John Tucker: An Election Sermon

Old South Meeting HouseCALLED UNTO LIBERTY, FOUNDING ERA SERMONS: JOHN TUCKER

Boston 1771


Editor’s Note

English colonists in America began living under local government based upon the consent of the majority before John Locke was born, and by the time he wrote his Second Treatise they had evolved most of the institutions and practices that Locke’s theory implied. Nevertheless, Locke’s work had considerable impact on Americans by the middle of the eighteenth century, probably because it nicely justified theoretically what Americans were already doing. Locke built his theory from rationalist assumptions, while Americans built their institutions on biblical foundations, especially upon the notion of a covenant. While to men in the 1770s there seemed to be no essential conflict between what Locke and the Bible were telling them, their synthesis of the two was in fact an American accomplishment, not a logical necessity. John Tucker, pastor of the First Church in Newbury, here, in the Election Day Sermon of 1771, demonstrates how the synthesis was accomplished. – Charles S. Hyneman and Donald Lutz


English colonists in America began living under local government based upon the consent of the majority before John Locke was born, and by the time he wrote his Second Treatise they had evolved most of the institutions and practices that Locke’s theory implied. Nevertheless, Locke’s work had considerable impact on Americans by the middle of the eighteenth century, probably because it nicely justified theoretically what Americans were already doing. Locke built his theory from rationalist assumptions, while Americans built their institutions on biblical foundations, especially upon the notion of a covenant. While to men in the 1770s there seemed to be no essential conflict between what Locke and the Bible were telling them, their synthesis of the two was in fact an American accomplishment, not a logical necessity. John Tucker, pastor of the First Church in Newbury, here, in the Election Day Sermon of 1771, demonstrates how the synthesis was accomplished.

I Peter II. 13, 14, 15, 16.

Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: Whether it be to the King as supreme, or unto Governors, as unto Governors, as unto them who are sent by him, for the punishment of evil-doers, and for the praise of them that do well.

For so is the will of God, that with well-doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: As free, and not using your liberty for a cloak of maliciousness, but as the servants of God.

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The great and wise Author of our being, has so formed us, that the love of liberty is natural. This passion, like all other original principles of the human mind, is, in itself [6] perfectly innocent, and designed for excellent purposes, though, like them, liable, through abuse, of becoming the cause of mischief to ourselves and others. In a civil state, the genius of whose constitution is agreeable to it, this passion, while in its full vigor, and under proper regulation, is not only the cement of the political body, but the wakeful guardian of its interests, and the great animating spring of useful and salutary operations; and then only is it unjurious to the public, or to individuals, when, thro’ misapprehension of things, or by being overballanced by self-love, it takes a wrong direction.

Civil and ecclesiastical societies are, in some essential points, different. Our rights, as men, and our rights, as christians, are not, in all respects, the same. It cannot, however, be reasonably supposed, but that this useful and important principle, must, in its genuine influence and operation, be friendly to both: For although our Saviour has assured us, his kingdom is not of this world; and it be [7] manifest from the Gospel, which contains its constitution and laws, that his subjects stand in some special relation and are under some peculiar subjection to him, distinct from their relation to and connection with civil societies, yet we justly conclude, that as this divine polity, with its sacred maxims, proceeded from the wise and benevolent Author of our being, none of its injunctions can be inconsistent with that love of liberty he himself has implanted in us, nor interfere with the laws and government of human societies, whose constitution is consistent with the rights of men.

Christ came to set up a kingdom diverse, indeed, from the kingdoms of this world, but it was no part of his design to put down, or destroy government and rule among men. He came to procure liberty for his people, and to make them free in the most important sense, yet not to exempt them from subjection to civil powers, or to dissolve their obligations to one another, as members of political bodies.

[8] As to things of this nature, all ecclesiastical constitutions and laws, as coming from God, must leave men just as they were; because all civil societies, founded on principles of reason and equity, are, as well as the peculiar laws of Christianity, agreeable to the Deity, and [[160]] certainly, intimations from the all-perfect mind cannot be contradictory.

