Dartmouth College and Harvard University. Foster
was selected as the first pastor of the Congregational church in Brighton, Massachusetts,
in 1783. He preached in Brighton until October of 1827, and died two years later
in September of 1829. Foster was a board member of Harvard University in addition
to being involved in numerous other benevolent works. He was married to Hannah Webster, who was
a famous early American novelist. Here, Foster delivers what is called an “Artillery
Sermon” – an annual sermon given before a military audience. Rev. Foster provides
a Biblical perspective on war by discussing just war and self-defense, the lamentability
of war, the importance of preparedness, and God’s sovereignty ruling over every
event.


A Sermon Preached Before The Ancient And Honorable Artillery
Company

In Boston, June 5, 1809,
Being The Anniversary of Their Election of Officers

By John Foster, A.M. Minister of Brighton.

Proverbs 24:6
By wise counsel thou shalt make thy war.

Solomon was a great and good man. Apart from the well attested fact, that his
pen was guided by the unerring Spirit of truth, his extensive information, united
to his ardent piety and exemplary virtue, give a high authority to his opinions.
Intimately acquainted with the windings of the human heart, and the course of
human affairs, all his knowledge was applied to the purposes of utility. He
was no visionary theorist. Though pre-eminently versed in the learning of his
time, and capable, beyond a doubt, as most philosophers of this enlightened
age, of exploring the secrets of nature and art, practical wisdom was the object
of his chief attention. In this he excelled. The maxims of prudence written
with his hand, and transmitted to us, in the sacred volume, are admirably adapted
to the various conditions and relations of our existence. The solitary individual,
the active citizen, the zealous statesman, and the intrepid warrior may here
find instruction, pertinent to their respective circumstances, and worth, at
once, to engross their study, and to govern their conduct.

On occasions, like the present, he speaks in that appropriate language, “By
wise counsel thou shalt make thy war”: language which intimates, in the first
place, that cases may occur to render war both justifiable and necessary; and,
in the second, teaches the manner, in which war is then to be commenced and
prosecuted. Theses points we will briefly consider in the following discourse.

I. In the first place, cases may occur to render war both justifiable and necessary.

Why, else, is it mentioned in scripture but with unequivocal disapprobation?
Why were the Jews so often permitted, and even commanded to assail and discomfit
their enemies? And when the kingdom of God was about to appear, under a more
pacific and mild dispensation; and the soldiers asked its precursor, “What shall
we do?” why did he not require them to renounce their profession entirely, instead
of giving directions which presupposed their profession lawful? “He said unto
them, ‘Do violence,'” or rather outrage, “to no man, neither accuse any falsely;
and be content with your wages [Luke 3:14].”

“God hath made of one blood all nations to dwell upon the face of the earth,
and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation
[Acts 17:26].” To each section of the globe he has assigned its local, and other
advantages, and has made it the duty, as well as the right of its inhabitants
to enjoy, improve, and defend them. Whilst suffered to dwell in safety, they
have no warrant to invade or molest their neighbors. “Contests for power” are
equally repugnant to the dictates of reason and the injunctions of revelation.
We are not, however, to impute, nor to admit the imputation of this crime, indiscriminately.
When we behold a nation struggling for her very existence, and jeoparding her
best blood in the field of battle, for no other purpose, than to repel the aggressions
of an aspiring, insatiable, despotic tyrant, humanity and religion demand, that
we decidedly condemn the one, and devoutly “bid God speed” to the other.

Such spectacles, alas! are not infrequently exhibited on the theater of the
world. So malignant are the passions, and so boundless the ambition, which infest
our apostate race, that no region of the earth can assure itself of undisturbed
repose. Eager in pursuit of aggrandizement and wealth, commercial kingdoms and
states, more especially, are liable to repeated collisions; and in perpetual
danger of committing or receiving injuries, which lead to open hostility. The
extent, to which the art of navigation is now carried, and the avidity, with
which every chance of acquiring property, influence, and territory is seized,
expose the remotest climes to depredation. “Wheresoever the carcass is, there
will the eagles be gathered together [Matt. 24:28].” In whatever country the
prospect of gain or renown is discovered, to that country will the cupidity
of unprincipled adventures and heroes be directed; and the first favorable opportunity
to attempt its subjugation, either by intrigue or by force, will be embraced.

