John Sylvester John Gardiner (1765-1830) was born in Wales and educated in England before coming to America. He was rector of Trinity Church in Boston and also served as president of Boston’s Anthology Club.
AT TRINITY CHURCH, APRIL 6, 1810,
DAY OF PUBLICK FAST.
J.S.J. GARDINER, A. M.
ISAIAH 1. 7.
YOUR COUNTRY IS DESOLATE, YOUR CITIES ARE BURNT WITH FIRE, YOUR LAND, STRANGERS DEVOUR IT IN YOUR PRESENCE.
If we turn our eyes towards continental Europe, the victim of her own weak counsels, and of the audacious ambition of an insatiable usurper, we must acknowledge, my brethren, that the words of Isaiah are not applicable to the Jews only, but equally descriptive of every nation, subjugated by the arms of revolutionary France. Though we entertained no apprehensions for our own safety, situated, as we are, three thousand miles from the theatre of war, and separated by the intervening ocean, yet as men we ought to feel for the misfortunes of our species, and as free men lament the successive triumphs of unrelenting despotism. If we are rightly constituted, we shall sympathize with the oppressed, and entertain just sentiments of horror and indignation against the oppressor. We shall weep over the ruins of Saragossa, and regret, while we admire, the unavailing resistance of the gallant Gironna.
But when this tremendous conqueror assails our own country with every species of insult and aggression, when he sequesters our property, burns our ships, and imprisons our fellow-citizens; and when our own rulers, instead of threatening the threatener, and hurling defiance at the insolent tyrant, tremble at his frown, and crouch beneath his menaces, the period may not be far distant, at which the prediction of the prophet may be accomplished on our own shores: ‘Your country is desolate, your cities are burnt with fire, your land, strangers devour it in your presence.’
I am sensible, there are numbers, and among them, doubtless, the philosophers of Virginia, who would smile at these apprehensions, and consider this language as the language of party. When Mr. Burke’s reflections on the French revolution first appeared, they were considered as a rhapsody, as the ravings of a visionary enthusiast. But the full accomplishment of his most important predictions has wrought a wonderful change in the publick opinion; and many, who once regarded him as a madman, now venerate his memory as the first of political prophets. He foretold events more improbable than the conquest of the United States by the arms of France; and those events have actually taken place. Countries, deemed invincible, have been conquered in a single campaign, overwhelmed by the irresistible superiority of force, raised by the incalculable energies of a revolution; or paralyzed, in their exertions, by the disaffection? Have we not seen a large portion, if not a majority of the American people, with undeviating perseverance, adhere to France through all her revolutionary vicissitudes, regarding her, as it were, the sheet-anchor of their political hopes? Did not the same men, who now exult in every success of Napoleon the emperor and king, equally applaud the sanguinary Robespierre, the atheistical Marat, and the whole gang of felons, who, from the beginning of the revolution to the present time, have oppressed France, and desolated Europe? Whether free or enslaved, republican or despotick, France is still the object of their admiration, the goddess of their idolatry. And have we nothing to fear from this source? When the period shall arrive, and it will not be far distant, should we be at war with England, at which we must fight the enemy of liberty on our own territories, what dependence can be placed on these men? Will they, who have been wrong for such a length of time, suddenly become right? Will they, who have been the easy dupes of their own demagogues, be able to resist the seductive arts of French intrigue?
Far be it from me to imagine, that any American would willingly unite with a foreign invader to enslave his own country. But he may be duped, he may be deceived, he may be persuaded, blinded as he is by his present prejudices, to hail the arrival of a French army, as the real friends of his own country, and as a necessary instrument for crushing the dangerous designs of a British faction, or an Essex junto. When I consider the fate of European republicks, of Holland and of Switzerland, the latter of which was fully as enlightened as ourselves, when I reflect on the manner in which they fell, divided by French intrigue previously to the introduction of the French bayonet, and when I view the footsteps of French influence among ourselves, not only in the people, but in the debates of congress and in the publick conduct of the administration, I cannot but conclude, that the country is in the most imminent danger, and that, could an efficient French force be landed on our shores, the sun of our liberty would set forever.
