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paid for by taxation, nothing shall be submitted to, and obeyed by the citizen, excepting what satisfies the scruples of his own conscience? The Jew reviles Christianity and the New Testament, and teaches his children that our Saviour was but an impostor. And yet he is taxed for the support and execution of the laws which will punish him with a felon's cell if he dares to reproach the name of Christ, or blaspheme the Holy Scriptures. Nay more, although the Christian Sabbath is a stumbling block, and an offence to him, although every Christian Church is hateful to his sight—he is obliged, with certain exceptions, to respect the laws for the observance of the Sabbath, and is obliged to pay taxes for the support and maintenance of that government, of which Christianity is a vital and essential part.
Need I multiply instances ? the Hindoo and the Mahomedan, the Pagan and the Atheist, all can be citizens, all are entitled to freedom of conscience; and yet in every transaction of life, in every function of government, in every act of obedience to the laws, they are obliged to submit to and obey the rules of that Christianity which is an offence to their conscience. Is there any inconsistency in this? Is this inconsistent with true religious toleration ? By no means. The answer to the question lies plainly before us. Every man may worship God according to his own conscience; for his religious belief or disbelief he is not accountable to any human tribunal. The laws impose no form of faith upon his conscience, he is to subscribe to no articles of belief, he is to surrender his faith to no creed, he is to join no sect. Atheist or Pagan, Catholic or Protestant, he is free to believe or disbelieve according to his conscience; and for his faith or his infidelity there is equal toleration. But apart from this, and beyond this, he must submit to the general laws of the land, and just in the same manner that while we declare that every citizen, although free, must submit to numerous laws which do interfere with and infringe upon his liberty ; so does every citizen find in the operation of general rules, in the compromises of life, in the necessary concessions of a society regulated by general laws, much that is offensive to the scruples of his conscience, much that he must submit to and obey, although no laws compel him to believe.
Many good and virtuous citizens look upon war as a crime against God, and religion, and yet they are taxed by their country to supply the very sinews of that war, which they believe to be unholy. Atheists believe that the observance of the “ Lord's Day” is an idolatrous superstition, injurious and offensive to morality; yet the disciples of Paine and Volney, however it offends their consciences, must cease from labor, and, in all but worship, must observe and keep it.
I repeat, that it is idle and in vain to say that liberty of conscience in one citizen means the submission to his scruples on the part of all others. It is in vain to say that in a country of free but divided opinions, nothing shall exist which is not offensive to the consciences of many.
And here let me pause to say, that the danger to our country to-day does not lie in intolerance, nor in disregard of the liberty of conscience. It lies in an unreflecting and timid fear of intol
We forget our watchword, that "eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” We do not study nor reflect upon those essential principles upon which our free government is founded. We are so much in fear of intolerance to Catholicism, that we become intolerant of that pure and true religion which is the sole safeguard of our liberties, without which our loved and cherished republic will vanish away—a beautiful but fleeting dream.
But I must not dwell too long upon the examination of these general principles, which demand more ample illustration than the present discussion will allow. I wish to come more closely to the particular question which is to be decided by the light of these general principles.
My first proposition has been that the Christian religion is a part of the law of our ancient Commonwealth.
My second proposition was that true liberty of conscience and true toleration of all forms of belief can exist consistently with that law.
My third proposition is, that piety and morality are to be taught as a part of education, and that this is not inconsistent with religious toleration, or entire liberty of conscience.
This is a question which involves a wide range of discussion, much wider than can be entered upon here, where it must be decided as a question of authority, of law and of government, rather than as a question of ethics, or philosophy, or religion.
I am not speaking of private schools, established by any sect, supported for any special object or purpose. I am speaking of those public schools which are established and supported by the government, as great public institutions and charities, institutions for which it is lawful to levy taxes upon the citizen -charities in the true legal meaning of the word, which are recognized as a part of the institutions of the country, and protected and supported by its laws.
If my first proposition is true, that our Government is based upon religion, that Christianity is an acknowledged and recognized part of our law, does it not follow, as of inevitable necessity, that in every school founded by government, established and supported by government, religion should be recognized, and piety should be taught ? I need not repeat, Sir, that I speak not of any sect, or church, or creed, not of any form of faith. I speak of those principles of true piety and religion which have existed from the hour when the morning stars sang together—from the hour when God said " let there be light”—piety eternal as the stars, religion pure and holy as the light of Heaven.
