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AN INCREASED CIRCULATION
A SPEECH MADE AT THE ANNIVERSARY MEETING OF THE AMERICAN TRACT
SOCIETY, BOSTON, MAY 31, 1854.
I am quite sensible, Mr. President, that there are many others before me and around me at this moment, far better entitled to be heard, and far better able to speak, than myself, upon such an anniversary as this, and upon such a subject as the Resolution which has just been placed in my hand. I am not here, however, as a volunteer, but only in deference to the repeated solicitations of your Committee of Arrangements, who have found some difficulty, as they have informed me, in finding a layman to take part in these proceedings. I claim the benefit of this consideration, sir, in the very few remarks which I shall venture to offer. I claim, as I shall need, a full measure of that indulgence, which is always accorded to one who has been pressed into the service,
- I will not say unwillingly, — but certainly without any prompting of his own.
Let me not, however, be understood to imply, Mr. President, that any apology is needed for the appearance of a layman, or even for my own individual appearance, on this occasion. Heaven forbid that the day should ever come, when New-England laymen shall consider the moral and religious interests of their country as any thing alien to their own affairs, or any thing outside the appropriate sphere of their own duties.
I have great confidence, sir, in the American clergy. A purer or an abler body of men does not exist in any profession or in any region the world over. Their voice should always be respectfully heard, and attentively listened to, upon every question on which it may be uttered ; and that man assumes a fearful responsibilty who sets himself at work to break down or impair their rightful influence over the public mind. They are the legitimate leaders, moreover, in such an institution as this, and I gladly range myself beneath their banner, and follow their lead, in the cause which we are assembled this evening to consider.
But I cannot admit that the clergy have any exclusive concern or any exclusive obligation in reference to this cause. I hold that every citizen of the Union has an interest in the enterprise in which this Society is engaged, and an interest which he ought to feel it a privilege and a pride to recognize and to assert.
Sir, I wish it were in my power, by any language within my command, to give adequate utterance to the impressions which I have conceived as to the importance of the precise operations of this institution to the prosperity and welfare of our country. I do not forget that religion is not primarily an affair of country or of masses. It is an individual matter, a personal matter, which must be brought home, sooner or later, to the individual heart, and mind, and conscience of each one of us. It is a matter primarily and principally pertaining to the salvation of souls in another world, and not to the advancement of material prosperity or political security in this world; and souls, I am aware, are not to be saved by any aggregate or by any average merits. But there is a secondary value to religious and moral culture, in its influence upon the welfare of society, and upon the stability of States, which ought not to be, and cannot be, overlooked by any reflecting patriot. And it is of this influence that laymen may not only be permitted to speak, but ought not to be pardoned for not speaking, plainly and earnestly.
We have indeed, sir, as the reverend gentleman who has preceded me has well said, a vast country, which is in process of being filled up and occupied by all sorts and conditions of men. Who that has ever looked at that monster map, which your worthy Secretary has exhibited on both sides the Atlantic, and which he has made the subject of so many instructive and admirable lectures, — who that has ever followed him in tracing the outlines of our territorial possessions, can fail to have been impressed with the immense and almost immeasurable extent of the field upon which the ultimate destinies of our country are to be developed ? Who has failed to feel, that, much as we may boast ourselves of the growth and grandeur of these old Atlantic cities and Atlantic States, they are but specks upon the surface, - but "small seminal principles, rather than formed bodies," --compared with those mighty commonwealths which are about to spring into existence beyond the mountains ?
Thither are seen flocking “multitudes such as the populous North poured never from her frozen loins to pass Rhene or the Danaw.” There are seen gathering men, of every nation, and kindred, and language, and tribe, under the sun, to meet and mingle, and make up one mighty people. As we behold them thronging and swarming along our land-courses and watercourses, to their common destination, and as we look forward a few years to the result, we seem almost to hear again the words of the prophet of old : “Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision.” For, sir, that great valley of the West is to be, and now is, the valley of decision for our American future. There is to be the great struggle between the powers of Light and of Darkness. There the contest is to be waged and to be decided, whether our land shall be a land of infidelity, or of Christianity; of superstition, or of pure religion ; of licentiousness, and lawlessness, and sensualism, and sin, or of morality and virtue, based, as they can alone be based, upon the truths and teachings of the Bible.
