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ORATION AT PLYMOUTH.
This oration was delivered at Plymouth on the twenty-second of December, 1802, in commemoration of the landing of the Pilgrims.
Among the sentiments of most powerful operation upon the human heart, and most highly honorable to the human character, are those of veneration for our forefathers, and of love for our posterity. They form the connecting links between the selfish and the social passions. By the fundamental principle of Christianity, the happiness of the individual is interwoven, by innumerable and imperceptible ties, with that of his contemporaries: by the power of filial reverence and parental affection, individual existence is extended beyond the limits of individual life, and the happiness of every age is chained in mutual dependence upon that of every other. Respect for his ancestors excites, in the breast of man, interest in their history, attachment to their characters, concern for their errors, involuntary pride in their virtues. Love for his posterity spurs him to exertion for their support, stimulates him to virtue for their example, and fills him with the tenderest solicitude for their welfare. Man, therefore, was not made for himself alone. No ; he was made for his country, by the obligations of the social compact: he was made for his species, by the christian duties of universal charity: he was made for all ages past, by the sentiment of reverence for his forefathers; and he was made for all future times, by the impulse of affection for his progeny. Under the influence of these principles, “Existence sees him spurn her bounded reign.” They redeem his nature from the subjection of time and space: he is no longer a “puny insect shivering at a breeze; ” he is the glory of creation, formed to occupy all time and all extent: bounded, during his residence upon earth, only by the boundaries of the world, and destined to life and immortality in brighter regions, when the fabric of nature itself shall dissolve and perish.
The voice of history has not, in all its compass, a note but answers in unison with these sentiments. The barbarian chieftain, who defended his country against the Roman invasion, driven to the remotest extremity of Britain, and stimulating his followers to battle, by all that has power of persuasion upon the human heart, concludes his exhortation by an appeal to these irresistible feelings”—“Think of your forefathers and of your posterity.” The Romans themselves, at the pinnacle of civilization, were actuated by the same impressions, and celebrated, in anniversary festivals, every great event which had signalized the annals of their fore:
* Proinde ituri in aciem, et majores vestros et posteros cogitate.—Galgacus in Vita Agricolae.
fathers. To multiply instances, where it were impossible to adduce an exception, would be to waste your time and abuse your patience: but in the sacred volume, which contains the substance of our firmest faith and of our most precious hopes, these passions not only maintain their highest efficacy, but are sanctioned by the express injunctions of the Divine Legislator to his chosen people. The revolutions of time furnish no previous example of a nation shooting up to maturity and expanding into greatness, with the rapidity which has characterized the growth of the American people. In the luxuriance of youth, and in the vigor of manhood, it is pleasing and instructive to look backwards upon the helpless days of infancy; but in the continual and essential changes of a growing subject, the transactions of that early period would be soon obliterated from the memory, but for some periodical call of attention to aid the silent records of the historian. Such celebrations arouse and gratify the kindliest emotions of the bosom. They are faithful pledges of the respect we bear to the memory of our ancestors, and of the tenderness with which we cherish the rising generation. They introduce the sages and heroes of ages past to the notice and emulation of succeeding times: they are at once testimonials of our gratitude, and schools of virtue to our children. These sentiments are wise; they are honorable; they are virtuous; their cultivation is not merely innocent pleasure, it is incumbent duty. Obedient to their dictates, you, my fellow-citizens, have instituted and paid frequent observance to this annual solemnity. And what event of weightier intrinsic importance, or of more extensive consequences, was ever selected for this honorary distinction? In reverting to the period of their origin, other nations have generally been compelled to plunge into the chaos of impenetrable antiquity, or to trace a lawless ancestry into the caverns of ravishers and robbers. It is your peculiar privilege to commemorate, in this birthday of your nation, an event ascertained in its minutest details: an event of which the principal actors are known to you familiarly, as if belonging to your own age: an event of a magnitude before which imagination shrinks at the imperfection of her powers. It is your further happiness to behold, in those eminent characters who were most conspicuous in accomplishing the settlement of your country, men upon whose virtues you can dwell with honest exultation. The founders of your race are not handed down to you, like the father of the Roman people, as the sucklings of a wolf. You are not descended from a nauseous compound of fanaticism and sensuality, whose only argument was the sword, and whose only paradise was a brothel. No Gothic scourge of God; no Vandal pest of nations; no fabled fugitive from the flames of Troy; no bastard Norman tyrant appears among the list of worthies, who first landed on the rock, which your veneration has preserved, as a lasting monument of their achievement. The great