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´╗┐Title: Orations
Author: Adams, John Quincy, 1767-1848
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Orations" ***


By John Quincy Adams

"The Jubilee of the Constitution, delivered at New York, April 30, 1839,
before the New York Historical Society."

Fellow-Citizens and Brethren, Associates of the New York Historical

Would it be an unlicensed trespass of the imagination to conceive that
on the night preceding the day of which you now commemorate the fiftieth
anniversary--on the night preceding that thirtieth of April, 1789, when
from the balcony of your city hall the chancellor of the State of New
York administered to George Washington the solemn oath faithfully to
execute the office of President of the United States, and to the best
of his ability to preserve, protect, and defend the constitution of the
United States--that in the visions of the night the guardian angel of
the Father of our Country had appeared before him, in the venerated form
of his mother, and, to cheer and encourage him in the performance of the
momentous and solemn duties that he was about to assume, had delivered
to him a suit of celestial armor--a helmet, consisting of the principles
of piety, of justice, of honor, of benevolence, with which from his
earliest infancy he had hitherto walked through life, in the presence of
all his brethren; a spear, studded with the self-evident truths of the
Declaration of Independence; a sword, the same with which he had led the
armies of his country through the war of freedom to the summit of
the triumphal arch of independence; a corselet and cuishes of long
experience and habitual intercourse in peace and war with the world of
mankind, his contemporaries of the human race, in all their stages of
civilization; and, last of all, the Constitution of the United States,
a shield, embossed by heavenly hands with the future history of his

Yes, gentlemen, on that shield the Constitution of the United States was
sculptured (by forms unseen, and in characters then invisible to mortal
eye), the predestined and prophetic history of the one confederated
people of the North American Union.

They had been the settlers of thirteen separate and distinct English
colonies, along the margin of the shore of the North American Continent;
contiguously situated, but chartered by adventurers of characters
variously diversified, including sectarians, religious and political, of
all the classes which for the two preceding centuries had agitated
and divided the people of the British islands--and with them were
intermingled the descendants of Hollanders, Swedes, Germans, and French
fugitives from the persecution of the revoker of the Edict of Nantes.

In the bosoms of this people, thus heterogeneously composed, there was
burning, kindled at different furnaces, but all furnaces of affliction,
one clear, steady flame of liberty. Bold and daring enterprise, stubborn
endurance of privation, unflinching intrepidity in facing danger,
and inflexible adherence to conscientious principle, had steeled to
energetic and unyielding hardihood the characters of the primitive
settlers of all these colonies. Since that time two or three generations
of men had passed away, but they had increased and multiplied with
unexampled rapidity; and the land itself had been the recent theatre of
a ferocious and bloody seven years' war between the two most powerful
and most civilized nations of Europe contending for the possession of
this continent.

Of that strife the victorious combatant had been Britain. She had
conquered the provinces of France. She had expelled her rival totally
from the continent, over which, bounding herself by the Mississippi, she
was thenceforth to hold divided empire only with Spain. She had acquired
undisputed control over the Indian tribes still tenanting the forests
unexplored by the European man. She had established an uncontested
monopoly of the commerce of all her colonies. But forgetting all the
warnings of preceding ages--forgetting the lessons written in the blood
of her own children, through centuries of departed time--she undertook
to tax the people of the colonies without their consent.

Resistance, instantaneous, unconcerted, sympathetic, inflexible
resistance, like an electric shock, startled and roused the people of
all the English colonies on this continent.

This was the first signal of the North American Union. The struggle was
for chartered rights--for English liberties--for the cause of Algernon
Sidney and John Hampden--for trial by jury--the Habeas Corpus and Magna

But the English lawyers had decided that Parliament was omnipotent--and
Parliament, in its omnipotence, instead of trial by jury and the
Habeas Corpus, enacted admiralty courts in England to try Americans for
offences charged against them as committed in America; instead of
the privileges of Magna Charta, nullified the charter itself of
Massachusetts Bay; shut up the port of Boston; sent armies and navies to
keep the peace and teach the colonies that John Hampden was a rebel and
Algernon Sidney a traitor.

English liberties had failed them. From the omnipotence of Parliament
the colonists appealed to the rights of man and the omnipotence of the
God of battles. Union! Union! was the instinctive and simultaneous
cry throughout the land. Their Congress, assembled at Philadelphia,
once--twice--had petitioned the king; had remonstrated to Parliament;
had addressed the people of Britain, for the rights of Englishmen--in
vain. Fleets and armies, the blood of Lexington, and the fires of
Charlestown and Falmouth, had been the answer to petition, remonstrance,
and address....

The dissolution of allegiance to the British crown, the severance of
the colonies from the British Empire, and their actual existence as
independent States, were definitively established in fact, by war and
peace. The independence of each separate State had never been declared
of right. It never existed in fact. Upon the principles of the
Declaration of Independence, the dissolution of the ties of allegiance,
the assumption of sovereign power, and the institution of civil
government, are all acts of transcendent authority, which the people
alone are competent to perform; and, accordingly, it is in the name and
by the authority of the people, that two of these acts--the dissolution
of allegiance, with the severance from the British Empire, and the
declaration of the United Colonies, as free and independent States--were
performed by that instrument.

