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means of knowing whether it were taken by one who was capable of feeling its force, or by one to whom it was mere mummery and jargon ? And how but by this very inquiry can such knowledge be ascertained ? I repeat the proposition, then, that while oaths continue to be administered, it is essential to the ends of justice, as well as a religious duty of society, to maintain the right of making this inquiry. If the second section of this bill be adopted, it is not difficult to foresee that oaths will be in a considerable degree discontinued in our courts, but if the first section prevail they ought forthwith to be entirely abolished.
And here, Mr. Speaker, we are brought to the question, whether we are willing, either in whole or in part, to give up oaths as the instruments of investigation in our courts of justice? Are we ready to substitute, as the sanctions of testimony on which not only the properties, but the liberties and lives of men may depend, the uncertain and merely momentary penalties of man, for the sure and fearful looking-for of Divine judgment? I appeal to those who haply may be something more than witnesses in our courts, — to those who, by some turn of fortune, by some sudden heat of passion in their own breasts, or of prejudice or persecution in the breasts of others, may, as any one of us may, stand one day or other at the bar of their country, with the awful issue to be determined whether they shall stand next at the bar of their God. Are they quite willing to take men as they come, under the influence of such motives as happen to be uppermost in their minds, and to unseal those lips upon which the name of the God of Truth never rested but in derision or as a curse? For myself, Sir, I must bow to the decision of the majority, but I protest while I can, against one hair of my head being harmed, against one day of my life being cut off or doomed to darkness, upon the mock oath or even the conscientious affirmation of an atheist.
I must be pardoned, Sir, if I put no faith in him who puts no faith in his God, - if I refuse to risk all that is valuable to me here, upon the word of one who knows nothing valuable hereafter. It may be called bigotry or intolerance, or what you please. When I regard infidelity as a state of mind wholly independent of the
will, I may feel differently disposed. Now it seems to me to be wilful and wanton. There is nothing more beautiful in the system of Providence, nothing more worthy of the devout gratitude of man, than that God has so adapted the Gospel of his Son, and the knowledge of Himself, to the nature and the necessities of the human heart. It is against man's reason, it is against his instincts to deny or disbelieve them. And it seems as if such disbelief or denial could result, at some stage or other of its existence, from nothing but a perverse shutting of the eyes and the ears to those streams of light and those sounds of truth, which come up alike from every pore of nature and from every page of revelation. Or perhaps, Sir,
Or perhaps, Sir, I may be more charitable in this respect, when I consider the belief in a Supreme Being as having no efficacy to promote purity of life or truth of language, — when I regard atheism as having no concern with a man's character for truth and veracity. Now I consider it as the very test and criterion of that character, or rather as that character itself.
I speak generally, Sir, and not without remembering that there are exceptions to all rules. And I was particularly struck with the paragraph from Washington's Farewell Address, which my friend from Newbury read to us the other day, as containing a clear and true statement of both the rule and the exceptions. After asking, as he emphatically does, “ 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 ?” he proceeds, “ 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.” As if he had said, whatever may be the influence of refined education on the Humes, the Gibbons, the Jeffersons, (if, indeed, Jefferson is to be so classed, as I am by no means ready to admit,) — whatever may be the influence of refined education upon minds of this peculiar structure, the morality of men in general can only result from religious principle, preceded, of course, by religious belief.
But the gentleman from Gloucester has put to the House a puzzling interrogatory relative to the opinion that belief and disbelief are not altogether independent of the will, and has called upon us, if this be so, to will ourselves into a belief that he is five-and-seventy feet high! Well, Sir, I call upon him, in return, to be good enough to reason himself into such a belief, or to get at it in any way independent of the will. None but a madman certainly could ever entertain the idea. There is one step, however, which any man might take towards it; might will to say that he believed so. And if such a belief is to be considered analogous to a disbelief in deity, it only proves that disbelief ought rather to be called denial, and that there is really no such being as a sane, and yet sincere and conscientious infidel.
But let us quit these abstractions and come back to the real questionbefore us.
