Amendment I (Religion)
[Volume 5, Page 66]
John Adams, Novanglus, no. 413 Feb. 1775Papers 2:265--67
It is true that the people of this country in general, and of this province in special, have an hereditary apprehension of and aversion to lordships temporal and spiritual. Their ancestors fled to this wilderness to avoid them--they suffer'd sufficiently under them in England. And there are few of the present generation who have not been warned of the danger of them by their fathers or grandfathers, and injoined to oppose them. And neither Bernard nor Oliver ever dared to avow before them, the designs which they had certainly formed to introduce them. Nor does Massachusettensis dare to avow his opinion in their favour. I don't mean that such avowal would expose their persons to danger, but their characters and writings to universal contempt.
When you were told that the people of England were depraved, the parliament venal, and the ministry corrupt, were you not told most melancholly truths? Will Massachusettensis deny any of them? Does not every man who comes from England, whig or tory, tell you the same thing? Do they make any secret of it, or use any delicacy about it? Do they not most of them avow that corruption is so established there, as to be incurable, and a necessary instrument of government? Is not the British constitution arrived nearly to that point, where the Roman republic was when Jugurtha left it, and pronounc'd it a venal city ripe for destruction, if it can only find a purchaser? If Massachusettensis can prove that it is not, he will remove from my mind, one of the heaviest loads which lies upon it.
Who has censured the tories for remissness, I know not. Whoever it was, he did them great injustice. Every one that I know of that character, has been thro' the whole tempestuous period, as indefatigable as human nature will admit, going about seeking whom he might devour, making use of art, flattery, terror, temptation and alurement, in every shape in which human wit could dress it up, in public and private. But all to no purpose. The people have grown more and more weary of them every day, untill now the land mourns under them.
Massachusettensis is then seized with a violent fit of anger at the clergy. It is curious to observe the conduct of the Tories towards this sacred body. If a clergyman preaches against the principles of the revolution, and tells the people that upon pain of damnation they must submit to an established government of whatever character, the Tories cry him up as an excellent man, and a wonderful preacher, invite him to their tables, procure him missions from the society, and chaplainships to the navy, and flatter him with the hopes of lawn sleeves. But if a clergyman preaches Christianity, and tells the magistrates that they were not distinguished from their brethren for their private emolument, but for the good of the people, that the people are bound in conscience to obey a good government, but are not bound to submit to one that aims at destroying all the ends of government--Oh Sedition! Treason!
The clergy in all ages and countries, and in this in particular, are disposed enough to be on the side of government, as long as it is tolerable: If they have not been generally in the late administrations on that side, it is demonstration that the late administration has been universally odious.
The clergy of this province are a virtuous, sensible and learned set of men, and they don't take their sermons from news-papers but the bible, unless it be a few who preach passive obedience. These are not generally curious enough to read Hobbs.
It is the duty of the clergy to accommodate their discourses to the times, to preach against such sins as are most prevalent, and recommend such virtues as are most wanted. For example, if exorbitant ambition, and venality are predominant, ought they not to warn their hearers against these vices? If public spirit is much wanted, should they not inculcate this great virtue? If the rights and duties of christian magistrates and subjects are disputed, should they not explain them, shew their nature, ends, limitations and restrictions, how much soever it may move the gall of Massachusettensis?
Let me put a supposition. Justice is a great christian as well as moral duty and virtue, which the clergy ought to inculcate and explain. Suppose a great man of a parish should for seven years together receive 600 sterling a year, for discharging the duties of an important office; but during the whole time, should never do one act or take one step about it. Would not this be great injustice to the public? And ought not the parson of the parish to cry aloud and spare not, and shew such a bold transgressor his sin? Shew that justice was due to the public as well as to an individual, and that cheating the public of four thousand two hundred pounds sterling, is at least as great a sin as taking a chicken from a private hen roost, or perhaps a watch from a fob!
Then we are told that news-papers and preachers have excited outrages disgraceful to humanity. Upon this subject I will venture to say, that there have been outrages in this province which I neither justify, excuse or extenuate; but these were not excited, that I know of, by news-papers or sermons. That however, if we run through the last ten years, and consider all the tumults and outrages that have happened, and at the same time recollect the insults, provocations, and oppressions which this people have endured; we shall find the two characteristicks of this people, religion and humanity, strongly marked on all their proceedings, not a life, nor that I have ever heard, a single limb has been lost thro' the whole. I will take upon me to say, there is not another province on this continent, nor in his majesty's dominions, where the people, under the same indignities, would not have gone greater lengths. Consider the tumults in the three kingdoms, consider the tumults in ancient Rome, in the most virtuous of her periods, and compare them with ours. It is a saying of Machiavel, which [Volume 5, Page 67] no wise man ever contradicted, which has been literally verified in this province that "while the mass of the people is not corrupted, tumults do no hurt." By which he means, that they leave no lasting ill effects behind.
Papers of John Adams. Edited by Robert J. Taylor et al. Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1977--.