Page images

an inert principle; but as the great valley fills with rational life, up to the sides of the Rocky Mountains, and even to the shores of the Pacific, we must believe that it will act with more or less efficiency on the mighty mass. Thus, as a people daily extending orer unknown regions of territory, we shall do good to ourselves, with this powerful instrument of good, as well as be prepared to exert a beneficial influence on other communities,—not only diffusing information where ignorance now prevails, but aiding all those objects of benevolence, which a people universally educated, will, better than others, know how both to appreciate and aid. In fact, we have already begun the work abroad, and as an instance, it may be mentioned, that associations of individuals among us, are causing the American system of education to be transplanted to the soil of Greece; thus designing to repay a country, in later ages sunk in ignorance by means of long continued oppression, for the light, which, in former times, beamed from her shores, and illuminated the cisilized world. Nor is it too inconsiderable here to note, that our several missionary stations on heathen ground, are becoming so many radiating points, as to that description of knowledge, which the unevangelized need, no less really than they do, the more specific results of missionary labor.

It has been above remarked, that we boast not the most splendid individual instances of intellectual power. That may not, however, be long our eulogium or reproach; for it may be considered one or the other, just as intelligence diffused through the community, or accumulated in a few, is the more desirable. A concentration of talent in a gifted number may not be avoided, even should it not be sought or intended, in our institutions; since our writers, urged on by rewards, from whatever source these may proceed, will be apt to feel as the same class of men in other ages and countries have felt, and to make correspondent efforts. Perhaps we need never be reduced to the alternative implied in the remark just offered; and if, in our case, the advantages of both conditions of mind may be combined, (and it is not known why they may not be, except that the relative difference between great scholarship in isolated instances, and an intelligent community, would be somewhat affected, we may look forward to an Augustan era,—to a sort of oligarchal reign of talent, as a consummation in the intellectual character of this country. But, however this may be, writers are springing up, and have already appeared among us, who must be known. Their useful productions noticed and circulated abroad, as well as at home, will tell on the destinies of an immense mass of human beings. Whether those productions be adapted to the young, and to the purposes of education, as the greater part are, or designed for riper minds; whether they appear in sizable volumes or in winged tracts, they are taking their enviable rank in the literature of the country and of the age. And, perhaps, will be found, also, even should the higher specimens of genius wanting, that no class of writers can better teach the world, th American writers ;-assuming, as they must from their circu stances, a popular cast, diffusing through their works the spi peculiar to their country, and inculcating those truths which a the ground-work of its temporal and religious prosperity.

4. The essential wealth of this nation, constitutes a means moral influence which ought to be seriously regarded. It give us the power of taking a decided lead in all the important o jects and enterprises of christian benevolence. These, in th present state of civil society, are necessarily carried on to an considerable extent, only through the medium of money, or products of labor convertible into that article. The freedom of the country from oppressive debts, confers on it advantages in respec to charitable donations, over some other countries nominally it superiors in wealth. Weighed down by enormous pecuniary obligations, several of the richest nations of the old world, are materially crippled in their power of doing good, where they may possess the disposition. The resources of the richest nation on the globe, nominally so at least, as also hitherto the most liberal, Great Britain, seem to be tasked to their greatest possible extent; and though she will probably continue to do much in the way of christian charity, a greater promise exists eventually in the enlarging capacities of the United States. Our territory is immense in extent, in general is exceedingly fertile, and possesses innumerable facilities for mutual intercourse, and for improvement in all the arts of life. No one will attempt to bound its capabilities of production, in a rapidly augmenting population, fitted, perhaps, above every other people, to acquire competence and wealth. Among most nations, also, property is very unequally divided, and the power, therefore, of doing good in this form, resides chiefly in a few; but these pampered individuals are not, in general, the most disposed to liberality. As yet, the largest collective amount of religious charities has been received from the middle and lower classes. In this country, property is much more equally dispersed through the community, and scarcely any are found so stinted, in regard to the bounties of Providence, as to be unable to do good by such an instrumentality. As the great sums, (this is said comparatively,) given in charity, are the aggregate of benefactions, what might they not be, if all should give who are able! The abundance which is so generally enjoyed among us, forms a wonderful contrast to the poverty which the great mass of the people in most other countries exhibit. It would be a sort of mockery to bring the convenient habitations, the ample lands, the decent clothing, and the well supplied tables of the common peo

many individual

only eight pence.

pie in this country, into comparison with the mud buts, the one or two acre patches, the tattered garments, and the scanty food, of the peasantry of Europe. Who that considers the difference between us and so many millions of mankind, in this particular, but must feel the spontaneous risings of gratitude to God in his heart ! As appropriate to the emotions which we ought to indulge, in view Å the divine goodness to our land, and as illustrating our consequent responsibilities, as compared with those of some others, we will briefly give the statistics of poverty in one or two instances, among a portion of the population of the old world. We state upon authority, that the average rate of country wages for men in Ireland, in the whole sland, is but ten pence (sterling) a day; in some districts it is

“ And when the days, nay weeks and months, in which great numbers of laborers cannot obtain employment, are deducted, what a wretched remuneration is even the larger named sum! When the employment is constant, this remuneration is insuficient.” In such a condition of things, no wonder that in one

Fear twenty thousand persons have perished of famine. From a table before us, it appears that of the inhabitants of France, seven ! and a half millions are compelled to provide for all the necessaries of

life for less than seven cents and a half a day each; seven and a half millions more, for less than six cents; and seven and a half millions more, for less than five cents. These three portions constitute more than two thirds of the whole population. Judying from these specimens, in what a different condition must vast portions of the European community be, from that of the great body of the people in our own privileged land! Said a foreigner to us, as he surFered the commodious dwellings, and the extensive farms in a country town in New-England, “ If such a people cannot be happy, what people can be ?"

