Obrázky stránek
PDF
ePub

a

will say nothing here. But no political convulsions, should such arise,

-no revolution in the constitution, should such be necessary, --will have any wide effect on the social position of the people to their serious detriment. They have the great qualities of the Anglo-Saxon race,-industry, intelligence, and self-confidence; and if these qualities will no longer suffice to keep such a people on their legs, the world must be coming to an end.

I have said that it is not a common thing to meet an American who belongs to no denomination of Christian worship. This I think is so: but I would not wish to be taken as saying that religion on that account stands on a satisfactory footing in the States. Of all subjects of discussion, this is the most difficult. It is one as to which most of us feel that to some extent we must trust to our prejudices rather than our judgments. It is a matter on which we do not dare to rely implicitly on our own reasoning faculties, and therefore throw ourselves on the opinions of those whom we believe to have been better men and deeper thinkers than ourselves. For myself, I love the name of State and Church, and believe that much of our English well-being has depended on it. I have made up my mind to think that union good, and not to be turned away from that conviction. Nevertheless I am not prepared to argue the matter. One does not always carry one's proofs at one's finger-ends.

But I feel very strongly that much of that which is evil in the structure of American politics is owing to the absence of any national religion, and that something also of social evil has sprung from the same cause.

It is not that men do not say their prayers. For aught I know, they may do so as frequently and as fervently, or more frequently and more fervently, than we do; but there is a rowdiness, if I may be allowed to use such a word, in their manner of doing so which robs religion of that reverence which is, if not its essence, at any rate its chief protection. It is a part of their system that religion shall be perfectly free, and that no man shall be in any way constrained in that matter. Consequently, the question of a man's religion is regarded in a free-and-easy way. It is well, for instance, that a young lad should go somewhere on a Sunday; but a sermon is a sermon, and it does not much concern the lad's father whether his son hear the discourse of a freethinker in the music-hall, or the eloquent but lengthy outpouring of a preacher in a Methodist chapel. Everybody is bound to have a religion, but it does not much matter what it is.

The difficulty in which the first fathers of the Revolution found themselves on this question, is shown by the constitutions of the different States. There can be no doubt that the inhabitants of the New England States were, as things went, a strictly religious community. They had no idea of throwing over the worship of God, as the French had attempted to do at their Revolution. They intended that the new nation should be pre-eminently composed of a God-fearing people; but they intended also that they should be a people free in everything,--free to choose their own forms of worship. They intended that the nation should be a Protestant people; but they intended also that no man's conscience should be coerced in the matter of his own religion. It was hard to reconcile these two things, and to explain to the citizens that it behoved them to worship God, even under penalties for omission; but that it was at the same time open to them to select any form of worship that they pleased, however that form might differ from the practices of the majority. In Connecticut it is declared that it is the duty of all men to worship the Supreme Being, the Creator and Preserver of the universe, but that it is their right to render that worship in the mode most consistent with the dictates of their consciences. And then a few lines further down the article skips the great difficulty in a manner somewhat disingenuous, and declares that each and every society of Christians in the State shall have and enjoy the same and equal privileges. But it does not say whether a Jew shall be divested of those privileges, or, if he be divested, how that treatment of him is to be reconciled with the assurance that it is every man's right to worship the Supreme Being in the mode most consistent with the dictates of his own conscience.

In Rhode Island they were more honest. It is there declared that every man shall be free to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience, and to profess and by argument to maintain his opinion in matters of religion ; and that the same shall in nowise diminish, enlarge, or affect his civil capacity. Here it is simply presumed that every man will worship a God, and no allusion is made even to Christianity.

In Massachusetts they are again hardly honest. " It is the right,” says the constitution, « as well as the duty of all men in society publicly and at stated seasons to worship the Supreme Being, the great Creator and Preserver of the universe.” And then it goes on to say that every man may do so in what form he pleases; but further down it declares that “every denomination of Christians, demeaning themselves peaceably and as good subjects of the commonwealth, shall be equally under the protection of the law." But what about those who are not Christians ? In New Hampshire it is exactly the same. It is enacted that," Every individual has a natural and unalienable right to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience and reason. And that~"Every denomination of Christians, demeaning themselves quietly and as good citizens of the State, shall be equally under the protection of the law.” From all which it is, I think, manifest that the men who framed these documents, desirous above all things of cutting themselves and their people loose from every kind of trammel, still felt the necessity of enforcing religion,-of making it to a certain extent a matter of State duty. In the first constitution of North Carolina it is enjoined,—"That no person who shall deny the being of God, or the truth of the Protestant religion, shall be capable of holding any office or place of trust or profit.” But this was altered in the year 1836, and the words “ Christian religion” were substituted for “ Protestant religion.”

