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´╗┐Title: National Character - A Thanksgiving Discourse Delivered November 15th, 1855, - in the Franklin Street Presbyterian Church
Author: Burt, Nathaniel Clark, 1825-1874
Language: English
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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.

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       *       *       *       *       *





Franklin Street Presbyterian Church,



       *       *       *       *       *



BALTIMORE, _November_ 17, 1855.


_Pastor of Franklin Street Presbyterian Church_:

DEAR SIR--We earnestly solicit a copy of the Discourse delivered by you on
Thanksgiving day, for publication.

With great respect, yours, &c.


BALTIMORE, _November_ 25, 1855.

GENTLEMEN--The request for a copy of my Thanksgiving Discourse, so
generally made, I cannot refuse. The manuscript is herewith placed at your

Very truly yours,



R. K. HAWLEY, Esq.

J. HENRY STICKNEY, Esq. and others.



We have met to-day, at the call of the Governor of this Commonwealth,
to render thanks to the Supreme Governor of the world for his mercies
granted us during the past year. Surely we have abundant cause for
thanksgiving. In the present instance, our annual festival not only
calls us to recognize the common bounties of God's providence most
richly bestowed, but also affords a most suitable opportunity for
rendering special offerings of gratitude for our happy exemption from
that pestilence, which, for months just past, lifted its frowning
clouds in our near horizon, and committed its devastations on our very
borders,--a pestilence which, if God had permitted it to march upon
our City and to do a like deadly work amidst our population, would now
be exulting over as many slain victims from among us, as there are
persons now assembled in all our Churches for this thanksgiving
service. Let us give hearty thanks for this distinguishing sparing

Being called together by our civil authorities, and that to recognize
the hand of God over us as a people, the occasion is suitable for
considering the general subject of NATIONAL CHARACTER, and in
connection with it, the duties and destinies of our own nation.

What now, to begin at the beginning, is the proper idea of a nation?
The idea is a complex one, involving, to a greater or less extent, the
ideas of community of birth, community of language, occupation of the
same territory, citizenship under the same government.

The _word_ nation signifies a body of men descended from the same
progenitor,--those having community of birth. We may, from the sense
of the word, call the Jews a nation, though using a diversity of
languages, and though scattered over the earth, without distinct
territory or separate government.

Community of language commonly follows upon community of birth. Yet
community of language does not of itself determine or secure
nationality. The English and ourselves speak the same language, yet
are distinct nations. The Swiss are one nation, yet speak some of them
French, others German, others Italian.

Occupation of the same territory is not essential to nationality. Not
only may a nation be scattered,--its parts dwelling in several
lands,--as in the case of the Jews, but a nation may migrate in a body
and preserve its national character in transit, or it may have no
fixed territorial abode whatever. The Tartars and the Arabs are
nations ever in motion, and held but the most loosely by any tenure of

And even citizenship under the same government, does not of itself
exhaust the idea of a nation. Russia may be said to include many
nations under her sway.

Yet the ideas of race, language, country and government, all enter
into, and with greater or less distinctness, and to a greater or less
extent, constitute the general idea of a nation. The French have in
general the same origin: they speak the same language: they possess a
definite territory: they live under one government. They are of Gallic
origin: we call their language French: their home is France: they are
the subjects of Napoleon.

These several ideas of a nation do not, however, seem to be equally
essential. It is in the idea of Government, the idea of the State, in
which an associated body of men rises to view as a personality, and as
a sovereign power, clothed with divine privileges and prerogatives,
subsisting for high moral ends, dispensing justice amongst its own
citizens in the name of God, and treating with other States as
responsible persons like itself, with whom it dwells as in a family of
nations to possess the earth;--it is in this idea that the ideas of
community of origin and of language, and occupation of the same
territory, merge themselves as subordinate or accidental, and that our
view of a nation is most satisfactory and complete.