Whilst we have thus displayed an unaccountable partiality toward a nation, that has treated us with every mark of ignominy and injustice, we have omitted no opportunity of insulting Great-Britain, the only free people in the world except ourselves, and the sole obstacle between France and universal empire. We have refused every overture, made by her, on the most frivolous pretences, and have dismissed her last embassador in a manner utterly unprecedented in the annals of civilization. After submitting to every insult from France, forfeiting all pretence to the character of gentlemen, or even of men of common spirit, we think of recovering our reputation by blustering against England; and without army or navy, with an empty treasure, and a defenceless seacoast, we talk of war with the most formidable naval power that the world ever saw. We exhibit at once the fury and he impotence of the passions. We pass laws of embargo and non-intercourse, which have distressed our own citizens, and impoverished the publick exchequer. We bandy about bills, like shuttlecocks, from senate to house and house to senate, and after displaying the petulant humours of angry children, we shall probably return home and do nothing.
I consider all our political misfortunes and all our political blunders as arising from an unjust antipathy against Great-Britain; I say unjust, because, whatever reasons we may have had formerly to complain of that power, her conduct for some time past has been wonderfully friendly and conciliatory. Artificial means have been employed to keep up this antipathy; for, were the people left to themselves, and not misled and misinformed for party purposes, they would soon see that this antipathy is both unreasonable and ruinous. It is unreasonable, because she is sincerely desirous of being at peace with us. It is ruinous, because it may terminate in war, which of consequence would lead to an alliance with France.
What are our subjects of complaint against Great-Britain? The affair of the Chesapeake, the orders of council, and the impressments of seamen. With regard to the first, it will be wise in us to be silent, as we have refused the satisfaction, that was readily tendered. The man, who will not accept an apology, has no farther claim on the offender. He shows a spirit of churlishness in refusing, and of injustice, if he afterwards complains.
As to orders of council, they are known to be retaliatory, and were passed in consequence of the French decrees. Great-Britain waited a whole year after these decrees were passed, before she issued these orders. She hoped to find some spirit of resistance in the only neutral nation, that still remained independent, a nation that claimed to be the ‘only free and enlightened people in the world.’ But she was disappointed in these hopes, and found that the resistance of the United States extended no farther than to some unavailing remonstrances to the French government. The orders of council were then issued, but were not to take effect until neutral nations had sufficient time to acquaint themselves with their import. What right then have we to complain of these orders? Why should we confine all our resentment to the retaliator, and acquiesce submissively in the injustice and insolence of the original author? We can find no reason for this conduct in justice, but must look for it in our own passions and partialities; in our strange love of France, who insults, threatens and plunders us, and in our hatred towards England, who has exhausted in vain every art of conciliation to obtain our friendship.
With respect to the impressments of our seamen, I believe, of late years, it has rarely taken place; though it cannot always be avoided, since from similarity of language and manners an American cannot, in every instance, be distinguished from a British mariner. The frauds, practiced in giving American protections, has also greatly diminished the respect otherwise due to those protections, and thus, for the sake of screening foreigners, we have exposed our own citizens to the inconvenience of impressment.
In order to remedy this evil, our government claimed, that the flag should protect the men, that is, that no man, of whatever nation, should be taken by a British cruiser out of an American ship. This was granted by Great-Britain, with the exception of the narrow seas, in a treaty, which Mr. Jefferson thought proper to reject, without even submitting it to the inspection of the senate. That she conceded so much was astonishing, both to her friends and foes, and an infallible proof, that she was ready to make very considerable sacrifices for the sake of being on good terms with this country. But that she should, in all cases, resign a right, which she had practiced for ages, of searching neutrals for her own men, no one in his senses could believe, and the demand was probably made, because it was certain that it would not be granted. The navy of Great-Britain is both her sword and shield. It enables her to assail her enemies abroad, and to protect her subjects at home. But of what use can be either sword or shield, if there are no hands to wield them? The superior wages, given by neutrals, would induce British seamen to desert, if the flag of the neutral could protect them; and thus her navy would become useless timber, and she would be left naked to the sword of her enemy. The relinquishment of such a right would be an act of political suicide, which can never take place, unless she should place fools, or madmen, at the head of her administration. Englishmen, of all parties, agree in this, and in defense of these maritime rights, on which the greatness and even existence of their country depends, are ready to fight the combined world. The following lines were written by Thomson eighty years since, and perfectly illustrate the sentiments of the British nation on this subject.
