John Quincy Adams*

Prepared by:
Anthony J. Adam
email: anthony-adam@tamu.edu

John Quincy Adams, "Orations"

"The Jubilee of the Constitution, delivered at New York,
April 30, 1839, before the New York Historical Society."

Fellow-Citizens and Brethren, Associates of the New York
Historical Society:

Would it be an unlicensed trespass of the imagination to
conceive that on the night preceding the day of which you now
commemorate the fiftieth anniversary--on the night preceding
that thirtieth of April, 1789, when from the balcony of your city
hall the chancellor of the State of New York administered to
George Washington the solemn oath faithfully to execute the
office of President of the United States, and to the best of his
ability to preserve, protect, and defend the constitution of the
United States--that in the visions of the night the guardian
angel of the Father of our Country had appeared before him, in
the venerated form of his mother, and, to cheer and encourage
him in the performance of the momentous and solemn duties
that he was about to assume, had delivered to him a suit of
celestial armor--a helmet, consisting of the principles of piety,
of justice, of honor, of benevolence, with which from his
earliest infancy he had hitherto walked through life, in the
presence of all his brethren; a spear, studded with the self-
evident truths of the Declaration of Independence; a sword, the
same with which he had led the armies of his country through
the war of freedom to the summit of the triumphal arch of
independence; a corselet and cuishes of long experience and
habitual intercourse in peace and war with the world of
mankind, his contemporaries of the human race, in all their
stages of civilization; and, last of all, the Constitution of the
United States, a shield, embossed by heavenly hands with the
future history of his country?

Yes, gentlemen, on that shield the Constitution of the United
States was sculptured (by forms unseen, and in characters then
invisible to mortal eye), the predestined and prophetic history
of the one confederated people of the North American Union.

They had been the settlers of thirteen separate and distinct
English colonies, along the margin of the shore of the North
American Continent; contiguously situated, but chartered by
adventurers of characters variously diversified, including
sectarians, religious and political, of all the classes which for
the two preceding centuries had agitated and divided the people
of the British islands--and with them were intermingled the
descendants of Hollanders, Swedes, Germans, and French
fugitives from the persecution of the revoker of the Edict of

In the bosoms of this people, thus heterogeneously composed,
there was burning, kindled at different furnaces, but all
furnaces of affliction, one clear, steady flame of liberty. Bold
and daring enterprise, stubborn endurance of privation,
unflinching intrepidity in facing danger, and inflexible
adherence to conscientious principle, had steeled to energetic
and unyielding hardihood the characters of the primitive
settlers of all these colonies. Since that time two or three
generations of men had passed away, but they had increased
and multiplied with unexampled rapidity; and the land itself
had been the recent theatre of a ferocious and bloody seven
years' war between the two most powerful and most civilized
nations of Europe contending for the possession of this

Of that strife the victorious combatant had been Britain. She
had conquered the provinces of France. She had expelled her
rival totally from the continent, over which, bounding herself
by the Mississippi, she was thenceforth to hold divided empire
only with Spain. She had acquired undisputed control over the
Indian tribes still tenanting the forests unexplored by the
European man. She had established an uncontested monopoly
of the commerce of all her colonies. But forgetting all the
warnings of preceding ages--forgetting the lessons written in
the blood of her own children, through centuries of departed
time--she undertook to tax the people of the colonies without
their consent.

Resistance, instantaneous, unconcerted, sympathetic,
inflexible resistance, like an electric shock, startled and roused
the people of all the English colonies on this continent.

This was the first signal of the North American Union. The
struggle was for chartered rights--for English liberties--for the
cause of Algernon Sidney and John Hampden--for trial by jury-
-the Habeas Corpus and Magna Charta.

But the English lawyers had decided that Parliament was
omnipotent--and Parliament, in its omnipotence, instead of trial
by jury and the Habeas Corpus, enacted admiralty courts in
England to try Americans for offences charged against them as
committed in America; instead of the privileges of Magna
Charta, nullified the charter itself of Massachusetts Bay; shut
up the port of Boston; sent armies and navies to keep the peace
and teach the colonies that John Hampden was a rebel and
Algernon Sidney a traitor.

