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take to show whether, in proportion to the population, skepticism is more widely diffused than it was in our fathers' time. Yet were we to admit, what many insist upon, that unbelief prevails to a greater extent than at any former period of our history, we should still contend that the unbelievers of the present generation, unlike those of the last, even while denying the divine authority of Christianity, do in truth submit to many of its precepts and commands, and that a large portion of them neither defend nor permit laxity of morals. We claim, therefore, at the least, that infidelity now exists in a modified form, and is far less pernicious in its consequences upon American society. It was said of the younger Pitt, that he was indifferent about the forms of religion.” This remark will apply to many of his contemporaries of elevated station in both hemispheres. Something has been gained, then, as will be readily allowed, if skeptics so far defer to the opinions of believers, as to mingle with them in places consecrated to religious worship, to refrain from promulgating their views in coarse and vulgar essays, and to reserve the expression of their doubts and sneers for confidential conversations with each other. There is proof of progress in the fact, that they no longer shock public decency, and turn in shame from Paine and his foul language and conduct.
We come now to speak of the lust of conquest, and the insatiable thirst for the acquisition of territory. This is criminal, but it was the besetting sin of the stock from whom, in the pride of our hearts, we claim to be descended; the sin of the Saxons, the Danes, and the Normans, whose blood, first mingling in strife on the battle-field for the mastery of England, and then in family alliances, now flows in our veins. The Englishmen of the last eight centuries sprung from, and are the present representatives of, these three races ; and acting upon the axiom, that “ The world's power, like its wealth, can never remain one moment without a possessor,” they have anticipated the grasp of others, and, upon various self-satisfying pretences, have appropriated to themselves a large share of all the territory inhabited or inhabitable by the human family. Of these Englishmen we are the true children. Our annals, from the hour that our ancestors approached these shores in humility, weariness, and want, down to the present time, when we go forth in pride and power, are stained with the record of wrongs done to those whose
skins are redder than our own, whose lands we coveted, but did not need, and whose extirpation we decreed, and have nearly accomplished. For the first century, these annals are crowded with the accounts of quarrels among ourselves about the boundary lines of patents and grants of territories which we could not settle, and which were almost worthless. Yet no man was allowed to speak against or question the validity of parchment titles; and had Roger Williams acknowledged that the signature of a Stuart could dispossess the Indians of their native soil without their consent, he might not have been driven into banishment.
The story of our encroachments upon the lands occupied by settlers from other European nations is written in our earliest records. The Dutch were the probable discoverers, as they certainly were the first settlers, of the Connecticut valley. There is now, indeed, no cause to regret that the banks of the Connecticut were finally colonized by people of our own kindred; but we must smile at the reasons assigned for occupying them by the historian Hubbard, who says that " the places about the Bay were already in a manner taken up,” that Massachusetts was “overpressed with multitudes of new families, and that,
as like an hive of bees overstocked, there was a necessity that some should swarm out.” At the period to which Hubbard refers, be it remembered, Boston was not ten years old, and the country in the interior was almost an unbroken wilderness. The Puritans at Plymouth also had their
this “ famous river,” and they vied with the planters of Dorchester, Roxbury, Watertown, and Cambridge, who quitted their hives to swarm thither.
Soon, again, our fathers were stinted for room, and must needs send off a swarm of Roundheads to root out Gorges and his cavaliers from Maine. The territory covered by his patent was not wanted, and was an incumbrance to Massachusetts, from the time of her first jurisdiction over it until she relinquished it. Politically, however, her grasping policy was wise, since, if she had acted otherwise, it is probable that the country between the Kennebec and the St. Croix, which comprises nearly two thirds of Maine, would never have formed a part of the United States.
Let us now look at the projects for the conquest of the colonies of France in this hemisphere. William and Mary
were hardly seated on the throne, before a native of Maine presented himself at court to ask for their countenance and aid in an enterprise to extinguish French power in America. Between the settlements of the Puritans and those of the Catholics there were broad seas, and hundreds of miles of forest land which Europeans had scarcely explored; but the French were bad neighbours, they were competitors upon the fishing-grounds, and must consequently be expelled. The ambitious plan, when once conceived, was pursued with Saxon tenacity until it was accomplished, though the struggle caused the soil of Canada and Nova Scotia to be drenched with the blood of American colonists.
If our limits would permit, we might go on to speak of the encroachments of one patentee upon another in Virginia, which were among the causes of Bacon's rebellion; of the sacrifice of life in the quarrel between Pennsylvania and Connecticut for the ownership of the lands on the Susquehanna ; of the scarcely less hostile relations which existed between New York and New Hampshire, on account of the disputed possession of the country now called Vermont, which wellnigh involved the claimants in a civil war ; and of many other cases which show that the Colonies, both collectively and individually, often manifested a disposition to acquire domains which did not rightfully belong to them, and of which they were not really in want. It was said by a pious and learned chronicler, nearly two centuries ago, that there was an “impulsive cause which did secretly drive on the business” of widening our territorial limits.
