Sermon II. Sermon at the Faribault Celebration of the Centennial of the Inauguration of George Washington, 1789-1889
"Then Samuel took a stone and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name of it Ebeneser, saying, Hitherto hath the Lord helped us."--1 SAMUEL vii. 12.
No words are more fitting on this Centennial day. One hundred years ago George Washington was inaugurated the first President of the United States. Words are powerless to express the grateful thoughts which swell patriot hearts. Save that people whom God led out of Egypt with His pillar of fire and His pillar of cloud, I know of no nation whose history is so full of the bounty of God. This country was settled by Englishmen. They were bound by ties of affection to the mother country. They were not rebels, they were loyal, God-fearing men. The English crown had violated rights which were guaranteed to them by the Magna Charta, which brave barons, headed by Bishop Stephen Langton, had wrung from King John and which under God has made English-speaking people the representatives of constitutional government throughout the world. It was not until every plea for justice had been spurned, their sacred rights trampled upon, and the warnings of the wisest English statesmen unheeded, that the American colonies resolved to be independent and free. On the 5th of September, 1774, fifty-five delegates, from eleven colonies, met in Smith's tavern, Philadelphia, and at the invitation of the carpenters of that city adjourned to their hall. Questions arose as to the numerical influence of the colonies. Patrick Henry voiced the sentiment of Congress, "I am not a Virginian, I am an American." John Jay, who represented the conservative element said, "We have not come to make a constitution; the measure of arbitrary power is not full, it must run over before we undertake to frame a government." It was proposed to open Congress with prayer. Objections were made on account of the religious differences of the delegates. Old Samuel Adams rose, with his long white hair streaming on his shoulders (the same earnest Puritan who in 1768 had written to England, "We hope in God that no such establishment as the Protestant Episcopate shall ever take place in America,") and said, "Gentlemen, shall it be said that it is possible that there can be any religious difference which will prevent men from crying to that God who alone can save them? Puritan as I am, I move that the Rev. Dr. Duché, minister of Christ Church in the city, be asked to open this Congress with prayer." John Adams, writhing to his wife, said, "Never can I forget that scene. There were twenty Quakers standing by my side and we were all bathed in tears. When Psalms for the day were read, it seemed as if Heaven itself was pleading for the oppressed: 'O Lord, fight thou against them that fight against me. Lord, who is like unto Thee to defend the poor and needy. Avenge Thou my cause, my Lord and my God.'" Although filled with indignation at the blood which had been shed in Boston, Congress nevertheless issued an appeal to the people of England: "You have been told that we are impatient of government and desire independency. These are calumnies. Permit us to be free as you are, and our union with you will be our greatest glory. But if your ministers sport with human rights, if neither the voice of justice, the principles of the constitution, nor humanity will restrain them from shedding human blood in an impious cause, 'we will never submit.' We ask peace, liberty and safety, and for this we have laid our prayer at the feet of the king as a loving father." The battles at Lexington, Concord and Ticonderoga preceded the second meeting of Congress in May, 1775. Their plea for justice had been spurned. The outlook was dark as midnight. These brave men represented no government, they had no power to make laws, they had no officers to execute them, they could not impose customs, they had no army, they did not own a foot of land, they owed the use of their hall to the courtesy of the artisans of Philadelphia. On the 12th of June Congress made its first appeal to the people of twelve colonies, (Georgia was not represented). It was a solemn call for the whole people to observe one and the same day as a day of fasting and prayer "for the restoration of the invaded rights of America and reconciliation with the parent state." They who sought the protection of God knew that under God they must protect themselves. All hearts turned to George Washington, a delegate from Virginia, and he was unanimously chosen to be commander-in-chief. When Congress met in July, 1776, the people had been branded as traitors; the slaves of Virginia had been incited to insurrection, the torch and tomahawk of the savage had been let loose on frontier settlements, an army of foreign mercenaries had landed on their shores, their ports were blockaded, an the army under Washington for their defence only numbered 6,749 men. On the second day of July, 1776, without one dissenting colony, the representatives of the thirteen