Wallace E. Nevill, “God and Government” (1899)






“Man, know thyself; presume not ‘God’ to scan—
The proper study of mankind is Man.”


Wallace E. Nevill


God and Government.

In disputation the force of reason is to be sought for rather than authority, since the authority of a teacher is often a disadvantage to those who are willing to learn, as they refuse to use their own judgment, and rely implicitly on him whom they have chosen for a preceptor. A great name is not a substitute for an argument. Authority is not evidence. In ancient times the Pythagoreans used to say “he himself hath said it.” This “he himself” was Pythagoras. Such was the force of prejudice and opinion, that his authority was to prevail even without argument or reason. It is but little different with us today. The masses of the people accept authority for truth; rather they should have truth for authority. It would be, perhaps, possible to take authority for truth if there were but one “authority;” but as there are, especially in religion, a host of “authorities,” creeds, sects, parties multitudinous, multifarious, and multinominal; and since their opinions are so various, and so repugnant to one another, it is possible that none of them may be, and absolutely impossible that more than one should be right.

Of course in most subjects it is easier to discover what is not true than what is. Moreover, there is no end to reasoning which proceeds upon a false foundation; but if we really are in search for truth, we will exhibit no undue haste in coming to a decision for or against; but we will seek for more evidence, more light, and when we know the truth, the truth shall make us free. Now, I freely admit, the greater part of mankind have united to acknowledge that which (to them) appears most probable, namely, that there is a God. I am also aware that some of the most excellent and eminent of men have held a belief in God to be necessary; “for,” say they, “if we cast off piety toward God, faith, and all the associations of human life, and that most excellent of all virtues, justice, will perish with it.”

They claim a belief in God as a constant and universal opinion of mankind, independent of education, custom, or law; and that this knowledge is implanted in our minds, or rather innate with us. That opinion respecting which there is a general agreement in universal nature, must infallibly be true; therefore, as almost all men everywhere believe it, it must be allowed there is a God. This would pass all very well did we not know that a thousand or two thousand years ago the same argument could have been and was adduced to prove the existence of “the gods.” Surely that must be considered but a lame argument which is adduced now to prove the existence of “God,” when the fact is known that it is identical with that which was formerly used to demonstrate (?) the existence of “the gods.”

How absurd, does it seem to you, my Christian brother, to read the fables of the poets of antiquity who represented the “gods” as enraged with anger and inflamed with lust; who have brought before our eyes their wars, battles, combats, wounds; their hatreds, dissensions, discords, births, deaths, complaints, and lamentations; their adulteries; their chains; their amours with mortals, and mortals begotten by immortals. You say, what are they giving us if not the idle and ridiculous flights of poetry, the dreams of dotards, or the vagaries of imagination? You are right. But please read your “Bible” again and see, if you still believe in “God,” how it could be other than probable that the license of fiction and poetry has transferred the funny business from “them” to “him.” It would be very singular if what is attributed to many gods is to be discarded as silly, and yet it must be believed as the infallible word and a “divine revelation” when applied to “one.”

It is not my intention to write a book; but simply to present ideas if haply I may make some men think. I do not claim to know anything at all about the supposed supernatural being called God; but to show that I am not ignorant of the attempts which have been made to prove his existence, I will present herewith the best arguments, so far as I have been able to assimilate them, along that line. Therefore: “If art can bring nothing to perfection without reason, and if the works of nature exceed those of art, nature cannot therefore be devoid of reason. How is it consistent with common sense, that when you view an image or a picture, you imagine it is wrought by art, or when you behold afar off a ship under sail, you judge it is steered by reason or art, and that the motion of a watch or clock showing the hours is that of design and not of chance, and yet you imagine that the universe which contains all arts and all artificers, can be void of reason and understanding.”

Philosophers ought, when they have considered the regular uniform, and immutable motions of the heavens, to conceive that there is some “Being,” not only an inhabitant of this divine mansion, but a ruler and governor as architect of this mighty fabric.

If the letters of the alphabet, made of gold, silver, or any material were thrown upon the ground, would they, could they, by any ‘fortuitous concatenation of atoms,’ fall into such order as legibly to form a sentence? Moreover if a fortuitous concatenation of atoms can make a world why not a house, a city, or any other thing the work of labor and difficulty?