These things, seem not to have been rightly apprehended, and well understood by men at all times and in all places. The Jews, some of whom were early proselyted to the christian faith, had imbibed high notions of their liberty and superiority to all others, as the peculiar people of God; and were loth to own subjection to the Romans, as a civil state, when they were actually under their dominion. And some converts from among the Gentiles, tho’ they had not these national prejudices, yet from their subjection to Jesus Christ, as their King and Ruler, and, as ‘tis probable, from mistaking the meaning of some apostolic declarations asserting [9] their freedom as christians, disclaimed likewise all human authority over them.

Men of this cast, gave no small trouble both to Church and State, in the early days of the Gospel. Of such the Apostle Peter speaks where he says—They despise government: Presumptuous are they. Self-willed, they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities.

Such men as these, and their seditious, turbulent behaviour, I doubt not, this same Apostle had in view, when he delivered the instructions in my text, by which he endeavoured to guard christians against their evil practices.

But, as all authority, demanding submission, and all submission, due to such authority, are likely to be best understood, by having these things reduced to their first principles; by having the foundation of such authority fairly produced, and its just boundaries, which must be the measure of submission due to it, clearly marked out: And as such submission is most likely to be duly yielded, [10] by having the reasons and motives thereof plainly exhibited, so these are things which seem here aimed at by the Apostle. Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the King as supreme; or unto Governors, as unto them who are sent by him for the punishment of evil-doers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God, that with well-doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men. As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God.

In these words he gives us a compendium of civil government; representing its origin and great design; that submission, or obedience which is due to it; and the true principles from which such obedience should flow.

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Upon this general view of the subject, it is obvious, that if handled with any degree of propriety, it may offer useful instructions, both to Rulers, and those under their government.—A modest attempt to do this, will not, it is hoped, be [11] disagreeable to this respectable audience, by whom I ask to be heard with patience and candor.

The first thing offered to our consideration is, the ORIGIN of civil government, from whence all authority in the state must take its rise. And this is said to be from man. Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man, etc. More intelligibly, perhaps, it might be rendered, “to every human institution or appointment.” And this may be justly understood, as having respect to every kind of civil government, under whatever form it is administred:—It is the ordinance,—the institution or appointment of man.

This does not imply, however, that civil government is not from God; for thus it is sometimes represented, and is expressly said to be the ordinance of God. So St. Paul declares—There is no power but of God. The powers that be, are ordained by God. Whoever therefore resisteth the power resisteth the ordinance of God.

[12] Civil government is not, indeed, so from God, as to be expressly appointed by him in his word. Much less is any particular form of it there delineated, as a standing model for the nations of the world. Nor are any particular persons, pointed out, as having, in a lineal descent, an indefeasible right to rule over others.

But civil government may be said to be from God, as it is he who qualifies men for, and in his over-ruling providence, raises them to places of authority and rule; for by him Kings reign:—As he has given us, in his word, the character of Rulers, and pointed out both their duty, and the duty of those under their authority; which supposes, not only the existence of civil government, but that it is agreeable to his will: And especially and chiefly, as civil government is founded in the very nature of man, as a social being, and in the nature and constitution of things. It is manifestly for the good of society:—It is the dictate of nature:—It is the voice of reason, which may be said to be the voice of God.

[13] It being only thus that civil government is the ordinance of God, there is no impropriety in asserting likewise that it is the ordinance of man. For though it is founded in the nature of man, and [[162]] in the constitution of things, which are from God, yet nothing is plainer, than that it proceeds immediately from men. It is not a matter of necessity, strictly speaking, but of choice. This is the case, as to the government in general.—This is most evidently the case, as to any particular form of government.

All men are naturally in a state of freedom, and have an equal claim to liberty. No one, by nature, nor by any special grant from the great Lord of all, has any authority over another. All right therefore in any to rule over others, must originate from those they rule over, and be granted by them. Hence, all government, consistent with that natural freedom, to which all have an equal claim, is founded in compact, or agreement between the parties;—between Rulers and their Subjects, and can be no [14] otherwise. Because Rulers, receiving their authority originally and solely from the people, can be rightfully possessed of no more, than these have consented to, and conveyed to them.

And the fundamental laws, which are the basis of government, and form the political constitution of the state,—which mark out, and fix the chief lines and boundaries between the authority of Rulers, and the liberties and privileges of the people, are, and can be no other, in a free state, than what are mutually agreed upon and consented to. Whatever authority therefore the supreme power has, to make laws, to appoint officers, etc. for the regulation and government of the state, being an authority derived from the community, and granted by them, can be justly exercised, only within certain limits, and to a certain extent, according to agreement.