One of our most eloquent orators has told me that many years ago he met Mr. Webster in London, and conversed with him upon the future destinies of our country. Mr. Webster spoke despondingly of our future. Have you no hope, sir, in our education? He shook his head sadly, without a reply. Have you no hopes then in the religious education of the people ? His whole noble face lighted up, as he acknowledged that this was the one bright star, yet shining for his country; and he then expressed his intention of one day laying before his countrymen his long treasured thoughts upon that great subject. How well that promise was kept his countrymen well know. Mr. Webster's great oration upon the “ Religious Instruction of the Young” remains to-day the noblest monument to his fame, the truest mirror of his character. Those who remember him only in the heat and dust of political strife, or in his great contests at the bar, know nothing of him at all.
I remember it as one of the fortunate occurrences of my life, that I heard Mr. Webster address the Supreme Court shortly after the death of the Hon. Jeremiah Mason. He spoke with earnest feeling of his early friend, of his deep religious belief, of his awful reverence for the living God; and as he dwelt upon that great theme-as he by way of contrast spoke also of a man without religion, a man whom the Scriptures describe in such terse but terrific language as living “without God in the world” -as he declared the great truth that “ religion is a necessary and indispensable element in any great human character,” it seemed as if the true great soul of the speaker himself was revealed; as if inspired by his theme, he had for once laid open and displayed the profound mysteries of his own con sciousness, of his inner self, and of his own lofty and usually inscrutable being. It seemed as if the clouds which enfolded the lofty summits of the mountain had for a moment rolled away, and the lofty peaks were visible, radiant in their serene and sublime majesty, aspiring forever, soaring forever upward towards the everlasting heavens. I believe that in that one moment I obtained more insight into that great nature than years of familiar intercourse would have given. And I believe, too, that his serious and solemn convictions, his highest hopes, his noblest thoughts, are more fully recorded in the great oration of which I have spoken, than in all the rest of his published works.
Will your Honor allow me to detach two or three thoughts from that powerful argument, which are particularly appropriate to the subject of our discussion ? He says with great emphasis :—
I do say, and do insist, that there is no such thing in the history of religion, no such thing in the history of human law, as a charity, a school of instruction for children, from which the Christian religion and Christian teachers are excluded as unsafe and unworthy intruders.
Again he says :
This scheme of education is derogatory to Christianity, because it proceeds upon the presumption that the Christian religion is not the only true foundation, or any necessary foundation of morals. The ground taken is, that religion is not necessary to morality; that benevolence may be insured by habit, and that all the virtues may flourish and be safely left to the chance of flourishing, without touching the waters of the living spirit of religious responsibility. With him who thinks thus, what can be the value of the Christian revelation ? So the Christian world has not thought; for by the Christian world throughout its broadest extent, it has been and is held as a fundamental truth, that religion is the only solid basis of morals—and that moral instruction, not resting on this basis, is only a building upon sand.
I might multiply authorities of wise and learned men upon this question ; but it is not necessary. Can it be argued for a moment, that in educating a child, to whom God has given an immortal soul, as well as intellectual faculties, it is the duty of the State to cultivate the one and leave the other in darkness ? Above all things, in a republic which exists only, which can be maintained only, by the virtue of its citizens—can it be argued that it is the duty of the State to teach every thing but these very virtues upon which its existence and well being depend? Will it be said that it is the duty of the State to educate its citizens, but that those very virtues which alone are useful to the State itself__6 those virtues which tend to secure the blessings of liberty,” shall be a sealed book-shall be forbidden forever, banished forever from the schools? If self-preservation is indeed a law of nature, shall not the State be allowed to preserve itself, not by war, not by proscription, not by force, bụt by instructing its children in piety and morality and pure religion ? But I must remember that I cannot discuss this question here, as a question of morality, of philosophy or of religion. I am here only to defend and justify an ancient law of the Commonwealth, which prescribes, in so many words, " that piety, justice, humanity and universal benevolence shall be taught in our public schools.”
The principles for which I contend would justify laws far more general and comprehensive than this; and I look for the hour when they will be enacted, but this is the law of to-day; and I believe that no one will be bold enough to deny its obligation or its justice.
This law to which I have referred the Court is but a re-enactment of a more ancient statute; it was sanctioned anew in the revision of our laws, and is now found in chap. 23, sect. 7, of our Revised Statutes.
May it please your Honor, we have advanced thus far in the argument, and we find that it is a positive law, which neither