“Can any one in his senses imagine that the disposition of the stars, and this heaven so beautifully adorned, could ever have been formed by a fortuitous concourse of atoms? Or what other nature being destitute of intellect and reason, could possibly have produced these effects, which not only required reason to bring about: but, the very character of which could not be understood and appreciated without the most strenuous exertions of well directed reason? The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament showeth forth His handiwork.”

“For ever singing as they shine
The hand that made us is divine.”

Now this is the best I have been able to find, and in the space to which I wish to limit myself I think it is fairly stated. What reply have I to make? Must I then believe in God? But how in the name of reason can I make reply and give a reason concerning that which is above reason? I prefer to say I do not know.” Shall I ever know? I only know that I do not know; and such is the doubt of my mind that I do not positively affirm even that.

There never yet existed any genius so vast and comprehensive as to allow nothing at any time to escape its attention and all the geniuses in the world united in a single mind, could never, within the limits of a single life, exert a foresight sufficiently extensive to embrace and harmonize all, without the aid of experience and practice: how then can anybody know anything about that which is above and beyond experience? If you say “but we may believe,” I reply that is another question. I believe—many things!

Now those who seek for gold will not shrink at the sight of mud. “What though the gold is wrapped in ore—none throws away the apple for the core.” It I make a statement which appears dogmatic please read that sentence as though at the end of it you found an interrogation point. But how can there be anything either good or bad in a word which is but the symbol of an idea of some thing real or imaginary? If God really lives and you know, it you will not be disturbed by the vaporizing of one who knows not.

Now, to go back to ancient times, we find the Syrians worshiped a fish. The Egyptians consecrated beasts of almost every kind. The Greeks deified heroic men. The Romans, Romulus. The poets spoke of the work of the gods—Jupiter, Mars, Bacchus, Æsculapius, and the rest of them—their loves and hates and amours, escapades, enemies and offspring! Please don’t laugh for fear your face might stay that way.

Don’t your God work? Did he get tired of his job when he made the world in six days and then took a rest? Was he only playing like a boy making mud pies when he formed man out of the dust of the ground? How can he be the same yesterday, today and forever when he became sorry that he ever made man at all, for they got away so far from him that he had to make the world into a big tub in which to drown them like a lot of kittens in order to get things right once more? You say, “if there is in nature anything which surpasses the power of man to produce, there must consequently be some being greater than man.” Then God is the author of floods and droughts, heat and cold, blizzard and blast, earthquake, tornado, as well as the sunshine, the zephyr and the gentle breeze. If these things are evidences of divine presence and power, then every time the preacher buttons up his greatcoat because the wind blows cold he has a fight on with his God! But you claim God is not wind out that he made the wind—alas! thou canst not tell whence it cometh nor whither it goeth just as it listeth is the way that it bloweth! Has God sent the wind out into the world to sport around and “blow” about anything it listeth? Do you not see how the productions of nature have given rise to superstitions and inventions of men, concerning fictitious and imaginary deities, which have been the foundation of false opinions, pernicious errors and wretched superstitions? For we know how the different forms of the gods, their eyes, apparel, ornaments, their pedigrees, marriages, relations, and everything belonging to them, are adapted to human weakness, and represented with our passions; with lust, sorrow and anger according to fabulous history; they have had wars and combats, not only as Homer relates, when they have interested themselves in two different armies, but when they have fought battles in their own defense. These stories of the greatest weakness and levity, were once related and believed with the most implicit folly. Is it any better with Christians and their God, of whom it is related in the sacred volume that he was with Judah who drove the people out of the mountain but could not drive them out of the valleys because they had chariots of iron? (Judges, i: 19). Was this Almighty God”? At that time he must have been “powerfully weak! “ Such a god exists only in man’s stupid thought of him. In the remotest antiquity people worshiped birds and beasts, for the reason that they received benefit from them. The ibis, a very large bird, with strong legs and a long, horny beak, used to destroy a great number of serpents. It was popularly believed that they kept Egypt from pestilential diseases by killing and devouring the flying serpents. They used also to deify the crocodile and the cat. They paid divine honors to them because of the benefits, real or imaginary, which they derived from them. They could at least see the objects of their adoration; but the believer in God today worships that which dwells in the light no man can approach unto, whom no man hath seen nor can see. He also dwells in’ the darkness. I say “he” because that is the popular belief; but why “he” or “him,” why not “she” or “it?” If there is a “he” god, why not a “she” god? Have we a father in heaven and a mother in hell! Has He got a body and parts and passions? Has he a tongue to speak or can he speak without a tongue? Has he got teeth, palate, jaws, though he will have no use for them? Nor would the internal parts be less superfluous than the external. Shall the members which nature has given to the body for the sake of generation be useless to the deity? Has he got two eyes or only one eye, which is in every place beholding the evil and the good? Has he got a finger too much? A head, neck, shoulders, side, paunch, back, hams, hands, feet, thighs and legs? Has he got to dress himself or does he go about naked? Is it that God takes his form from man? Or that man takes his form from God? Are we to suppose that the divine seed fell from heaven to earth and that men sprung up in the likeness of their celestial sires? Is it that our minds are so anticipated and prepossessed that whenever we think of God the human shape occurs to us, so that, whereas, Jesus, “ Person” number two in the ever blessed and glorious “trinity” was made in the likeness of men, yet is he the express image of the substance of the divine personality? Who was ever so blind in contemplating these subjects, as not to see, that God was represented in human form, either by the particular advice of wise men, who thought by those means the more easily to turn the minds of the ignorant from a depravity of manners to an imitation of the ideal; or through superstition which was the cause of their believing that they were approaching to God himself? It is easy, also, to observe that in many countries people have paid divine honors to the memory of those who have signalized their courage. It was done, perhaps, in order to encourage and animate others to practice virtue. Thus those who had done great service to communities enjoyed the reputation of having received from the gods, not only their genius, but their very birth. Thus Romulus, the founder of Rome, was the son of Mars! How much lacking in wit and philosophical insight must he be who cannot see that the transmitted form of this superstition is in the Christian story of Jesus, the founder of the New Jerusalem, the only begotten son of God! After Romulus had reigned thirty-seven years he established these two great supports of government, the hierarchy and the senate. Having disappeared in a sudden eclipse of the sun, he was thought worthy of being added to the number of the gods—an honor which no mortal man was ever able to obtain but by a glorious preeminence of virtue—so Jesus, having finished the work which his divine father gave him to do, left us an example that we should follow his steps, and being caught up into heaven where a cloud received him out of sight, sat down on the right hand of God!