The functions of supreme government are rarely exercised over a very
small body of men. And nations need to be of some magnitude to
realize the benefits of national existence. A nation, just in virtue
of its national constitution, is in a measure separated from the rest
of mankind. It has an existence by itself. It ought, then, to have a
completeness in itself. It should be made up of so many and such
variety of parts, that these parts in their inter-action, may produce
a sufficient life. Its classes of citizens and their occupations,
should be so diversified and numerous, that in the mutual dependence
and support, the highest possible benefit may result. _Size_ has to do
materially with the idea of a nation. This, indeed, makes all the
difference between a family and a nation, if only sovereign
prerogatives be conceded to the family, as was done in patriarchal
times. It is in the life of the State rather than that of the family,
that we have civilization. The very word civilization implies
this--_civis_, being a citizen, and _civitas_, a State.

The importance of national relations may be seen in the consideration
of the nature of history. What is history? Is it a collection of the
biographies of individual men? We do not, as a fact, give to such
collection the name of history. History has been called "the biography
of society." But of society founded upon what basis, working by what
agencies, involving what interests, proposing what ends? Not surely
voluntary associations, formed for the promotion of the arts, or
commerce, or philosophy, or benevolent undertakings. Such associations
are too limited in the numbers which belong to them, too narrow and
partial in the ends they propose and the means they use, to justify us
in calling their biography history. We must find a society which, as
nearly as possible, shall comprehend in its members the entire human
race, command in its workings all human energies, involve in its
consideration all human interests; the biography of such a society we
may call history. Such a society we find in the State. And it is
because the whole human race is gathered into nations; it is because
the State proposes as its true object the highest good of all its
citizens; and especially is it because the State as a sovereign power,
not only holds the persons and property of its citizens at its
disposal, but deals with its citizens and with all mankind as moral
beings, and as itself a moral person responsible to God,--being a
sovereign only as his minister;--it is because of all this, that we
give the name history to the biography of nations rather than to that
of any other society. And the idea of history generally accepted is
this,--it is a record of the changes which come over the aspect and
fortunes of nations, in their self-development and their mutual

The highest truth of history is unquestionably the Providence of God.
Now, it gives us a most impressive view of the importance of national
relations, when we consider the Bible representation of nations as the
great agents of God's Providence. The Assyrian nation sent against the
people of Israel is "the rod of his anger" and "the staff of his
indignation." Said God to his ancient people, "I will bring a nation
on you from far, O house of Israel." God of old sent his prophets to
this nation and that; Elijah to Israel, Jeremiah to Judah, Jonah to

Moreover, the Bible recognizes the importance of national relations in
the position it assigns to nations in the historic and prophetic
development of the plan for man's redemption. Before the advent of our
Saviour, God was in covenant with a nation. To conserve the true
religion amidst the corruptions which a second time were coming over
the whole earth, God took Abraham and his family into special
relations to himself. Yet God did not see fit to keep these special
relations confined to a single family in successive generations. It
entered directly into his plan, to make of this chosen family a
nation, to set them in a land of their own, to give them a government
of their own, to place them amidst the other nations of the earth. The
influence of a nation was required to prepare the world for the coming
of Messiah. So also in prophecy. Whatever may be thought of the beasts
of the Revelation, with their heads and horns, the beasts of Daniel
are distinctly stated to be "Kingdoms upon Earth." They are States and
Empires. It is, moreover, a kingdom which the Lord God will set up
upon earth, which, as a little stone cut out of the mountain, shall
smite and break and crush the kingdoms of earth, and itself occupy
their place. "The saints of the Most High shall take the kingdom, and
possess the kingdom for ever."

With this consideration of the idea of a nation, and of the importance
of national relations, let us now, turning and beholding the race of
men dwelling together in a family of nations, ask more particularly
after their duties and destinies.

       *       *       *       *       *

I. The State has a religious character. Nations derive their existence
as such from God. The State is of divine institution. It enjoys and
exercises divine prerogatives. It is hence under duty to God; it has
herein a religious character.

