CALLED UNTO LIBERTY, EZRA STILES
EXTRACT FROM AN ELECTION SERMON PREACHED AT HARTFORD, CONNECTICUT, MAY 8, 1783
WE ONCE thought Britain our friend and gloried in her protection. But some demon whispered folly into the present reign, and Britain forced upon America the tremendous alternative of the loss of liberty or the last appeal, either of which instantly alienated and dissolved our affection. It was impossible to hesitate, and the affection is dissolved, never, never more to be recovered; like that between Syracuse and Athens, it is lost forever. A political earthquake through the continent hath shook off America from Great Britain. Oh, how painful and distressing the separation and dismemberment! Witness, all ye patriotic breasts, all ye lovers of your country, once lovers of Great Britain — witness the tender sensations and heartfelt violence, the reluctant distress and sorrow, with which ye were penetrated when, spurned from a parent’s love, ye felt the conviction of the dire necessity of an everlasting parting to meet no more — never to be united again!
O England! how did I once love thee! how did I once glory in thee! how did I once boast of springing from thy bowels, though at four descents ago, and the nineteenth from Sir Adam of Knapton! In the rapturous anticipation of thine enlargement and reflourishing in this western world, how have I been wont to glory in the future honor of having thee for the head of the Britannico-American empire for the many ages till the millennium, when thy great national glory should have been advanced in then becoming a member of the universal empire of the Prince of Peace! And if perchance, in some future period, danger should have arisen to thee from European states, how have I flown on the wings of prophecy, with the numerous hardy hosts of thine American sons inheriting thine ancient principles of liberty and valor, to rescue and reinthrone the hoary, venerable head of the most glorious empire on earth! But now, farewell — a long farewell — to all this greatness! And yet even now, methinks, in such an exigency, I could leap the Atlantic, not into thy bosom, but to rescue an aged parent from destruction, and then return on the wings of triumph to this asylum of the world and rest in the bosom of Liberty.
Moreover, as we have seen the wisdom of our ancestors in instituting a militia, so it is necessary to continue it. The Game Act, in the time of James I, insidiously disarmed the people of England. Let us not be insidiously disarmed. In all our enlargements in colonization, in all our increasing millions, let the main body be exercised annually to military discipline, whether m war or peace. This will defend us against ourselves and against surrounding states. Let this be known in Europe, in every future age, and we shall never again be invaded from the other side of the Atlantic. “The militia of this country,” says General Washington, “must be considered as the palladium of our security and the first effectual resort in case of hostility.”
Another thing necessary is a vigilance against corruption in purchasing elections and in designations to offices in the legislatures and Congress, instituting such efficacious provisions against corruption as shall preclude the possibility of its rising to any great height before it shall be controlled and corrected. Although, in every political administration, the appointment to offices will ever be considerably influenced by the sinister, private, personal motives either of interest or friendship, yet the safety of the state requires that this should not go too far. An administration may indeed proceed tolerably when the officers of a well-arranged system are in general ordinary characters, provided there is a pretty good sprinkling of men of wisdom interspersed among them. How much more illustrious would it be if three quarters of the offices of government were filled with men of ability, understanding, and patriotism! What an animation would it diffuse through a community if men of real merit in every branch of business were sure of receiving the rewards and honors of the state.
That great and wise monarch, Olan Fodhla, the Alfred of Ireland, one thousand years before Christ, instituted an annual review and examination of all the achievements and illustrious characters in the realm; and, being approved by himself and the annual assembly of the nobles, he ordered their names and achievements to be enrolled in a public register of merit. This continued two thousand years, to the time of that illustrious chieftain, Brian O’Boroihme.
This had an amazing effect. By this animation, the heroic, military, and political virtues, with civilization, and, I add, science and literature, ascended to an almost unexampled and incredible perfection in Ireland ages before they figured in other parts of Europe, not excepting even Athens and Rome. I have a very great opinion of Hibernian merit, literary as well as civil and military, even in the ages before St. Patrick.
But to return: The civilization of literature will greatly promote the public welfare. In every community, while provision is made that all should be taught to read the Scriptures and the very useful parts of common education, a good proportion should be carried through the higher branches of literature. Effectual measures should be taken for preserving and diffusing knowledge among a people. The voluntary institution of libraries in different vicinities will give those who have not a liberal education an opportunity of gaining that knowledge which will qualify them for usefulness. Travels, biography, and history, the knowledge of the policies, jurisprudence, and scientific improvements among all nations, ancient and modern, will form the civilian, the judge, the senator, the patrician, the man of useful eminence in society. The colleges have been of singular advantage in the present day. When Britain withdrew all her wisdom from America, this revolution found above two thousand, in New England only, who had been educated in the colleges, intermixed among the people, and communicating knowledge among them. Almost all of them have approved themselves useful; and there have been some characters among us of the first eminence for literature. It would be for the public emolument should there always be found a sufficient number of men in the community at large of vast and profound erudition, and perfect acquaintance with the whole system of public affairs, to illuminate the public councils as well as fill the three learned professions with dignity and honor.