To suppose otherwise, and that without a delegated power and constitutional right, Rulers may make laws, and appoint [15] officers for their execution, and force them to effect, i.e. according to their own arbitrary will and pleasure, is to defeat the great design of civil government, and utterly to abolish it. It is to make Rulers absolutely despotic, and to subject the people to a state of slavery; because it will then be in the power of Rulers, by virtue of new laws and regulations, they shall please to make, to subvert and annihilate the present constitution, and to strip the subject of every kind of privilege.

This may be briefly evidenced by a single instance.

It is essential to a free state, for without this it cannot be free, that no man shall have his property taken from him, but by his own consent, given by himself or by others deputed to act for him. Let it [[163]] be supposed then, that Rulers assume a power to act contrary to this fundamental principle, what must be the consequence? If by such usurped authority, they can demand and take a [16] penny, by the same authority they may a pound, and even the whole substance of the subject, so as to make him wholly dependent on their pleasure, having nothing that he can call his own; and what is he then but a perfect slave.*

This, at first view, is manifestly inconsistent with all just conception of freedom; and is the very essence of arbitrary and tyrannical power.

Now, all Rulers in a state, and all power and authority with which they are vested;—the very being, and form of government, with all its constitutional laws, being thus from the people, hence civil government, is called, and with great propriety, the ordinance of man,—an human institution.

[17] This is the case, as to the British government in particular, under which we have the happiness to live. Its constitutional laws are comprized in Magna-Charta, or the great charter of the nation. This contains, in general, the liberties and privileges of the people, and is, virtually, a compact between the King and them; the reigning Prince, explicitly engaging, by solemn oath, to govern according to these laws:—Beyond the extent of these then, or contrary to them, he can have no rightful authority at all.

If the preceding positions, and the reasonings from them are just, the following things may be noticed, as deducible therefrom, or closely connected therewith,—That it is highly requisite, for the good of the state, that both Rulers and people be well acquainted with, and keep in mind the constitutional laws of government—Rulers, that they may be directed and guided thereby, and not depart from, or counteract the design of their institution, to the injury, or disquietude [18] of the people.—And people, that knowing the bounds of [[164]] submission, and the extent of their privileges, they may be guarded against transgression, and yield a ready and full obedience.

Equally requisite it must be likewise, for the same end, that there be no mysteries in the governing plan:—That all laws and rules of government, be as plain as possible, and easy to be understood, to prevent contentious disputes between Rulers and their subjects;—to preclude the former, from tyrannical oppression, under colour of lawful authority, and the latter from rebellious disobedience, under pretence of privilege.

For, it follows from what has been said, that as all disobedience in subjects, to constitutional authority, is rebellion against government, and merits punishment adequate to the crime, so all assumed power in Rulers, not granted them by the constitution, is without just authority, and so far forth, can claim no submission. [19] “As usurpation,” says the great and judicious Mr. Locke, “is the exercise of power which another hath a right to, so Tyranny is the exercise of power beyond right, which no body can have a right to.” And again, “Where-ever law ends, Tyranny begins, if the law be transgressed to another’s harm. And whosoever in authority exceeds the power given him by law, and makes use of the force, he has under his command, to compass that upon the subject, which the law allows not, ceases in that to be a magistrate: And acting without authority, may be opposed as any other man who by force invades the right of another.”

And tho’ it may not always be prudent and best, to resist such power, and submission may be yielded, yet that the people have a right to resist, is undeniable; otherwise the absurd and exploded doctrines of passive obedience, and non-resistance, must be admitted in their utmost extent, and their consequences patiently borne. And it must be granted finally, that the people as well as their [20] Rulers, are proper judges of the civil constitution they are under, and of their own rights and privileges; else, how shall they know when these are invaded;—when submission is due to authoritative requisitions, and when not?

But we are now to consider

Secondly, the great design of Civil Government, and the end for which Rulers are appointed; and that is the good of the community, or political body—Whether it be to the King, as supreme; or unto Governors, as unto them who are sent by him, for the punishment of evil-doers, and for the praise of them that do well.

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Rulers are not appointed, indeed, for the happiness of the people, exclusive of their own, as if these things were unconnected. But, as it would be unreasonable, that some should be advanced above their brethren,—be cloathed with authority, and honorably supported meerly for the sake of their own ease, [21] dignity and grandeur, so it would be equally unreasonable, that Rulers should be slaves to the people, and watch and labour for their welfare, without sharing in it.