That cause, we are sorry to believe, still impels us onward.
The Whigs of the Revolution were by no means exempt from the lust of dominion. Several of them were among the most noted land-speculators of their time. ress of the war, and in a manner hardly to be defended, we find them sequestering and appropriating to themselves the vast estates of their opponents.
While the issue of the contest was yet doubtful, they lost sight of its original purposes, and in their endeavours to procure the alliance of France, they proposed that she should join them in an enterprise to conquer her own former colonial possessions in America ; and the Saxon thirst for boundless sway may be seen in their calm and thoughtful proposition, to keep nearly all the soil and fishing-grounds to be acquired for their own use and
In the progBut our
aggrandizement.* The same motives led to the purchase of Louisiana without any regard to the wishes of the people who inhabited it, though they might not have objected to the transfer ; nor had this grasping disposition in our councils come to an end, when we aitempted, in 1812, to subdue and annex the Canadas, or when we bargained with Spain for the Floridas. The annexation of Texas is the first deed consummated, for which the present generation can be held entirely and exclusively responsible.
We are next to consider the oft repeated charge, that, as a nation, we are increasing in sordidness and the love of gain. It may seem an insufficient, or at any rate a melancholy, defence against such an accusation, to show, that, in this respect,
, the hearts of a former generation were not more pure or liberal than our own.
is to correct the exaggerated and gloomy views which are sometimes taken of the degenerate spirit of the present times, founded on an erroneous, because partial, estimate of the virtues of a by-gone age. History is always one-sided in respect to the merits of a generation which has but recently passed off the stage ; it seems
: an act of piety to remember their good qualities and forget their faults. But it is profitable occasionally to contemplate the reverse of the picture, so as to check the querulous spirit, in reference to our own age, which is fed by the gossiping accounts of newsmongers and by the heated declamations of some worthy philanthropists. We appeal, then, to the Revolutionary era for proof that avarice and rapacity were as common then as now. The stock-jobbing, the extortion, the forestalling, the low arts and devices to amass wealth, that were practised during the war for independence, seem almost incredible. Washington mourned the want of virtue as early as 1775, and averred that he “trembled at the prospect. Soldiers were stripped of their miserable pittance, that contractors might become rich in a single campaign. Many of the sellers of merchandise monopolized articles of the first necessity, and would not part with them to their suffering countrymen, and to the wives and children of those who were absent in the field, unless at enormous profits. The traffic carried on with the royal troops was immense ; men of all descriptions finally engaged in it, and those who at the commencement of the struggle would have shuddered at the idea of any connection with the enemy pursued it with avidity. The public securities were often counterfeited, official signatures were forged, and plunder and robbery openly indulged. Appeals to the guilty from the pulpit, the press, and the halls of legislation were alike unheeded. The decline of public spirit, the rapacity of those in office, were matters of general complaint ; the plottings of disaffected persons and the malevolence of faction became widely spread, and, in parts of the country, were uncontrollable. The useful occupations of life and the legitimate pursuits of commerce were abandoned by thousands. The basest of men enriched themselves, and many of the most estimable sunk into obscurity and indigence. There were those who would neither
* The envoys to the French court were instructed to propose, that in case of success, France should possess one half of Newfoundland, while we should retain the other moiety of that island, the whole of Cape Breton, and the whole of Nova Scotia, which then included the present colony of New Brunswick.
their debts nor their taxes. The finances of the state and the fortunes of individuals were, to an alarming extent, at the mercy of gamblers and speculators.
The indignation of Washington was freely expressed. “It gives me very sincere pleasure," he said, in a letter to his friend Reed, “ to find that the Assembly [of Pennsylvania) is so well disposed to second your endeavours in bringing those murderers of our cause, the monopolizers, forestallers, and engrossers, to condign punishment. It is much to be lamented, that each State long ere this has not hunted them down as pests to society, and the greatest enemies we have to the happiness of America. No punishment, in my opinion, is too great for the man who can build his greatness upon his country's ruin.”
In writing to another friend, he drew this picture, which he solemnly declared to be a true one. 66 From what I have seen, heard, and in part know,” said he, “ I should in one word say, that idleness, dissipation, and extravagance seem to have laid fast hold of most ; that speculation, peculation, and an insatiable thirst for riches seem to have got the better of every other consideration, and almost every order of men ; and that party disputes and personal quarrels are the great business of the day.” In other letters he laments the laxity of the public morals, the " distressed, ruinous, and deplorable condition of affairs,” the “ many melancholy proofs of
s the decay of private virtue,” and asks if “ the paltry consider