« AnteriorContinuar »
desire, especially, to express the opinion, which I have been led of late to cherish daily and deeply,-that every thing in the character of our own institutions, and every thing in the immediate condition of our own country, calls for the most diligent employment of all the moral and religious agencies within our reach, and particularly for increased activity in the distribution of the Bible.
Mr. President, there is a striking coincidence of dates in the history of our country, and in the history of the Bible. You remember that it was about the year 1607, that King James the First, of blessed memory for this if for nothing else, gave it in charge to fifty or sixty of the most learned ministers of his realm, to prepare that version of the Holy Scriptures, which is now everywhere received and recognized among Protestant Christians as the Bible. This version was finally published in 1611, and it is from this event that the general diffusion of the Bible may fairly be said to date.
The Bible had, indeed, been more than once previously translated and previously printed. During the two preceding centuries, there had been Wickliff's version, and Tyndale's version, and Coverdale's version, and Cranmer's version, and the Geneva Bible, and the Douay Bible, and I know not what others; and they had all been more or less extensively circulated and read, in manuscript or in print, in churches and in families, sometimes under the sanction, and sometimes in defiance of the civil and spiritual authorities.
I doubt not that many of my hearers will remember the vivid picture which Dr. Franklin has given us, in his autobiography, of the manner in which the Bible was read during a portion of this period. Some of his progenitors, it seems, in the days of bloody Mary, were the fortunate possessors of an English Bible, and to conceal it the more securely, they were driven, he tells us "to the project of fastening it open with pack threads across the leaves, on the inside of the lid of the close-stool."
"When my great-grandfather (he proceeds) wished to read the Bible to his family, he reversed the lid of the stool upon his knees, and passed the leaves from one side to the other, which were held down on each by the pack thread. One of the child
ren was stationed at the door to give notice if he saw the proctor (an officer of the spiritual court) make his appearance; in that case, the lid was restored to its place, with the Bible concealed under it as before."
It is plain, that however precious the Bible must have been to those who possessed it in those days, and however strong the influence which it may have exerted over individual minds, it had little chance to manifest its power over the masses, under circumstances like these. Indeed, the whole number of printed Bibles in existence in Great Britain, up to the commencement of the seventeenth century, is estimated at only about one hundred and seventeen thousand; a little more than one fifth the number distributed by the American Bible Society, and only a little more than one tenth the number distributed by the British and Foreign Bible Society, during the single year last past.
It is, thus, only from the publication of the authorized and standard version of King James, that the general diffusion of the Holy Scriptures can be said to have commenced. It was then that the printed word of God "first began to have free course and to be glorified." And that, you remember, Mr. President, was the very date of the earliest settlement of these North American Colonies. It was just then, that the Cavaliers were found planting themselves at Jamestown in Virginia; and it was just then, that the Pilgrims, with the Bible in their hands, were seen flying over to Leyden, on their way to our own Plymouth Rock.
And now, Sir, it is not more true, in my judgment, that the first settlement of our country was precisely coincident in point of time, with the preparation and publication of this standard version of the Bible, than it is that our free institutions have owed their successful rise and progress thus far, and are destined to owe their continued security and improvement in time to come, to the influences which that preparation and publication could alone have produced.
The voice of experience and the voice of our own reason speak but one language on this point. Both unite in teaching us, that men may as well build their houses upon the sand and expect. to see them stand, when the rains fall, and the winds blow, and the floods come, as to found free institutions upon any other
basis than that morality and virtue, of which the Word of God is the only authoritative rule, and the only adequate sanction.
All societies of men must be governed in some way or other. The less they may have of stringent State Government, the more they must have of individual self-government. The less they rely on public law or physical force, the more they must rely on private moral restraint. Men, in a word, must necessarily be controlled, either by a power within them, or by a power without them; either by the word of God, or by the strong arm of man; either by the Bible, or by the bayonet. It may do for other countries and other governments to talk about the State supporting religion. Here, under our own free institutions, it is Religion which must support the State.
And never more loudly than at this moment have these institutions of ours called for such support. The immense increase of our territorial possessions, with the wild and reckless spirit of adventure which they have brought with them; the recent discovery of the gold mines of California, with the mania for sudden acquisition, for "making haste to be rich," which it has everywhere excited; the vast annual accession to our shores of nearly half a million of foreigners, so many of whom are without any other notion of liberty, at the outset, than as the absence of all restraint upon their appetites and passions; - who does not perceive in all these circumstances that our country is threatened, more seriously than it ever has been before, with that moral deterioration, which has been the unfailing precursor of political downfall? And who is so bold a believer in any system of human checks and balances as to imagine, that dangers like these can be effectively counteracted or averted in any other way, than by bringing the mighty moral and religious influences of the Bible to bear in our defence.
As patriots, then, no less than as Christians, Mr. President, I feel that we are called upon to unite in the good work of this Association. And let us rejoice that it is a work in which we can all join hands without hesitation or misgiving. There is no room here, I thank heaven, for differences of parties or of sects. There is no room here for controversies about systems or details. Your machinery is of all others the most simple. Your results
are of all others the most certain. In a period of little more. than forty years, by the agency of associations like this, more than thirty-five millions of Bibles and Testaments have been distributed throughout the world, and more than six millions of them within the limits of our own land. Let us persevere in this noble enterprise. And let each one of us resolve to secure for himself, against the hour which sooner or later must come to us all, that consolation which I doubt not is at this moment cheering the decline of your late venerable President, (Dr. Pierce,) the consolation of reflecting, that it has not been for the want of any proportionate contributions or proportionate efforts on our part, if every human being has not had a Bible to live by, and a Bible to die by.
I move the adoption of the Report.
DESTRUCTION OF THE URSULINE CONVENT.
A SPEECH DELIVERED IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES OF MASSACHUSETTS, MARCH 12, 1835.
I WOULD willingly be excused, Mr. Speaker, from any participation in this debate. I am entirely aware that little personal satisfaction, and certainly no personal popularity, is to be gained by an expression of the sentiments which I entertain upon the question at issue. But having, by a position not of my own seeking, been led into some investigation of the occurrence under consideration, immediately after it took place, I feel that it would be a desertion of duty for me to remain entirely silent.
I beg the House to believe that I have not seized upon the topic as an excuse for making a speech. Materials, indeed, there are in the circumstances of the case, which well might serve such a turn. Old and hackneyed as they may seem;threadbare as they may be supposed to have become, by their continual wear and tear, for the last six or seven months, in the public papers, in private conversation, in the reports of Committees, and in the arguments of the Bar, I yet venture to say that there are not only unexhausted, but almost unnoticed, incidents in the history of this transaction, which, in the hands of one skilled and practised in touching the strings and sounding the stops of the human breast, might be made to harrow up the sternest soul, and freeze the youngest blood among us.
But I have no such skill, and have risen for no such purpose. I would, on the contrary, separate this question, as far as possi