Of the two stories I believe one just as I believe the other. The intelligent reader must take his choice. For myself, I could wish to tear up the superstition by the roots, not with hands, but with arguments.

What kind of a God must that be who is not graced with one single virtue whatever, if we should succeed in forming even an idea of such a one? Must we not attribute prudence to God?—a virtue which consists in the knowledge of things good, bad, and indifferent. Yet what need has a being for the discernment of good and ill, who neither has nor can have any ill? Of what use is reason to him? Of what use is understanding? We men, indeed, find them useful to aid us in finding out things which are obscure by those which are clear to us; but nothing can be obscure to a god! As to justice, which gives to every one his own, it is not the concern of God since that virtue received its birth from men and from civil society. Temperance consists in abstinence from corporal pleasures, or at least in moderation in the enjoyment of them, and do you say it is even so in heaven with your God? Lastly, if fortitude is ascribed to the deity, how does it appear? In afflictions, in labor, in danger? None of these things can affect God, or if they do he is subject to changing emotions, and this is not allowed by “infallible word,” which says with him there is no variableness, “neither shadow that is cast by turning.” How then can we conceive this to be God, that makes no use of reason and is not endowed with any virtues? Are we to smile at the vagaries of paganism and at the same time worship Jesus, whose father was divine and whose mother was of mortal race? What! You still hold to a belief in providence? Why is it that good men are not always happy; nor bad men miserable? You say that, whereas, bad men sometimes escape the punishment their evil deeds deserve, yet God is a just God visiting the iniquities of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation! Oh! wonderful equity of your God! What country would endure the maker of a law which should condemn a son or a grandson for a crime committed by his father or his grandfather?

It is in vain to ask where your God lives, or how does he pass his time? For he has no existence only as he exists mentally and in the speculation of your mind. Moreover, you need not quote scripture and say of me “the fool hath said in his heart there is no God.” I have not said so, neither do I wish to. Rather do I reverence and believe in GOD. Only I ridicule the cackle of a lot of old parson hens raking up the theological dust, and I despise them for their stupidity, credulity, and hypocrisy. I would spell God with a little g and two o’s, good.

What think you of those who have asserted that the whole doctrine concerning the immortal gods was the invention of politicians, whose view was to govern that part of the community by religion which reason could not influence?