But there still remained the last and crowning act, which the people
of the Union alone were competent to perform--the institution of civil
government, for that compound nation, the United States of America.

At this day it cannot but strike us as extraordinary, that it does not
appear to have occurred to any one member of that assembly, which had
laid down in terms so clear, so explicit, so unequivocal, the foundation
of all just government, in the imprescriptible rights of man, and the
transcendent sovereignty of the people, and who in those principles had
set forth their only personal vindication from the charges of rebellion
against their king, and of treason to their country, that their last
crowning act was still to be performed upon the same principles. That
is, the institution, by the people of the United States, of a civil
government, to guard and protect and defend them all. On the contrary,
that same assembly which issued the Declaration of Independence, instead
of continuing to act in the name and by the authority of the good people
of the United States, had, immediately after the appointment of the
committee to prepare the Declaration, appointed another committee,
of one member from each colony, to prepare and digest the form of
confederation to be entered into between the colonies.

That committee reported on the twelfth of July, eight days after the
Declaration of Independence had been issued, a draft of articles of
confederation between the colonies. This draft was prepared by John
Dickinson, then a delegate from Pennsylvania, who voted against the
Declaration of Independence, and never signed it, having been superseded
by a new election of delegates from that State, eight days after his
draft was reported.

There was thus no congeniality of principle between the Declaration of
Independence and the Articles of Confederation. The foundation of the
former was a superintending Providence--the rights of man, and the
constituent revolutionary power of the people. That of the latter was
the sovereignty of organized power, and the independence of the separate
or dis-united States. The fabric of the Declaration and that of the
Confederation were each consistent with its own foundation, but they
could not form one consistent, symmetrical edifice. They were the
productions of different minds and of adverse passions; one, ascending
for the foundation of human government to the laws of nature and of
God, written upon the heart of man; the other, resting upon the basis
of human institutions, and prescriptive law, and colonial charter. The
cornerstone of the one was right, that of the other was power....

Where, then, did each State get the sovereignty, freedom, and
independence, which the Articles of Confederation declare it
retains?--not from the whole people of the whole Union--not from the
Declaration of Independence--not from the people of the State itself. It
was assumed by agreement between the Legislatures of the several States,
and their delegates in Congress, without authority from or consultation
of the people at all.

In the Declaration of Independence, the enacting and constituent party
dispensing and delegating sovereign power is the whole people of the
United Colonies. The recipient party, invested with power, is the United
Colonies, declared United States.

In the Articles of Confederation, this order of agency is inverted. Each
State is the constituent and enacting party, and the United States in
Congress assembled the recipient of delegated power--and that power
delegated with such a penurious and carking hand that it had more
the aspect of a revocation of the Declaration of Independence than an
instrument to carry it into effect.

None of these indispensably necessary powers were ever conferred by the
State Legislatures upon the Congress of the federation; and well was
it that they never were. The system itself was radically defective. Its
incurable disease was an apostasy from the principles of the Declaration
of Independence. A substitution of separate State sovereignties, in the
place of the constituent sovereignty of the people, was the basis of the
Confederate Union.

In the Congress of the Confederation, the master minds of James Madison
and Alexander Hamilton were constantly engaged through the closing years
of the Revolutionary War and those of peace which immediately succeeded.
That of John Jay was associated with them shortly after the peace,
in the capacity of Secretary to the Congress for Foreign Affairs. The
incompetency of the Articles of Confederation for the management of the
affairs of the Union at home and abroad was demonstrated to them by the
painful and mortifying experience of every day. Washington, though
in retirement, was brooding over the cruel injustice suffered by his
associates in arms, the warriors of the Revolution; over the prostration
of the public credit and the faith of the nation, in the neglect to
provide for the payments even of the interest upon the public debt; over
the disappointed hopes of the friends of freedom; in the language of
the address from Congress to the States of the eighteenth of April,
1788--"the pride and boast of America, that the rights for which she
contended were the rights of human nature."

At his residence at Mount Vernon, in March, 1785, the first idea
was started of a revisal of the Articles of Confederation, by the
organization, of means differing from that of a compact between the
State Legislatures and their own delegates in Congress. A convention
of delegates from the State Legislatures, independent of the Congress
itself, was the expedient which presented itself for effecting
the purpose, and an augmentation of the powers of Congress for the
regulation of commerce, as the object for which this assembly was to
be convened. In January, 1785, the proposal was made and adopted in
the Legislature of Virginia, and communicated to the other State

The Convention was held at Annapolis, in September of that year. It
was attended by delegates from only five of the central States, who,
on comparing their restricted powers with the glaring and universally
acknowledged defects of the Confederation, reported only a
recommendation for the assemblage of another convention of delegates
to meet at Philadelphia, in May, 1787, from all the States, and with
enlarged powers.