English liberties had failed them. From the omnipotence of
Parliament the colonists appealed to the rights of man and the
omnipotence of the God of battles. Union! Union! was the
instinctive and simultaneous cry throughout the land. Their
Congress, assembled at Philadelphia, once--twice--had
petitioned the king; had remonstrated to Parliament; had
addressed the people of Britain, for the rights of Englishmen--
in vain. Fleets and armies, the blood of Lexington, and the
fires of Charlestown and Falmouth, had been the answer to
petition, remonstrance, and address....

The dissolution of allegiance to the British crown, the
severance of the colonies from the British Empire, and their
actual existence as independent States, were definitively
established in fact, by war and peace. The independence of
each separate State had never been declared of right. It never
existed in fact. Upon the principles of the Declaration of
Independence, the dissolution of the ties of allegiance, the
assumption of sovereign power, and the institution of civil
government, are all acts of transcendent authority, which the
people alone are competent to perform; and, accordingly, it is in
the name and by the authority of the people, that two of these
acts--the dissolution of allegiance, with the severance from the
British Empire, and the declaration of the United Colonies, as
free and independent States--were performed by that

But there still remained the last and crowning act, which the
people of the Union alone were competent to perform--the
institution of civil government, for that compound nation, the
United States of America.

At this day it cannot but strike us as extraordinary, that it
does not appear to have occurred to any one member of that
assembly, which had laid down in terms so clear, so explicit, so
unequivocal, the foundation of all just government, in the
imprescriptible rights of man, and the transcendent sovereignty
of the people, and who in those principles had set forth their
only personal vindication from the charges of rebellion against
their king, and of treason to their country, that their last
crowning act was still to be performed upon the same
principles. That is, the institution, by the people of the United
States, of a civil government, to guard and protect and defend
them all. On the contrary, that same assembly which issued
the Declaration of Independence, instead of continuing to act in
the name and by the authority of the good people of the United
States, had, immediately after the appointment of the
committee to prepare the Declaration, appointed another
committee, of one member from each colony, to prepare and
digest the form of confederation to be entered into between the

That committee reported on the twelfth of July, eight days
after the Declaration of Independence had been issued, a draft
of articles of confederation between the colonies. This draft
was prepared by John Dickinson, then a delegate from
Pennsylvania, who voted against the Declaration of
Independence, and never signed it, having been superseded by
a new election of delegates from that State, eight days after his
draft was reported.

There was thus no congeniality of principle between the
Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation.
The foundation of the former was a superintending Providence-
-the rights of man, and the constituent revolutionary power of
the people. That of the latter was the sovereignty of organized
power, and the independence of the separate or dis-united
States. The fabric of the Declaration and that of the
Confederation were each consistent with its own foundation,
but they could not form one consistent, symmetrical edifice.
They were the productions of different minds and of adverse
passions; one, ascending for the foundation of human
government to the laws of nature and of God, written upon the
heart of man; the other, resting upon the basis of human
institutions, and prescriptive law, and colonial charter. The
cornerstone of the one was right, that of the other was power....

Where, then, did each State get the sovereignty, freedom, and
independence, which the Articles of Confederation declare it
retains?--not from the whole people of the whole Union--not
from the Declaration of Independence--not from the people of
the State itself. It was assumed by agreement between the
Legislatures of the several States, and their delegates in
Congress, without authority from or consultation of the people
at all.

In the Declaration of Independence, the enacting and
constituent party dispensing and delegating sovereign power is
the whole people of the United Colonies. The recipient party,
invested with power, is the United Colonies, declared United

In the Articles of Confederation, this order of agency is
inverted. Each State is the constituent and enacting party, and
the United States in Congress assembled the recipient of
delegated power--and that power delegated with such a
penurious and carking hand that it had more the aspect of a
revocation of the Declaration of Independence than an
instrument to carry it into effect.

None of these indispensably necessary powers were ever
conferred by the State Legislatures upon the Congress of the
federation; and well was it that they never were. The system
itself was radically defective. Its incurable disease was an
apostasy from the principles of the Declaration of
Independence. A substitution of separate State sovereignties,
in the place of the constituent sovereignty of the people, was
the basis of the Confederate Union.