They tell us God takes care of everything. There cannot be care of anything without more or less anxiety Has God anxiety about his own welfare? And if he takes care of everything and is something—well—let us leave him to take care of himself.

Let me speak now of human society and the State. There will be no break in the sequence of ideas, even though it will seem so to some in thus changing from a discussion of the God idea to that of government. I want particularly to speak of things relating to this world and human affairs, and I could wish to have the poor old gawd question shelved forever; but it cannot be so long as the cobwebs of this superstition becloud the reason of mankind. Besides, if it is not God it is his son or some member of his family, and thus all our precepts of morality, our highest ethical conceptions, our traditions, fables, mysteries, hopes, fears, culture, progress, and the rest are falsely monopolized by the claim of attributes of our glorious Christian civilization; and as, alas! multitudes are still the victims of a spurious patriotism and will freely give themselves to die for a country which denies them every decent means of living, I have to show how “Church for State and State for Church shall fight and both declare that might alone is right;” and that, like the Siamese twins of superstition, they are inseparable.

The Church claims the emancipation of women as a result of its special mission of beneficence. But it appears but a sorry sort of emancipation for those thousands upon thousands who are forced into lives of prostitution and shame selling their bodies pro tem for a crust of bread. Nor does the institution of marriage—Christian State marriage—secure to the parties their “inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” If it does, how comes it that the courts are full all the time with petitions for divorce? He who claims the present state of affairs as an ideal state must have the brain of a mugwump and the business of a clam. Many people get married in the Church and appeal to the State to undo the miserable job. Did ever half of an idea enter their head that the most foolish part of their conduct was when they went either to Church or State at all? If the Church (loaded down with divine wisdom) did not know enough to tell them that they were doing wrong in each particular case in coming together, and they had to find it all out themselves by bitter experience, why do they heap folly on to folly by going and making their private affairs public news by applying to the officials of the State for permission to separate, of the advisability of which, or otherwise, the State can know nothing? Shall we say the institution of Christian marriage is above criticism so long as parson and priest have power and pay to do work which is, in an enormously large percentage of cases, an expense to the State to have undone? If it be true that there is in this country a separation of Church and State why is this matrimonial bungling tolerated? Must the poor Church get revenue from people seeking matrimonial licenses, and a permit to go to bed? And must the State be drained of its revenues to straighten out each and every bungling job when the parties feel that it ought to be undone?

The truth is State and Church are an inseparable combination of force and fraud and the people only err when they take authority for truth in either the one or the other. Priests, parsons, monarchs, statesmen, army officials, financiers, monopolists, capitalists, tax collectors, contractors, proprietors, those who give employment to labor, parasites and plunderers of every name and breed, all repeat in unison these words of the immortal Voltaire: “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him,” for they well know how the fear of God keeps the masses in subjection to the “powers that be.” The system is wrong and I do not reproach individuals, many of whom would be all right if they knew how.

Not in Church, not in State; not in our so-called courts of justice; but in the bosom of men and women when they are free will you find the true source and obligation of justice among men. The integrity and excellence of any people consists in the integrity and excellence of the lives of the individuals; and those individuals are not made better, but they are made worse every time by the fear of God and the fear of the law. If it is the fear “o’ hell” which, as the poet sings, is the “hangman’s whip” to hold the wretch in order—if it is only the fear of punishment and not the nature of the thing itself which restrains men from crime, then the more awful the penalty for wrong doing when it is discovered, the more salutary the influence upon society. Let men and women be publicly burned for adultery; let them be hanged, or drawn and quartered for stealing or telling a lie; let them be put in the public stocks for spitting upon the sidewalk! Out upon such humbug! Crime breeds crime. The fires of conscience; not the furies which pursue and torment them as the poets feign; but remorse and the tortures arising from guilt:—this is the influence—these are the influences which are strongest in the bosom of men.

No villain was ever so audaciously impudent, but that on being discovered, he either denied that he had perpetrated the deed, or that he had abundant cause, or sought defense and justification of his action in some right of nature. Does not this demonstrate incontestably that those who have fallen into overt acts of crime have still a keen sense of shame at their own moral turpitude? To this better nature appeals should be made. But the law worketh wrath. Hand in hand with justice and jails marches the ever increasing army of madmen and murderers.