“Other animals,” says Pliny, “live in peace with those of the same description.
They gather themselves in troops, and unite against a common enemy. The ferocious
lion fights not against his species: The poisonous serpent is harmless to his
kind: The monsters of the sea prey but upon those fishes which differ from them
in nature: Man alone is foe to man.”

It hence becomes the duty of every community to provide means of protection,
and to appear in the attitude of readiness, should they be driven to the painful
alternative, “to fight for their brethren, their sons and their daughters, their
wives and their houses [Nehem. 4:14].” To shrink from combat, in such an exigence,
were a dereliction of every principle, both of piety and patriotism. It would
betray equal ingratitude to God, and perfidy to our country. To God we are indebted
for “the good land” we possess, and for all the privileges, religious, civil,
and literary, which distinguish our lot. This fair inheritance, bequeathed to
us by fathers, who through life, yes, and in many instances, at the expense
of life, defended it for their children, is now committed to our guardianship,
in trust for “the generation to come [Ps. 78:4].” And could we innocently abandon
it, without an effort for its preservation? Could we innocently deprive unborn
millions of their birthright, and subject them to hereditary vassalage and misery?

Never may these United States incur the execration and ruin, denounced on ancient
Meroz, “because they came not to help of the Lord, to the help of the Lord against
the mighty [Judges 5:23].” Never may they be lulled into fatal security, by
the Machiavellian policy of foreign courts, nor seduced into tame submission
to a domestic soldiery, by the revival of that long exploded doctrine of nonresistance
and passive obedience. May they resolutely withstand encroachments of every
kind, and from every source, and, under the benign influence of equal laws and
pure religion, continue a free, independent, and happy people, “as long as the
sun and moon endure, throughout all generations [Ps. 57:5].”

II. To this end, it is unspeakably important, that the measures resorted to
for self-defense, be well advised. Let us, therefore, turn our thoughts, as
proposed, secondly, to the instruction before us, relative to the manner in
which these measures are to be commenced and prosecuted. “By wise counsel thou
shalt make they war.”

When war is contemplated, the first questions which present themselves for
solution respect its equity: Whether the motive which prompts it be guiltless;
consistent with the obligations, under which we are laid to God and our fellow
beings? Whether every previous step, tending to prevent a rupture, have been
taken, and “the last drop in the cup of reconciliation exhausted?” Whether nothing
more remain but abject prostration, or energetic repulsion? And, of course,
whether an appeal to arms be unavoidable?

To solve these questions judiciously, the collected wisdom of a nation is always
requisite. It is not enough that a select portion of the constituted authorities
convene, in midnight conclave, to arrange schemes, leading to war; and then
propose them to their compeers, not to prove their expediency, but to vote their
adoption: All parties ought to be consulted with candor; all parties ought to
be heard with patience. Light, as well as fire, may be elicited by the clash
of different opinions. This is, possibly, the precise idea, which the wise king
and preacher of Israel intended to convey, in the words immediately subsequent
to our text: meaning a diversified, rather than a great number, when he said,
“In the multitude of counselors there is safety.” In the progress of such unrestrained
discussion, it may appear that the moment of extremity has not yet arrived:
that the alarm was artificially excited by minds prejudiced against one offending
power, or obsequious to the will of another: And thus an immense sacrifice of
blood and treasure may be prevented.

But suppose the worst: that it should be found absolutely necessary to enter
the list with a formidable antagonist: this advantage will, at least, be gained:
The public mind, set at ease by the procedure, will concur with far less reluctance,
when every class of citizens have had their views and wishes fairly represented,
and dispassionately canvassed.

This point being settled, the next, in order, is the process to be chosen:
a point, to the righteous decision of which, a sacred regard to the unalterable
rules of justice must be cherished. In justice is not allowable toward the bitterest
foe. That divine precept, “Whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you,
do ye even so unto them, [Matt 7:12],” can, in no case, be violated without
crime. The modern sophism, that ” the end justifies the means,” is alike detestable
in its nature and pernicious in its operation: It is totally opposite to the
gospel of Christ, and contains a degree of turpitude, abhorrent to the moral
sense of virtuous pagans.