actors of the day we now solemnize, were illustrious by their intrepid valor, no less than by their christian graces; but the clarion of conquest has not blazoned forth their names to all the winds of heaven. Their glory has not been wafted over oceans of blood to the remotest regions of the earth. They have not erected to themselves colossal statues upon pedestals of human bones, to provoke and insult the tardy hand of heavenly retribution. But theirs was “the better fortitude of patience and heroic martyrdom.” Theirs was the gentle temper of christian kindness; the rigorous observance of reciprocal justice; the unconquerable soul of conscious integrity. Worldly fame has been parsimonious of her favor to the memory of those generous champions. Their numbers were small; their stations in life obscure; the object of their enterprise unostentatious; the theatre of their exploits remote: how could they possibly be favorites of worldly fame?— That common crier, whose existence is only known by the assemblage of multitudes: that ander of wealth and greatness, so eager to #. the palaces of fortune, and so fastidious to the houseless dignity of virtue: that parasite of pride, ever scornful to meekness, and ever obsequious to insolent power: that heedless trumpeter, whose ears are deaf to modest merit, and whose eyes are blind to bloodless, distant excellence. When the persecuted companions of Robinson, exiles from their native land, anxiously sued for the privilege of removing a thousand leagues more distant to an untried soil, a rigorous climate and a savage wilderness, for the sake of reconciling their sense of religious duty with their affections for their country, few, perhaps none of them, formed a conception of what would be, within two centuries, the result of their undertaking. When the jealous and niggardly policy of their British sovereign, denied them even that humblest of requests, and instead of liberty, would barely consent to promise connivance, neither he nor they might be aware that they were laying the foundations of a power, and that he was sowing the seeds of a spirit, which, in less than two hundred years, would stagger the throne of his descendants, and shake his united kingdoms to the centre. So far is it from the ordinary habits of mankind, to calculate the importance of events in their elementary principles, that had the first colonists of our country ever intimated as a part of their designs, the project of founding a great and mighty nation, the finger of scorn would have pointed them to the cells of bedlam, as an abode more suitable for hatching vain empires than the solitude of a transatlantic desert. These consequences, then so little foreseen,
have unfolded themselves in all their grandeur, to the eyes of the present age. It is a common amusement of speculative minds, to contrast the magnitude of the most important events with the minuteness of their primeval causes, and the records of mankind are full of examples for such contemplations. It is, however, a more profitable employment to trace the constituent principles of future greatness in their kernel; to detect in the acorn at our feet the germ of that majestic oak, whose roots shoot down to the centre, and whose branches aspire to the skies. Let it be then our present occupation to inquire and endeavor to ascertain the causes first put in operation at the period of our comInemoration, and already productive of such magnificent effects; to examine, with reiterated care and minute attention, the characters of those men who gave the first impulse to a new series of events in the history of the world; to applaud and emulate those qualities of their minds which we shall find deserving of our admiration; to recognize, with candor, those features which forbid approbation or even require censure, and finally, to lay alike their frailties and their perfections to our own hearts, either as warning or as example. Of the various European settlements upon this continent, which have finally merged in one independent nation, the first establishments were made at various times, by several nations, and under the influence of different motives. In many instances, the conviction of religious obligation formed one and a powerful inducement of the adventurers; but in none, excepting the settlement at Plymouth, did they constitute the sole and exclusive actuating cause. Worldly interest and commercial speculation entered largely into the views of other settlers: but the commands of conscience were the only stimulus to the emigrants from Leyden. Previous to their expedition hither, they had endured a long banishment from their native country. Under every species of discouragement, they undertook the voyage; they performed it in spite of numerous and almost insuperable obstacles; they arrived upon a wilderness bound with frost and hoary with snow, without the boundaries of their charter; outcasts from all human society; and coasted five weeks together, in the dead of winter, on this tempestuous shore, exposed at once to the fury of the elements, to the arrows of the native savage, and to the impending horrors of famine. Courage and perseverance have a magical talisman, before which difficulties disappear, and obstacles vanish into air. These qualities have ever been displayed in their mightiest perfection, as attendants in the retinue of strong passions. From the first discovery of the western hemisphereby Columbus, until the settlement of Virginia, which immediately preceded that of Plymouth, the various adventurers from the ancient world had exhibited, upon innumerable occasions, that ardor of enterprise and that stubbornness of pursuit, which set all danger at defiance, and chain the violence of nature at their feet. But they were all instigated by personal interests. Avarice and ambition had tuned their souls to that pitch of exaltation. Selfish passions were the parents of their heroism. It was reserved for the first settlers of New England to perform achievements equally arduous, to trample down obstructions equally formidable, to dispel dangers equally terrific, under the single inspiration of conscience. To them, even liberty herself was but a subordinate and secondary consideration. They claimed exemption from the mandates of human author