And what, my thoughtless sons, should fire you more Than when your well-earned empire of the deep
The least beginning injury receives?
;What better cause can call your lightning forth?
Your thunder wake? Your dearest life demand?
What better cause, than when your country sees
The sly destruction at her vitals aimed?
For oh, it much imports you, ‘tis your all,
To keep your trade entire, entire the force
And honour of your fleets; o’er that to watch
E’en with a hand severe, and jealous eye.
In intercourse be gentle, generous, just,
By wisdom polished, and of manners fair.
But on the sea be terrible, untamed,
Unconquerable, still; let none escape,
Who shall but aim to touch your glory there.[i]
It seems surprising, that our rulers should be so anxious for the dignity of the commercial flag, when, by their embargoes and non-intercourses, they seem so utterly regardless of the commercial interest. To perpetuate a misunderstanding with England, they claim what they well know can never be obtained, and which our merchants, who are most interested, are not anxious to obtain.
If, indeed, the period should ever arrive, predicted by a late poet of this town,
When Europe’s glories shall be whelmed in dust,
When our proud fleets the naval wreath shall bear,
And o’er her empires hurl the bolts of war,[ii]
we may then indeed dictate the laws of the ocean, and compel the British lion to cower beneath the American eagle. But it is not by gun-boats and torpedoes, that we can successfully encounter twelve hundred ships of war, commanded by heroes of experienced skill and unconquerable valour; and the increased revenue of Great-Britain, during the embargo, may reasonably create a doubt of the infallibility of our rulers, and of the wisdom of our legislative restrictions. We have inflicted deep wounds on our own treasury; whilst we have increased, by the sacrifice of our trade, the wealth and colonial importance of our commercial rival. Such, it was predicted, would be the direct tendency of our publick measures, and such has been their fatal result. And can we still place confidence in men, who have thus brought us to the brink of ruin? Who have disgraced us by their servility to France, and continue to endanger our country by provoking a ruinous contest with Great-Britain? Who have sanctioned gross misrepresentations for party purposes, and have endeavoured to dupe the nation into the belief of what they knew to be false? I have seen letters under Mr. Jackson’s own hand, declaring, that he had received from his government the most flattering assurances of their entire approbation of every part of his conduct. What must we think of an administration, which, for the sake of a paltry and temporary advantage, will thus countenance what they know is untrue?
From what we can gather from the English prints, and from the pacific language of the king’s speech, that nation will not go to war with us. They seem to say to us, in the language of Mr. Randolph to General Wilkinson: We cannot descend to your level. You have submitted to language and insults from France, which degrade you from the rank of gentlemen. You must wipe off these foul aspersions on your character, before you can be considered on a footing with men of honour.
But, since the infatuation of our rulers, or the will of Napoleon, which seems for some time past to have been the law of the land, may ultimately force us into war with Great-Britain, it may be well to understand the real character of the enemy, which it may be our fate to encounter. This is not to be learnt from our own newspapers, either federal or democratick; for the former are afraid always to tell the truth, lest they should be reproached as British partisans, whilst the latter have few means of correct information on the subject nor is the real character of the British nation to be ascertained by the reports of every American traveler. A young man, accustomed here to visit in the first circles, is offended in England, because he cannot be admitted on an equal footing with the nobility. His self-love is wounded, in observing those who think themselves his superiors. He is hurt, perhaps, because the king did not call and leave his card, or the queen invite him to a rout. His father is a justice of the peace or a member of congress, and he cannot conceive, why the first people of one country should not be admitted into the society of the first people of another country. He returns home soured and disappointed, and draws a portrait of the British nation, in which prejudice and ignorance only can find a likeness.