When Themistocles had rebuilt Athens, “his wish was to make it the first city
in Greece, and to secure to it that command, of which Sparta,” a rival republic,
“had shown to great jealousy. The building of the harbor of Piraeus; the procuring
of a decree, which enabled him to add twenty ships to the fleet annually, with
extraordinary privileges to encourage great numbers of laborers and sailors;
were measures which bespoke his prudence, as the sea was the natural resource
of Athens; but he did not stop there. One day, in a full assembly of the people,
he requested that some person might be appointed to confer with him, upon a
scheme of the greatest consequence, which was of such a nature to require secrecy.
The eyes of the whole assembly were instantly directed to Aristides, upon whose
judgment they could depend. Themistocles communicated to him a project for burning
the fleet of the allies, as an infallible means of making Athens the umpire
of all Greece. The report of Aristides was such as virtue ought to dictate.
He declared, that nothing could be more advantageous than the design of Themistocles;
but, at the same time, nothing could be more iniquitous. The votes were unanimously
on the side of justice.

Whatever might be the opinion of Aristides,” continues the historian, “the
utility of the plan was much to be doubted. The states of Greece, most justly
provoked, would not have hesitated to unite their whole power against a perjured
city; the public hatred must have followed, and all her glory have been forever
annihilated. And what advantage could have compensated for the ruinous effects
of such an undertaking? If the proper end of politicks be to procure the happiness
of nations, that end is not to be attained but by adhering to the rules of morality:
for every act of injustice leads to misfortune, were it only from its being
accompanied with certain infamy [Millot. Vol. I. P. 157-158. Salem Edit. 1796.].”

Compare this reasoning, or rather the determination, upon which it is founded,
with sentiments often avowed, and practices sometimes adopted, “in these last
days;” and you will find no special cause to glory in the preeminent wisdom
or integrity of the present age. Instances have occurred, within our personal
recollection, in which the detention and seizure of all the controllable vessels
and wealth, pertaining either to the government or subjects of an obnoxious
realm, have preceded every other hostile intimation. If I mistake not, propositions
were once made in our national legislature to retaliate British spoliations,
alleged to have been committed on our commerce, by sequestering all the debts
due to individuals, belonging to that empire. But to the honor of those who
them guided our councils, these propositions were rejected. We had then a greater
than Aristiedes; we had a Washington in the Presidential Chair.

War, commenced and prosecuted on Christian principles, is not a mere “trial,
which can do the other most harm.” Even enemies have rights, and those rights
are always to be respected. Nothing, whatever benefits it may seem to promise,
is to be undertaken or achieved for their annoyance, but in subordination to
known will of God, and with the decided approbation of an unsophisticated conscience.

‘But why,’ some of my audience may be disposed to inquire, ‘Why do you accost
us in strains like these? Get you to the great men, ‘who guide the car of state,
‘and speak unto them [Jerem. 5:5];’ for in their hands is the destiny and conduct
of the nation.’

This is true in a qualified sense; but not to such a degree as to supersede
the necessity or the effects of your agency. In a government constituted like
ours, no purpose can be carried into permanent execution unless “the people
love to have it so [Jerem. 5:31].” Every citizen has his weight; and if he throw
that weight into the scale of righteousness; if by his example, his advice,
and his suffrage, he exclusively countenance men and measures propitious to
the common weal, he may do much to lengthen the public tranquility.

Even we, my brethren, who minister in holy things, and serve at the altar,
are not exempt from the duties of social and civil life, nor incapable of promoting
the interests of our native land. The Jewish priesthood often gave counsel,
in matters intimately connected with the temporal prosperity and glory of the
chosen tribes; and were often instrumental of “causing them to know the way
wherein they should walk.” Now and then an Ahab, indeed, hated them, “because
they prophesied not good concerning hem, but evil [1 Kings 22:28].” This however
did not dismay them; nor let it terrify us. Possessing the same rights with
others, and claiming neither emolument nor office from any administration; destitute,
therefore, of every inducement to swerve from the line of political rectitude,
or to wish for a system of favoritism, I scruple not to affirm, that with equal
honesty and information, we are entitled to more confidence than the generality
of those around us. They are beset with temptations to partiality and selfishness
in their decisions, which are, to us unknown. Instead, then, of splitting into
religious sects, and distracting ourselves or our flocks, with the dogmas of
controversial divinity; instead of harboring suspicions and animosities towards
each other, which we could hardly vindicate in contending armies, let us stand
in our lot with firmness, and direct our united energies to the improvement
and salvation of our beloved country. “For our brethren and companions’ sakes,
let us say, ‘Peace be with her.’ Because of the house of the Lord our God, let
us seek her good [Ps. 122:8,9].”