ity, as militating with their subjection to a
superior power. Before the voice of heaven they silenced even the calls of their country. Yet, while so deeply impressed with the sense of religious obligation, they felt, in all its energy, the force of that tender tie which binds the heart of every virtuous man to his native land. It was to renew that connection with their country which had been severed by their compulsory expatriation, that they resolved to face all the hazards of a perilous navigation, and all the labors of a toilsome distant settlement. Under the mild protection of the Batavian government, they enjoyed already that freedom of religious worship, for which they had resigned so many comforts and enjoyments at home: but their hearts panted for a restoration to the bosom of their country. Invited and urged by the open-hearted and truly benevolent people, who had given them an asylum from the persecution of their own kindred, to form their settlement within the territories then under their jurisdiction; the love of their country predominated over every influence save that of conscience alone, and they preferred the precarious chance of relaxation from the bigoted rigor of the English government to the certain liberality and alluring offers of the Hollanders. Observe, my countrymen, the generous patriotism, the cordial union of soul, the conscious, yet unaffected vigor, which beam in their application to the British monarch. “They were well weaned from the delicate milk of their mother country, and inured to the difficulties of a strange land. They were knit together in a strict and sacred bond, to take care of the good of each other and of the whole. It was not with them as with other men, whom small things could discourage, or small discontents cause to wish themselves again at home.” Children of these exalted Pilgrims! Is there one among you, who can hear the simple and pathetic energy of these expressions without tenderness and admiration? Venerated shades of our forefathers! No 1 ye were, indeed, not ordinary men! That country which had ejected you so cruelly from her bosom, you still delighted to contemplate in the character of an affectionate and beloved mother. The sacred bond which knit you together was indissoluble while you lived; and oh! may it be to your descendants the example and the pledge of harmony to the latest period of time!
The difficulties and dangers, which so often had defeated attempts of similar establishments, were unable to subdue souls tempered like yours. You heard the rigid interdictions; you saw the menacing forms of toil and danger, forbidding your access to this land of promise: but you heard without dismay; you saw and disdained retreat. Firm and undaunted in the confidence of that sacred bond; conscious of the purity, and convinced of the importance of your motives, you put your trust in the protecting shield of Providence, and smiled defiance at the combining terrors of human malice and of elemental strife. These, in the accomplishment of your undertaking, your were summoned to encounter in their most hideous forms; these you met with that fortitude, and combated with that perseverance which you had promised in their anticipation: these you completely vanquished in establishing the foundations of New England, and the day which we now commemorate is the perpetual memorial of your triumph. It were an occupation, peculiarly pleasing, to cull from our early historians, and exhibit before you every detail of this transaction. To carry you in imagination on board their bark at the first moment of her arrival in the bay; to accompany Carver, Winslow, Bradford and Standish, in all their excursions upon the desolate coast; to follow them into every rivulet and creek where they endeavored to find a firm footing, and to fix, with a pause of delight and exultation, the instant when the first of these heroic adventurers alighted on the spot where you, their descendants, now enjoy the glorious and happy reward of their labors. But in this grateful task, your former orators, on this anniversary, have anticipated all that the most ardent industry could collect, and gratified all that the most inquisitive curiosity could desire. To you, my friends, every occurrence of that momentous period is already familiar. A transient allusion to a few characteristic incidents, which mark the peculiar history of the Plymouth settlers, may properly supply the place of a narrative, which, to this auditory, must be superfluous. One of these remarkable incidents is the execution of that instrument of government by which they formed themselves into a bodypolitic, the day after their arrival upon the coast, and previous to their first landing. This is, perhaps, the only instance, in human history, of that positive, original social compact, which speculative philosophers have imagined as the only legitimate source of government. Here was a unanimous and personal assent, by all the individuals of the community, to the association by which they became a nation. It was the result of circumstances and discussions, which had occurred during their passage from Europe, and is a full demonstration that the nature of civil government, abstracted from the political institutions of their native country, had been an object of their serious meditation.