The Constitution of the United States was the work of this Convention.
But in its construction the Convention immediately perceived that they
must retrace their steps, and fall back from a league of friendship
between sovereign States to the constituent sovereignty of the
people; from power to right--from the irresponsible despotism of
State sovereignty to the self-evident truths of the Declaration of
Independence. In that instrument, the right to institute and to alter
governments among men was ascribed exclusively to the people--the ends
of government were declared to be to secure the natural rights of man;
and that when the government degenerates from the promotion to the
destruction of that end, the right and the duty accrues to the people
to dissolve this degenerate government and to institute another. The
signers of the Declaration further averred, that the one people of the
United Colonies were then precisely in that situation--with a government
degenerated into tyranny, and called upon by the laws of nature and of
nature's God to dissolve that government and to institute another. Then,
in the name and by the authority of the good people of the colonies,
they pronounced the dissolution of their allegiance to the king, and
their eternal separation from the nation of Great Britain--and declared
the United Colonies independent States. And here as the representatives
of the one people they had stopped. They did not require the
confirmation of this act, for the power to make the declaration had
already been conferred upon them by the people, delegating the power,
indeed, separately in the separate colonies, not by colonial authority,
but by the spontaneous revolutionary movement of the people in them all.

From the day of that Declaration, the constituent power of the people
had never been called into action. A confederacy had been substituted
in the place of a government, and State sovereignty had usurped the
constituent sovereignty of the people.

The Convention assembled at Philadelphia had themselves no direct
authority from the people. Their authority was all derived from the
State Legislatures. But they had the Articles of Confederation before
them, and they saw and felt the wretched condition into which they had
brought the whole people, and that the Union itself was in the agonies
of death. They soon perceived that the indispensably needed powers
were such as no State government, no combination of them, was by the
principles of the Declaration of Independence competent to bestow. They
could emanate only from the people. A highly respectable portion of the
assembly, still clinging to the confederacy of States, proposed, as
a substitute for the Constitution, a mere revival of the Articles of
Confederation, with a grant of additional powers to the Congress.
Their plan was respectfully and thoroughly discussed, but the want of a
government and of the sanction of the people to the delegation of powers
happily prevailed. A constitution for the people, and the distribution
of legislative, executive, and judicial powers was prepared. It
announced itself as the work of the people themselves; and as this was
unquestionably a power assumed by the Convention, not delegated to
them by the people, they religiously confined it to a simple power
to propose, and carefully provided that it should be no more than a
proposal until sanctioned by the Confederation Congress, by the State
Legislatures, and by the people of the several States, in conventions
specially assembled, by authority of their Legislatures, for the single
purpose of examining and passing upon it.

And thus was consummated the work commenced by the Declaration of
Independence--a work in which the people of the North American Union,
acting under the deepest sense of responsibility to the Supreme Ruler
of the universe, had achieved the most transcendent act of power that
social man in his mortal condition can perform--even that of dissolving
the ties of allegiance by which he is bound to his country; of
renouncing that country itself; of demolishing its government; of
instituting another government; and of making for himself another
country in its stead.

And on that day, of which you now commemorate the fiftieth
anniversary--on that thirtieth day of April, 1789--was this mighty
revolution, not only in the affairs of our own country, but in the
principles of government over civilized man, accomplished.

The Revolution itself was a work of thirteen years--and had never
been completed until that day. The Declaration of Independence and the
Constitution of the United States are parts of one consistent whole,
founded upon one and the same theory of government, then new in
practice, though not as a theory, for it had been working itself into
the mind of man for many ages, and had been especially expounded in the
writings of Locke, though it had never before been adopted by a great
nation in practice.

There are yet, even at this day, many speculative objections to this
theory. Even in our own country there are still philosophers who deny
the principles asserted in the Declaration, as self-evident truths--who
deny the natural equality and inalienable rights of man--who deny that
the people are the only legitimate source of power--who deny that all
just powers of government are derived from the consent of the governed.
Neither your time, nor perhaps the cheerful nature of this occasion,
permit me here to enter upon the examination of this anti-revolutionary
theory, which arrays State sovereignty against the constituent
sovereignty of the people, and distorts the Constitution of the United
States into a league of friendship between confederate corporations. I
speak to matters of fact. There is the Declaration of Independence,
and there is the Constitution of the United States--let them speak for
themselves. The grossly immoral and dishonest doctrine of despotic State
sovereignty, the exclusive judge of its own obligations, and responsible
to no power on earth or in heaven, for the violation of them, is not
there. The Declaration says, it is not in me. The Constitution says, it
is not in me.

"Oration at Plymouth, December 22, 1802, in Commemoration of the Landing
of the Pilgrims."

Among the sentiments of most powerful operation upon the human
heart, and most highly honorable to the human character, are those of
veneration for our forefathers, and of love for our posterity. They form
the connecting links between the selfish and the social passions. By the
fundamental principle of Christianity, the happiness of the individual
is interwoven, by innumerable and imperceptible ties, with that of his
contemporaries. By the power of filial reverence and parental affection,
individual existence is extended beyond the limits of individual life,
and the happiness of every age is chained in mutual dependence upon that
of every other. Respect for his ancestors excites, in the breast of man,
interest in their history, attachment to their characters, concern for
their errors, involuntary pride in their virtues. Love for his posterity
spurs him to exertion for their support, stimulates him to virtue for
their example, and fills him with the tenderest solicitude for their
welfare. Man, therefore, was not made for himself alone. No, he was made
for his country, by the obligations of the social compact; he was made
for his species, by the Christian duties of universal charity; he
was made for all ages past, by the sentiment of reverence for his
forefathers; and he was made for all future times, by the impulse of
affection for his progeny. Under the influence of these principles,

     "Existence sees him spurn her bounded reign."