In the application of what has been said, we are called,

1. To lament the universal prevalence of those inordinate lusts, in which “wars
and fightings” originate [See James 4:1].

Had innocence continued the inmate and ornament of our kind, nothing could
have interrupted or destroyed our peace; nothing could have “separated between
us and our God [Isa. 59:2].” But “man, being in honor, abode not [Ps. 49:12].”
Man perfidiously apostatized from hi Maker, and exposed himself and his posterity
to incalculable wretchedness.

By this deplorable catastrophe, our terrestrial abode was transformed from
a paradise of bliss to a field of contest; and “the whole creation groaneth
and travaileth in pain together, until now [Rom. 8:23].” The history of our
species is fraught with details of violence and distress, of battles and “garments
rolled in blood [Isa. 9:5].”

But we need not search the records of antiquity, in quest of scenes like these.
They abound, at this moment, in the world, and are visible to the most superficial
observer. Europe, convulsed in every member, and bleeding at every pore, exhibits
a spectacle of agony. “The overflowing scourge” has already “passed through”
many of its fairest regions, and they are “trodden down by it [Isa. 28:18].”
Other, seduced by the arts or invaded by the arms of a modern Attila, 1
are
in imminent danger of a similar destruction.

“O Lord God, to whom vengeance belongeth; O God to whom vengeance belongeth;
shew thyself. Lift up thyself, thou Judge of the earth: Render a reward to the
proud. Lord, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked triumph? How
long shall they utter and speak hard things? And all the workers of iniquity
boast themselves? They break in pieces thy people, O Lord, and afflict thine
heritage. They slay the widow and the stranger, and murder the fatherless [Ps.
94:1-6].”

Let us not, however, presume to impeach the conduct and counsels of heaven.
All these calamities are under the control of infinite wisdom and rectitude.
“Verily he is a God that judgeth in the earth [Ps. 63:11]:” and how majestic,
how adorable does he appear, in the direction of its multifarious and complicated
movements! All the diversified springs of human action, and every source of
human weal and woe are obsequious to his sovereign mandate; constantly inspected
by his omniscient eye; and invariably guided by his resistless hand, to the
accomplishment of holy and benevolent designs. “Surely the wrath of man shall
praise him, the remainder of wrath he shall restrain [Ps. 76:10].” Adventurous,
assuming despots are “the rod of his anger, and the staff in their hand is his
indignation.” These he “sends against hypocritical nations to take the prey,
and to tread them down like the mire of the streets;” and when, by their instrumentality,
he has “performed his whole work upon the people of his wrath,” he commissions
others to “punish the fruit of their stout hearts, and the glory of their high
looks [see Isa. 10:5-7, 12].”

Such, how humiliating the melancholy truth! Such is the discipline, which,
in many cases, the depravity of our fallen nature requires. Hence, my countrymen,
we are admonished,

2. Of our particular exposure to the crimes and miseries of war.

“Subject to like passions [Acts 14:15],” and prone, in common with the rest
of mankind, to “emulation, wrath, and strife [Gal. 5:20],” by a just retribution
of divine providence, “our own wickedness may correct us [Jerem. 2:19].” Infatuated
by the thirst of dominion, the desire of revenge, or “the love of money which
is the root of all evil [1 Tim 6:10],” we may become aggressors, and madly engage
in conflicts ruinous in their tendency and result: And have we made no advances
toward this fatal precipice of degeneracy, whence so many once splendid monarchies,
empires, and republics have fallen headlong?

Scarcely had we attained to independence, adopted the federal constitution,
and begun to realize the blessings anticipated from these sources, when, as
the unexpected eruption of a volcano, after long confinement and accumulation,
instantly darkens the air with its suffocating smoke, overspreads the earth
with its burning lava, and terrifies the most distant observer with its ominous
belches; the French revolution at once disgorged the collected depravity of
ages, and diffused consternation and disorder through the civilized world. The
tremendous shock was felt even to this western hemisphere, and deplorable indeed
were its effects. Taking an imprudent and needless interest in the event, we
contemplated deeds of horror, till they ceased to excite our aversion, as when
rarely witnessed; and, till some among us were not ashamed to speak of them
in terms of applause and gratulation! The doctrines of disorganization and impiety
so incessantly sounded in our ears, that their deformity was unperceived by
many, and a baleful reaction of the demoralizing influence of the late war was
produced and heightened. By exaggerated colorings of the bigotry, superstition,
and tyranny of former times, on the one head; and of the enlightened liberty
and equality of the present, on the other, a portentous sanction was given licentious
principles and manners; and multitudes were emboldened to promise themselves
peace, whilst “they walked in the imagination of their hearts [Deut 29:19].”
Yea, the pubic at large, from the obvious tendency of familiarity with examples
of vice, were imperceptibly led to regard them with diminished abhorrence; and,
at length, either for want of inclination, or through a persuasion of its impracticability,
seem to have abandoned all attempts to stem the torrent, and fix the stigma
of disgrace on dissolute characters. Such characters, therefore, appear with
boldness; and as they are not uniformly frowned into retirement, but, in various
instances caressed and promoted, they redouble their exertions to propagate
opinions and customs, repugnant alike to personal virtue and social harmony.
The spread of infidelity, irreligion, and rancorous party zeal is the consequence.