In the Congress of the Confederation, the master minds of
James Madison and Alexander Hamilton were constantly
engaged through the closing years of the Revolutionary War
and those of peace which immediately succeeded. That of John
Jay was associated with them shortly after the peace, in the
capacity of Secretary to the Congress for Foreign Affairs. The
incompetency of the Articles of Confederation for the
management of the affairs of the Union at home and abroad
was demonstrated to them by the painful and mortifying
experience of every day. Washington, though in retirement,
was brooding over the cruel injustice suffered by his associates
in arms, the warriors of the Revolution; over the prostration of
the public credit and the faith of the nation, in the neglect to
provide for the payments even of the interest upon the public
debt; over the disappointed hopes of the friends of freedom; in
the language of the address from Congress to the States of the
eighteenth of April, 1788--"the pride and boast of America, that
the rights for which she contended were the rights of human

At his residence at Mount Vernon, in March, 1785, the first
idea was started of a revisal of the Articles of Confederation, by
the organization, of means differing from that of a compact
between the State Legislatures and their own delegates in
Congress. A convention of delegates from the State
Legislatures, independent of the Congress itself, was the
expedient which presented itself for effecting the purpose, and
an augmentation of the powers of Congress for the regulation
of commerce, as the object for which this assembly was to be
convened. In January, 1785, the proposal was made and
adopted in the Legislature of Virginia, and communicated to
the other State Legislatures.

The Convention was held at Annapolis, in September of that
year. It was attended by delegates from only five of the central
States, who, on comparing their restricted powers with the
glaring and universally acknowledged defects of the
Confederation, reported only a recommendation for the
assemblage of another convention of delegates to meet at
Philadelphia, in May, 1787, from all the States, and with
enlarged powers.

The Constitution of the United States was the work of this
Convention. But in its construction the Convention
immediately perceived that they must retrace their steps, and
fall back from a league of friendship between sovereign States
to the constituent sovereignty of the people; from power to
right--from the irresponsible despotism of State sovereignty to
the self-evident truths of the Declaration of Independence. In
that instrument, the right to institute and to alter governments
among men was ascribed exclusively to the people--the ends of
government were declared to be to secure the natural rights of
man; and that when the government degenerates from the
promotion to the destruction of that end, the right and the duty
accrues to the people to dissolve this degenerate government
and to institute another. The signers of the Declaration further
averred, that the one people of the United Colonies were then
precisely in that situation--with a government degenerated into
tyranny, and called upon by the laws of nature and of nature's
God to dissolve that government and to institute another. Then,
in the name and by the authority of the good people of the
colonies, they pronounced the dissolution of their allegiance to
the king, and their eternal separation from the nation of Great
Britain--and declared the United Colonies independent States.
And here as the representatives of the one people they had
stopped. They did not require the confirmation of this act, for
the power to make the declaration had already been conferred
upon them by the people, delegating the power, indeed,
separately in the separate colonies, not by colonial authority,
but by the spontaneous revolutionary movement of the people
in them all.

From the day of that Declaration, the constituent power of the
people had never been called into action. A confederacy had
been substituted in the place of a government, and State
sovereignty had usurped the constituent sovereignty of the

The Convention assembled at Philadelphia had themselves
no direct authority from the people. Their authority was all
derived from the State Legislatures. But they had the Articles
of Confederation before them, and they saw and felt the
wretched condition into which they had brought the whole
people, and that the Union itself was in the agonies of death.
They soon perceived that the indispensably needed powers
were such as no State government, no combination of them,
was by the principles of the Declaration of Independence
competent to bestow. They could emanate only from the
people. A highly respectable portion of the assembly, still
clinging to the confederacy of States, proposed, as a substitute
for the Constitution, a mere revival of the Articles of
Confederation, with a grant of additional powers to the
Congress. Their plan was respectfully and thoroughly
discussed, but the want of a government and of the sanction of
the people to the delegation of powers happily prevailed. A
constitution for the people, and the distribution of legislative,
executive, and judicial powers was prepared. It announced
itself as the work of the people themselves; and as this was
unquestionably a power assumed by the Convention, not
delegated to them by the people, they religiously confined it to
a simple power to propose, and carefully provided that it should
be no more than a proposal until sanctioned by the
Confederation Congress, by the State Legislatures, and by the
people of the several States, in conventions specially
assembled, by authority of their Legislatures, for the single
purpose of examining and passing upon it.