In New England the Congregationalists are, I think, the dominant sect. In Massachusetts, and I believe in the other New England States, a man is presumed to be a Congregationalist if he do not declare himself to be anything else; so with us the Church of England counts all who do not specially have themselves counted elsewhere. The Congregationalist, as far as I can learn, is very near to a Presbyterian. In New England I think the Unitarians would rank next in number; but a Unitarian in America is not the same as a Unitarian with us. Here, if I understand the nature of his creed, a Unitarian does not recognize the divinity of our Saviour. In America he does do so, but throws over the docrine of the Trinity. The Protestant Episcopalians muster strong in all the great cities, and I fancy that they would be regarded as taking the lead of the other religious denominations in New York. Their tendency is to high-church doctrines. I wish they had not found it necessary to alter the forms of our prayer-book in so many little matters, as to which there was no national expediency for such changes. But it was probably thought necessary that a new people should show their independence in all things. The Roman Catholics have a very strong party—as a matter of course--seeing how great has been the immigration from Ireland; but here, as in Ireland and as indeed is the case all the world over-the Roman Catholics are the hewers of wood and drawers of water. The Germans, who have latterly flocked into the States in such swarms that they have almost Germanized certain States, have of course their own churches. In every town there are places of worship for Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, Anabaptists, and every denomination of Christianity ; and the meeting-houses prepared for

these sects are not, as with us, hideous buildings contrived to inspire disgust by the enormity of their ugliness, nor are they called Salem, Ebenezer, and Sion, nor do the ministers within them look in any way like the Deputy-Shepherd. The churches belonging to those sects are often handsome. This is especially the case in New York; and the pastors are not unfrequently among the best educated and most agreeable men

whom the traveller will meet. They are for the most part well paid; and are enabled by their outward position to hold that place in the world's ranks which should always belong to a clergyman. I have not been able to obtain information from which I can state with anything like correctness what may be the average income of ministers of the Gospel in the northern States, but that it is much higher than the average income of our parish clergymen, admits, I think, of no doubt. The stipends of clergymen in the American towns are higher than those paid in the country. The opposite to this, I think as a rule, is the case with us.

I have said that religion in the States is rowdy. By that I mean to imply that it seems to me to be divested of that reverential order and strictness of rule which, according to our ideas, should be attached to matters of religion. One hardly knows where the affairs of this world end, or where those of the next bea gip. When the holy men were had in at the lecture, were they doing stage-work or church-work? On hearing sermons, one is often driven to ask oneself whether the discourse from the pulpit be in its nature political or religious. I heard an Episcopalian Protestant clergyman talk of the scoffing nations of Europe-because at that moment he was angry with England and France about Slidell and Mason. I have heard a chapter of the Bible read in Congress at the desire of a member, and very badly read. After which the chapter itself and the reading of it became the subject of a debate, partly jocose and partly acrimonious. common thing for a clergyman to change his profession and follow any other pursuit. I know two or three gentlemen who were once in that line of life, but have since gone into other trades. There is, I think, an unexpressed determination on the part of the people to abandon all reverence, and to regard religion from an altogether worldly point of view. They are willing to have religion, as they are willing to have laws; but they choose to make it for themselves. They do not object to pay for it, but they like to have the handling of the article for which they pay. As the descendants of Puritans and other godly Protestants, they will submit to religious teaching, but as Republicans they will have no priestcraft. The French at their Revolution had the latter feeling without the former, and were therefore consistent with themselves in abolishing all worship. The Americans desire to do the same thing politically, but infidelity has had no charms for them. They say

their prayers, and then seem to apologize for doing so, as though it were hardly the act of a free and enlightened citizen, justified in ruling bimself as he pleases. All this to me is rowdy. I know no other word by which I can so well describe it.

Nevertheless the nation is religious in its tendencies, and prone to acknowledge the goodness of God in all things. A man there is expected to belong to some church, and is not, I think, well looked on if he profess that he belongs to none. He may be a Swedenborgian, a Quaker, a Muggletonian ;-anything will do. But it is expected of him that he shall place himself under some flag, and do his share in supporting the flag to which he belongs. This duty is, I think, generally fulfilled.

CHAPTER XX.

FROM BOSTON TO WASHINGTON. From Boston, on the 27th of November, my wife returned to England, leaving me to prosecute my journey southward to Washington by myself. I shall never forget the political feeling which prevailed in Boston at that time, or the discussions on the subject of Slidell and Mason, in which I felt myself bound to take a part. Up to that period I confess that my sympathies had been strongly with the northern side in the general question;

and so they were still, as far as I could divest the matter of its English bearings. I had always thought, and do think, that a war for the suppression of the southern rebellion could not have been avoided by the North without an absolute loss of its political prestige. Mr. Lincoln was elected

. President of the United States in the autumn of 1860, and any steps taken by him or his party towards a peaceable solution of the difficulties which broke out immediately on his election, must have been taken before be entered upon his office. South Carolina threatened secession as soon as Mr. Lincoln's election was known, while yet there were four months left of Mr. Buchanan's Government. That Mr.Buchanan might, during those four months, have prevented secession, few men, I think, will doubt when the history of the time shall be written. But instead of doing so he consummated secession. Mr. Buchanan is a northern man, a Pennsylvanian; but he was opposed to the

« PředchozíPokračovat »