If it is the fear of the law, and the severity of the punishment for its violation which alone deters men from crime, then the law makers are to blame for it all; for if they had only constructed a million laws with burning and torture as a penalty for their violation, or had had sense enough to build a jail a hundred miles long and a thousand feet high, everybody would have to be good because they would be too scared to be bad!

Years ago the British government used to ship men off to the penal settlements in Australia. Very often, in fact in the majority of cases, the convicts were “transported “ for trivial offenses, such as shooting a hare or walking across a turnip field. Public opinion became so strong against the tyranny of those stupid laws that they had to be abolished. Men did not rush to excess in the mad abuse of liberty. Go on with the process; this is in the trend of progress of universal civilization. Why are so many thoughtful people in the world advocating the abolition of capital punishment? There is no use for the law without penalties for its violation. Go on with the process. Take off law after law; away with penalty after penalty, and what then? The truth would be seen, that there is but one essential justice which cements society, and one law which establishes this justice. This law is right reason, which is the true rule of all commandments and prohibitions. Whoever neglects this law, whether written or unwritten, is necessarily wicked. How can justice consist in submission to written laws and national customs when these laws and customs are being continually changed, amended, abolished? Justice can have no existence at all if it have not one in nature. Do not all the virtues proceed from our natural desire to love mankind? And love and not hate or fear is the basis of a holy and happy human life. Why do men rush back into mines from which they have just escaped from an explosion and being almost suffocated with the deadly fire damp, and being drawn to the surface for air again and again descend to rescue imprisoned comrades? There was no law of senator or supervisor to intimidate them, compelling them to act as they did through fear of the policeman and the penalty if they acted otherwise! Out upon such humbug! All the lawmakers and laws in the world with all the stupid penalties which perverted ingenuity could devise, could never compel men to acts of heroism such as these—THEY spring spontaneously from the exigencies of circumstances and are so eloquently expressive of the natural nobility of our common human nature when it is free to act.

Why does the fireman rush into the burning building? Why does the mother rush in front of an approaching Market Street R’y fenderless bonecrusher and thus imperil her life to save that of her chill? Is it not that right and wrong are discriminated by nature and not by the snivel of human law? And all that is honorable is by this means distinguished from that which is shameful; for common sense has impressed on our minds the first principles of things, and has given us a general acquaintance with them by which we connect with virtue every honorable quality, and with vice all that is disgraceful.

Human law is a thing of human opinion, and in courts of “justice” opinions are rendered, or decisions given, very often to be changed or set aside altogether; but justice or injustice, virtue and vice, the true and the false, the creditable and the disgraceful are to be estimated by their respective, essential, inherent qualities and not by external relations, such as the fallible opinion of a judge, or the arbitrary rulings of changing human law. So long as we have laws, so long will the strong override the weak, for all kinds of verdicts can be, and are all the time being, secured by money and its “pull.” Thus law becomes the instrument of tyranny.

What shall we say to those who, whilst they see the almost universal corruption of courts and political procedure, yet clamor for more of the very thing out of which our oppression springs as effect from cause? Where is the law of justice which rules in the land when a “superior officer,” the uncouth ill-tempered bulldozing tool of a soulless corporation, can have me “fired” because I yet have manhood enough left to resist his overbearing authority, or pass betwixt the wind and “his nobility”? You do rob me of my life when you take from me the means whereby I live. I may be loaded down with “constitutional rights”—“inalienable”—but I have no rights at all when my “living” can be taken away from me in a moment, because I incur the unreasoning rage of imperious authority.

It is bad enough for the honest son of toil to live in the garden of Gethsemene where his sweat is as it were great drops of blood coined into dollars and dividends for the bond clippers of bogus capital; but it is the “last straw” when the employer, who has always paid the least possible wages; who works you hard when it suits him; who “lays you off” according to his every whim and caprice; who dictates to you by rules what you shall say, and what you shall do and how you shall pass your time; and the very first grudge he gets against you he fires you right out without a concern as to whether you are able to find anything else to do by which to “earn” coffee and doughnuts, or even an existence at all. This picture is not overdrawn. I know whereof I speak. Do I appreciate the prayers of the Church or the “protection of the law”!—and I am left with no recourse than to submit to this most insolent and disgusting tyranny.