We are told, Mr. Speaker, and the gentleman from Gloucester has entered into an elaborate argument to prove, that the existing rule of law is unconstitutional. A rule of law, Sir, which was in existence ages before the Constitution was adopted,which has been in existence during the whole fisty years since it was adopted, — and which must have been, all along, well known and understood by the Convention who framed, and by the People who ratified that Constitution, — has at length in this day, and almost in this very hour, been discovered to be wholly at war with the true spirit and just construction of that sacred instrument! Parsons, Lowell, Sewall, Cushing, who afterwards so ably presided, Adams, Strong, Sullivan, Lincoln, who both before and afterwards so largely practised, in our highest courts, and to whom the rules of evidence were as familiar as household words, they all failed to comprehend, or forgot to vindicate, the principles of that Bill of Rights, which they had themselves so carefully framed! Mr. Speaker, the argument will not even bear to be stated; it perishes in the very utterance. Sir, there were brave men before Agamemnon. There were wise men before Solomon. And it is not too much to say, that there were men who could construe our Constitution and comprehend our liberties, before even the gentleman from Gloucester or myself. Yes, Sir, to use the language of Edmund Burke, true ideas of liberty “were understood long before we were born, altogether as well as they will be after the grave has heaped its mould upon our presumption, and the silent tomb shall have imposed its law on our pert loquacity.”
But, waiving an answer which to my mind is so conclusive, the gentleman has himself furnished us with a weapon which is equally fatal to his constitutional argument. He has reminded us of that, indeed, which we all probably remembered for ourselves, that up to the year 1820 there existed a provision in our Constitution, that no man should enter these Halls of Legislation without making a previous declaration of his belief in the Christian Religion ;-a provision which, for one, I heartily regret was ever struck out from that instrument. Well, now, Sir, the first and second articles of the Bill of Rights, upon which his argument has been mainly based, are entirely unchanged; they are precisely and literally the same as when they were first ratified by the people. These articles at their adoption, then, were entirely consistent with the religious test, as gentlemen insist upon calling it, which the Convention of 1820 abolished. No construction of them, certainly, is to be admitted, which would render them inconsistent with a provision which so long stood by their side, of equal authority and in the same instrument. And if they were consistent with this provision at their adoption, are they any the less so now? If it were proposed to re-insert this provision, would any gentleman have the face to say that it was unconstitutional, or inconsistent with the existing provisions of the Constitution ? And if that declaration might still be required without any violation of the Bill of Rights, how much more such an expression of belief as the Bill before us would forbid ?
I confess, Sir, I am at a loss to conceive how any man, who has ever read our Constitution as originally framed, or as it now exists, can listen a moment to such an argument. If any thing be clearer than another on its face, it is, that it was intended to constitute a Christian State. I deny totally the gentleman's position, that the religious expressions it contains were intended only to show forth the pious sentiments of those who framed it. They were intended to incorporate into our system the principles
of Christianity, - principles which belonged not only to those who framed, but to the whole people who adopted it. Sir, the people of that day were a Christian people; they adopted a Christian Constitution; they no more contemplated the existence of infidelity than the Athenian laws provided against the perpetration of parricide. They established a Christian Commonwealth; they wrote upon its walls, Salvation, and upon its gates, Praise; and Christianity is as clearly now its corner-stone, as if the initial letter of every page of our Statute Book, like that of some monkish manuscript, were illuminated with the figure of the Cross!
And yet, Sir, we are told that it is a mere quibble to interpret the phrase, “religious sentiments,” in the second article of the Bill of Rights, in any other way than “sentiments about religion," — its truth or its falsity; and a gross equívocation not to admit atheists to be one of those “sects or denominations," of which “no subordination of any one to another shall ever be established by law!” Why, Mr. Speaker, if these views of our Constitution be correct, how is it that yonder Chaplain is suffered, morning after morning, to lift his voice in prayer in this hall, and to invoke the blessing of the Christian's God upon us and upon our labors? How is it that, week after week, a day is set aside for the worship of that God, and its solemn observance enjoined and enforced by our laws ? How is it that profane and blasphemous words or writings concerning that God and his Gospel are punished as crimes against the State ? Nay, the very system of oaths which our Constitution itself prescribes as the passports to every office which it creates, - why are they not abolished as interfering with the “unalienable rights” of man? Gentlemen seem to think that, because the declaration of belief in the Christian Religion is not now required in order to obtain admittance within these seats, there is no longer any exclusion. But the oath still remains, and there is no provision by which any person but Quakers can be permitted to affirm. It is clear then, that all persons except Quakers, who from any cause are incapable of taking an oath, are incompetent to the offices of government. They may, indeed, chicane themselves into them. They may go through the forms of the oath, and as