But all our travelers are not of this description; and there has lately appeared a publication, which reflects credit on the literary character of our country. It is the production of a young gentleman, whom, as I have been informed on unquestionable authority, President Madison once pronounced one of the first young men of our country, and who formerly, if not a decided democrat, was most certainly strongly prejudiced against the English.
[iii]‘In England,’ says he, ‘the great hereditary and acquired fortunes pervade and replenish the whole capillary system of the state. By means of a diffusive circulation, they quicken the emulation and reward the labours of every branch of industry. They are expended in the cultivation of the soil and in the production of the solid materials of national wealth: in the erection and endowment of charitable institutions and publick monuments, which foster the moral qualities and elevate the character. The spirit of beneficence and of patriotism, which distinguishes the opulent individuals of that country, and of which the same class in France is wholly destitute, returns to the needy the sums which they contribute to the exchequer, and corrects the inequalities of the divisions of property.
‘The traveler in England has occasion to remark, in all the departments of labour, the beneficial influence of the example of the upper classes, and of hat luxury, which has for its object the productive toil and ingenuity of man. The quick and equable transmission of wealth in the body politick is compared by a great writer to the motion and agency of the blood, as it enters in the heart, and is thrown out by new pulsations. The aptitude of this illustration is particularly striking in his own country, where the rapid circulation of wealth, the regular vibration of demand and labour, and the spirit of industry, animate the whole frame of society with an elasticity and vigour, such as belong to the human frame in its highest state of perfection. A peculiarly masculine character, and the utmost energy of feeling are communicated to all orders of en, by the abundance which prevails so universally, the consciousness of equal rights, the fullness of power and fame to which the nation has attained, and the beauty and robustness of the species under a climate highly favourable to the animal economy. The dignity of the rich is without insolence, the subordination of the poor without servility. Their freedom is well guarded both from the dangers of popular licentiousness, and from the encroachments of authority. Their national pride leads to national sympathy, and is built upon the most legitimate of all foundations, a sense of preeminent merit and a body of illustrious annals.
‘Whatever may be the representations of those, who, with little knowledge of facts, and still less soundness or impartiality of judgment, affect to deplore the condition of England, it is, nevertheless, true, that there does not exist and never has existed elsewhere, so beautiful and perfect a model of publick and private prosperity; so magnificent, and at the same time, so solid a fabric of social happiness and national grandeur. I pay this just tribute of admiration with the more pleasure, as it is to me in the light of an atonement for the errors and prejudices, under which I labored, on this subject, before I enjoyed the advantage of a personal experience. A residence of nearly two years in that country, during which period, I visited and studied almost every part of it, with no other view or pursuit than that of obtaining correct information, and I may add, with previous studies well fitted to promote my object, convinced me that I had been egregiously deceived.
‘I saw no instances of individual oppression, and scarcely any individual misery but that which belongs, under any circumstances of our being, to the infirmity of all human institutions. I witnessed no symptom of declining trade or of general discontent. On the contrary, I found there every indication of a state engaged in a rapid career of advancement. I found the art and spirit of commercial industry at their acme; a metropolis opulent and liberal beyond example: a cheerful peasantry, well fed and commodiously lodged, an ardent attachment to the constitution in all classes, and a full reliance on the national resources. I found the utmost activity in agricultural and manufacturing labours; in the construction of works of embellishment and utility; in enlarging and beautifying the provincial cities. I heard but few well founded complaints of the amount, and none concerning the collection, of the taxes. The demands of the state create no impediment to consumption or discouragement to industry. I could discover no instance in which they have operated to the serious distress or ruin of individuals.
‘The riots at Manchester, which were here invested almost with the horrors of civil war, were scarcely noticed in London, and occasioned, I will venture to assert, not one moment of serious uneasiness either to the government, or to any part of the population of England beyond the immediate theatre of the alarm. The disturbances at Manchester were quelled without an effusion of blood; and the ringleaders arraigned and punished in the common course of law, without a movement or expression in their favour on the part of the mob. The whole storm, which was here supposed to threaten the most serious consequences, was almost as harmless in its effects, and left as few traces behind, as the war of the elements raised by the wand of Prospero or the thunder and lightning of Saddlers-Wells. Not long, both before and after the period of the outrages of which I speak, I surveyed attentively most of the manufacturing establishments and saw every reason to conclude that, collectively taken, they never were in a more flourishing condition, nor their tenants more loyally disposed.