The settlers of all the former European colo- | later, the subject was more industriously sifted, nies had contented themselves with the powers and for half a century became one of the princonferred upon them by their respective char- cipal topics of controversy between the ablest ters, without looking beyond the seal of the and most enlightened men in the nation. The royal parchment for the measure of their rights, instrument of voluntary association, executed and the rule of their duties. The founders of on board the Mayflower, testifies that the Plymouth had been impelled by the peculiari- parties to it had anticipated the improvement ties of their situation to examine the subject of their nation. with deeper and more comprehensive research. Another incident, from which we may derive After twelve years of banishment from the occasion for important reflections, was the atland of their first allegiance, during which they tempt of these original settlers to establish bad been under an adoptive and temporary sub- among them that community of goods and of jection to another sovereign, they must natu- labor, which fanciful politicians, from the days rally have been led to reflect upon the relative of Plato to those of Rousseau, have recomrights and duties of allegiance and subjection. mended as the fundamental law of a perfect They had resided in a city, the seat of a uni- republic This theory results, it must be acversity, where the polemical and political con- knowledged, from principles of reasoning most troversies of the time were pursued with un- flattering to the human character. If industry, common fervor. In this period they had wit- frugality, and disinterested integrity were alike nessed the deadly struggle between the two the virtues of all, there would, apparently, be parties, into which the people of the United more of the social spirit, in making all property Provinces, after their separation from the a common stock, and giving to each individual crown of Spain, bad divided themselves. The a proportional title to the wealth of the whole. contest embraced within its compass not only Such is the basis upon which Plato forbids, in theological doctrines, but political principles, his republic, the division of property. Such is and Maurice and Barnevelt were the temporal the system upon which Rousseau pronounces leaders of the same rival factions, of which the first man who enclosed a field with a fence, Episcopius and Polyander were the ecclesiasti- and said, this is mine, a traitor to the human cal champions. That the investigation of the species. A wiser and more useful philosophy, fundamental principles of government was however, directs us to consider man according deeply implicated in these dissensions is evident to the nature in which he was formed; subject from the immortal work of Grotius, upon the to infirmities, which no wisdom can remedy; to rights of war and peace, which undoubtedly weaknesses, which no institution can strengthoriginated from them. Grotius himself bad en; to vices, which no legislation can correct. been a most distinguished actor and sufferer in Hence it becomes obvious, that separate prothose important scenes of internal convulsion, perty is the natural and indisputable right of and his work was first published* very shortly separate exertion; that community of goods after the departure of our forefathers from without community of toil is oppressive and Leyden. It is well known that, in the course unjust; that it counteracts the laws of nature, of the contest, Mr. Robinson more than once which prescribe, that he only who sows thé appeared, with credit to himself, as a public seed shall reap the harvest; that it discourages disputant against Episcopius; and from the all energy, by destroying its rewards; and manner in which the fact is related by Gov- makes the most virtuous and active members · ernor Bradford, it is apparent that the whole of society, the slaves and drudges of the worst. English church at Leyden took a zealous inter- Such was the issue of this experiment among est in the religious part of the controversy. our forefathers, and the same event demonstraAs strangers in the land, it is presumable that ted the error of the system in the elder settlethey wisely and honorably avoided entangling ment of Virginia. Let us cherish that spirit of themselves in the political contentions involved harmony, which prompted our forefathers to with it. Yet the theoretic principles, as they make the attempt, under circumstances more were drawn into discussion, could not fail to favorable to its success, than, perhaps, ever 00arrest their attention, and must have assisted curred upon earth. Let us no less admire the them to form accurate ideas concerning the candor with which they relinquished it, upon origin and extent of authority among men, in- discovering its irremediable inefficacy. To dependent of positive institutions. The im- found principles of government upon too adportance of these circnmstances will not be vantageous an estimate of the human character, duly weighed without taking into consideration is an error of inexperience, the source of which the state of opinions then prevalent in England. is so amiable, that it is impossible to censure it The general principles of government were with severity. We have seen the same misthere little understood and less examined. The take, committed in our own age, and upon a whole substance of human authority was cen- larger theatre. Happily for our ancestors, tred in the simple doctrine of royal preroga- their situation allowed them to repair it, before tive, the origin of which was always traced in its effects had proved destructive. They had theory to divine institution. Twenty years no pride of vain philosophy to support, no per
fidious rage of faction to glut, by persevering