I do not propose to argue the question of the nature of civil
government. I will not undertake to show that the theory of a social
compact--the theory that all just powers of government are derived
from the people, who voluntarily yield them up and consent to their
exercise--that this theory is false. Enough for me--enough for you, I
presume,--that it is unscriptural and infidel. Enough for us that the
Scriptures say, "The powers that be are ordained of God," and the
civil ruler is "the minister of God." I do not deny,--the Scriptures
do not deny--the distinction between things _civil_ and things
_religious_. The Christian does not demand that the State shall be a
theocracy. The State and the Church has each its appropriate end and
sphere. The prime end of the State is the dispensing of justice, the
protecting of its citizens, and the securing by agriculture and
commerce and the arts, and by the intelligence and virtue of its
citizens, of the general welfare. The prime end of the Church, so far
as man is concerned, is the promotion of his spiritual and eternal
good, through the agency of the Scriptures of revealed truth. The
sphere of the one is the affairs of this life,--that of the other, the
affairs of the life to come. Yet the State and the Church are not
wholly separated and absolutely independent; and neither is
independent of God.

Again: Man in his entirety, is a religious being, and must carry his
religion with him into all his relations. He is a religious citizen;
so that not only is government instituted by God and to be
administered in his name, and is therefore religious, but being
administered by men and upon men, who themselves are under
responsibility to God, it is therefore again religious.

And again: Although the prime end of the State be the promotion of
man's temporal welfare, and that of the Church, the promotion of his
spiritual welfare, and although the prime sphere of the State be the
things of the present life, and that of the Church those of the life
to come, yet things temporal and things spiritual, and the things of
the present life and those of the life to come, have most intimate and
important connections. The spiritual welfare tells upon the temporal,
and the life to come is but the issue and result of the present life.
Here, once more, is the State seen to have a religious character. All
this admits of abundant proof and illustration.

The State, then, has a character directly religious, due to its origin
and nature, as instituted by God for doing his ministry with men.
Hence, its laws should be founded on the highest views of the divine
will ascertainable. It should enact that alone to be crime which God
pronounces to be sin. And again, the State has a character indirectly
religious, in view of the fact, that it is administered by and upon
those who are under religious obligations, and in view of the fact
that religion has material connection with that public welfare which
it is the design and duty of the State to promote. The State must, on
the one hand, respect the conscience of its citizens, leaving them
free in religious opinions and practices; and yet, on the other hand,
it must seek to promote the interests of true religion, with whose
prosperity the public welfare is vitally connected.

It belongs to our government, my hearers, to conform its legislation
to the principles of the Bible, and to impose its penalties for
violated law, on the authority and with the sanction of the God of the
Bible: and it belongs to our government, while indulging the largest
and most liberal toleration of religious opinions and practices, still
to seek the diffusion and establishment of Christianity throughout the
length and breadth of our land. It is right that our government
enforces, to a good degree, the observance of the Christian Sabbath.
It is demanded that such observance be enforced in still larger
degree. Our government, if it be bound to afford an education to the
children of its citizens at all, is bound to give them a Christian
education. The Bible should be in all our Public Schools. Chaplains
should be provided for all State institutions, as they are for the
Army and Navy.

I know, indeed, that these views, when fully expressed, are not
generally conceded. Many seem to think that government has no proper
connection with religion. The cry of Church and State--of the invasion
of religious rights--is raised against these views.[B] But not only
has government a necessary connection with religion, but what may
seem still more objectionable, the freest government must have
reference, in its laws and institutions, to some _form_ of religion,
as that held by the great body of its citizens: and it is a mistake,
as egregious as it is frequent, which supposes that because our
Federal Constitution prescribes no religion as that of this country,
and unites the government to no Church, our country is therefore as
much Pagan or Infidel as it is Christian. The Constitution and the
legislation of our country presuppose and take for granted, if they do
not distinctly affirm, that Bible Christianity is the religion of this
country. And they must do so, in order that this be a free government,
since the great body of our people are believers in this religion. The
President of the United States, standing in the portico of the
Capitol, before the face of heaven and in view of the assembled
people, swears upon the Bible to support the Constitution. The great
functions of government cease to be exercised among us when the
morning of the Christian Sabbath dawns. The Executive closes his
mansion, Congress vacates its halls, the judge comes down from his
bench;--all pause and wait through the day of which the God of the
Bible and the Lord our Saviour has said--it is mine. How solemn the
testimony, and how frequently recurring, that this is a Christian