“Shall I not visit for these things? saith the Lord: and shall not my soul
be avenged on such a nation as this [Jerem. 5:9]?” These things naturally tend
to evil, and that continually. Unless repentance and amendment arrest their
progress, they may betray us into alliances, or contentions, or both, of the
most dreadful description: They may impel us rashly to “help the ungodly, and
to love them that hate the Lord [2 Chron. 19:2].”

This, though our greatest, is not our only danger. Could we challenge the most
irreproachable character as a people, such may be the rapacity and injustice
of surrounding nations, as to render war inevitable. Since the commotions which
have so long agitated Europe, there have been periods, when numbers pronounced
it expedient and proper to commence hostilities against one or another of the
leading belligerents. Recently have we been alarmed by rumors, and even by proceedings
tending to this issue, but blessed be God, who “turneth the hearts of kings
whithersoever he will [Prov. 21:1],” and “from whom cometh our help [Ps. 121:1],
the snare is broken, and we are escaped, as a bird out of the hand of the fowler
[Ps. 124:7]. The counsel of the forward is carried headlong; the wise are taken
in their own craftiness [Job 5:13];” and the bright prospect of continued amity;
of a mutually beneficial intercourse with the land of our fathers’ sepulchers;
and of returning prosperity to thousands of our fellow citizens, who have groaned
under privations without a parallel, suddenly rises to our view; relieves our
boding apprehensions; and cheers our desponding minds.

Whether war, on our part, would have been justifiable at any of the periods
to which I have now alluded, is not a question for me to decide: That it was
not necessary, and would, therefore, have been impolitic, facts have proved.
Hitherto a gracious providence has intelligibly addressed us, in the language
of the inspired Levite to Jehosaphat of old: “Ye shall not need to fight in
this battle; set yourselves, stand ye, and see the salvation of the Lord [2
Chron. 20:17].” Jehosaphat accordingly placed himself in a posture of defense,
and awaited the event; in which the nations, by whom his kingdom was threatened,
fell upon each other with such violence, that he had no other task to perform
than to “take away the spoil [2 Chron. 20 25].”

Instructed by this record, and in the hope of a similar result, is it not our
wisdom as well as our duty to occupy neutral ground: It is not to be dissembled
that the most impartial and equitable course, of which we are capable, may fail
of correspondent returns. Our commerce may still be obstructed. The magnanimous
policy of England may not be readily adopted by France; where the evil first
originated, and where, it seems, we are last to look for reparation. We may
again be insolently required to act either as friends or enemies to “the terrible
nation;” and notwithstanding all our endeavors to the contrary, we may be compelled,
by these, or by other causes, with in, and even beyond the limits of our present
apprehensions, to unsheathe the sword and assert our violated rights. I, therefore,
remark,

3. The obligation, inferred on us, to be habitually prepared for war.

I do not mean to insinuate the propriety of a standing army in time of peace,
for any purpose; and least of all for the purpose of enforcing oppressive laws,
at the point of the bayonet. What I intend is, that all governments ought, as
far as in them lies, to provide resources to meet every exigence, and to repulse
every invader.

