Liberty Letters, Samuel Adams, November 11, 1771
Messieurs EDES & GILL,
WE read that “Jeroboam the Son of Nebat made Israel to sin”: For this he “stands recorded” and repeatedly stigmatiz’d, in the sacred volumn, as a “perjur’d Traitor,” and a Rebel against GOD and his Country. However mysterious fawning priests and flatterers may affect to think it, Kings and Governors may be guilty of treason and rebellion: And they have in general in all ages and countries been more frequently guilty of it, than their subjects. Nay, what has been commonly called rebellion in the people, has often been nothing else but a manly & glorious struggle in opposition to the lawless power of rebellious Kings and Princes; who being elevated above the rest of mankind, and paid by them only to be their protectors, have been taught by enthusiasts to believe they were authoriz’d by GOD to enslave and butcher them! It is not uncommon for men, by their own inattention and folly, to suffer those things which an all-gracious providence design’d for their good, to become the greatest evils. If we look into the present state of the world, I believe this will hold good with regard to civil government in general: And the history of past ages will inform us, that even those civil institutions which have been best calculated for the safety and happiness of the people, have sooner or later degenerated into settled tyranny; which can no more be called civil government, and is in fact upon some accounts a state much more to be deprecated than anarchy itself. It may be said of each, that it is a state of war: And it is beyond measure astonishing that free people can see the miseries of such a state approaching to them with large and hasty strides, and suffer themselves to be deluded by the artful insinuations of a man in tower, and his indefatigable sychophants, into a full perswasion that their liberties are in no danger. May we not be allow’d to adopt the language of scripture, and apply it upon so important a consideration; that seeing, men will see and not perceive, and hearing, they will hear and not understand?
Jeroboam must needs have been a very wicked Governor: And he discover’d so much of the malignancy of treason against his people, in making them to sin against the supreme Being upon whose power and protection the welfare of nations as well as individuals so manifestly depends, and by whose goodness that people in particular were so greatly oblig’d, that one would have thought, they would upon a retrospect of their folly, in being thus seduc’d, have testified to future generations their just resentment and indignation, by at least dethroning so impious a traitor. Perhaps they relented when they consider’d that their Governor was “born and educated among them”: But this heightened his wickedness; as it might have convinc’d them, that he was as destitute of the common feelings of love for one’s native country, as he was of religion and piety. This, and many other instances of later date may serve to show, that the people have no solid reason to depend upon every man that he will be a good Governor, merely because of his having had his birth and education among them; as well as the folly and wickedness of priests and minions, who would from such a circumstance endeavor to dupe the people into a perswasion of their security under any man’s administration. – The sin which the people of Israel were prevail’d upon by Jeroboam the son of Nebat to commit, respected their religious worship on a Thanksgiving day: He had ordained a solemn festival to be kept at Bethel; in which, it seems, he had a particular view to serve a political purpose: And the people knew it, although he had artfully endeavored to colour it with a plausible appearance. At this festival, through his influence, they sacrificed unto Calves! This was the dire effect of their foolish adulation of their Governor, while they professed to observe a day set apart in honor to the King of kings. – Their thanksgiving began with prophaness & ended in idolatry; or rather it began & ended with both. There is no question but the priests were the vicegerents of the Governor, or his heralds to publish his impious proclamations to the people. But is it not strange that the people were so king-ridden and priest-ridden, especially in matters which concern’d their Religion, as to look upon the joint authority of their Governor and Clergy, sufficient to justify them in sinning against the authority of God himself: and in acting in open violation of his law, revealed to them from Heaven with signs and miracles at Mount Sinai, and register’d in their book of the law, as well as engrav’d on the tables of their hearts! – It is no unusual thing for people to complement their Governors with the sacrifice of their consciences, after they have surrender’d to them their civil liberty, which had been the folly of that people long before; for they grew weary of their liberty in the days of Samuel the prophet, and exchanged that civil government which the wisdom of heaven had prescribed to them, for an absolute despotic monarchy; that they might in that regard be like the nations round about them. – Even in these enlightened times, the people in some parts of the world are so bewitched by the enchantments of priest-craft and king- craft, as to believe that tho’ they sin against their own consciences, in compliance with the instruction of the one, or in obedience to the command of the other, they shall never suffer, but shall be rewarded in the world to come, for being so implicitly subject to the higher powers: And the experience of the world tells us that there are, and always have been various ways of rewarding them for it in this world. On the contrary, if they hesitate to declare a blind belief in the most palpable absurdities in government and religion, they are sure to fall into the immediate hands of spiritual inquisitors, to be whipped and tortured into an acknowledgment of the error, or threatened with the further pains of eternal damnation if they persist in their contumacy. Thanks be to GOD, there is not yet so formidable a junction of the secular and ecclesiastical powers in this country; and there is reason to hope there are but few of the clergy who would desire it. Yet such is the deplorable condition we are in, and so notorious is it to all, that should any man, be he who he may, tell me that our civil liberties were continued, or that our religious privileges were not in danger, I should detest him, if in his senses, as a perfidious man. And if any clergyman should in compliance with the humours or designs of a man in power, echo such a false declaration in the church of GOD, he would in my opinion do well seriously to consider, whether an excessive complaisance may not have betrayed him into the sin of Ananias and Saphira, in lying against the Holy Ghost! This is a most weighty consideration: But the times require plain dealing. We hope and believe, nay we know that there are more than seven thousand who will never bow the knee to Baal, or servilely submit to Tyranny, temporal or spiritual: But are we not fallen into an age when some even of the Clergy think it no shame to flatter the Idol; and thereby to lay the people, as in the days of Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, under a temptation to commit great wickedness, and sin against God? Let us beware of the poison of flattery – If the people are tainted with this folly, they will never have VIRTUE enough to demand a restoration of their liberties in the very face of a TYRANT, if the necessity of the times should call for so noble an exertion. And how soon there may be such NECESSITY, GOD only knows. May HE grant them FORTITUDE as well as SOUND PRUDENCE in the day of TRIAL! He who can flatter a despot, or be flattered by him, without feeling the remonstrances of his own mind against it, may be remarkable for the guise and appearance of sanctity, but he has very little if any true religion – If he habitually allows himself in it, without any remorse, he is a hardened impenitent sinner against GOD and his COUNTRY. Whatever his profession may be, he is not fit to be trusted; and when once discover’d, he will never be trusted by any but fools and children. To complement a great man to the injury of truth and liberty, may be in the opinion of a very degenerate age, the part of a polite and well-bred gentleman – Wise men however will denominate him a Traitor or a Fool. But how much more aggravated must be the folly and madness of those, who instead of worshipping GOD in the solemn assembly, “in spirit and in truth,” can utter a lie TO HIM!! -in order to render themselves acceptable to a man who is a worm or to the son of a man who is a worm.
Source: Samuel Adams, 11 November 1771, Samuel Adams letter to the Boston Gazette.
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