And whose rights are invaded by this observance of the Christian
religion? The Jew's? Why he can observe his Sabbath on Saturday, and
the law will protect him in the observance. None shall molest or make
him afraid. The infidel's? It may be that he is put to inconvenience.
He cannot have his cause tried in Court; he cannot lay his petition
before Congress or the Executive; he may not be able to procure his
letters from the Post Office: but is this an invasion of his rights?
Who has the right to compel the judge to violate the Sabbath by trying
his cause, or the mail-carrier or post master by delivering his
letters? Would not the non-observance of the Sabbath by the government
operate at once to close the doors of office against four-fifths of
our conscientious citizens? For the very reason, then, that the body
of our people are Christians, our government does and must, as a free
government, respect the Christian religion; and furthermore, because
this religion is, as we know, the true religion of God, and its
influence most happy in sustaining a free government, the State is
bound not simply coldly to protect it in common with all forms of
religion, but warmly to foster it as its own chosen religion.

It would not be well longer to dwell on this topic. It may only be
added that while the understanding of this subject is of the very
first consequence to us as a nation, there is no subject of general
interest which seems to be so little understood.[C]

Nations of necessity have a religious character. The civil government
is of God's ordination, and does God's ministry. The civil government
is administered by and upon men who are religious beings, who cannot
under any circumstances divest themselves of their religious
character. The prevalence of true religion amongst its citizens, is of
the highest advantage to the State.

Every nation has its God or its gods. "Blessed is the nation whose God
is the Lord." Blessed is America so long as a pure, scriptural
Christianity stimulates and governs its public life.

It may be mentioned, but need not be discussed as a distinct topic,
although its full consideration would greatly enforce the views just
presented, that, as a matter of fact, God does regard nations as
responsible persons, and does hold them in strict account to himself.
The highest truth of universal history being the universal and
comprehending providence of God, and the great factors of history
being the nations of mankind, and the personal and responsible
character of nations continuing only in this life and obtaining God's
full judgment of mercy or wrath during the time of their present
continuance, the historic page, recording the majestic movements of
empires in their rise and fall, becomes unspeakably sublime as the
record of the Almighty's manifested character, smiling and blessing in
their righteous prosperity, and frowning and overthrowing in their
guilty doom.

       *       *       *       *       *

II. But let us pass to another view of nations. The race of men we
behold in a family of nations. We may consider the relations of these
nations one to another.

I use the word _family_ in reference to nations, to indicate at once,
at the outset, and as fully as possible, their true relations. Nations
are most closely and most tenderly related. Their relation is one of
blood, and their one parent is God. "He hath made of one blood all
nations of men, for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath
determined the times before appointed and the bounds of their
habitation." Each nation has a certain completeness in itself, yet it
is but a partial completeness. Nations are still connected. They are
dependent on one another. They are under obligations to one another.
They are alike and together bound to the same God. They are a
brotherhood before God their common Father. Patriotism has its limits,
and philanthropy, its appropriate and transcendent sphere.

See the physical dependence of nations. Does not every nation on the
face of the earth contribute to the conveniences and comforts and
luxuries, not to say the necessities of our every-day life? And do we
not, as a nation, contribute something for the physical well-being of
every nation in turn? What mean these thousand ships, at all times and
in all directions traversing the main? Are they not all hastening on
the wings of the wind, with their precious burdens, to do the
ministries of nations one toward another? All commerce is significant,
first of all, of national interdependence.