It has long been the opinion of our greatest men, that armed vessels, constructed
not for shoal water, but to live at sea, are indispensable to the protection
and glory of our country. Mr. Jefferson, late President of the United States,
once reasoned upon this subject, in the following manner: “Wars must sometimes
be our lot and all the wise man can do, will be to avoid the half of them which
would be produced by our own follies and our own acts of injustice; and to make
for the other half the best preparations we can. Of what nature should these
be? A land army would be useless for offense, and not the best nor safest instrument
of defense. For either of these purposes, the sea is the field on which we should
meet an European nation. On that element it is necessary we should possess some
power.” 2

In exact accordance with this reasoning, when “in the full tide of successful
experiment,” we had an infant navy; and nothing contributed more to swell and
dignify the flood. Why was it destroyed in the cradle…At a season equally perilous
with any which has since arrived, it enabled us to maintain our rights on the
ocean, and to preserve the honor of our flag in every clime.

Can it admit of a question whether the same cause might have produced the same
effect, and saved us from the accumulated distresses of the late embargo? It
would have been far less expensive; and who will venture to affirm, that it
could have been more degrading:

Beside a naval force o\for the security of trade, military arrangements to
defend the coast and territory are apparently requisite; and the politician,
who is more solicitous to improve roads, than to fortify harbors, will seldom
meet the approbation, or advance the prosperity of a commercial people. It is
desirable, nevertheless, that these military arrangements should be of a nature,
as far as possible, to combine the citizen with the soldier.

Here we are constrained to recognize the wisdom and patriotism of our pious
ancestors. Tenacious of the liberty, in quest of which they had bid adieu to
their native soil; committed themselves to the mercy of the winds and waves,
or rather to the guidance of Him, whom the winds and waves obey [See Matt 8:27,
Mark 4:41, Luke 8:25]; and sought an asylum in a newly discovered and unfrequented
wilderness; among the earliest of their institutions was a martial academy, 3
which, pursuant to its original design, has been productive of numerous benefits
to their descendants. From this academy, have successively gone forth men, expert
in tactics, and disseminated the same useful science among their bretheren,
in different quarters of their own, and the adjoining states. Hence, the decided
superiority of our militia, in discipline and evolution, to that of any part
of the Union, or even of the world. Many of our ablest revolutionary officers
have graced the rolls and ranks of this select fraternity.

How important, then, is the station, and how responsible the trust, assigned
to you, gentlemen, who compose the chosen band, so justly styled “The Ancient
and Honorable Artillery Company!”

Permit me, in conclusion, while I congratulate you on the anniversary occasion
of your assembling, and cordially wish you “a blessing out of the house of the
Lord [Ps. 128:26],” to recommend a conduct becoming those, who “ask of him the
ordinances of justice, and take delight in approaching to God [Isa. 58:2].”

Few corporate bodies are under better advantages for extensive usefulness.
The rank you hold, is accompanied with power and opportunity to contribute much
to the real dignity and welfare of society, and to the correction of certain
erroneous sentiments and customs which prevail in “this untoward generation
[Acts 2:40].” Ought you not, therefore, at the same time that you “lead quiet
and peaceable lives in all godliness and honesty [2 Tim. 2:2],” to frown upon
every practice which tends to induce or confirm a persuasion, that the Christian
and military character are incompatible! A crime more frequent, perhaps, in
our country, than in any other civilized or barbarous region of the globe! a
crime, not confined, as elsewhere, to camps; but perpetrated by statesmen, merchants,
planters, and even slaves! 4

The awful idea of blending, in one rash act, the daring guilt of suicide and
murder; of rushing himself, or of precipitating another into an endless eternity,
unprepared, might be sufficient, it should seem, to stay the most vengeful hand
from blood! But, unfortunately, it is not the morality of the deed, nor its
future recompense, but the estimation of sinful dust and ashes, by which combatants
of this sort are governed. They recoil from the imputations of a spiritless
pusillanimity!… Is it then demonstrative of a noble mind, in defiance of than
dread Being “who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell [Matt 10:28],”
to engage in a contest, which the laws of the realm have denounced as a capital
offense; and which, without the most cautious artifice to evade those laws,
must subject the survivor to the pangs of an ignominious death? Or is it cowardly
and timid, like “the horse or the mule, which have no understanding [Ps 32:9],”
leaps the rocky precipice at the rustling of fallen, corrupted leaves, whirled
in the wind? Is it patriotic, is it generous, is it even manly, for a personal
insult or abuse, to demand the sacrifice of a life due to the public, and necessary
to the subsistence and comfort of a rising family; and to insist on piercing
the victim, through the heart of a doting parent, an affectionate wife, or a
defenseless offspring?