And thus was consummated the work commenced by the
Declaration of Independence--a work in which the people of the
North American Union, acting under the deepest sense of
responsibility to the Supreme Ruler of the universe, had
achieved the most transcendent act of power that social man in
his mortal condition can perform--even that of dissolving the
ties of allegiance by which he is bound to his country; of
renouncing that country itself; of demolishing its government;
of instituting another government; and of making for himself
another country in its stead.

And on that day, of which you now commemorate the fiftieth
anniversary--on that thirtieth day of April, 1789--was this
mighty revolution, not only in the affairs of our own country,
but in the principles of government over civilized man,

The Revolution itself was a work of thirteen years--and had
never been completed until that day. The Declaration of
Independence and the Constitution of the United States are
parts of one consistent whole, founded upon one and the same
theory of government, then new in practice, though not as a
theory, for it had been working itself into the mind of man for
many ages, and had been especially expounded in the writings
of Locke, though it had never before been adopted by a great
nation in practice.

There are yet, even at this day, many speculative objections to
this theory. Even in our own country there are still
philosophers who deny the principles asserted in the
Declaration, as self-evident truths--who deny the natural
equality and inalienable rights of man--who deny that the
people are the only legitimate source of power--who deny that
all just powers of government are derived from the consent of
the governed. Neither your time, nor perhaps the cheerful
nature of this occasion, permit me here to enter upon the
examination of this anti-revolutionary theory, which arrays
State sovereignty against the constituent sovereignty of the
people, and distorts the Constitution of the United States into a
league of friendship between confederate corporations. I speak
to matters of fact. There is the Declaration of Independence,
and there is the Constitution of the United States--let them
speak for themselves. The grossly immoral and dishonest
doctrine of despotic State sovereignty, the exclusive judge of its
own obligations, and responsible to no power on earth or in
heaven, for the violation of them, is not there. The Declaration
says, it is not in me. The Constitution says, it is not in me.

"Oration at Plymouth, December 22, 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 to 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, concluded his persuasion 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 forefathers.
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
substances 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 backward
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 our 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 virtue you can dwell with
honest exultation. The founders of your race are not handed
down to you, like the fathers 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 companions. 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 pander of
wealth and greatness, so eager to haunt 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

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
commemoration, 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 adventures; 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 Hemisphere by
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 chained 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 authority, 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
ho can hear the simple and pathetic energy of these expressions
without tenderness and admiration? Venerated shades of our
forefathers! No, 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, you 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 instances, 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 body politic, the day after their arrival upon the coast,
and previous to their first landing. That 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 colonies had contented themselves with the powers
conferred upon them by their respective charters, without
looking beyond the seal of the royal parchment for the measure
of their rights and the rule of their duties. The founders of
Plymouth had been impelled by the peculiarities of their
situation to examine the subject with deeper and more
comprehensive research. After twelve years of banishment
from the land of their first allegiance, during which they had
been under an adoptive and temporary subjection to another
sovereign, they must naturally have been led to reflect upon the
relative rights and duties of allegiance and subjection. They
had resided in a city, the seat of a university, where the
polemical and political controversies of the time were pursued
with uncommon fervor. In this period they had witnessed the
deadly struggle between the two parties, into which the people
of the United Provinces, after their separation from the crown
of Spain, had divided themselves. The contest embraced
within its compass not only theological doctrines, but political
principles, and Maurice and Barnevelt were the temporal
leaders of the same rival factions, of which Episcopius and
Polyander were the ecclesiastical champions.

