« PreviousContinue »
all things in such a manner, as to bring good out of evil, light out of darkness, and order out of confusion.'Thus, to glance at a few particulars. The lamented death of Edward, made way for the bloody Mary to ascend the throne; than which, no change in itself considered, could have been more to be deprecated. But if Mary had not reigned, who would have gone to Frankfort and Geneva, to imbibe and bring back the sentiments of the great continental reformers? If, when Mary was ao mare, Elizabeth had granted the returning exiles anything like reasonable indulgence in regard to babits and ceremonies, there would, at that time, have been no puritan secession from the established church. When James ascended the throne, he might easily have induced the seceders to return, and then, there had been no pilgrims to sojourn in Holland, and no ministers looking out for a refuge with their churches, in a howling wilderness, three thousand miles off. It is not at all probable, that anything short of persecution, could have induced so many, as were necessary to begin the settlements in America, to break the thousand ties, that bound them to their native country.
And if our forefathers had not come, or if they had been a little later, adventurers of a very different eharacter from England would have preoccupied the ground; or., which is perhaps more likely, the French on the north, and the Dutch on the south, would, as they were preparing to do, have divided New England between them.
Moreover; if our ancestors had not been trained for years in the school of adversity at home, they never could have sustained the hardships which awaited them in the wilderness: and if a long course of intolerable oppressions had not constrained them to study the principles of civil and religious liberty, they never would have
laid such broad and deep foundations, when they came to legislate for themselves. Had the Plymouth Colony gone to Hudson's river, as they intended, they would, in all probability, have fallen a prey to the savages before the end of the winter. If a mortal sickness had not almost depopulated the region about Plymouth, a little before their arrival, what but a miracle could have saved them from total extermination, when half their number was dead and the survivors were incapable of making the least defence? What but the special providence of God in restraining the warlike tribes around them, could have saved the weak and starving planters at Salem, on the banks of the Connecticut river, or indeed, any of the early settlements of New England, from savage vengeance?
Again ; if Charles the first had not involved himself in a fatal quarrel with his parliament, he would most certainly have crushed the infant liberties of the colonies ; and if the revolution which cost him his life, and tore up the very foundations of the monarchy, had taken place a few years earlier, the tide of emigration would have ceased to roll towards these western shores, and our fathers who were then so weak, and struggling against so many adversities, would probably have abandoned their settlements and returned to England.
Indeed, Oliver Cromwell took a great deal of pains to withdraw them from a country, which he thought unworthy of the true church. His first proposal was, that they should recross the ocean and settle in Ireland. Failing in this, he appears afterwards to have set his heart very much upon seeing them transported to the Island of Jamaica ; representing their present location as upon too rugged a soil, and under too inclement skies ; and setting
forth the great advantages which would accrue to the church, from so desirable a change in her situation. He wrote particularly, and very urgently to the Colony of New Haven on the subject; but as they were not convinced by his arguments, they very politely thanked the Lord Protector for his friendly regards, telling him at the same time, that they did not think it was the will of providence they should remove.
But all things considered, the interregnum was peculiliarly auspicious to the best interests of the infant colonies. For although it brought them but few accessions from the mother country, they received special tokens of favor, first from the long parliament, and afterwards from the Protector; so that they were better prepared, than they could have been under the house of resist the arbitrary encroachments of Charles the second, and of his weak and popish successor. The hand of God was also very conspicuous, in screening our ancestors from the blow which was aimed at their liberties, and was on the point of taking effect, when the revolution in 1988, placed William and Mary on the throne of England. Nor was the ever watchful and protecting care of providence less remarkable in discovering to our fathers the plots, and defeating the machinations of the French and Indians, from which, in so many instances, they narrowly escaped with their lives. And I must not omit to add, that in all the events, which led to the severance of these provinces from the British Empire, it is manifest, that to God belongs the glory of our happy emancipation.
Surely in reviewing their mercies, dangers, and deliverances, no people could ever more appropiately adopt this song, in the house of their pilgrimage : "If it had not
been the Lord who was on our side, when men rose up against us, then they had swallowed us up quick, when their wrath was kindled against us; then the waters had overwhelmed us, the stream had gone over our soul. Blessed be the Lord who hath not given us a prey to tbeir teeth.—Our soul is escaped, as a bird out of the snare of the fowlers, the snare is broken, and we are escaped. . Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.'
I have already touched upon the character and institutions of our forefathers, in that brief contrast, to which I found myself almost insensibly led, in the commencement of this discourse. But it would be doing great injustice to their memory, and to the present occasion, so slightly to pass over this part of the subject. It is not possible for me, however, to be very particular; nor even did the time permit, should I attempt to hold up those pious and patriotic worthies, as in all respects faultless models for the imitation of posterity. As nothing human is perfect, they certainly bad their failings, and it cannot be denied, that in their treatment of those, who differed from them in religious opinions, they too often lost sight of the mild and tolerant spirit of the Gospel. The severity of some of their laws against Quakers and fanatics, can never be justified. Still less can that unaccountable infatuation, which prevailed in some parts of New England for a time, and led to the punishment of innocent persons, for the supposed crime of witchcraft.
But that, let it be remembered, was a dark age, not in America only, but all over the world. The clouds of superstition still hovered over the most enlightened minds. The rights of conscience were no where well defined, or understood. It had been a settled maxim, in Eu
rope, for more thar a thousand years, that a free toleration of religious faith and worship, differing from the established forms, could not safely be indulged in any community. As for witchcraft, it was one of the popular delusions of the age; which however did not appear in New England till after the pilgrims were in their graves, and it ought in this connection to be known and remembered, that the pious Baxter, and the great and good Sir Matthew Hale, were strangely borne away by the prevailing infatuation. The progress of mental emancipation, has always been slow, even under the most favorable circumstances ; so that to try men, who lived two hundred years ago, by the light which we enjoy, and to condemn them for not seeing as clearly in the early dawn, as those do who live in broad sunshine, would be extremely illiberal.
Upon a fair and impartial view of the case, therefore, instead of wondering, that our ancestors still adhered to some of the superstitions and severities of the dark ages, the real wonder is, that they rejected so many, which in other countries, were then cherished, by men of the first talents and most liberal principles.
But our fathers have been severely censured on another account. It is said, that none but members of ihe churches were allowed to hold any civil office, or to give their votes in the election of rulers; and this is represented as a most unjustifiable exclusion. My first reply to this charge is, that the exclusion complained of, prevailed only in two of the colonies, and in those but for a short time. Secondly, while it continued, it may possibly have been a necessary measure, to prevent the ascendency of new adventurers, having different principles, who might, had they been allowed to vote, have destroyed the foundations on which all our invaluable institutions now rest. After