They redeem his nature from the subjection of time and space; he is
no longer a "puny insect shivering at a breeze"; he is the glory of
creation, formed to occupy all time and all extent; bounded, during his
residence upon earth, only to the boundaries of the world, and destined
to life and immortality in brighter regions, when the fabric of nature
itself shall dissolve and perish.

The voice of history has not, in all its compass, a note but answers in
unison with these sentiments. The barbarian chieftain, who defended his
country against the Roman invasion, driven to the remotest extremity of
Britain, and stimulating his followers to battle by all that has power
of persuasion upon the human heart, concluded his persuasion by an
appeal to these irresistible feelings: "Think of your forefathers and of
your posterity." The Romans themselves, at the pinnacle of civilization,
were actuated by the same impressions, and celebrated, in anniversary
festivals, every great event which had signalized the annals of their
forefathers. To multiply instances where it were impossible to adduce
an exception would be to waste your time and abuse your patience; but
in the sacred volume, which contains the substances of our firmest faith
and of our most precious hopes, these passions not only maintain their
highest efficacy, but are sanctioned by the express injunctions of the
Divine Legislator to his chosen people.

The revolutions of time furnish no previous example of a nation shooting
up to maturity and expanding into greatness with the rapidity which has
characterized the growth of the American people. In the luxuriance of
youth, and in the vigor of manhood, it is pleasing and instructive to
look backward upon the helpless days of infancy; but in the continual
and essential changes of a growing subject, the transactions of that
early period would be soon obliterated from the memory but for some
periodical call of attention to aid the silent records of the historian.
Such celebrations arouse and gratify the kindliest emotions of the
bosom. They are faithful pledges of the respect we bear to the memory
of our ancestors and of the tenderness with which we cherish the rising
generation. They introduce the sages and heroes of ages past to the
notice and emulation of succeeding times; they are at once testimonials
of our gratitude, and schools of virtue to our children.

These sentiments are wise; they are honorable; they are virtuous; their
cultivation is not merely innocent pleasure, it is incumbent duty.
Obedient to their dictates, you, my fellow-citizens, have instituted
and paid frequent observance to this annual solemnity, and what event of
weightier intrinsic importance, or of more extensive consequences, was
ever selected for this honorary distinction?

In reverting to the period of our origin, other nations have generally
been compelled to plunge into the chaos of impenetrable antiquity, or to
trace a lawless ancestry into the caverns of ravishers and robbers.
It is your peculiar privilege to commemorate, in this birthday of your
nation, an event ascertained in its minutest details; an event of which
the principal actors are known to you familiarly, as if belonging to
your own age; an event of a magnitude before which imagination shrinks
at the imperfection of her powers. It is your further happiness to
behold, in those eminent characters, who were most conspicuous in
accomplishing the settlement of your country, men upon whose virtue
you can dwell with honest exultation. The founders of your race are
not handed down to you, like the fathers of the Roman people, as the
sucklings of a wolf. You are not descended from a nauseous compound of
fanaticism and sensuality, whose only argument was the sword, and whose
only paradise was a brothel. No Gothic scourge of God, no Vandal pest of
nations, no fabled fugitive from the flames of Troy, no bastard Norman
tyrant, appears among the list of worthies who first landed on the
rock, which your veneration has preserved as a lasting monument of
their achievement. The great actors of the day we now solemnize were
illustrious by their intrepid valor no less than by their Christian
graces, but the clarion of conquest has not blazoned forth their names
to all the winds of heaven. Their glory has not been wafted over oceans
of blood to the remotest regions of the earth. They have not erected to
themselves colossal statues upon pedestals of human bones, to provoke
and insult the tardy hand of heavenly retribution. But theirs was "the
better fortitude of patience and heroic martyrdom." Theirs was the
gentle temper of Christian kindness; the rigorous observance of
reciprocal justice; the unconquerable soul of conscious integrity.
Worldly fame has been parsimonious of her favor to the memory of those
generous companions. Their numbers were small; their stations in life
obscure; the object of their enterprise unostentatious; the theatre of
their exploits remote; how could they possibly be favorites of worldly
Fame--that common crier, whose existence is only known by the assemblage
of multitudes; that pander of wealth and greatness, so eager to haunt
the palaces of fortune, and so fastidious to the houseless dignity of
virtue; that parasite of pride, ever scornful to meekness, and ever
obsequious to insolent power; that heedless trumpeter, whose ears are
deaf to modest merit, and whose eyes are blind to bloodless, distant

When the persecuted companions of Robinson, exiles from their native
land, anxiously sued for the privilege of removing a thousand leagues
more distant to an untried soil, a rigorous climate, and a savage
wilderness, for the sake of reconciling their sense of religious duty
with their affections for their country, few, perhaps none of them,
formed a conception of what would be, within two centuries, the result
of their undertaking. When the jealous and niggardly policy of their
British sovereign denied them even that humblest of requests, and
instead of liberty would barely consent to promise connivance, neither
he nor they might be aware that they were laying the foundations of a
power, and that he was sowing the seeds of a spirit, which, in less
than two hundred years, would stagger the throne of his descendants, and
shake his united kingdoms to the centre. So far is it from the ordinary
habits of mankind to calculate the importance of events in their
elementary principles, that had the first colonists of our country ever
intimated as a part of their designs the project of founding a great and
mighty nation, the finger of scorn would have pointed them to the cells
of Bedlam as an abode more suitable for hatching vain empires than the
solitude of a transatlantic desert.

