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most barbarous Indian war was lighted on our soil ; when the genius of a fierce and crafty savage had succeeded in combining the most fearful elements of destruction ever let loose on the habitations of civilized man; when the cloud which had been gathering in blackness, and hung lowering over the land, at length burst with appalling violence; and the demon of havoc and slaughter sped on the furious blast; and amid savage yells, and victim groans, and the hideous glare of blazing villages flashing through our vallies, and reflected from hill to hill, the work of threatened extermination seemed hastening to its certain and awful consummation. But did our fathers quail at the peril? Did they “shake and become as dead men”? No, they girded themselves to deeds of desperate resistance. They rallied with intrepid firmness “ to play the men” in defence of their homes, their fields and their altars and they moved where danger was greatest, and where shafts flew thickest. For God spake and said unto them, Go forward! And lifting their banners in the dread name of Israel's God, they struggled, prevailed and vanquished.
It was a dark hour when, a century still later, our nearer ancestors, then suffering under oppression and goaded by wrongs, roused themselves in a burst of indignant patriotism to cast off the yoke of a grievous foreign tyranny,—when they appealed for justice and cried for succor to the God of Battles, and with means as feeble as the Hebrew stripling's,
went forth to their stern encounter with a giant adversary. That conflict was resolutely waged. Their march was onward, “ from conquering to conquer.” They were made strong in the Lord, and by the power of His might. For God was with them; and He-their defender--was invincible.
The time would fail me to count up all the dark hours, contrasted with the bright passages and auspicious deliverances, which crowd our country's annals; to trace the steps of our national march from feebleness to power, from lowliness to grandeur ; to exhibit the fruits of our fathers' courage, constancy, and trust in God; to point out the wondrous energy of their faith crowned, as it was, by most brilliant and surprising issues; to show how a benignant Providence has oft proved better than our fears,-turning our reverses into triumphs, our mischances into blessings, and “from seeming evil, ever educing good.”
Brought as we are to the opening of another year, and assembled at the chosen era for the re-organization of the civil authorities of the government of our favored Commonwealth, as we pause to pay our grateful homage to that Almighty Power whose guardian hand has hitherto led and sustained us, it is natural to glance at the past, in connection with the present and the anticipated future, and to ponder upon our joint privileges, solicitudes and obligations. We have completed another stage of our civil progress.
We have come to Elim,*-pleasant for its salubrious fountains, its verdant pastures and its shady palms. But it is only for temporary refreshment and repose, - to cheer our hearts with the goodly scene around us; and to reanimate our zeal and fortify our resolution for the toils and conflicts incident to our future appointed career. We are then to strike our tents, and set forward our standards, and press to the high destinies which allure us from afar.
Let me have your indulgence then as I proceed to remark on a few of our combined privileges as citizens—on some qualifying circumstances in our otherwise bright and enviable lot—on the duties imposed by the juncture—and on the means and motives for obviating existing dangers, and perpetuating the blessings we enjoy.
I. Let us survey a few of our privileges. The blessings we possess, are mainly the accumulated treasures, or the rich products of the disposing agencies, of by-gone generations. We owe them, under God, to the wisdom, firmness and piety of the men of clear heads, stout hearts, and high-souled purposes, who planted the germs of empire upon our shores. We dwell on a soil redeemed by their valor from savage foes, and reclaimed by their patient industry from a state of rudeness to fertility, from a wilderness to a fruitful field.”
We enjoy by transmission the heritage of Liberty. That precious boon, denied to many nations and
Exodus xy. 27.
but partially possessed and fiercely strove for by others, is here the immunity of all. Whilst, in divers regions, the will of one, or the tyranny of a few, holds in slavish subjection the prostrate multitude ; whilst there the people are degraded to a populace, and the populace sunk to the character and condition of a mob; whilst the great mass of mankind are counted as scarce endued with the attributes of humanity, or but just supplied with so much intelligence as to render them mechanically more serviceable to their proud oppressors,—are treated as drudges and tools born to contribute to the convenience or pleasure, the luxury, dignity and pomp of the haughty ones who trample them down ; -here the poorest citizen is recognised in his just relations. He stands up every inch a man. He is placed on an equality of footing, in personal rights, with the most prosperous and opulent. Station can give no prerogative to crush, or to browbeat. The poor man's hut is his castle,-more strongly guarded from spoil or aggression, than feudal fortress in the iron age of Gothic barbarism. The avenues of preferment, the seats of power, the halls of legislation, civic honors, official distinctions, are open to the meritorious of every class. Useful arts, gainful traffic, the rewards of industry invite the competition of all; and every man, pursuing the business of an honest calling, may “ sit under his own vine and fig tree, having none to molest or to make him afraid."
But Liberty, sound Liberty, is not licentiousness. The broadest charter of freedom can never give exemption from all restraints. A man, whether high or low, rich or poor, is not privileged to do that which is alone right in his own eyes,—to pursue selfish and sinister aims, where they interfere with the just claims or the absolute immunities of others. The moment he enters into, or finds himself incorporated within the social state, he has to relinquish some personal and natural rights both for the common interest, and in consideration of greater compensating advantages to himself. Paradoxical as it may seem, the first step to the enjoyment of rational liberty, is the abridgement of a certain measure of personal freedom. A citizen must sacrifice a portion of his original rights, or make them over (so to speak) to the custody of the community at large, His will, in many particulars, must be subordinate to, or regulated by, the will of the public. But, in return, he enjoys its protection for rights reserved, as well as others acquired by the implied exchange. Obedience is the price of such protection ; and the power of a state—the united force of the individuals composing it—is pledged, by parity, to make good that protection to the humblest of its citizens, stipulating life, property, and numerous domestic and social privileges.