Epilogue: Securing the Republic
CHAPTER 18|Document 19
A Proposal for Reviving Christian Conviction11 Oct. 1787Storing 5.8.1--4
The unpromising situation of national affairs has of late, induced many well meaning people to submit to the public their sentiments, however unpolished, respecting the proper means of effecting a reform. Several have, and very justly, pointed out the want of virtue, public and private, as one principal source of our distresses, and have recommended the practice thereof with the most plausible arguments. To such writers the community is certainly much indebted for their well meant endeavours. But alas! the experience of every age evinces that arguments drawn from the native charms of moral rectitude, and its necessary connection with the happiness and welfare of states, are too feeble to ensure the requisite practice of virtue when opposed to the allurements of self-interest and self-gratification.
While mankind consider the obligations to the exercise of virtue as derived from no higher source than the advantages accruing therefrom to society, it is no difficult matter for every individual to satisfy himself, that, provided he can persuade others to the disinterested practice, his dispensing with it in his own case will be a thing of little moment. Hence declamations on the advantages and necessity of public and private virtue fall from the lips of every one, while their lives are stained with the most sordid and selfish practices. Though the different states into which mankind are formed, have, generally speaking, enacted laws to restrain and punish enormities, to countenance virtue and discourage vice; yet the most approved and wisest legislators in all ages, in order to give efficacy to their civil institutions, have found it necessary to call in the aid of religion; and in no form of government whatever has the influence of religious principles been found so requisite as in that of a republic. It requires but a slight degree of observation to be convinced that mankind require the awe of some power to confine them within the line of their duty. The dread of a rapacious tyrant ready to take advantage of the smallest misdemeanor (in order to fill his coffers or gratify a cruel disposition) may preserve quiet and order among the subjects, or rather slaves, of a despotic prince. Even in limited monarchies the security of the sovereign as well as the privileges of the people, depending on a strict attention to the laws, in a great measure, secures their being duly administered. But what is there to correct the injustice and irregularities of the member of a republic, even where the most salutary laws exist, while he can associate numbers in his interest; or supposing the administration of the laws in the hands of such as have a fellow-feeling, or are unwilling to risk their popularity by punctually enforcing them.
Whatever influence speculative vanity may ascribe to the indefinite principle termed honor, or political refinement, to an artful collusion of interests, sound reason as well as experience proves that a due sense of responsibility to the Deity, as the author of those moral laws, an observance of which constitutes the happiness and welfare of societies as well as individuals, is the mean most likely to give a right direction to the conduct of mankind. The man who carries his prospects forward to futurity, and considers himself a candidate for the favor of omnipotence, will be actuated, in the general tenor of his life, by motives that elevate him above the little interests and passions which disturb the peace of society, and will discharge the relative duties of his station, unawed by the fear of man, with a consistence and steadiness correspondent to the principle from which he acts.
It has been the misfortune of our infant legislature that in the multiplicity of business which has come before them, they have not had leisure to attend sufficiently to the importance of religious concerns to the welfare of the state. In consequence of this a cold indifference towards religion has crept upon the minds of the elderly; our illiterate youth have been raised in almost total ignorance thereof; and those of liberal education, forming their opinions of it from the absurd notions and practices of a few ignorant and presumptuous enthusiasts, have contracted a hearty contempt for every thing sacred.
Storing, Herbert J., ed. The Complete Anti-Federalist. 7 vols. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981.
© 1987 by The University of Chicago