These consequences, then so little foreseen, have unfolded themselves,
in all their grandeur, to the eyes of the present age. It is a common
amusement of speculative minds to contrast the magnitude of the most
important events with the minuteness of their primeval causes, and the
records of mankind are full of examples for such contemplations. It
is, however, a more profitable employment to trace the constituent
principles of future greatness in their kernel; to detect in the acorn
at our feet the germ of that majestic oak, whose roots shoot down to
the centre, and whose branches aspire to the skies. Let it be, then, our
present occupation to inquire and endeavor to ascertain the causes
first put in operation at the period of our commemoration, and already
productive of such magnificent effects; to examine with reiterated care
and minute attention the characters of those men who gave the first
impulse to a new series of events in the history of the world; to
applaud and emulate those qualities of their minds which we shall find
deserving of our admiration; to recognize with candor those features
which forbid approbation or even require censure, and, finally, to lay
alike their frailties and their perfections to our own hearts, either as
warning or as example.

 Of the various European settlements upon this continent,
which have finally merged in one independent nation, the first
establishments were made at various times, by several nations, and under
the influence of different motives. In many instances, the conviction
of religious obligation formed one and a powerful inducement of the
adventures; but in none, excepting the settlement at Plymouth, did they
constitute the sole and exclusive actuating cause. Worldly interest and
commercial speculation entered largely into the views of other settlers,
but the commands of conscience were the only stimulus to the emigrants
from Leyden. Previous to their expedition hither, they had endured
a long banishment from their native country. Under every species of
discouragement, they undertook the voyage; they performed it in spite
of numerous and almost insuperable obstacles; they arrived upon a
wilderness bound with frost and hoary with snow, without the boundaries
of their charter, outcasts from all human society, and coasted five
weeks together, in the dead of winter, on this tempestuous shore,
exposed at once to the fury of the elements, to the arrows of the native
savage, and to the impending horrors of famine.

Courage and perseverance have a magical talisman, before which
difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish into air. These qualities
have ever been displayed in their mightiest perfection, as attendants in
the retinue of strong passions. From the first discovery of the
Western Hemisphere by Columbus until the settlement of Virginia which
immediately preceded that of Plymouth, the various adventurers from the
ancient world had exhibited upon innumerable occasions that ardor of
enterprise and that stubbornness of pursuit which set all danger at
defiance, and chained the violence of nature at their feet. But they
were all instigated by personal interests. Avarice and ambition had
tuned their souls to that pitch of exaltation. Selfish passions were the
parents of their heroism. It was reserved for the first settlers of
new England to perform achievements equally arduous, to trample down
obstructions equally formidable, to dispel dangers equally terrific,
under the single inspiration of conscience. To them even liberty
herself was but a subordinate and secondary consideration. They claimed
exemption from the mandates of human authority, as militating with their
subjection to a superior power. Before the voice of Heaven they silenced
even the calls of their country.

Yet, while so deeply impressed with the sense of religious obligation,
they felt, in all its energy, the force of that tender tie which binds
the heart of every virtuous man to his native land. It was to renew that
connection with their country which had been severed by their compulsory
expatriation, that they resolved to face all the hazards of a perilous
navigation and all the labors of a toilsome distant settlement. Under
the mild protection of the Batavian Government, they enjoyed already
that freedom of religious worship, for which they had resigned so
many comforts and enjoyments at home; but their hearts panted for a
restoration to the bosom of their country. Invited and urged by the
open-hearted and truly benevolent people who had given them an asylum
from the persecution of their own kindred to form their settlement
within the territories then under their jurisdiction, the love of their
country predominated over every influence save that of conscience alone,
and they preferred the precarious chance of relaxation from the bigoted
rigor of the English Government to the certain liberality and alluring
offers of the Hollanders. Observe, my countrymen, the generous
patriotism, the cordial union of soul, the conscious yet unaffected
vigor which beam in their application to the British monarch:

"They were well weaned from the delicate milk of their mother country,
and inured to the difficulties of a strange land. They were knit
together in a strict and sacred bond, to take care of the good of each
other and of the whole. It was not with them as with other men, whom
small things could discourage, or small discontents cause to wish
themselves again at home."

Children of these exalted Pilgrims! Is there one among you who can hear
the simple and pathetic energy of these expressions without tenderness
and admiration? Venerated shades of our forefathers! No, ye were,
indeed, not ordinary men! That country which had ejected you so cruelly
from her bosom you still delighted to contemplate in the character of an
affectionate and beloved mother. The sacred bond which knit you together
was indissoluble while you lived; and oh, may it be to your descendants
the example and the pledge of harmony to the latest period of time!
The difficulties and dangers, which so often had defeated attempts of
similar establishments, were unable to subdue souls tempered like yours.
You heard the rigid interdictions; you saw the menacing forms of toil
and danger, forbidding your access to this land of promise; but you
heard without dismay; you saw and disdained retreat. Firm and undaunted
in the confidence of that sacred bond; conscious of the purity, and
convinced of the importance of your motives, you put your trust in the
protecting shield of Providence, and smiled defiance at the combining
terrors of human malice and of elemental strife. These, in the
accomplishment of your undertaking, you were summoned to encounter
in their most hideous forms; these you met with that fortitude, and
combated with that perseverance, which you had promised in their
anticipation; these you completely vanquished in establishing the
foundations of New England, and the day which we now commemorate is the
perpetual memorial of your triumph.