“O my soul, come not thou into their secret; unto their anger they slay men,
and in their self will they dig down” the barriers of domestic and social peace.
“Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce; and their wrath, for it is cruel [Gen
49:6-7].”

Is it not devoutly to be wished, that all classes of the community would combine
their efforts to discountenance and punish this nefarious usage? May it not
be expected that our civil fathers, among their other deliberations for the
general good, will turn their serious attention to the subject? God, in mercy,
lead them to the discovery and application of a prompt and efficacious remedy.

Some instances of a magnanimous superiority to this impious and absurd practice
have appeared in our land. The venerable Pinckney, 5 famed alike as a brave
general, an able ambassador, and an enlightened statesman, a few years since
[In 1804], proposed a resolution to the Cincinnati, the object of which was
to encourage and bind the members of that association, on no pretense whatever,
to give or accept a challenge. In perfect coincidence with the virtuous principle,
thus publicly avowed by this great man, a distinguished national legislator,
from Massachusetts, has lately honored himself and his constituents, by withstanding
every provocation to single combat.

Give your sanction, Gentlemen, to this laudable example, and save your own,
and the bosom companions of your brethren, both in arms and arts, from the dread
and danger of untimely widowhood. Your history, so far at least as it is known
to me, is yet free from the stain of fraternal slaughter. Continue, I beseech
you, to preserve this distinction; and cultivate every other virtue, which adorned
your founders. Seek your individual glory, in the blessings, procured by your
prowess for the nation; and voluntarily hold your swords on the terms prescribed
by Washington, in the bequest of his: 6 “Not to unsheathe them for the purpose
of shedding blood, except in your own defense, or in defense of your country’s
rights; and in the latter case to keep them unsheathed, and prefer falling with
them in your hands to the relinquishment thereof.”

Never “set up your banners, but, in the name of the Lord: Through him alone
you can do valiantly; for he it is that shall tread down your enemies [Ps. 20:5
and 60:12].” Attend his call therefore; and, at his call “Be courageous, and
play the men for your people, and for the cities of your God: and the Lord do
what seemeth him good [2 Sam 10:12].”

 


NOTES

[1] The ancient
Attila was a warlike barbarian, who, at the head of the Huns, spread devastation
and terror through the world, about the middle of the fifth century; and who,
on this account, was called “The scourge of God.” His genius equaled his ambition.
An artful politician and prudent general, not withstanding his ardent courage,
he had formed the most boundless plans of conquest; had murdered his brother
Bleda, that he might enjoy undivided dominion; and subjected to his power an
immense extent of country from the Baltic on one side, to the eastern ocean
on the other. He had received ambassadors from China, hemmed in the Roman empire,
and threatened to destroy it. Though destitute of every principle of religion,
he knew how to turn the vulgar superstition to his own advantage: The people
believed his enterprises inspired by the god of battles, and this opinion heightened
the courage and ferocity of his soldiers. The more he was courted, the more
insolent he became. His pretensions increased in proportion to the proofs of
cowardice which were given him, and a threat of war was often sufficient to
obtain for him whatever he demanded. See Milot’s Elem. Gen. Hist. Vol. 2. P.
346-7. Salem ed. 1796.

[2] Notes on Virginia
by Thomas Jefferson, p. 239,240. Boston Ed. 1802.

[3] The Ancient and Honorable
Artillery Company was incorporated A.D. 1638. only two years after the founding
of Harvard College.

[4] Few, who are at the pains to peruse these pages, will fail to recollect,
that, among the many other accounts of duels, recorded in our public papers,
one, at least, has appeared, of two Negroes at the southward, who proved themselves
capable of all the sensibility and courage necessary to deliberate single combat.
True, indeed, instead of swords and pistols, they fought with sithes, weapons
previously agreed upon in arranging the affair of honor. But had they possessed
the means, it can hardly be made a question, whether they would gladly have
been as fashionably equipped, as fashionably attended, and as fashionably dressed
too, as any of their betters, on like honorable occasions. Be this, however,
as it may: in the main point they were not deficient. They assailed each other
with as much obstinacy, and the successful hero killed his antagonist as completely
dead, as the genteelest duelists of the age could possibly have done.

[5] It can hardly be necessary
to inform the reader that the Honorable Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, esq.
The late federal candidate for the Presidential chair is intended.

[6] See Washington’s last will

By | 2017-03-17T15:17:05+00:00 December 26th, 2016|Categories: Historical Sermons|0 Comments