When these things are considered, what conclusion can be drawn, but that the citizens of this nation should do good with their superabundance? With their essential wealth as a community, they may, and they ought to, do much good. Besides all that can be accomplished for their own land, in filling it with institutions designed to promote the knowledge, holiness, and happiness of the nation, a helping hand might be effectually extended to the destitute of other cornmunities, especially to the heathen. Not a little has been achieved in these benevolent undertakings; still it cannot but be felt bow much more might be effected, with how much greater rapidity bibles and other means of religious instruction might be multiplied

. Our expanded domain could be made to supply the Lord's treasury, with contributions richer than all the offerings which piety erer presented to it before; and we thus should be instruments, under God, of conserring more happiness on mankind, than has fallen to the lot of any other nation. In truth, ou charities, enlarged as they might be, and dispensed wisely, would produce an influen wide as the globe, and salutary as wide.

5. The spirit of enterprise and activity, by which the peop of the United States are distinguished, is highly favorable the object in view. It is an element of power which may be turne to the best account. Let it but fall, as it might, into the course benevolence, and it will be characterized by a peculiar efficiency Nothing could resist its influence in this shape, because it woul wield every

other means of influence. At its bidding, th institutions of religion would be speedily sent into all the world with the favoring providence of God. It has doubtless gratified the friends of piety every where, to observe, that the enterprising and active spirit of the people of this country, embraces not merely secular interests, but in a degree, the various forms of benevolent and religious operations. Not only where property is to be obtained are Americans found, and where danger exists in the pursuit are they foremost in the race: but if seminaries of learning or religion are to be endowed ; if the gospel is to be planted in destitute settlements; if bibles and tracts are to be put into every family; if sabbath schools are to rise up every where in the west and south; if the ship is to be freighted with the ransomed slave, on his return to the land of his fathers; or if the ravages of intemperance are to be stayed, there is the same, we will not say an equal, turn for the active and the efficient. Every thing, indeed, is calculated on such a plan. Whatever is undertaken must be fully accomplished. This is more or less the character of the people in public works and undertakings of whatever kind. The history of the United States from the beginning, is a history of the effects of persevering enterprise. This spirit is no less prevalent now than formerly, and in respect to moral adventure, has, perhaps, taken a more decided turn of late. While canals and rail-roads are opening the means of intercourse in every part of the land, the moral highways and thoroughfares are repairing, or projected anew, over the length and breadth of our domain. And what we do of this sort, we effect chiefly through influence,

and the force of public sentiment, commencing, perhaps, with the assent of the few, but ending with that of the many. Where the makers of our laws, through fear of over legislation, or through jealousy of liberty, leave many things untouched, there is so much the more room for a common impulse, and so much the more need of it also. This fact is perfectly understood by us as a people, in our various projects and enterprises, whether of a secular or a religious nature. We do not so much seek to enforce by statute what ought to be done, as to draw out by influence all that can be done; we do not lay down a rule to which all must conform, but we inspire a feeling which renders the rule unnecessary. This is at once the source

[ocr errors]

d' our spirit of enterprise and activity, and the measure,—the exhibition of it. It is such a spirit, as, if wisely managed, and carried o its proper extent, would do much to conquer the world,-conquer it to truth and happiness. So far as it operates, it has always been found to be auspicious to the interests which are sought to be promoted.

In some of the benevolent operations of the day, the people of this country have followed in the train of Great Britain ; in others, they bave presented the example to her and to the nations. The laiter is more particularly the case, in regard to the wonderful temperance reformation,-a reformation which shows, perhaps, more than any one thing else, what is peculiar in the American genius and temper ;-a reformation, incomplete indeed, but such as has outdone and astonished the old world. It is a cheering exhibition of what can be achieved in this land, by a moral influence. This is so much the case, that probably considerable changes, in other respects, must take place in most nations, before the temperance cause can be so far advanced among them. Hence the fact is explained, bow an English church dignitary, who seemed to desire that this reformation might make progress in England, was yet unwilling to sign a temperance pledge, because he feared it would be an impeachment of his understanding, if he were thought to entertain the belief, that a London rabble would be at all prevented from drinking, by such an influence. And yet it is an influence of this kind, that has effected so great a change in this country. Names have done it, or rather the truth, to which names have added a sanction. Considering the babits and notions on the subject of drinking, a few years ago, in every town and village, who could bare conjectured, that accounts would be published almost every week, as they now are, in which the fact is declared, that whole communities are abandoning the use and sale of ardent spirits ? We will select the following specimens, out of many, (though these are the most striking that occur to our recollection, showing what has been done in two towns, in a single county of Connecticut. “The people of this town," say the executive committee of the Temperance Society of North-Stonington, “are but beginning to see and feel the benefits resulting from the abandonment of alcohol. The saving already realized, amounts to from six thousand to eight thousand dollars annually. If the experiment can be persisted in for two years, all men will be so convinced of the wisdom of the measure, as to be in no danger of returning to the habitual use of intoxicating drink. Not more than two or three individuals of this town are diminishing their estates, and these few are tipplers. Law suits are done away; there are no cases of assault and battery ; no thefts; no paupers in the forming stage ; in a word, all is prosperity, happiness and peace. The golden age of poetry has but Vol. VI.

« PreviousContinue »