 It were an occupation peculiarly pleasing to cull from our
early historians, and exhibit before you every detail of this
transaction; to carry you in imagination on board their bark at the
first moment of her arrival in the bay; to accompany Carver, Winslow,
Bradford, and Standish, in all their excursions upon the desolate coast;
to follow them into every rivulet and creek where they endeavored to
find a firm footing, and to fix, with a pause of delight and exultation,
the instant when the first of these heroic adventurers alighted on the
spot where you, their descendants, now enjoy the glorious and happy
reward of their labors. But in this grateful task, your former orators,
on this anniversary, have anticipated all that the most ardent industry
could collect, and gratified all that the most inquisitive curiosity
could desire. To you, my friends, every occurrence of that momentous
period is already familiar. A transient allusion to a few characteristic
instances, which mark the peculiar history of the Plymouth settlers, may
properly supply the place of a narrative, which, to this auditory, must
be superfluous.

One of these remarkable incidents is the execution of that instrument of
government by which they formed themselves into a body politic, the day
after their arrival upon the coast, and previous to their first landing.
That is, perhaps, the only instance in human history of that positive,
original social compact, which speculative philosophers have imagined
as the only legitimate source of government. Here was a unanimous
and personal assent, by all the individuals of the community, to
the association by which they became a nation. It was the result of
circumstances and discussions which had occurred during their passage
from Europe, and is a full demonstration that the nature of civil
government, abstracted from the political institutions of their native
country, had been an object of their serious meditation. The settlers
of all the former European colonies had contented themselves with the
powers conferred upon them by their respective charters, without looking
beyond the seal of the royal parchment for the measure of their rights
and the rule of their duties. The founders of Plymouth had been impelled
by the peculiarities of their situation to examine the subject with
deeper and more comprehensive research. After twelve years of banishment
from the land of their first allegiance, during which they had been
under an adoptive and temporary subjection to another sovereign, they
must naturally have been led to reflect upon the relative rights and
duties of allegiance and subjection. They had resided in a city, the
seat of a university, where the polemical and political controversies
of the time were pursued with uncommon fervor. In this period they had
witnessed the deadly struggle between the two parties, into which the
people of the United Provinces, after their separation from the crown of
Spain, had divided themselves. The contest embraced within its compass
not only theological doctrines, but political principles, and Maurice
and Barnevelt were the temporal leaders of the same rival factions, of
which Episcopius and Polyander were the ecclesiastical champions.

That the investigation of the fundamental principles of government was
deeply implicated in these dissensions is evident from the immortal
work of Grotius, upon the rights of war and peace, which undoubtedly
originated from them. Grotius himself had been a most distinguished
actor and sufferer in those important scenes of internal convulsion,
and his work was first published very shortly after the departure of
our forefathers from Leyden. It is well known that in the course of the
contest Mr. Robinson more than once appeared, with credit to himself, as
a public disputant against Episcopius; and from the manner in which
the fact is related by Governor Bradford, it is apparent that the whole
English Church at Leyden took a zealous interest in the religious part
of the controversy. As strangers in the land, it is presumable that
they wisely and honorably avoided entangling themselves in the political
contentions involved with it. Yet the theoretic principles, as they were
drawn into discussion, could not fail to arrest their attention, and
must have assisted them to form accurate ideas concerning the origin and
extent of authority among men, independent of positive institutions.
The importance of these circumstances will not be duly weighed without
taking into consideration the state of opinion then prevalent in
England. The general principles of government were there little
understood and less examined. The whole substance of human authority was
centred in the simple doctrine of royal prerogative, the origin of which
was always traced in theory to divine institution. Twenty years later,
the subject was more industriously sifted, and for half a century became
one of the principal topics of controversy between the ablest and most
enlightened men in the nation. The instrument of voluntary association
executed on board the "Mayflower" testifies that the parties to it had
anticipated the improvement of their nation.

Another incident, from which we may derive occasion for important
reflections, was the attempt of these original settlers to establish
among them that community of goods and of labor, which fanciful
politicians, from the days of Plato to those of Rousseau, have
recommended as the fundamental law of a perfect republic. This theory
results, it must be acknowledged, from principles of reasoning
most flattering to the human character. If industry, frugality, and
disinterested integrity were alike the virtues of all, there would,
apparently, be more of the social spirit, in making all property a
common stock, and giving to each individual a proportional title to the
wealth of the whole. Such is the basis upon which Plato forbids, in
his Republic, the division of property. Such is the system upon which
Rousseau pronounces the first man who inclosed a field with a fence, and
said, "This is mine," a traitor to the human species. A wiser and more
useful philosophy, however, directs us to consider man according to the
nature in which he was formed; subject to infirmities, which no wisdom
can remedy; to weaknesses, which no institution can strengthen; to
vices, which no legislation can correct. Hence, it becomes obvious that
separate property is the natural and indisputable right of separate
exertion; that community of goods without community of toil is
oppressive and unjust; that it counteracts the laws of nature, which
prescribe that he only who sows the seed shall reap the harvest; that
it discourages all energy, by destroying its rewards; and makes the most
virtuous and active members of society the slaves and drudges of the
worst. Such was the issue of this experiment among our forefathers,
and the same event demonstrated the error of the system in the elder
settlement of Virginia. Let us cherish that spirit of harmony which
prompted our forefathers to make the attempt, under circumstances more
favorable to its success than, perhaps, ever occurred upon earth. Let
us no less admire the candor with which they relinquished it, upon
discovering its irremediable inefficacy. To found principles of
government upon too advantageous an estimate of the human character is
an error of inexperience, the source of which is so amiable that it is
impossible to censure it with severity. We have seen the same mistake
committed in our own age, and upon a larger theatre. Happily for our
ancestors, their situation allowed them to repair it before its effects
had proved destructive. They had no pride of vain philosophy to support,
no perfidious rage of faction to glut, by persevering in their mistakes
until they should be extinguished in torrents of blood.