But the happiness of rulers and of their Subjects, are not thus exclusive of each other, but perfectly coincident. They are both parts of the same body,—their true interests are interwoven, and their happiness inseparable. Rulers, acting agreeable to their institution, and attending on that very thing, are justly entitled to esteem and reverence, and an honorable support from the people, though these are not the things they ought to have chiefly in view.

They are to consider themselves as raised above their brethren, and invested with authority, for more noble and generous purposes;—for the peace and wellfare of the Community, committed to their care: Hence it is said, of the civil Ruler, he is the minister of God to thee for good.

[22] Nor can any other end be imagined, worthy of reasonable beings, why men should put themselves out of a state of natural freedom, and subject themselves to the authority and rule of others, but for their greater good;—for the securing, more effectually, their just rights, liberties and privileges.

This is the great end of their forming into society;—of their establishing certain laws, as the general measures of right and wrong, and giving power to some, to govern the whole community by such laws.

This being the design of civil government, good Rulers are justly considered as benefactors to the people. They are placed as watchmen and guardians over the state, whose special business it is, both in their legislative and executive capacity, to consult and promote its wellfare. To curb and restrain the unrighteous and factious, from acts of fraud, rapine and violence, and to protect others in the peaceable enjoyment of their rights. [23] To punish transgressors;—to relieve the oppressed, dispensing, with an equal and impartial hand, justice to all.

For, it is necessary for the support of government, and that the [[166]] great and salutary ends of it may be answered, not only that its laws be just, but that they be enforced by proper sanctions; fitted to affect the human mind, and to engage obedience; and that Rulers have power to execute such laws, in punishment of evildoers, and for a praise,—for the support and encouragement of them that do well.

From this view of our subject, it appears of high importance, to the good of the state, that they who are vested with power to make laws for the Community, as there shall be occasion, and to appoint officers for their execution, have qualifications answerable to their high places of power and trust.—That they be men of superior knowledge and wisdom;—well acquainted with the civil constitution;—with the just boundaries between [24] the prerogative of Rulers, and the liberties of the People, that their laws may be duly framed, and adjusted to the political system.—Men able critically to examine the complection of the state;—to search out its disorders, and to apply proper remedies:—Able to judge of the natural course and tendency of things and to foresee, beyond what is common, the operation, and consequences of their own acts;—how the rights of individuals—how the common good will be affected thereby.

They should be men of great ingenuity and candor;—ready to receive light when offered,—to redress grievances, when convinced of them, and to amend, or repeal their own Acts, when found injurious, or not answering the good intentions designed. Pretences to perfect wisdom and knowledge, and inerrability of judgment, in civil, as well as ecclesiastical matters, ill become the highest mortal; and are likely to produce unhappy effects, when found in Rulers, especially if accompanied with an obstinate adherence to their own measures.

[25] They should be men of great goodness and benevolence of heart, who will naturally care for the welfare of their brethren, and treat them with condescention and kindness. Such a behaviour, corrected and managed by prudence, is perfectly consistent with their maintaining the dignity of their character, and will greatly endear them to the people. That councel of the old men, to king Rehoboam, was wise and good, and agreeable to the sentiments and feelings of human nature. If thou wilt be a servant to this people this day, and wilt serve them, and answer them, and speak good words to them, then they will be thy servants forever.

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Again, RULERS should be men free from a sordid covetous temper, which has self-interest like the pole star ever in view, and endeavours to steer all things by that direction. As they are designed to act for the public good, they should be men of liberal and generous souls;—ready to prefer the common safety and happiness, to their own private emolument.

[26] They should be likewise men of great resolution and firmness of mind;—not easily dismayed and overcome by difficulties, or intimidated by threatened dangers:—Able to maintain a calmness of mind, and to guide with a steady hand, in tempestuous seasons:—Able to bear with the unpolished plainness of some honest men, and with the weaknesses and follies of others:—Not apt, in a pet, to desert the common cause, and to sacrifice the public happiness to their own passionate resentments.