This mutual dependence in things physical is, however, but an image of
a higher dependence. What is civilization? Is it the culture of the
national life? Yet how is national life cultivated? Is it by
self-effort only, put forth from a stimulus self-begotten? Or is not
civilization, like the education of the individual, in some measure
dependent on the efforts of others? Must there not be an outward
contact, and a stimulus provoked by such contact? Turn a child into
the woods, and let him grow up to manhood without the society or the
sight of his fellow-men. Where is his self-culture? He is a wild man
of the woods; he is a barbarian. So nations need the stimulus which
comes from a contact with their fellow nations; and that, not only
that they may advance in civilization, but even that they may save
themselves from going down into barbarism. See China, the largest
empire of men, yet separated from its neighbors by a stone wall. See
Hindostan, insulated by surrounding seas and mountains, and destitute
of commerce for many hundred years. See Africa, secluded from all the
world by its miasmatic regions and its fever-bound coasts. What
stereotyped character! What stagnant life! What hopeless barbarism!
Interchange of thought among the nations,--communication of the
products of art and literature, and of the discoveries of
science;--this is requisite for the welfare of nations.

It would easily follow from this mutual dependence of nations, even if
it did not come to us in a more direct way, that the intercommunion of
nations should be guided and governed by religious principles, and for
the end of highest mutual spiritual benefit. Nay, the statement may be
made thus, in reference to us who know what true religion is, and who
are bound to go according to the light we possess, and not according
to the darkness of others,--that the intercommunion of nations should
be conducted on Christian principles, and for the end of the diffusion
and establishment of the Gospel of Christ.

Blessed is the nation whose God being the Lord, who, as the
first-born, and fullest-grown, and highest-favored, in the Lord's
family of nations, becomes the loving instructor and helper of the
younger brethren.

Looking this day upon the brotherhood of nations, we behold one sight
which might excite our joyful hope, were it not for another closely
connected with it, which must excite our astonishment and sorrow. We
behold, on the one hand, the nations of the earth brought into close
proximity and to the possibility of easy friendship, by the many
physical improvements of the age. These improvements, as we see, are
made and first used by enlightened and Christian nations,--and we are
encouraged to ask, shall not these improvements be the channels and
vehicles for conveying to all nations the influences of the gospel? In
this bringing of the ends of the earth together, by those whose great
glory is their possession of the knowledge of God's salvation, shall
not "all the ends of the earth," through their agency, speedily be
brought "to see the salvation of God?" But alas! The ardency of our
hopes is quenched, when we behold this day the most enlightened and
powerful and happy of the whole brotherhood of nations, whose great
tie is that of natural and Christian love, and whose great duty is to
strengthen the cords of love amongst all their brotherhood,--when we
behold these nations, submitting themselves to the demon of national
hatred and revenge, employing the agencies which should convey the
gospel of peace to all mankind, in transporting the munitions of war,
and then putting forth all their skill and energies in planning and
executing, with the aids of the most matured science, and by means of
the most ingenious and mighty enginery, the devilish work of national
desolation and destruction.

Can we, my hearers, conceive of a higher and more horrid contradiction
of the whole spirit of our religion than a national war? And can there
be anything more discouraging to him who hopes for the speedy
diffusion of the Gospel amidst the nations, than the contemplation of
the present war,--a war not only waged by nations the most Christian,
but a war involving no principle and devoid of all glory,--a war
stamped in its every feature, and chargeable at its every step, with
the attribute and the crime of murder.

O when shall war be recognized in its brutality and fiendishness and
hellish horrors? When shall patriotism separate itself from a proud
ambition and a cruel revenge, and become the loving handmaid of a pure
philanthropy? When shall Christian nations become capable of a
Christian transaction? Must "the sword devour forever?"

       *       *       *       *       *

III. We may not omit on such an occasion, and with such a subject
before us, to speak of the destiny of our own nation.

It would seem from many considerations often presented, that God
intends great things for us as a nation. The time and circumstances of
the original settlement of our country, and the character of the
original settlers, is regarded as one indication of promise. How long
God kept this continent concealed from the view of the civilized
world! And, when it was discovered, how long he kept back the nations
from its successful settlement! Not until the Protestant Reformation
had wrought its great results, and nations were prepared for the work
under its tuition, did God begin to people this country;--and even
then, it was a "winnowed seed" which he planted here. Men tried in the
fires of persecution, and strong in the love of God and the desire of
liberty, laid the foundations of our republic. Is not this peculiar
beginning prophetic of a glorious consummation?