That the investigation of the fundamental principles of
government was deeply implicated in these dissensions is
evident from the immortal work of Grotius, upon the rights of
war and peace, which undoubtedly originated from them.
Grotius himself had been a most distinguished actor and
sufferer in those important scenes of internal convulsion, and
his work was first published very shortly after the departure of
our forefathers from Leyden. It is well known that in the
course of the contest Mr. Robinson more than once appeared,
with credit to himself, as a public disputant against Episcopius;
and from the manner in which the fact is related by Governor
Bradford, it is apparent that the whole English Church at
Leyden took a zealous interest in the religious part of the
controversy. As strangers in the land, it is presumable that
they wisely and honorably avoided entangling themselves in the
political contentions involved with it. Yet the theoretic
principles, as they were drawn into discussion, could not fail to
arrest their attention, and must have assisted them to form
accurate ideas concerning the origin and extent of authority
among men, independent of positive institutions. The
importance of these circumstances will not be duly weighed
without taking into consideration the state of opinion then
prevalent in England. The general principles of government
were there little understood and less examined. The whole
substance of human authority was centred in the simple
doctrine of royal prerogative, the origin of which was always
traced in theory to divine institution. Twenty years later, the
subject was more industriously sifted, and for half a century
became one of the principal topics of controversy between the
ablest and most enlightened men in the nation. The instrument
of voluntary association executed on board the "Mayflower"
testifies that the parties to it had anticipated the improvement
of their nation.

Another incident, from which we may derive occasion for
important reflections, was the attempt of these original settlers
to establish among them that community of goods and of labor,
which fanciful politicians, from the days of Plato to those of
Rousseau, have recommended as the fundamental law of a
perfect republic. This theory results, it must be acknowledged,
from principles of reasoning most flattering to the human
character. If industry, frugality, and disinterested integrity
were alike the virtues of all, there would, apparently, be more
of the social spirit, in making all property a common stock, and
giving to each individual a proportional title to the wealth of
the whole. Such is the basis upon which Plato forbids, in his
Republic, the division of property. Such is the system upon
which Rousseau pronounces the first man who inclosed a field
with a fence, and said, "This is mine," a traitor to the human
species. A wiser and more useful philosophy, however, directs
us to consider man according to the nature in which he was
formed; subject to infirmities, which no wisdom can remedy; to
weaknesses, which no institution can strengthen; to vices,
which no legislation can correct. Hence, it becomes obvious
that separate property is the natural and indisputable right of
separate exertion; that community of goods without
community of toil is oppressive and unjust; that it counteracts
the laws of nature, which prescribe that he only who sows the
seed shall reap the harvest; that it discourages all energy, by
destroying its rewards; and makes the most virtuous and active
members of society the slaves and drudges of the worst. Such
was the issue of this experiment among our forefathers, and the
same event demonstrated the error of the system in the elder
settlement of Virginia. Let us cherish that spirit of harmony
which prompted our forefathers to make the attempt, under
circumstances more favorable to its success than, perhaps, ever
occurred upon earth. Let us no less admire the candor with
which they relinquished it, upon discovering its irremediable
inefficacy. To found principles of government upon too
advantageous an estimate of the human character is an error of
inexperience, the source of which is so amiable that it is
impossible to censure it with severity. We have seen the same
mistake committed in our own age, and upon a larger theatre.
Happily for our ancestors, their situation allowed them to
repair it before its effects had proved destructive. They had no
pride of vain philosophy to support, no perfidious 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 toward 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
toward 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 greater 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 man 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 a rose?
Shall he forbid the oaks of the forest to fall before the axe of
industry, and to 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 forever 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 of the deep? 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 purpose of utility to which they could apply be 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 creation. The Pilgrims of
Plymouth obtained their right of possession 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 amply 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 no
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 in 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 toward them will plead the cause of
their virtues, as they are now authenticated by the record of
history upon earth.

Religious discord has lost her sting; the cumbrous weapons
of theological warfare are antiquated; the field of politics
supplies the alchemists 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; the men who hold in proper
contempt all controversies about trifles, except such as inflame
their own passions, have made it a commonplace 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 sanguinary tyrant, had been
successively overthrown and restored, renewed and altered,
according to the varying humors and principles of four
successive monarchs. To ascertain the precise point of division
between the genuine institutions of Christianity and the
corruptions accumulated upon them in the progress of fifteen
centuries, was found a task of extreme difficulty throughout
the Christian world.