And, finally. It must be a great importance, to the good order and wellfare of the state, that Rulers be men of distinguished piety and virtue, who will be likely to rule by example as well as law. It was an act of prudence, as well as piety in Nehemiah,—his appointing one to a place of high trust in government; because he was a faithful man, and feared God above many.‡ A firm belief of Revelation:—A strong impressive sense of the divine and everlasting things declared in the Gospel,—this will secure [27] the good conduct of Rulers, especially when under temptation to do wrong, above every thing else. True religion inlarges, and strengthens the mind,—fixes deep in the heart, the principles of right action, and gives steadiness and uniformity of behaviour.

Men of this character will act with fidelity and zeal in the service of the public, considering themselves as accountable to God, as well as to men. They look beyond the present state of things, and view their conduct as connected with futurities of a most interesting nature; and will aim at approving themselves, not only to the people, but to their own minds, and to God the Judge of all.

Such Rulers will best answer the great ends of their institution. They will be to the people, as the directing,—as the chearing and comforting light of the sun.—As the refreshing rain,—as the firm, unshaken pillars of the state,—the shield of its defence and safety, and the source [28] of constant blessings. Nor can they fail of engaging the esteem and love, and submission of the people.

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We may now in the THIRD place, consider that submission which is due to governments; and take some particular notice of the nature and extent of it. Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man, whether it be to the King as supreme, or unto Governors, etc. Similar to which is that of St. Paul, Let every soul be subject to the higher powers.—Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, etc.

The duties of Rulers and Subjects are reciprocal, and mutually imply each other. If some are to govern, others are to submit to their government, and to be obedient to their authority; otherwise Rulers are but an empty name;—the constitution is dissolved, and anarchy ensues.

Nor is this submission due only to the Supreme Ruler, but to all in lawful authority [29] under him, down to the lowest officer in the state. Not only to the King, but to those who are sent by him, to carry on the various parts of the administration. Disobedience to inferior officers, while acting by lawful authority, is disobedience to the highest power, as it is by authority derived from thence, that all in subordinate places of civil trust, execute their offices. Submission is likewise due to all constitutional laws, whether they suit the present interest of individuals, or not. A man is not to disobey a just law, calculated for the public good, because, in certain circumstances, it operates against his private interest.

Unlimited submission, however, is not due to government, in a free state. There are certain boundaries, beyond which, submission cannot be justly required, nor is therefore due. These limits are marked out, and fixt, by the known, established, and fundamental laws of the state. These laws being consented to by the governing power, confine, as well as direct its operation and influence, and [30] are the connecting band between authority and obedience.

And no wise and just Ruler, we may suppose, would aim at wantonly leaping over these bounds, and acting beyond them, as this would be, not only acting without lawful authority, and injuriously robbing the people of their rights, but would tend to create unhappy jealousies, and to stir up broils and contentions in the state, which might give him much uneasiness, if no worse consequences should follow.

It was a fine expression of a Spartan Ruler, and indicated the freedom and happiness of the state, upon being asked, “Who governed at Sparta? answered the laws, and the magistrates according to these [[169]] laws.” The constitutional laws of the state, are, properly, the supreme power, being obligatory on the whole community,—on the highest officer, as well as the lowest subject.

[31] Here then, we have the just measure and extent of submission. It is due to all decrees and requisitions of the legislature, which are consistent with the known, and fundamental laws of the state, by which fundamental laws, the very law-making power itself is limited, and beyond which it cannot pass.

And it seems immaterial, as to the present point, whether such authority in Rulers, and submission in subjects, result directly and wholly from the original constitution and frame of government, or from subsequent compacts between them, mutually agreed to.

All such compacts, whether under the name of charter-grants, or however denominated, must be supposed agreeable to the fundamental laws of the state, and grounded thereon, i.e. Such as the ruling power has authority to make, or enter into, and the people freely accept of.

[32] Upon such agreement, a particular kind of government, in some respects new, may take place; but, so far as it is new, or variant from the original constitution, this subsequent agreement between Rulers and people, ought to be the invariable measure of administration.—This bounds the authority of Rulers, and the submission of subjects.—The people, while they owe obedience, have an undoubted right to their granted, or stipulated privileges; and may justly claim, and insist upon them, unless, by misconduct, they are forfeited.

