Page images
[ocr errors]

political faith that ever emanated from the leading minds of any country. It has exerted as much influence in foreshadowing the spirit and character of our Constitution and public policy as the Magna Charta exercised on the Constitution of Great Britain. A devout recognition of God and of His overruling providence pervades that momentous document from beginning to end. God's holy name greets us in the opening paragraph, and is piously invoked in the last sentence of the Declaration; and thus it is at the same time the corner-stone and the keystone of this great monument to freedom.

The illustrious signers declared that "when, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands that have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect for the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes that impel them to the separation."

They acknowledge one Creator, the source of life, of liberty, and of happiness. They "appeal to the Supreme Judge of the world" for the rectitude of their intentions, and they conclude in this solemn language: "For the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor."

The inaugural address of the Father of his country, to both houses of Congress, is pervaded by

profound religious sentiments. He recognizes, with humble gratitude, the Hand of Providence in the formation of the government, and he fervently invokes the unfailing benediction of heaven on the nation and its rulers.

"It would," he says, "be peculiarly improper to omit, in this first official act, my fervent supplication to that Almighty Being, who rules over the universe, who presides in the councils of nations, and whose providential aid can supply every human defect, that his benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the people of the United States, a government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes, and may enable every instrument employed in its administration to execute with success the functions allotted to his charge. In tendering this homage to the great Author of every public and private good, I assure myself that it expresses your sentiments not less than my own: nor those of my fellow citizens at large, less than either. No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible Hand, which conducts the affairs of men, more than the people of the United States. Every step, by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation, seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency. And, in the important revolution just accomplished in the system of their united government, the tranquil deliberations and voluntary consent of so many distinct communities, from which the event has resulted, cannot be compared with the means by which most

governments have been established, without some return of pious gratitude, along with an humble anticipation of the future blessings which the past seems to presage."

Referring again, at the close of his address, to his sense of dependence on Almighty God, he used this language:


Having thus imparted to you my sentiments, as they have been awakened by the occasion which brings us together, I shall take my present leave; but not without resorting once more to the benign Parent of the human race, in humble supplication that, since He has pleased to favor the American people with opportunities for deliberating in perfect tranquillity, and dispositions for deciding with unparalleled unanimity on a form of goverment for the security of their union, and the advancement of their happiness; so His divine blessing may be equally conspicuous in the enlarged views, the temperate consultations, and the wise measures on which the success of this government must depend."

His devout trust in God is affirmed with equal emphasis in his farewell address:

"Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and cherish them. A volume could not trace

all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”

I may add that Washington's successors, in deference to public sentiment, and also, no doubt, in obedience to their own religious convictions, have followed his example, by imploring the Divine protection in their inaugural addresses.

The laws of the United States are so intimately interwoven with the Christian religion that they cannot be adequately expounded without the light of Revelation. The common law of this country is derived from the common law of Great Britain. "The common law," says Kent, "is the common jurisprudence of the people of the United States, and was brought with them as colonists from England and established here, so far as it was adapted to our institutions and circumstances. It was claimed by the Congress of the United Colonies, in 1774, as a branch of those 'indubitable rights and liberties to which the Colonies are entitled.' Its principles may be compared to the influence of the liberal arts and sciences: 'Adversis perfugium ac solatium

præbent; delectant domi; non impediunt foris; pernoctant nobiscum, peregrinantur, rusticantur.' To use the wonds of Duponceau: 'We live in the midst of the common law; we inhale it at every breath, imbibe it at every pore; we meet with it when we awake and when we lie down to sleep, when we travel and when we stay at home, and it is interwoven with the idiom that we speak.' very

[ocr errors]

Now, it is an incontrovertible fact that the common law of England is, to a great extent, founded on the principles of Christian ethics; the maxims of the Holy Scripture form the great criterion of right and wrong in the civil courts. Hence blasphemy and perjury are punished as crimes against the commonwealth, because they are crimes against religion. The Chancellors of England, who were "the keepers of the king's conscience," have ever been, for succeeding generations, professing Christians, and, until the Reformation, they were even churchmen.

"The best features of the common law," says an American jurisconsult, "if not derived from, have at least been improved and strengthened by, the prevailing religion and the teachings of the Sacred Book, especially those that regard the family and social relations." The Church left the impress of the Divine Law so indelibly on the common law that Sir M. Hale was moved to assert that Christianity was a part of the laws of England, and that to reproach the Christian religion "was to speak in

1 Commentaries, p. 336 et seq.

« EelmineJätka »