colonies resolved that "these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is and ought to be totally dissolved." Two days later Benjamin Harrison, the great-grandfather of our present president, the chairman of the committee of the whole, reported to Congress the form in which that resolution was to be published to the world, and the reasons by which it was to be justified. It was the work of Thomas Jefferson, then aged thirty-three, and never did graver responsibility rest on a young man than the preparation of that immortal paper, and never was the duty more nobly fulfilled. In the original draft of the declaration there was the allegation that the king "had prostituted his negative by suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or restrain this execrable commerce in human beings." This was struck out, as Mr. Jefferson tells us, in "complaisance to South Carolina and Georgia, not without tenderness to Northern Brethren who held slaves." Time forbids my calling over the roll of these noble patriots who signed their names to our Magna Charta. There is John Adams, of whom Jefferson said, "He was our Colossus on that floor, and spoke with such power as to move us from our seats." Benjamin Franklin, printer philosopher and statesman. Roger Sherman, of whom John Adams said, "He is honest as an angel and firm as Mount Atlas." Charles Carroll, who, when a member said, "Oh, Carroll, you will get off, there are so many Carrolls," stepped back to the desk and wrote after his name, "of Carrollton." John Hancock, who, when elected speaker, Benjamin Harrison had playfully seated in the speaker's chair and said, "We will show Mother Britain how little we care for her, by making a Massachusetts man our president, whom she has by proclamation excluded from pardon." A friend said to John Hancock, "You have signed your name large." "Yes," he replied, "I wish John Bull to read it without spectacles." Robert Morris, the financier and treasurer of the Revolution. Elbridge Gerry, the youngest member, the friend of Gen. Warren, to whom Warren had said the night before the battle of Bunker Hill, "It is sweet to die for our country." What a roll of names! the silver-tongued Rutledge, brave Stockton, wise Rush, Lee--fifty-five noble names, not one of whom who did not know that, as one member said, "If we do not hang together, we shall hang separately." It was not timidity which made any of the delegates hesitate to take the irrevocable step. All the associations of their lives, all the traditions and memories of the past bound them by ties of kindred and affection to the mother country. They were venturing on an unknown sea; there were no charts to guide them, no precedents to follow. The truth was, as Jefferson so tersely said, "The people wait for us to lead the way. The question is not whether by a declaration of independence we shall make ourselves what we are not, but whether we shall declare a fact which exists." So also John Adams said, "The Revolution was effected before the war commenced."
I cannot tell the story of the seven year's war. The articles of confederation were sent to the States in 1778, but the last of the thirteen States, Maryland, did not adopt them until March, 1781. Congress under he confederacy dealt with the States and did not have the confidence or the love of the people. It required nine States to pass any measure of importance. During the war the confederacy was a pitiable failure. It issued bills which no one would take, its certificates of indebtedness and promises to pay were so worthless that it gave rise to the proverb, "Not worth a continental." Robert Morris, the financier, pleaded hopelessly for help. Alexander Hamilton denounced the confederation as "neither fit for war nor peace." Even Washington, always hopeful, wrote in 1781: "Our troops are fast approaching nakedness; our hospitals are without medicine; our sick are without meat; our public works are at a standstill; in a word, we are at the end of our tether, and now or never deliverance must come." At last victory came--thanks to the generous assistance of France, to the heroism of leaders like Lafayette, Baron Steuben, and hosts of others, who gave us their fortunes and hazarded their lives for America, the war was ended by the surrender of Lord Cornwallis. Victor Hugo said, "Napoleon was not defeated at Waterloo by the allied forces. It was God who conquered him." Who that remembers Trenton, Valley Forge, Saratoga and Yorktown, will not say God fought for our Washington? In 1777 a Quaker had occasion to pass through the woods near the headquarters of the army; hearing a voice, he approached the spot, and saw Washington in prayer. Returning home, he said to his wife: "All's well! All's well! Washington will prevail. I have thought that no man can be a soldier and a Christian. George Washington has convinced me of my mistake." Peace was declared in 1783. I have a water-color of the building used as the Department of State, in which the treaty of peace was signed--it was a building 12 feet by 30.