Upon the whole therefore. Proper submission, in a free state, is a medium, between slavish subjection to arbitrary claims of Rulers, on one hand, and a lawless licence, on the other. It is obedience in subjects to all orders of government, which are consistent with their constitutional rights and privileges. So much submission is due, and to be readily yielded by every subject; and beyond this, it cannot be justly demanded, because Rulers and People are [33] equally bound, by the fundamental laws of the constitution.

The state of the world, and temper of mankind, may render these observations necessary and highly important;—important and necessary as a check upon Rulers of a despotic turn; and a restraint upon the licentious among the people; that neither, by breaking over their just bounds, may disturb the peace, and injure the happiness of the state.

For there have been Rulers, and may be such again, who look with wishful eyes on the liberties and privileges of the people. Who [[170]] consider them as a prey, worthy to be seized, for the gratification of their pride and ambition,—of their cruelty or covetousness. Such, under one pretence or other, will be stretching and enlarging their power, and grasping at more and more, ’till, if not obstructed, civil government will be converted into absolute tyranny, and a free people into slaves.

A people in love with liberty, and [34] sensible to their right to it, cannot but be jealous of such Rulers; and ought to be on their guard against unjustifiable, and arbitrary claims. Tamely to submit, would be highly unworthy of them as free men and shew they deserved the yoke, under which they so readily put their necks.

On the other hand. There are found among the people, persons of a querulous and factious disposition.—Ever restless and uneasy, and prepared to raise and promote popular tumults. From the meer love of wrangling, or from ambitious views,—to rise from obscurity, to public notice, and to an important figure, they find fault with Rulers, and point out defects in the administration.—Small mistakes are magnified.—Evil designs are suggested, which, perhaps never existed, but in their own heads. They cry up liberty, and make a mighty stir to save the sinking state, when in no danger, but from themselves, and others of a like call.

There are ambitious and designing men, in the state, as well as in the [35] church; and there are fit tools to serve the purposes of both. As some make hereticks in the church, and raise an ecclesiastic posse to demolish them, chiefly with a view to render themselves distinguished, as found in the faith, so others make traitors in the state, and raise the popular cry against them, to gain to themselves the name of Patriots.

The wise and prudent will make a pause, before they inlist under such political zealots. They will judge for themselves of the faulted conduct of their Rulers. They will make reasonable allowances for human frailties, and be as ready to yield submission where it is due, as to defend their liberties where they are in danger.

We proceed now in the LAST place.—To take notice of the principles from which submission and obedience to government should flow. And these are, a sense of our duty to God, as well as to civil Authority, connected with, and animated by a sense of liberty. [36] Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake.—As free, [[171]] and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God.

True religion:—A sacred reverence of the Deity:—The love of virtue and goodness, are as necessary to make good subjects, as good Rulers: And a spirit of liberty is requisite, to render obedience true and genuine both to God and man.

Even the supreme Ruler of the world, is not a despotic, arbitrary Monarch, nor does he require obedience by meer authority. His sacred laws,—all framed agreeable to the perfect rectitude of his nature, and resulting from his infinite goodness, and righteousness, are wisely adapted to the human system, and calculated for its good.

They recommend themselves to the reason of our own minds, and manifestly tend to our happiness:—We feel our interest as well as our duty in them, and that these are closely connected.

[37] Agreeable to the nature and tendency of these divine mandates, the obedience God requires of us, is not that of slaves, to a tyrannical master, but that of children, to a wise and benevolent father. It must be free,—a matter of choice, and not of force, driving us on against a reluctant mind.

Like to this, is the obedience we owe to civil government. Supposing its laws founded, as they ought to be, in reason and equity, and calculated for the good of society, they demand our approbation. And being under their authority, as members of the political body, both duty and interest require our submission.

But as all earthly Rulers, as well as all human institutions, may be supposed to be imperfect; and submission may be required, inconsistent with our just rights and privileges, there is a liberty, of a somewhat different nature, respecting civil government, we have a claim to, and which should have influence on our conduct, i.e. a liberty to -hold, as well as to yield submission.

[38] For, even a christian people who, from their character, as servants of God, are bound to submit to the higher powers, and to obey Magistrates, are not, out of courtly complaisance to their Rulers, or from a mean, timorous, and slavish temper, to resign up their just rights, when imperiously demanded, or craftily sought after. Remembering they are freemen and not slaves, they should act as free.

