Item of the Day: A Discourse Delivered on The Day of General Election (1809)

Full Title:  A Discourse, Delivered Before the Lieutenant-Governor, The Council, and the Two Houses Composing the Legislature of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, May 31, 1809. Being the Day of General Election. By David Osgood, D.D.

. . .  No arts however vile, no intrigues however base and wicked, are scrupled or declined by unprincipled men when circumstances are such as to give them any hope of success.  For the honors and emoluments of office, their thirst is insatiable, and they hurry on to their attainment per fas & nefas.  Though in themselves, weak and worthless, and, from their want of abilities or from their want of integrity, totally incompetent to the duties of a high station; yet, these are the men whose souls are devoured by ambition, in whom it reigns predominant.  They are always aspiring to the chief dignities, always on the watch to burst the doors of public confidence and thrust themselves forward to the chair of State; while, on the other part, the truly wise and good are too modest and diffident thus to obtrude themselves upon the notice of the public.  Instead of placing their happiness in the exercise of dominion over others, they are content with the due government of themselves, and prize the ease and freedom of private life.  It is with no small reluctance, that such men are drawn from their beloved retirement.  The olive tree, the fig tree, the vine, and every good and useful tree, are afraid to turn aside from that course of beneficence allotted them by nature and the author of nature.  Aware of the responsibility annexed to a high station, they dread its snares and temptations.  Doubting of their own capacity to serve the Publick in the best manner, they dread lest by some mistake in their administration, the peace, safety or prosperity of the State should be endangered.  They therefore wish to decline a province to which they fear their talents are not equal.  Nothing but a conviction of duty, of a call in providence will enable them to surmount these scruples.  On the other part, unprincipled men have no difficulties of this kind.  The bramble, whose very nature unfits it to be useful in any place or condition, boldly comes forward, self-assured and self-confident, to be made the head of the whole vegetative creation. . . .

In free governments, during the excitements and tumultuous scenes of popular election while the partisans of rival candidates are discussing the merits and exerting their in behalf of their respective favorites; unpleasant things are unavoidable.  But no truth in the bible is more certain than this, that great and good minds, upright and enlightened statesmen, possessed of a true patriotism, will retain no remembrance of these irritations afterward.  Placed at the helm, from that moment they will cease to know, and from every wish to know, who voted for or against them.  It will be their most studious concern throughout their administration, to show themselves alike blind to, and ignorant of, all parties; bearing an equal relation to, and an equal affection for, each individual and each class and description of the people; entertaining no other thought or design but by an equal, universal, most strenuous and impartial beneficence, to dissolve and melt down into one common mass, all party distinctions.  The will consider themselves as sustaining the representative sovereignty of the country for the good of the whole and of every part; and in the execution of their high office, will regard nothing but the general weal, peace, and prosperity. . . .

Legislators of the commonwealth, as the representatives of the people, chosen and deputed to make their laws, guard their liberties and take care of their concerns; it is natural to suppose that men thus selected and for such purposes, rank among the wisest and most upright of the community.  We have seen however, that a free people, on some occasions, confide these trust to hands unworthy of them.  They are in special danger of committing this folly at a time when the spirits of party is prevalent.  Under the influence of this spirit, the electors consider, not the talents and virtues of good rulers; but whether the candidates to be the bone and flesh of their party — having capacity and zeal to serve its interests.  Their inquiry is, whether he be a brother of the faction to which themselves are attached.  Thus circumstanced, the most violent partisan often obtains the vote.  Could we suppose a legislative assembly, composed of such characters, thus chosen and coming together with such views and dispositions; what would they be but a copse of brambles, the best of them a brier, the most upright sharper than a thorn hedge?

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Filed under 1800's, Early Republic, Federalists, Massachusetts, Political Commentary, Posted by Rebecca Dresser

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