Men of the profoundest learning, of the sublimest genius, and
of the purest integrity, after devoting their lives to the research,
finally differed in their ideas upon many great points, both of
doctrine and discipline. The main question, it was admitted on
all hands, most intimately concerned the highest interests of
man, both temporal and eternal. Can we wonder that men who
felt their happiness here and their hopes of hereafter, their
worldly welfare and the kingdom of heaven at stake, should
sometimes attach an importance beyond their intrinsic weight
to collateral points of controversy, connected with the all-
involving object of the Reformation? The changes in the forms
and principles of religious worship were introduced and
regulated in England by the hand of public authority. But that
hand had not been uniform or steady in its operations. During
the persecutions inflicted in the interval of Popish restoration
under the reign of Mary, upon all who favored the
Reformation, many of the most zealous reformers had been
compelled to fly their country. While residing on the continent
of Europe, they had adopted the principles of the most
complete and rigorous reformation, as taught and established
by Calvin. On returning afterward to their native country, they
were dissatisfied with the partial reformation, at which, as they
conceived, the English establishment had rested; and claiming
the privilege of private conscience, upon which alone any
departure from the Church of Rome could be justified, they
insisted upon the right of adhering to the system of their own
preference, and, of course, upon that of non-conformity to the
establishment prescribed by the royal authority. The only
means used to convince them of error and reclaim them from
dissent was force, and force served but to confirm the
opposition it was meant to suppress. By driving the founders
of the Plymouth Colony into exile, it constrained them to
absolute separation irreconcilable. Viewing their religious
liberties here, as held only by sufferance, yet bound to them by
all the ties of conviction, and by all their sufferings for them,
could they forbear to look upon every dissenter among
themselves with a jealous eye? Within two years after their
landing, they beheld a rival settlement attempted in their
immediate neighborhood; and not long after, the laws of self-
preservation compelled them to break up a nest of revellers,
who boasted of protection from the mother country, and who
had recurred to the easy but pernicious resource of feeding
their wanton idleness, by furnishing the savages with the
means, the skill, and the instruments of European destruction.
Toleration, in that instance, would have been self-murder, and
many other examples might be alleged, in which their necessary
measures of self-defence have been exaggerated into cruelty,
and their most indispensable precautions distorted into
persecution. Yet shall we not pretend that they were exempt
from the common laws of mortality, or entirely free from all
the errors of their age. Their zeal might sometimes be too
ardent, but it was always sincere. At this day, religious
indulgence is one of our clearest duties, because it is one of our
undisputed rights. While we rejoice that the principles of
genuine Christianity have so far triumphed over the prejudices
of a former generation, let us fervently hope for the day when
it will prove equally victorious over the malignant passions of
our own.

In thus calling your attention to some of the peculiar features
in the principles, the character, and the history of our
forefathers, it is as wide from my design, as I know it would be
from your approbation, to adorn their memory with a chaplet
plucked from the domain of others. The occasion and the day
are more peculiarly devoted to them, and let it never be
dishonored with a contracted and exclusive spirit. Our
affections as citizens embrace the whole extent of the Union,
and the names of Raleigh, Smith, Winthrop, Calvert, Penn and
Oglethorpe excite in our minds recollections equally pleasing
and gratitude equally fervent with those of Carver and
Bradford. Two centuries have not yet elapsed since the first
European foot touched the soil which now constitutes the
American Union. Two centuries more and our numbers must
exceed those of Europe itself. The destinies of their empire, as
they appear in prospect before us, disdain the powers of human
calculation. Yet, as the original founder of the Roman State is
said once to have lifted upon his shoulders the fame and
fortunes of all his posterity, so let us never forget that the glory
and greatness of all our descendants is in our hands. Preserve
in all their purity, refine, if possible, from all their alloy, those
virtues which we this day commemorate as the ornament of
our forefathers. Adhere to them with inflexible resolution, as
to the horns of the altar; instil them with unwearied
perseverance into the minds of your children; bind your souls
and theirs to the national Union as the chords of life are
centred in the heart, and you shall soar with rapid and steady
wing to the summit of human glory. Nearly a century ago, one
of those rare minds to whom it is given to discern future
greatness in its seminal principles, upon contemplating the
situation of this continent, pronounced, in a vein of poetic
inspiration, "Westward the star of empire takes its way." Let
us unite in ardent supplication to the Founder of nations and
the Builder of worlds, that what then was prophecy may
continue unfolding into history--that the dearest hopes of the
human race may not be extinguished in disappointment, and
that the last may prove the noblest empire of time.


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