I have thus shown wherein consists the true political welfare of a civil community or sovereignty. The foundation is laid in a judicious distribution of property, and in a good system of polity and jurisprudence, on which will arise, under a truly patriotic, upright, and firm administration, the beautiful superstructure of a well-governed and prosperous empire.
Already does the new constellation of the United States begin to realize its glory. It has already risen to an acknowledged sovereignty among the republics and kingdoms of the world. And we have reason to hope, and, I believe, to expect, that God has still greater blessings in store for this vine which his own right hand hath planted, to make us high among the nations in praise, and in name, and in honor. The reasons are very numerous, weighty, and conclusive.
In our civil constitutions those impediments are removed which obstruct the progress of society toward perfection, such, for instance, as respect the tenure of estates and arbitrary government. The vassalage of dependent tenures, the tokens of ancient conquests by Goths and Tartars, still remain all over Asia and Europe. In this respect, as well as others, the world begins to open its eyes. One grand experiment, in particular, has lately been made. The present Empress of Russia, by granting lands in freehold in her vast wilderness of Volkou sidle, together with religious liberty, has allured and already drafted from Poland and Germany a colonization of six hundred thousand souls in six years only, from 1762 to 1768.
Liberty, civil and religious, has sweet and attractive charms. The enjoyment of this, with property, has filled the English settlers in America with a most amazing spirit which has operated, and still will operate, with great energy. Never before has the experiment been so effectually tried of every man’s reaping the fruits of his labor and feeling his share in the aggregate system of power. The ancient republics did not stand on the people at large, and therefore no example or precedent can be taken from them. Even men of arbitrary principles will be obliged, if they would figure in these States, to assume the patriot so long that they will at length become charmed with the sweets of liberty.
Our degree of population is such as to give us reason to expect that this will become a great people. It is probable that within a century from our independence the sun will shine on fifty millions of inhabitants in the United States. This will be a great, a very great nation, nearly equal to half Europe. Already has our colonization extended down the Ohio, and to Koskaseah on the Mississippi. And if the present ratio of increase should be rather diminished in some of the other settlements, yet an accelerated multiplication will attend our general propagation and overspread the whole territory westward for ages. So that before the millennium the English settlements in America may become more numerous millions than that greatest dominion on earth, the Chinese empire. Should this prove a future fact, how applicable would be the text, when the Lord shall have made his American Israel high above all nations which he has made, in numbers, and in praise, and in name, and in honor.
I am sensible some will consider these as visionary, Utopian ideas; and so they would have judged had they lived in the apostolic age and been told that by the time of Constantine the empire would have become Christian. As visionary that the twenty thousand souls which first settled New England should be multiplied to near a million in a century and a half. As visionary that the Ottoman empire must fall by the Russian. As visionary to the Catholics is the certain downfall of the pontificate. As Utopian would it have been to the loyalists, at the battle of Lexington, that in less than eight years the independence and sovereignty of the United States should be acknowledged by four European sovereignties, one of which should be Britain herself. How wonderful the revolutions, the events of Providence! We live in an age of wonders: we have lived an age in a few years; we have seen more wonders accomplished in eight years than are usually unfolded in a century.
God be thanked, we have lived to see peace restored to this bleeding land, at least a general cessation of hostilities among the belligerent powers. And on this occasion does it not become us to reflect how wonderful, how gracious, how glorious has been the good hand of our God upon us in carrying us through so tremendous a warfare! “We have sustained a force brought against us which might have made any empire on earth to tremble; and yet our bow has abode in strength, and, having obtained help of God, we continue unto this day. Forced unto the last solemn appeal, America watched for the first blood; this was shed by Britons on the nineteenth of April, 1775, which instantly sprung an army of twenty thousand into spontaneous existence, with the enterprising and daring, if imprudent, resolution of entering Boston and forcibly disburdening it of its bloody legions. Every patriot trembled till we had proved our armor, till it could be seen whether this hasty concourse was susceptible of exercitual arrangement and could face the enemy with firmness. They early gave us the decided proof of this in the memorable battle of Bunker Hill. We were satisfied. This instantly convinced us, and for the first time convinced Britons themselves, that Americans both would and could fight with great effect. Whereupon Congress put at the head of this spirited army the only man on whom the eyes of all Israel were placed. Posterity, I apprehend, and the world itself, inconsiderate and incredulous as they may be of the dominion of heaven, will yet do so much justice to the divine moral government as to acknowledge that this American Joshua was raised up by God, and divinely formed, by a peculiar influence of the Sovereign of the Universe, for the great work of leading the armies of this American Joseph (now separated from his brethren), and conducting this people through the severe, the arduous conflict, to liberty and independence.
Source: As quoted in Orations from Homer to William McKinley, Volume 5, edited by Mayo Williamson Hazeltine, A. M., New York, P.F. Collier and Son, 1902.
Called Unto Liberty is a collection of sermons, pamphlets, documents, and quotes from the Judeo-Christian perspective in regards to the cause of liberty which date from the American colonial era right on up to our present day, researched, compiled, and edited (with occasional commentary) by Steve Farrell, Founder and Editor-In-Chief of Self-Educated American.