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At the annual meeting of the AMERICAN UNITARIAN AssociaTION, May 25, 1830, Hon. STEPHEN C. PHILLIPS, of Salem, offered the following resolution.
Resolved, That earnest and persevering efforts through the medium of the pulpit and the press, to disseminate rational, praetical and liberal views of Christianity, are the most suitable means to arrest the progress of infidelity, and to confirm the influence of religion in honest and candid minds.
The substance of the remarks with which he supported this resolution having been by request of the Executive Committee reduced to writing, they were so impressed with the importance of the views presented, that they solicited Mr Phillips to permit their publication in a distinct form. They are here printed with considerable enlargement from the state in which they were offered to the meeting, and with the omission of some introductory matter.
PRINTED BY I. R. BUTTS....BOSTON.
It may be shown that there exist evils and dangers in the midst of us, to which we are constantly exposed, and to which we are too apt to yield; which, although not specifically described and publicly condemned, threaten to exert a more baneful influence upon the character of the community, than what are considered to be the great and 'crying' sins and miseries that engross the laudable efforts of philanthropic individuals and societies, and are even deemed to require the interposition of the municipal authorities. I refer to evils and dangers which result from the increase of practical infidelity, from the prostration of moral principle, from the proneness to equivocation in ordinary dealings, from the breaches of good faith which public opinion no longer discountenances and even tolerates, from the unconcern and indifference with which social obligations of every sort, so long as they do not affect personal security, are evaded, nay, openly violated, and, in instances as yet rare, unblushingly sneered at! I refer to evils and dangers which defy the penalties of law, and which, infusing poison into all the channels of social intercourse, will speedily corrupt the fountains of legislation! I refer to evils and dangers, which, abhorring the restraints of virtue and religion, persuade or compel men to adopt false and pernicious sentiments in regard to the former, and leave them no alternative but to renounce the latter! I refer to evils and dangers, which are the more alarming as they have commenced with the higher classes of society, and must be thence transmitted, by the force of example, through the whole mass of the population! I refer to evils and dangers, which are fraught with incurable mischiefs to the young; as their tendency is to pervert the impulses of nature, to wither the sensibility of conscience, to represent cunning as the highest proof of practical talent, and bold and daring, but concealed fraud, as the legitimate title of worldly distinction! Confining myself to this topic, the importance of which has not been exaggerated, I wish to speak of these evils and dangers with reference to their origin, their progress, and the most effectual remedies, which, in my judgmení, are to be applied to them.
We are placed in a commercial community, whose history, strictly as such, is distinguished by striking incidents. From the necessities of their situation, foreign trade was the early resort of the first settlers upon the western shore of the Atlantic. They brought with them habits of industry, and a spirit of enterprise, identified with their character, was conspicuous in all their pursuits. Profiting by their example, their successors, at several distinct periods, were also enabled to take advantage of circumstances involved in the political relations of this country to the rest of the world, which furnished extraordinary facilities to commerce, and thus had the effect to scatter affluence with a lavish prodigality, if not with an impartial hand. Fortunately for them and for us, the temptations and trials of sudden prosperity
were brought upon a generation not before tainted by the corruptions of luxury ; but, still more fortunately for them and for us, knowledge, and virtue and religious principle were the stability of their times. In their own scriptural language, the school and the church were their watch-tower of defence, and their ark of safety; and under the influence of popular sentiment, thus doubly guarded by divine and human power, the morals of the community escaped contamination, wealth was converted into an instrument of benefaction, avarice shunned the public view, and even fashion submitted to salutary restraint. It is our lot to live in a different age, under different circumstances, in the enjoyment of unprecedented advantages, but exposed also to extraordinary dangers. Our advantages consist in the greater diffusion of knowledge and of wealth. Our dangers result from the more general prevalence of vice and irreligion, to be attributed, perhaps, in part, to the admixture of a foreign population, but, mainly, to the gradual ascendency of loose habits, fashions, and principles, and (as I shall proceed to shew,) to the revulsions of commercial enterprise, heedless of the vicissitudes through which it has passed. The world, long groaning under the burthens of war, presents the spectacle of universal peace. Other nations, devoting their energies to the arts of peace, have combined their exertions to destroy the commercial monopoly, which the accidental situation of this country for a time enabled it to possess. By the extinction of this monopoly, the scene of our commercial operations is changed; and instead of easy and certain gains, that were supposed to justify a spirit of bold adventure, we must now be VOL. III.--NO. XXXVII.