And what question is there within the whole range of human controversy which compares for a moment with this question in its importance ? How do all the strifes and contentions of parties, and of nations, sink into insignificance beside it! Look at either hemisphere, and behold the mighty matters which are rocking them to their foundation! The people of Europe are setting themselves in battle array, mustering fleets and armies such as the world never witnessed, and preparing to pour out their blood and treasure like water. For what, sir? To maintain what they call the balance of power, and to arrest what they consider the aggressive strides of a colossal empire aiming at universal dominion. And our American eyes and ears strained to the utmost to catch the first signs and sounds of
success on either side. I would not underrate the interest or importance of the issue. But what to us or what to the world, what in its ultimate influence upon human welfare, is a question as to the material, commercial, or territorial preponderance of Eastern or of Western Empires, in the other hemisphere, compared with the question, what power is to predominate, what dominion is to prevail, what moral and spiritual Empire is to be established on this wide-spread American Continent, and whether the States which are to grow up in that great valley of decision, aré, or are not, hereafter to be ranked among the Kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ” ?
Our own hemisphere, too, has at this instant its deplorable and fearful subjects of controversy and strife. But even the great issue which is again agitating our country so intensely, and which has just rendered our own city so tumultuous and full of stirs, - deeply important and exciting as it is, - how does it dwindle and shrink when contrasted with a question like this! Ah, Mr. President, if some North-western Ordinance, or some Missouri Compromise, or some Wilmot Proviso, could have been, or could now be, seasonably contrived and adopted, by which infidelity and immorality and the worse than African bondage of sin and Satan could be effectually excluded from the vast Territories of our Union, - by which those Territories might be secured for ever for the sole occupation and possession of those freemen whom the truth makes free, and as the exclusive abode of that liberty which the great Apostle had in his mind when he declared that where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty;"
- could such a measure be contrived and enforced, how little there would be left for us to vex and disquiet ourselves about in the schemes of ambitious and unprincipled politicians for their own selfish and sectional ends! For, sir, in the spread of a true Christianity, and in the prevalence of a pure Gospel light and Gospel love, we should have an ample guaranty, and the only one which we ever seem likely to obtain, that, in the fulness of God's own time, every bond shall be broken, every yoke loosed, and that all men shall be as free and equal in each other's eyes, as they are now in the eyes of their common Father.
And now, Mr. President, this, as I understand it, is the precise work in which this Society, and others of a kindred character, are doing their respective and proportionate parts. To plant a Sunday school wherever there is a population, that is the object of a noble institution whose Anniversary is to be celebrated to-morrow. To place a Bible in the hands of every one who has an eye to read or a heart to understand it, – that is the function of another and not less noble institution, whose Anniversary has been already commemorated. Your own province is a wider and more varied one. It is yours to supply that unspeakable want of our reading millions, a cheap, popular, attractive, purified, Christian literature. It is yours to filter, if I may so speak, the streams of that great fountain of bitter waters, as well as sweet, the Press, -- and then to pour them out in neverceasing fulness and freshness over the land, bidding every one that thirsteth, come and drink, without money and without price.
And nobly has your Society, in connection with the Parent Institution at New York, which has been so ably represented here this evening, - nobly has it fulfilled the work which it has undertaken, with its Pictorial Primers, its beautiful Almanacs, its exquisite Child's Paper, its charming “Songs for the Little Ones," its Monthly Messengers, and its stories and memoirs and biographies of the Christian men, and of the Christian women too, of other days; bringing the highest attractions of genius and of art to the embellishment of a class of publications which have been too long rendered repulsive by the very coarseness and meanness of their mechanical execution ; and then placing them in the hands of faithful and persevering carriers and colporteurs, who penetrate into every corner of the land, press forward on the track of the most adventurous emigration, seek out the solitary and remote, and leave no place or family or person unvisited, in their unwearied round of devoted service.
Sir, it is in this way, and in this way alone, in my humble judgment, that the moral and spiritual necessities of this vast country of ours are to be seasonably provided for and permanently supplied. It is in this way alone, in my humble judgment, that the corrupting influences of a cheap licentious literature are to be checked and counteracted. It is only from such instrumentalities and such agencies as yours that we may