As the attempt to establish among themselves the community of goods was
a seal of that sacred bond which knit them so closely together, so the
conduct they observed toward the natives of the country displays
their steadfast adherence to the rules of justice and their faithful
attachment to those of benevolence and charity.

No European settlement ever formed upon this continent has been more
distinguished for undeviating kindness and equity toward the savages.
There are, indeed, moralists who have questioned the right of the
Europeans to intrude upon the possessions of the aboriginals in any
case, and under any limitations whatsoever. But have they maturely
considered the whole subject? The Indian right of possession itself
stands, with regard to the greater part of the country, upon a
questionable foundation. Their cultivated fields; their constructed
habitations; a space of ample sufficiency for their subsistence,
and whatever they had annexed to themselves by personal labor, was
undoubtedly, by the laws of nature, theirs. But what is the right of
a huntsman to the forest of a thousand miles over which he has
accidentally ranged in quest of prey? Shall the liberal bounties of
Providence to the race of man be monopolized by one of ten thousand for
whom they were created? Shall the exuberant bosom of the common mother,
amply adequate to the nourishment of millions, be claimed exclusively
by a few hundreds of her offspring? Shall the lordly savage not only
disdain the virtues and enjoyments of civilization himself, but shall he
control the civilization of a world? Shall he forbid the wilderness
to blossom like a rose? Shall he forbid the oaks of the forest to fall
before the axe of industry, and to rise again, transformed into the
habitations of ease and elegance? shall he doom an immense region of the
globe to perpetual desolation, and to hear the howlings of the tiger and
the wolf silence forever the voice of human gladness? Shall the fields
and the valleys, which a beneficent God has formed to teem with the life
of innumerable multitudes, be condemned to everlasting barrenness? Shall
the mighty rivers, poured out by the hand of nature, as channels of
communication between numerous nations, roll their waters in sullen
silence and eternal solitude of the deep? Have hundreds of commodious
harbors, a thousand leagues of coast, and a boundless ocean, been spread
in the front of this land, and shall every purpose of utility to which
they could apply be prohibited by the tenant of the woods? No, generous
philanthropists! Heaven has not been thus inconsistent in the works of
its hands. Heaven has not thus placed at irreconcilable strife its moral
laws with its physical creation. The Pilgrims of Plymouth obtained their
right of possession to the territory on which they settled, by titles
as fair and unequivocal as any human property can be held. By their
voluntary association they recognized their allegiance to the government
of Britain, and in process of time received whatever powers and
authorities could be conferred upon them by a charter from their
sovereign. The spot on which they fixed had belonged to an Indian tribe,
totally extirpated by that devouring pestilence which had swept the
country shortly before their arrival. The territory, thus free from
all exclusive possession, they might have taken by the natural right
of occupancy. Desirous, however, of giving amply satisfaction to every
pretence of prior right, by formal and solemn conventions with the
chiefs of the neighboring tribes, they acquired the further security of
a purchase. At their hands the children of the desert had no cause
of complaint. On the great day of retribution, what thousands, what
millions of the American race will appear at the bar of judgment to
arraign their European invading conquerors! Let us humbly hope that
the fathers of the Plymouth Colony will then appear in the whiteness of
innocence. Let us indulge in the belief that they will not only be free
from all accusation of injustice to these unfortunate sons of nature,
but that the testimonials of their acts of kindness and benevolence
toward them will plead the cause of their virtues, as they are now
authenticated by the record of history upon earth.

Religious discord has lost her sting; the cumbrous weapons of
theological warfare are antiquated; the field of politics supplies the
alchemists of our times with materials of more fatal explosion, and the
butchers of mankind no longer travel to another world for instruments
of cruelty and destruction. Our age is too enlightened to contend upon
topics which concern only the interests of eternity; the men who hold in
proper contempt all controversies about trifles, except such as inflame
their own passions, have made it a commonplace censure against your
ancestors, that their zeal was enkindled by subjects of trivial
importance; and that however aggrieved by the intolerance of others,
they were alike intolerant themselves. Against these objections, your
candid judgment will not require an unqualified justification; but your
respect and gratitude for the founders of the State may boldly claim an
ample apology. The original grounds of their separation from the Church
of England were not objects of a magnitude to dissolve the bonds of
communion, much less those of charity, between Christian brethren of
the same essential principles. Some of them, however, were not
inconsiderable, and numerous inducements concurred to give them an
extraordinary interest in their eyes. When that portentous system of
abuses, the Papal dominion, was overturned, a great variety of religious
sects arose in its stead in the several countries, which for many
centuries before had been screwed beneath its subjection. The fabric of
the Reformation, first undertaken in England upon a contracted basis, by
a capricious and sanguinary tyrant, had been successively overthrown
and restored, renewed and altered, according to the varying humors and
principles of four successive monarchs. To ascertain the precise point
of division between the genuine institutions of Christianity and the
corruptions accumulated upon them in the progress of fifteen centuries,
was found a task of extreme difficulty throughout the Christian world.