‘The agriculture of England is confessedly superior to that of any other part of the world, and the condition of those who are engaged in the cultivation of the soil, incontestably preferable to that of the same class in any other section of Europe. An inexhaustible source of admiration and delight is found in the unrivalled beauty, as well as richness and fruitfulness of their husbandry; the effects of which are heightened by the magnificent parks and noble mansions of the opulent proprietors: by picturesque gardens upon the largest scale, and disposed with the most exquisite taste: and by gothick remains no less admirable in their structure than venerable for their antiquity. The neat cottage, the substantial farmhouse, the splendid villa, are constantly rising to the sight, surrounded by the most choice and poetical attributes of the landscape. The painter is there but a mere copyist. A picture of as much neatness, softness, and elegance, is exposed to the eye, as can be given to the imagination, by the finest etching, or the most mellowed drawing. The vision is not more delightfully recreated by the rural scenery, than the moral sense is gratified, and the understanding elevated by the institutions of this great country. The first and continued exclamation of an American who contemplates them with an unbiased judgment, is—
Salve Magna Parens, frugum saturnia tellus
All hail, Saturnian earth, hail, loved of fame,
Land, rich in fruits, and men of mighty name.
It appears something not less than impious to desire the ruin of this people, when you view the height to which they have carried the comforts, the knowledge, and the virtue of our species: the extent and number of their foundations of charity; their skill in the mechanic arts, by the improvement of which alone, they have conferred inestimable benefits on mankind; the masculine morality, the lofty sense of independence, the sober and rational piety which are found in all classes; their impartial, decorous and able administration of a code of laws, than which none more just and perfect has ever been in operation: their seminaries of education yielding more solid and profitable instruction than any other whatever: their eminence in literature and science, the urbanity and learning of their privileged orders, their deliberative assemblies, illustrated by so many profound statesmen, and brilliant orators. It is worse than ingratitude in us not to sympathize with them in their present struggle, when we recollect that it is from them we derive the principal merit of our own character, the best of our own institutions, the sources of our highest enjoyments, and the light of freedom itself, which, if they should be destroyed, will not long shed its radiance over this country.’
Such, my brethren, is the nation, with whom many of our citizens wish for a war, from which we could derive no possible advantage, but must incur certain loss and expense. The most sanguine American will not pretend, that we can face the powerful marine of Great-Britain; of which a trifling squadron would suffice to blockade every important harbor in the United States. We should then suffer a perpetual embargo, without the satisfaction of having laid it on ourselves; and if we should not experience an occasional bombardment, we should owe more to the magnanimity of the enemy than to our own means of resistance.
But we can take Nova-Scotia and the Canadas. With a powerful army, we might succeed in an enterprise of this nature. But an army cannot be supported without money, and Mr. Gallatin tells us that we have none. Allowing, however, that complete success crowned our efforts, and that the American flag waved triumphant over the continental colonies of Great-Britain; what should we gain by it? Just as much, as a late great statesman[iv] observed, as if the people of Roxbury were to march into Boston, and take the almshouse. The Canadians hate us, as the descendants of Englishmen, with all their vices, and none of their virtues. They are altogether French in their language, habits and manners. The conquest of this country, therefore, would only increase that pernicious influence, which Napoleon possesses in every part of the United States, and which, I fear, will ultimately prove more fatal to our body politick and constitution, than the spotted fever has been found to be to many of our fellow-citizens.
Are we to expect assistance from our new acquisition on the Mississippi? The inhabitants of those territories have already shown symptoms of disaffection, which, even now, it requires a military force to overawe.