Our past experience and present condition seem to confirm the tokens
of our auspicious beginning. Colonial dependence has given way to
National independence. Thirteen States have increased to thirty-one.
Three millions of people have increased to thirty. Immense forests
have been subdued, and the soil yields supplies for the famishing of
other lands. Great manufactories crowd our rivers and darken our
towns. Our commerce whitens every sea and swarms in every port. Our
people are intelligent, and virtuous, and happy beyond all example.
Our government is strong and efficient. What is needed to make our
destiny glorious, but just to go on in the way that we have come?

Then see the prospect which invites us on. Vast territories are still
unoccupied. What shall prevent the flood of population from pouring
westward and overflowing these territories? Our internal resources
have only begun to be developed. What shall prevent their utmost and
magnificent development? The commerce of the Pacific waits to be ours.
How long till Pacific railroads shall bind our eastern and western
coasts together, and our country, standing in the midst of the earth
and reaching out its arms on either hand, clasp the entire sphere in
its embrace? Our country is in the dew of its rejoicing youth, and has
but the dimmest consciousness and dream of its own strength, and who
can predict the glory of its manhood, when in the fullest
self-consciousness, it shall exert to the utmost its matured and
mighty energies?

Thus are we accustomed to talk. Our destiny is manifest--our glory is
inevitable. It is pleasant to talk thus, and it is unpleasant to talk
otherwise. Yet we ought to desire to see and know the truth.
Self-flattery is an odious folly. Is our destiny, then, manifest? Is
our glory inevitable? Has God so conspicuously favored us that he
cannot but continue to bless? Ah! It is our self-flattery and odious
folly to think so.

We need not look again to our history or our prospects, to gather
evidences of a different destiny, although such evidences might not be
wanting. Yes, we might find the evidences which, duly weighed, would
make us shudder in view of our possible or probable future. We might
come to think it very problematical whether our country has sufficient
vital force to work into good American citizens the hordes of
infidels, paupers, criminals, cast upon our shores from the nations of
the old world;--whether our country has sufficient wisdom to guide its
own vexed domestic questions to a proper and satisfactory issue, and
to balance and regulate the rival and numberless interests of a
country widening indefinitely in extent;--whether--but no, we do not
need thus to forecast the future to ascertain our probable destiny. We
may determine the question by the teaching of God's word. "Blessed is
the nation whose God is the Lord." And blessed is that nation alone.
Here is the solution of the question of our destiny. It is in making
the Lord the God of our country, that we are safe--that we are
prosperous--that our glorious destiny becomes inevitable. Our destiny
is left to ourselves. The means of its glory are placed in our hands.
We may use them or not, as we will.

And now, I utter it to you, my hearers and fellow-citizens, as the
solemn testimony of the Lord our God, that so surely as ignorance and
moral corruption and lust of power, become generally prevalent, and
popery and infidelity attain the supremacy among us, it matters not at
all that we have had a ballot-box, and a free press, and free schools,
and the whole circle of liberal institutions,--these will become but
the insignia of our shame; it matters not that we have had a boundless
territory, and a teeming soil, and mighty cities, and universal
commerce,--the grass will grow again on our prairies,--the red man
return to his forsaken forests,--our cities become black with
desolation, and the sails of our commerce be rent on the seas, or the
hulks of our commerce rot at our wharves; it matters not that God has
been wonderfully gracious to us as a nation,--the more wonderful the
grace, the deeper the insult and crime of our despising it, and the
deeper our doom;--this, this is our manifest destiny.

And it is only as America teaches her children to fear God and do
their duty; it is only as our virtuous citizenship escape from the
chains of corrupt party and procure for themselves a fair
representation in the offices of government--exerting themselves for
the purification of corrupt men, rather than for the promotion of
their evil designs; it is, in a word, only as the power of our blessed
religion shall go out from the hearts of the truly pious in our land,
leavening the mass of the population and bringing them under its
sway;--it is only as we truly make the Lord our country's God, that we
can hope to be blessed, and can, with any just confidence, await our
country's future glory.