Of moral qualities, and of truth, neither Church nor State has a monopoly, and so we must discriminate between honorable and dishonorable, not from the false standpoint of their perspective, but by reference to the essential nature of the things themselves. As I see things, all that is right, and all that is honorable is to be sought for its own sake. In truth, all virtuous men love justice and equity for what they are in themselves. Nor is it like a good man to make a mistake and love that which does not deserve his affection. Right therefore is desirable and deserving to be cultivated for its own sake; and if this be true of right it must be true also of justice. What then shall we say of liberality? Is it exercised gratuitously or does it covet some reward or recompense? If a man does good without expecting any recompense for his kindness, then it is gratuitous: if he does expect compensation it is a mere matter of traffic. Nor is there any doubt that he who truly deserves the reputation of a generous and kind hearted man is thinking of his duty and of what is right, and not of his interest, save as it is to his interest to be on good terms with himself and with his conscience. In the same way the virtue of justice demands neither emolument nor salary, and therefore we desire it for its own sake. And the case of all the moral virtues is the same, and so is the opinion formed of them. And what shall we say of those who are out for political advantage to themselves through the salary attached with perquisites of office and emolument? Or what shall we say of those who run to and fro when their knowledge is increased as to the “Lord’s will” concerning another flock to milk more abundantly? And how can it ever be otherwise so long as sordid considerations of salary and self-interest dominate society? There may be honest men among the politicians; but though we may entertain this hope, it is hazardous to judge that it is so, for the natural character of each individual is concealed under numerous wrappings of disguise, and shrouded, as it were, under veils; the forehead, the eyes, the whole countenance are often false, and the language most frequently of all.

Alas! if we weigh virtue by the mere utility and profit that attend it and not by its own merit, the one virtue which results from such an estimate will be in fact a species of vice. For the more a man refers all his actions especially to his own advantage, the further he recedes from probity; so that they who measure virtue by profit, acknowledge no other virtue than this which is a kind of vice. For who can be called benevolent, if no one ever acts kindly for the sake of another? And where are we to find a grateful person if those who are disposed to be so can find no benefactor to whom they can show gratitude? What will become of sacred friendship if we are not to love our friend for his own sake with all our “heart and soul” as people say? If we are even to desert and discard him as soon as we despair of deriving any further assistance or advantage from him? What can be imagined more inhuman than this conduct? But if friendship ought rather to be cultivated ON ITS OWN ACCOUNT, so also for the same reason are society, equality, and justice desirable for their own sakes. If this be not so, then there can be no such thing as justice at all; for the most unjust thing of all is to seek a reward for one’s just conduct. As friendship cannot be regulated by law neither can justice. As well have courts of friendship or benevolence as justice. Nevertheless, the whole mechanism of things today, sanctioned and sanctified in both Church and State, compels men, in spite of natural desires of benevolence, of friendship, of justice, to consider all actions from the standpoint of material advantage, of their own personal sordid self-interest, profit and gain, salary and emolument. This is the insanity and the scandal of our time. The marvel is not that men are bad, but that they are as good as they are.

The Church preaches to us of temperance, sobriety, modesty, chastity, and at the same time clamors for more law, as though the fear of infamy or the dread of judgments and penalties would save men from being intemperate and dissolute. Can we call those people virtuous or chaste who abstain from adultery merely from a fear of the law which would pounce upon them and give their feelings a shock if it happened to find them out? This silly interpretation of morality and justice compels men and women everywhere to attach more importance to the fear of being found out than they do to any other consequence of wrong-doing and the result is a brood and generation of sycophants and hypocrites, vipers and slimy creeping creatures finding congenial homes in the ruins of justice beneath the pillars and spires of Church and State, which, like the whited sepulchers of old, outwardly appear beautiful unto men, but within are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanliness! See the political polluted policeman hurrying her off in the patrol wagon and the sky-pilot parson folds his hands complacently contemplating his salary and the double standard morality; whilst majestic “law and justice” is vindicated with a month in prison or ten dollars in gold!

Alas! corruption has engendered such evil customs that the very spark of virtue given by nature has become almost extinguished. Antagonistic vices—the natural fruit of competition and capitalistic greed—arise, abound and are strengthened. We must down this cunning compound of supernaturalism, superstition, force and fraud. So long as we are slaves to opinions and dogmas which came from the darkness and ignorance of the past so long will we be in poverty and misery with no rights, with no justice, no liberty, the victims of profit mongering exploiters through the tyranny of what they call “order and law.”

Nature has made us just that we might share our goods with each other and supply each other’s wants. If we bite and devour one another, by one another shall we be consumed.