Thus, then, shall we be situated, if we are at war with England. Our southern and northern extremities occupied by a considerable population, strongly disaffected to this country, and devoted to France. Our own citizens cherishing the same fatal partiality, and an invincible hatred to the English. Great-Britain blockading our ports, and confining us to our own shores. The people driven to desperation by their sufferings and privations. The wealthy trembling for their lives and property, the southern slaves excited to rebellion by foreign emissaries, and, to crown all, a French alliance and the blessings of a conscription. With these pressures at home and abroad, without and within, can we save our liberties from the grasp of despotism? Whilst the spirit of our fathers shall continue to animate us, whilst a drop of English blood shall flow in our veins, we will not resign them without a stroke. But it will be too late. Like the Spaniards, we shall be treated as rebels, and the words of the text will be then awfully verified…’Your country is desolate; your cities are burnt with fire; your land, strangers devour it in your presence.’
My brethren, these things may not happen, and God forbid they should. But they seem to me to be the inevitable results from the infatuation of our publick councils, and from the madness of the people.
‘A union with France,’ says the same excellent writer whom I have before quoted, ‘if not ruinous even in its immediate consequences, would be an indelible stain on our annals. Our descendants would turn with disgust from the page, which might record so monstrous and unnatural an alliance. I know not, indeed, how an American will feel one century hence, when, in investigating the history of the late invasion of Spain, he shall inquire, what, on that occasion, was the conduct of his ancestors, the only republican people then on earth, and who claim almost an exclusive privilege to hate and to denounce, every act of ruffian violence, and every form of arbitrary power. It certainly will not kindle a glow of emulation in his mind, when he shall be told, that of this unparalleled crime, an oblique notice was once taken by our administration: that the people of this country seemed to rejoice at the triumph of the invader, and frowned on the efforts of his victims.’
My brethren, I verily believe, were one to rise from the dead, our fellow-citizens would not be convinced of their danger. If the fall of continental Europe, the insatiable ambition of the French emperor, the atrocious crimes which he has perpetrated, his rooted aversion to republicks and to the very name of liberty, the insults and injuries he continues to heap on us,—if all these glaring facts make no impression, we must make up our minds to submit with fortitude to that tremendous ruin, which will inevitably overwhelm this land. What is there in the character of Napoleon, which can justly entitle him either to love or esteem?
Alas, thy dazzled eye
Beholds this man in a false glaring light,
Which conquest and success have thrown upon him.
Didst thou but view him right, thou’dst see him black
With murder, treason, sacrilege, and crimes,
That strike my soul with horror but to name ‘em.
We live, my brethren, in an age of wonders; but, surely, nothing can be more wonderful, than that free men should rejoice in the triumphs of despotism; that they, who resisted their own sovereign, the limited monarch of a free people, merely for encroachments on the British constitution, should now applaud the champion of slavery, and vie with each other in extending their necks to receive the yoke. A people, that can feel and proclaim such sentiments, are ripe for a master, and they will have one. An alliance with France would accelerate this event, and the fate of our country may thus be portrayed by some future historian:–The United States lost their liberties by deserting the wise principles of the immortal Washington, and by choosing for their rulers the disciples of the new school in politicks, morals, and religion. Napoleon did not fail to improve so favourable an opportunity of securing the conquest of the western world. By the seductive arts of skillful emissaries, and by the bold calumnies of venal presses, the jealousy of the people was excited against the wealth, talents, and virtue of the country. Those, who had grown hoary in the publick service, and had displayed the most unequivocal proofs of their disinterestedness and patriotism, were stigmatized as the friends of monarchy and the partisans of England. The grossest falsehoods, respecting that nation, were circulated and believed; an alliance with France was recommended and formed, and a formidable French force was gradually introduced into the country, and garrisoned its most important fortresses. Thus fell the last of republicks, which had existed less than half a century, the victim of divided councils and popular effervescence; and thus must perish every state, that discards wisdom and talents from its administration, and calls in a more powerful ally to settle its domestick disputes, or to protect it against foreign aggression.
I have no claim to the spirit of prophecy, and this picture may be the mere creature of the imagination. That it may prove so, may God, of his infinite mercy, grant.