In May,1787, delegates from all the States, except Rhode Island, met in the state house in Philadelphia, with George Washington as president, to draft a constitution for these United States. All the delegates were convinced of the utter failure of the articles of confederation, all were convinced of the need of a stronger government. Two parties honestly differed and were determined to fight it out to the bitter end. At one time it looked as if the convention must disband without effecting its object. Franklin arose and said: "Mr. President, the small progress we have made after five weeks is a melancholy proof of the imperfection of human understanding--we have gone back to ancient history for models of government--we have viewed modern states--we find none of their constitutions suitable to our circumstances--we are groping in the dark to find political truth, and are scarcely able to distinguish it when presented to us. How has it happened, sir, that we have not once thought of humbly applying to the Father of Lights to illumine our understandings? In the beginning of the contest with Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayers in this room for Divine protection. Our prayers, sir, were heard and they were graciously answered. All of us have observed frequent instances of a superintending Providence in our favor. To that kind Providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means to establish our nation. Have we forgotten our powerful Friend? Do we imagine that we no longer need His assistance? I have lived, sir, a long time, and the longer I live the more convinced I am that God governs in the affairs of men. If a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid? We are told, sir in the sacred writings, that 'except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.' I firmly believe this, and I also believe that without His aid we shall succeed in our political building no better than the builders of Babel. We shall be divided by our little, partial, local interests, our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall become a reproach and a byword to future ages. I therefore beg leave to move that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven an its blessing on our deliberations be held in this assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the clergy of this city be requested to officiate." When the Constitution was adopted, Franklin rose, and pointing to the speaker's chair, on which was carved a sun half-hid by the horizon, said: "Gentlemen, I have long watched that sun and wondered whether it was a rising or a setting sun--God has heard our prayers, it is a rising sun." This convention adopted the famous ordinance of 1787, which guaranteed that slavery should never enter the north-west territory, and this, under God, saved the nation in the hour of trial. The Constitution was ratified by eleven of the States in 1788, and the first Wednesday in January, 1789, electors were chosen in all the ratifying States, except New York, where a conflict between the senate and assembly prevented a choice. In Rhode Island and North Carolina no election was held. The person receiving the highest number of votes was to be president, the man receiving the next highest number was to be vice-president.
Washington received the whole number of votes, 69; John Adams received 34. They were elected the first president and vice-president of the United States.
The world has only one Washington. At sixteen he was county surveyor, the support of his widowed mother; at nineteen he was military inspector, with the rank of major; at twenty the governor of Virginia sent him six hundred miles to ask the commander of the French forces "by what authority he had invaded the king's dominions"; at twenty-two he was colonel in command of a regiment under General Braddock, and in the absence of a chaplain he read prayers daily himself. He saved the remnant of that ill-fated army from annihilation, and fifteen years after an aged Indian chief came to see the man at whom he had fired many times and who was protected by the Great Spirit. At his entrance as a member of the legislature of Virginia, the speaker greeted him with thanks for his military services. Washington arose to reply and blushed and stammered. The speaker said, "Mr. Washington, your modesty only equals your valor." He was a member of the first Continental Congress of whom Patrick Henry said, "Mr. Rutledge, of South Carolina, is the great orator, but for solid information and sound judgement Col. Washington is unquestionably the greatest man on that floor." When with one voice Congress chose him to be the commander-in-chief, he said, "I beg it may be remembered by every gentleman in this room, that I this day declare with the utmost sincerity that I do not think myself equal to the command I am honored with. No pecuniary consideration would tempt me to accept this position. I will keep an exact account of my expenses, those I doubt not you will discharge. I ask no more." The nation applauded the prudence, the wisdom, the bravery and patriotism of Washington. Frederick the Great said, "His achievements are the most brilliant in military annals." Napoleon directed that the standard of the French army should be hung with crape at his death. Fox said of him in the British Parliament, "Illustrious man, it has been reserved for him to run the race of glory without the smallest interruption to his course." But the noblest eulogy ever uttered were the words of Gen. Henry Lee: "First in war, first in peace and first in the hearts of his countrymen." He had hoped to retire to private life, and wrote to Lafayette, "I am a private citizen on the banks of the Potomac, under the shadow of my own vine and fig tree. I have retired from all public employment and tread the walks of private life with heartfelt satisfaction." The country would not permit it. He had refused to be a candidate for the office of president and accepted the nation's unanimous call with a heavy heart. His last act before leaving for New York was to visit his aged mother, then eighty-two, and in the last year of her life. We can picture that tender farewell to one to whom he owed under God that beautiful faith which