They have an undoubted privilege to complain of unconstitutional measures in government, and of unlawful incroachments upon their rights, and may, while they do it, with becoming decency, do it with [[172]] that noble freedom and firmness, which a sense of wrong, joined with the love of liberty, will inspire.

Even under great and manifest oppression, a prudent regard to their own, and the public safety, may forbid, indeed, violent means of resistance; but should never lead them, tamely to yield to unlawful claims.

[39] Challenging their right, and pleading for it, tho’ this should not prevail to the immediate redress of grievances, yet may be of high importance, to keep alive,—to cherish and strengthen,—not a spirit of faction and discontent, but that spirit of liberty which is, as it were, the animating soul of a free state,—which being once gone, every thing valuable will become an easy prey, and a state of abject slavery ensue, to live in which, may be far worse, than to be free among the dead.

But still, on the other hand. While a people consider themselves as free, and are zealous to maintain their liberty, they should remember also their subjection to civil authority, and to God, the righteous Judge of all, and be careful not to carry liberty beyond its just bounds:—Not to use it for a cloke of maliciousness:—Not, under coulour and pretence of this, to refuse just obedience;—to be disorderly, factious and tumultuous. As the servants of God, and accountable to him, they should render unto all their dues, and seek [40] not only their own, but the welfare and happiness of all.

Would people, in general, possess their minds of such sentiments, and act under their direction and influence, how much would this tend to the peace and happiness of society! Many groundless and unreasonable complaints, from restless and ambitious, or from ignorant and peevish men, would be discountenanced and suppressed, and the community, by a general steady course of well-doing, would, agreeable to the will of God, put to silence the ignorance of such foolish men.

And in case of real and grievous oppression from unrighteous Rulers, such principles as these, would be likely to produce the most happy effects. They would unite the members of society, as one body.—They would guard them against rash and unlawful measures of defence;—lead them to such as are prudent and justifiable; and engage them to act with that determined resolution and firmness, resulting from reason [41] and virtue, which is most likely to hold [[173]] out, and to prevail, in time, over every species of injustice and oppression.

And would both Rulers and Subjects imbibe such sentiments, and, under their direction and influence, discharge with fidelity the duties of their respective places, what a prosperous and flourishing condition might they hope for!

The springs of government, acting with vigor, and under a right direction, and the members of society, yielding correspondent and uniform submission, a general harmony and happiness must ensue.

The political state would be like a body in full health. The constitutional laws, preserved inviolate, would, like strong bones and sinews, support and steady the regular frame. Supreme and subordinate Rulers duly performing their proper functions, would be like the greater and lesser arteries, keeping up their proper tone and vibrations; and justice, fidelity, and every social virtue, [42] would, like the vital fluid, run without obstruction, and reach, refresh, and invigorate the most minute and distant parts: While the multitude of subjects, yielding, in their various places and relations, a ready and cheerful obedience, would, like the numerous, yet connected veins, convey back again the recurrent blood, to the great fountain of it, and the whole frame be vigourous, easy, and happy.

Upon that view of Civil Government we have now been taking; and while feeling in our own breaths a warm sense of liberty, and the blessings of it, can we help dropping a tear over the multitudes of our fellow creatures, who are groaning under the iron yoke of tyranny and oppression—subjected to the arbitrary will of their imperious and despotic Lords,—and to all the wretchedness, which lawless pride and ambition; which wanton cruelty and unbridled lust can inflict upon them.

How much to be pittied are such miserable objects! How ardently is it to be [43] wished that the principles of civil liberty may prevail through the earth to the breaking in pieces the power of oppressors every where, and the restoring the oppressed to freedom and happiness.

From such scenes of human wretchedness and woe, we naturally reflect, with gratitude to heaven, on our own happy condition, as subjects of the British Empire.—A constitution founded in the law of God, and of nature;—on the principles of reason and equity:—A [[174]] form of government admireably contrived for the due support of authority, and the security of the rights and privileges of the people.

May this excellent constitution, formed and established by the experience and wisdom of ages, be preserved inviolate, the source of blessings to this and future generations: And his present Majesty, our most gracious Sovereign (whom may God long preserve) ever esteem it his glory, and find it his happiness, to reign over a free and loyal people.

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Source: Charles S. Hyneman, American Political Writing During the Founding Era: 1760-1805, ed. Charles S. Hyneman and Donald Lutz (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1983). 2 vols. Volume 1.


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