in their mistakes, until they should be extinguished in torrents of blood. As the attempt to establish among themselves the community of goods was a seal of that sacred bond which knit them so closely together, so the conduct they observed towards the natives of the country displays their steadfast adherence to the rules of justice, and their faithful attachment to those of benevolence and charity. No European settlement, ever formed upon this continent, has been more distinguished for undeviating kindness and equity towards the savages. There are, indeed, moralists who have questioned the right of the Europeans to intrude upon the possessions of the aboriginals in any case, and under any limitations whatsoever. But have they maturely considered the whole subject? The Indian right of possession itself stands, with regard to the greatest part of the country, upon a questionable foundation. Their cultivated fields; their constructed habitations; a space of ample sufficiency for their subsistence, and whatever they had annexed to themselves by personal labor, was undoubtedly, by the laws of nature, theirs. But what is the right of a huntsman to the forest of a thousand miles over which he has accidentally ranged in quest of prey ! Shall the liberal bounties of Providence to the race of Inan be monopolized by one of ten thousand for whom they were created? Shall the exuberant bosom of the common mother, amply adequate to the nourishment of millions, be claimed exclusively by a few hundreds of her offspring? Shall the lordly savage not only disdain the virtues and enjoyments of civilization himself, but shall he control the civilization of a world? shall he forbid the wilderness to blossom like the rose? Shall he forbid the oaks of the forest to fall before the axe of industry, and rise again, transformed into the habitations of ease and elegance? Shall he doom an immense region of the globe to perpetual desolation, and to hear the howlings of the tiger and the wolf silence for ever the voice of human gladness? Shall the fields and the valleys, which a beneficent God has formed to teem with the life of innumerable multitudes, be condemned to everlasting barrenness? Shall the mighty rivers, poured out by the hand of nature, as channels of communication between numerous nations, roll their waters in sullen silence and eternal solitude to the deep 2 Have hundreds of commodious harbors, a thousand leagues of coast, and a boundless ocean, been spread in the front of this land, and shall every [... of utility, to which they could apply, prohibited by the tenant of the woods? No, generous philanthropists | Heaven has not been thus inconsistent in the works of its hands! Heaven has not thus placed at irreconcilable strife, its moral laws with its physical creations The Pilgrims of Plymouth obtained their right of Mo to the territory, on which they settled, by titles as fair and unequivocal as any
human property can be held. By their voluntary association they recognized their allegiance to the Government of Britain, and in process of time, received whatever powers and authorities could be conferred upon them by a charter from their sovereign. The spot on which they fixed, had belonged to an Indian tribe, totally extirpated by that devouring pestilence which had swept the country, shortly before their arrival. The territory, thus free from all exclusive possession, they might have taken by the natural right of occupancy. Desirous, however, of giving ample satisfaction to every pretence of prior right, by formal and solemn conventions with the chiefs of the neighboring tribes, they acquired the further security of a purchase. At their hands the children of the desert had wo cause of complaint. On the great day of retribution, what thousands, what millions of the American race will appear at the bar of judgment to arraign their European, invading conquerors! Let us humbly hope, that the fathers of the Plymouth Colony will then appear in the whiteness of innocence. Let us indulge the belief, that they will not only be free from all accusation of injustice to these unfortunate sons of nature, but that the testimonials of their acts of kindness and benevolence towards them, will plead the cause of their virtues, as they are now authenticated by the records of history upon earth. Religious discord has lost her sting; the cumbrous weapons of theological warfare are antiquated: the field of politics supplies the alchymists of our times with materials of more fatal explosion, and the butchers of mankind no longer travel to another world for instruments of cruelty and destruction. Our age is too enlightened to contend upon topics, which concern only the interests of eternity; and men who hold in proper contempt all controversies about trifles, except such as inflame their own passions, have made it a common-place censure against your ancestors, that their zeal was enkindled by subjects of trivial importance; and that however aggrieved by the intolerance of others, they were alike intolerant themselves. Against these objections, your candid judgment will not require an unqualified justification; but your respect and gratitude for the founders of the State may boldly claim an ample apology. The original grounds of their separation from the church of England, were not objects of a magnitude to dissolve the bonds of communion; much less those of charity, between Christian brethren of the same essential principles. Some of them, however, were not inconsiderable, and numerous inducements concurred to give them an extraordinary interest in their eyes. When that portentous system of abuses, the Papal dominion, was overturned, a great variety of religious sects arose in its stead, in the several countries, which for many centuries before had been screwed beneath its subjection. The fabric of the reformation, first undertaken in England upon a contracted basis, by a capricious and