shed glory on his life. The journey to New York was one continued ovation. His Virginia neighbors and friend gave him a God-speed and benediction. Baltimore outdid itself in generous hospitality. Philadelphia crowned him with laurel, the bells rang out their joyous peals, cannons thundered and the people with one voice shouted "Long live the President." Marvellous as was the enthusiasm of other cities, the people of Trenton, who remembered the cruelties of the Hessian in 1776 and their deliverance by Washington, outdid them all. On a triumphal arch was written "Dec. 26, 1776. The hero who defended the mothers will defend the daughters." At Elizabeth a committee of Congress met him, and Caesar never had so beautiful a flotilla as that of the sea captains and pilots who bore him to New York on the 23d of April. A week was spent in festivity. It is the 30th of April. In all the churches of New York there have been prayers for the new government and its chosen head. The streets swarm with people as the hour of noon approaches. Every house-top and porch and window near to Federal Hall is packed with a dense mass. The president has been presented to the two houses of Congress. The procession is formed Washington follows the senators and representatives to the balcony. Around and behind him are his staff and distinguished patriots of the Revolution. Every eye is fixed on the stately, majestic man. A little over six feet high, his form perfect in outline and figure, a florid complexion, dark blue eyes deeply set, his rich brown hair now tinged with gray, firm jaws and broad nostrils, lighted by a benignant expression. Such was the Father of his Country. The brave soldier trembles with emotion as the chancellor of the State of New York reads the oath; the hand of Washington is on the open Bible. Was it a providence that they rested on the words, "His hands were made strong by the mighty God of Israel?" The secretary would have raised the sacred book to the president's lips. Washington said solemnly, "I swear, so help me God," and then bowed reverently kissed the book. He went to the senate chamber, and with stammering words, for his heart was almost too full for utterance, he delivered his inaugural address, and then turning to his friends said, "We will go to St. Paul's Church for prayers." It had been the habit of his life. His pastor, Rev. Lee Massey, said, "No company ever withheld him from church."' His secretary, Harrison, said, "Whenever the general could be spared from the camp on the Sabbath, he never failed to ride to some neighboring church to join in the worship of God." He claimed no praise for his matchless victories, but reverently gave all the glory to the blessing and protection of God. He knew, in the words of my friend Robert C. Winthrop, that "There can be no independence of God." The poet will sing and the orator describe eloquently the pageant of that day, but no incident will so touch the Christian's heart as the first act of the president of the United States, kneeling reverently with his fellow-citizens in the public worship of God. The service which had been set forth and was this day used in St. Paul's Church by Bishop Provost, also a patriot of the Revolution, and one who had suffered for his country's sake, was substantially the same used by us to-day. Washington assumed office in the midst of dangers. Edmund Randolph, one of the foremost members of the constitutional convention, wrote to Washington, "The Constitution would never have been adopted but for the knowledge that you sanctioned it, and the expectation that you would execute it. It is in state of probation. You alone can give it stability." There was a stormy sea before the new ship of state. The bitter hatreds between Federalist and anti-Federalist were not healed. Two states had not ratified the Constitution--there were tokens in more than one direction of rebellion. Without on dollar in the treasury, we were eighty millions in debt. The pirates of Morocco had destroyed our commerce in the Mediterranean, Spain threatened the valley of the Mississippi. Our relations with England were full of bitter memories; a country larger than Europe was to be protected, and we had a standing army of only 600 men. Washington called around him as advisers Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of Foreign Affairs; Alexander Hamilton, Secretary of the Treasury; Henry Knox, Secretary of War; Edmund Randolph, Attorney-General, and John Jay, Chief Justice, and by these men, under God, the crumbling confederacy was cemented into one nation. Time forbids my reading you the words of wisdom, "apples of gold in pictures of silver," of Washington's inaugural and farewell addresses. I wish I had time to tell how, with a prophet's eye, he saw the future of the West, and again and again urged the opening of lines of commerce to bind East and West together. After eight years of wise rule, such as befitted "the Father of our Country," he retired to the shades of Mt. Vernon, to be, as he had been through life, the helper of the helpless, the friend of the needy and the almoner of God. On the 12th of December, 1799, he was exposed to a storm of sleet and rain, the severest form of quinsy set in; two days later, the 14th of December, he died. As friends stood weeping around his death-bed, he said with a smile, "O don't, don't; I am dying, but thank God I am not afraid to die." As the hour of his death drew near he asked to be left alone. They all went out and left him with God. There are lessons for our hearts to-day. Government is a delegated trust from God, who alone has the right to govern. He gives to every nation the right to say in what form this trust shall be clothed. No man has the right to be his brother's master. Take away the truth that government is a trust which comes from God, and you have left nothing between man and man but cunning and brute force. Burke said, "this sacred trust of government does not arise from our conventions and compacts," but it gives our conventions and compacts all the force and sanction which they have. I shall be told that the name of God is not found in the Constitution of the United States; it did not need to be when it was written on the people's hearts.