That we may progress let us study human nature, and the forces operating upon it. Men are made better or worse according as music soothes and sanctifies on the one hand or fires and infuriates on the other.

Oratory is the gift most divine. Let us speak words of truth and soberness. Words are mighty—words are living serpents with venomous stings, or bright angels hovering round us with heaven’s light upon their wings. Does anything seem to you more noble than to be able to fix the attention of assemblies of men by speaking, to fascinate their minds, to direct their passions to whatever object the orator pleases, and to dissuade them from whatsoever he desires. For what is so admirable as that, out of an infinite multitude of men, there should arise a single individual, who can alone, or with only a few others, exert effectually that power which nature has granted to all? Or what is so pleasant to be heard and understood as an oration adorned and polished with wise thoughts and weighty expressions? Or what is so striking, so astonishing, as that the tumults of the people should be swayed by the speech of one man? Or what, moreover, is so kingly, so liberal, so magnificent, as to give assistance to the suppliant, to raise the afflicted, to bestow security, to deliver from danger? By this we disseminate ideas of right, justice, humanity, solidarity, brotherhood. Is it not by this one gift that we are distinguished from brute beasts, that we converse together and can express our thoughts by speech? Who therefore would not justly make this an object of admiration, and to think it worthy of his utmost exertions, to surpass mankind itself in that single excellence by which they claim their superiority over brutes? But, that we may not miss the most important point of all, what other power than the power of speech could have brought mankind from a wild and savage state the present splendor of progressive civilization? If you are looking for principles of natural conditions, tell me now if you do not think that within the use or abuse of speech lies the rule or the ruin of men? For who is ignorant that the highest power of an orator consists in exciting the minds of men to anger, or to hatred, or to grief, or in recalling them from these more violent emotions to gentleness and passion? The proper concern of an orator, therefore, is language of power and eloquence accommodated to the feelings and understandings of mankind.

If music hath charms, what music can be found more sweet than the pronunciation of a well ordered oration? What poem more agreeable than the skillful structure of prose? What penetrates the mind more keenly than an acute and quick succession of arguments? It is the province of the orator to give counsel on important affairs, to deliver his opinion with clearness and dignity. It is his to rouse the people when they are languid, and to calm them when immoderately excited. Who can exhort to virtue more ardently than the orator? Who can break the force of unlawful, that is of morbid, desire by more effective reprehension? Who can alleviate grief with more soothing consolation?

Men are charmed, captivated, flushed with joy, overwhelmed with grief; they smile, weep, love, hate, are filled with pity, shame,’ remorse, resentment, wonder, hope, fear, according as oratory compels them withersoever it inclines its force. The greater, therefore, is its influence the more necessary it is that, it should be united with probity and eminent judgment; for if we bestow the faculty of eloquence upon persons destitute of these virtues, we shall not make them orators but give arms to madmen; for the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity, so is the tongue among our members. Nevertheless, eloquence is such that it embraces the origin, the influence, the changes of all things in the world, all virtues, duties, and all nature, so far as it affects the manners, minds and lives of mankind. And thus by no power so great as by the power of language shall the wickedness of mankind be brought to destruction and virtue to security.

Moreover, example is better than precept. Would you but look into the history of former ages, you might plainly see that such as the chief men of a country have been such has been also the state in general, and that whatever change of manners took place in the former the same always followed in the latter. On this account great men of a vicious life are doubly pernicious, as being not only guilty of immoral practices themselves; but likewise of spreading them far and wide among their fellow men. Not only are they mischievous because they cherish vices themselves; but also because they corrupt others; and they do more harm by their example then by the crimes which they commit. And thus a few, aye, even a very few men, may corrupt or correct the manners of the masses of mankind.

‘“Ill fares the land to hastening ills a prey—where wealth increases and men decay.”

“Lives of great men well remind us
We can make our lives sublime
And departing leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time.”

Shakespeare says, “Action is eloquence and eyes of the ignorant are more learned than their ears.”

And now in conclusion. Those who have read much will be able to trace the source from whence I have derived not merely my ideas; but also the language in which they are expressed. The question is not as to authorship, or originality; but it is “God and Government,” and of authority vs. liberty.

Let us hold on to that course which has always been pursued by the best men, and not listen for a moment to the signals of those who sound a retreat so loudly that they sometimes call back even those who have made considerable progress.

About Shawn P. Wilbur 2703 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.