Need I, my hearers, deduce and enforce the exhortations of this
subject? Or do they not lie upon its surface, and do they not make
their own appeal to every patriot's and Christian's heart?

The God of nations, looking forth upon our happy land this day, may be
conceived as breathing the benevolent desire once expressed in behalf
of his ancient people, "O that there were such an heart in them, that
they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might
be well with them and with their children forever."

       *       *       *       *       *

N. B. In the delivery of the foregoing discourse, the following
remarks were interjected near the commencement:

     "Permit me to state to you my conviction, that desirable as
     it is that days of religious observance be appointed by our
     civil authorities, the regular appointment of annual
     fast-days or thanksgivings, will not secure for any long
     period a general and hearty observance. I should much prefer
     the appointment by our civil authorities of a fast-day, in
     view of any public calamity impending or experienced, or of
     a day of thanksgiving, in view of deliverence or exemption
     from such calamity. In such case we might hope that the day
     would secure a suitable and profitable observance."

     It is the writer's apprehension that days of special
     religious observance occurring at regular intervals, and
     hence occurring, oftentimes, when there is no special
     providential call for a religious service, and being
     destitute of the binding obligation a divine appointment,
     will degenerate into mere holidays; and in his opinion, the
     providential call ought to guide our rulers in the
     designation of times of special religious observance; so
     that when we fast, we do so in direct view of special
     calamity, and when we render thanks, we do so for special
     mercies actually experienced. The thanksgiving of last year
     occurred at a time of most trying financial embarrassment,
     at the close of a season remarkable for its drought and
     meagre harvests, and for the prevalence of disease and the
     destruction of property by land and sea. Surely, God called
     us then to humble ourselves and fast, rather than to rejoice
     and give thanks, and a thanksgiving service was appropriate
     only for the reason that God always deals with us better
     than we deserve. We need the evident appropriateness of the
     service to secure its continued and suitable observance. Who
     does not remember the appointment by our national Executive,
     some years since, of a day of national humiliation, when a
     visitation of the cholera was threatened? And now solemn and
     affecting the service of that day throughout the land! In
     New England, the regular, annual thanksgiving preserves its
     sacredness through customs and associations, which were
     established in the very infancy of the country, and which
     have grown up with it,--customs and associations, which
     cannot elsewhere be created.


[Footnote A: See Dr. Arnold's "Lectures on Modern History." The above
statement is correct, so long as we take a merely _natural_ view of
mankind--so long as we view men merely in their _moral_ relations.
Viewing men by the light of revelation and in relations more strictly
_religious_, Church-biography would still better deserve the name of
history. But for some reason, these religious relations are not
commonly recognized in their importance. Like the historian, the moral
philosopher commonly ignores man's lapsed condition, and all the great
truths which distinguish supernatural religion. See Wardlaw's
"Christian Ethics."

It ought also to be observed that human governments, at the best, are
obliged to leave many interests of their citizens uncared for, or to
be cared for by other agents than their own; also, that human
governments are often corrupt and fail to discharge their proper
functions. Hence, the historian needs the supplement of individual
biographies, and transactions of voluntary societies, and pictures of
domestic and social life, in order to a full representation of his
subject. Who would dispense with the Book of Ruth in the Old Testament
history, or with Macaulay's picture of England in 1685 in his English

[Footnote B: See Congressional Reports--Col. E. M. Johnson on Sunday
Mails, and Mr. Petit on Chaplains to Congress. Of course, in
practically meeting and adjusting the two claims upon the government,
first to respect the conscience of its citizens, and secondly, to
promote the interests of religion, great diversity of opinion may
exist even among those who hold to the same principles. There is room
for a variety of prudential considerations. Yet the _principles_ above
expressed are discarded in the documents referred to, as they very
often are elsewhere.]

[Footnote C: A volume entitled "The Position of Christianity in the
United States," by Stephen Colwell, Esq. of Philadelphia, deserves the
attentive and serious perusal of every American citizen.]

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "National Character - A Thanksgiving Discourse Delivered November 15th, 1855, - in the Franklin Street Presbyterian Church" ***

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