Men of the profoundest learning, of the sublimest genius, and of the
purest integrity, after devoting their lives to the research, finally
differed in their ideas upon many great points, both of doctrine and
discipline. The main question, it was admitted on all hands, most
intimately concerned the highest interests of man, both temporal and
eternal. Can we wonder that men who felt their happiness here and their
hopes of hereafter, their worldly welfare and the kingdom of heaven
at stake, should sometimes attach an importance beyond their intrinsic
weight to collateral points of controversy, connected with the
all-involving object of the Reformation? The changes in the forms and
principles of religious worship were introduced and regulated in England
by the hand of public authority. But that hand had not been uniform
or steady in its operations. During the persecutions inflicted in the
interval of Popish restoration under the reign of Mary, upon all who
favored the Reformation, many of the most zealous reformers had been
compelled to fly their country. While residing on the continent of
Europe, they had adopted the principles of the most complete and
rigorous reformation, as taught and established by Calvin. On returning
afterward to their native country, they were dissatisfied with
the partial reformation, at which, as they conceived, the English
establishment had rested; and claiming the privilege of private
conscience, upon which alone any departure from the Church of Rome could
be justified, they insisted upon the right of adhering to the system of
their own preference, and, of course, upon that of non-conformity to the
establishment prescribed by the royal authority. The only means used
to convince them of error and reclaim them from dissent was force, and
force served but to confirm the opposition it was meant to suppress. By
driving the founders of the Plymouth Colony into exile, it constrained
them to absolute separation irreconcilable. Viewing their religious
liberties here, as held only by sufferance, yet bound to them by all
the ties of conviction, and by all their sufferings for them, could they
forbear to look upon every dissenter among themselves with a jealous
eye? Within two years after their landing, they beheld a rival
settlement attempted in their immediate neighborhood; and not long
after, the laws of self-preservation compelled them to break up a nest
of revellers, who boasted of protection from the mother country, and who
had recurred to the easy but pernicious resource of feeding their wanton
idleness, by furnishing the savages with the means, the skill, and the
instruments of European destruction. Toleration, in that instance, would
have been self-murder, and many other examples might be alleged, in
which their necessary measures of self-defence have been exaggerated
into cruelty, and their most indispensable precautions distorted into
persecution. Yet shall we not pretend that they were exempt from the
common laws of mortality, or entirely free from all the errors of
their age. Their zeal might sometimes be too ardent, but it was always
sincere. At this day, religious indulgence is one of our clearest
duties, because it is one of our undisputed rights. While we rejoice
that the principles of genuine Christianity have so far triumphed over
the prejudices of a former generation, let us fervently hope for the day
when it will prove equally victorious over the malignant passions of our

In thus calling your attention to some of the peculiar features in the
principles, the character, and the history of our forefathers, it is
as wide from my design, as I know it would be from your approbation, to
adorn their memory with a chaplet plucked from the domain of others.
The occasion and the day are more peculiarly devoted to them, and let
it never be dishonored with a contracted and exclusive spirit. Our
affections as citizens embrace the whole extent of the Union, and the
names of Raleigh, Smith, Winthrop, Calvert, Penn and Oglethorpe excite
in our minds recollections equally pleasing and gratitude equally
fervent with those of Carver and Bradford. Two centuries have not
yet elapsed since the first European foot touched the soil which now
constitutes the American Union. Two centuries more and our numbers must
exceed those of Europe itself. The destinies of their empire, as they
appear in prospect before us, disdain the powers of human calculation.
Yet, as the original founder of the Roman State is said once to have
lifted upon his shoulders the fame and fortunes of all his posterity, so
let us never forget that the glory and greatness of all our descendants
is in our hands. Preserve in all their purity, refine, if possible,
from all their alloy, those virtues which we this day commemorate as the
ornament of our forefathers. Adhere to them with inflexible resolution,
as to the horns of the altar; instil them with unwearied perseverance
into the minds of your children; bind your souls and theirs to the
national Union as the chords of life are centred in the heart, and you
shall soar with rapid and steady wing to the summit of human glory.
Nearly a century ago, one of those rare minds to whom it is given to
discern future greatness in its seminal principles, upon contemplating
the situation of this continent, pronounced, in a vein of poetic
inspiration, "Westward the star of empire takes its way." Let us unite
in ardent supplication to the Founder of nations and the Builder
of worlds, that what then was prophecy may continue unfolding
into history--that the dearest hopes of the human race may not be
extinguished in disappointment, and that the last may prove the noblest
empire of time.

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