While we commemorate the noble deeds of our fathers, which under God were this day crowned with success, we gratefully remember that our fathers' God has guided us through all dangers. What other nation has come out of the horrors of civil war with victors and vanquished vieing with each other in love for one common country? Where has the hand of the assassin bowed the whole people by the leader's grave? This is no day for boasting or to call over the roll of our great dead.
We have sinned deeply, and deeply have we paid the penalty. No hand but God's could have over-ruled our mistakes and given us our favored position to-day. We must not forget that no nation has ever survived the loss of its religion. The year which saw Washington inaugurated president, saw in the fair land of Lafayette the beginnings of that holocaust of murder which turned France into a hell. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." No high-sounding words about freedom, no Godless philosophy, no infidel creed, which robs men of homes here and heaven hereafter, can save this nation. "Not unto us, but unto Thy name be the praise," must be our song, as it was the song of our fathers.
There are clouds and darkness on the horizon for the future. I see it in the impatience of law, in the jealousies between class and class, in the selfishness of the rich, and in the misery of the poor, in bribery and corruption in high places, and in the turbulence of mobs. I see it in the foul monster of intemperance and impurity which stalk unabashed through the land. But I see the greatest danger in that insidious teaching which robs humanity of an eternal standard of right, which makes morality prudence or imprudence, which limits man's horizon by the grave, and takes from hearts and homes God and Christ and heaven. Yet, I reverently believe that God has set us in the forefront of the nations to be, as our text says, "a beacon on the mountain-top," to lead on in His work in the last time. It may be that for our sins we shall walk again into the furnace, as we have walked and come out of it purified and fitted for the Master's use. I sometimes lose faith in men, but I will not lose faith in God. It is ours to work and bide our time; so did our fathers, and so will God give the harvest. I should wrong my heart and yours to-day, if I forgot the daughters of the Revolution. We might have had no Washington but for the lessons he learned at that mother's knee, that his duty to God was to believe in Him, to fear Him and to love Him with all his heart, with all his mind, with all his soul and with all his strength, to worship Him, to give Him thanks, to put his whole trust in Him, to call on Him, to honor His holy name and His word and to love Him truly all the days of his life; that his duty towards his neighbor--was to love him as himself, and to do to all men as he would have them do unto him, to love, honor and succor his father and mother, to honor and obey the civil authority, to hurt nobody by word or deed, to be true and just in all his dealings, to bear no malice or hatred in his heart, to keep his hands from picking and stealing, and his tongue from evil speaking, lying and slandering, to keep his body in temperance, soberness and chastity. Not to covet or desire other men's goods, but to learn and labor truly to get his own living and to do his duty in that state of life unto which it should please God to call him. We know this was the rule of his life. The Father of his Country found his solace, inspiration and help, as many of us have found it, in the love of a Christian wife. There are no fairer names in our country's history than Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton, Sally Foster Otis, Alice DeLancy Izard, Jane Ketelas Beekman, and many more, who made up the republican court of Washington; and we do not forget humble names like Mollie Stark, whose lives were consecrated to their country. Wives, mothers, daughters! none have places of greater influence in shaping and moulding our country than you. Your power is the power of a Christian mother, a Christian wife, a Christian daughter. In the darkest hour look to God, believe that your mission is a nobler one than to be a slave of fashion or the leader of a party. Plant your feet on the rock of eternal truth--never speak with uncertain voice of the verities of the Christian faith. For you St. Paul said: "How knowest thou, O Woman, but thou mayest save thy husband and thy child," and saving them a nation is saved.