Windham Life and Times

March 26, 2021, April 2, 2021

Black History in New England

The Thanksgiving Sermon of Rev. Calvin Cutler – 1835

Free speech is a cherished ideal in America. That being said, there are always people in power who find this right inconvenient to their machinations. It was true with the issue of slavery in 1835 and it is true in America today with tech titans and their government allies working in tandem to muzzle free speech.  When people start demanding that certain voices be silenced, you can be sure that those shouting the loudest at people to shut up, are the ones dreaming of ways “ of stamping a boot on a human face forever” as George Orwell so eloquently wrote. In America, prior to the Civil War, it was the defenders of the institution of slavery that demanded that the Abolitionists shut up! Today, those same shrill voices are demanding that certain segments of our society do the same; they are telling those they oppose, that they have no right to speak with the same virulence as those defending the evil of slavery in the 1830’s. In Calvin Cutler’s Thanksgiving sermon, he the speaks on the twin evils of  slavery and the suppression of free speech.

OUR LIBERTIES IN DANGER, A SERMON PREACHED IN WINDHAM

NEW HAMPSHIRE, ON THE DAY OF ANNUAL THANKSGIVING NOV. 26, 1835

Rev. Calvin Cutler

II COR. 3: 17. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, There is Liberty. 

“…Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty: liberty to do the will of God without constraint, freedom of access in prayer, and the full development of all human powers in their proper and lawful exercise. Such is the effect of the gospel on individuals; and when the spirit pervades the whole community, the that community will enjoy just that kind and degree of liberty which is best adapted to promote the happiness of human society and the glory of God.”

     I propose first, to inquire into the meaning of liberty; and secondly, to show by what means liberty is infringed and destroyed…”

    “If the laws are made to bear with unequal severity on different portions of the community, there is evidently a defect in them; and just as far as there is oppression on one individual, without a counterbalancing safeguard to the whole, the law is unjust…But if without crime a man is oppressed, immured in prison, or bound down to involuntary servitude, his civil liberty is invaded; for it is a curtailment of natural rights, which the good of the community does not require. ‘Civil liberty, therefore is the not being constrained by any law but what conduces on a greater degree to the public welfare.’ It is obvious, also, that in different forms of government there are different degrees of liberty, and that government is the freest where the laws are most equal, and individual liberty is best secured. Or in other words, that government is the best where equal rights are best maintained,”

   “An object so desirable, however, cannot be effected, to any great extent, nor for any considerable length of time, except by the restraining and sanctifying influence of the gospel…and all that is needed even now to render this land another Paradise, is for the gospel to pervade the whole community and sanctify every individual. Then there would be ‘no breaking in, nor going out and no complaining in our streets;’ but perfect liberty to do the will of God, and promote the happiness of man…and it is this degeneracy in respect to moral principle, which endangers our liberties as a nation. When the spirit of the Lord is grieved, and the restraining influence of the gospel is resisted, then the civil liberty much be abridged, and public safety endangered.”

Infidelity, in its Protean forms of licentiousness, endangers our liberties, and is liable to destroy our free institutions. This is apparent, for example, in the extensive and profanation of the Sabbath. No nation have ever been able to maintain their liberties without the Sabbath. France tried the experiment, and just as soon as the Sabbath was abolished, the floor-gates of violence were thrown open, anarchy and death spread through the nation. And nothing could restore order but the strong arm of military despotism. And yet, with the fatal experiment before us, our own nation are fast verging to the same vortex, by annihilating the Sabbath…”

    Another method by which this licentious, anti-republican spirit shows itself, is the prevalence of Intemperance. When moral principle and sobriety are so far banished from the public mind, that elections of rulers can be carried in may sections by the maddening bowl of intoxication; when it comes to pass that half a million freeman can willingly be enslaved and led on to any desperate act by the influence of intoxicating liquors, and when the very manufactory of drunkenness is encouraged and sustained by the law…”

     Another method by which infidelity is striving to thwart the peaceful reign of the gospel, and to destroy the blessings of a free government, is the prevalence of Moral Pollution,—a violation of the seventh commandment,—in breaking down the institution of marriage, and thereby surrendering the cords that bind society together…”

    “…Another evil which endangers our liberties, is the existence of Slavery, by which one sixth of the nation is treated as non-entities—denied the privilege of reading the bible—men turned into brutes—human souls made chattels, to be bought and sold, and used for the gratification of irresponsible masters; who, contrary to out Bill of Rights and the first principles of free government, have seized and bound their fellow men in cruel bondage. Well was it said by Mr. Jefferson, that God has no attribute by which he can take sides with such oppression. The spirit of the Lord is not in this system of wrong and outrage upon the inalienable rights, and therefore it cannot stand any longer than God, to show his wrath and make his power known, endures with much long-suffering this flagrant usurpation of his prerogative. When our fathers of New England gave their sanction to a recognition of slavery in the union of States, they seem to have left God as was Israel in Canaan, when the Gibeonites came to them with mouldy loaves of bread and clouted shoes, under the pretense of a long journey. It was then, however, a day of comparative ignorance in respect to the enormity of this evil. But Slavery is a monster so selfish and infernal, and has become so gigantic in stature, that it will not bear to be examined, no suffer its features to be exposed, without gnashing its teeth, and scattering scintillations of wrath form its eye-balls. But here in the nation, with all its deformity—a standing memorial to our shame and hypocrisy. And giving the lie to our Bill of Rights in the face of all the nations on earth. When the nation hold as self-evident truths, ‘that all men are created equal, endowed with certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,’ one sixth of this very nation have these inalienable rights wrested from them by violence; they are deprived of liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and subjected to the condition of the brute creation. And what is most appalling, the great majority love to have it so. Yes, the great majority even of the free States, say, by their conduct, to the slave masters, ‘hold on to your victims of cruelty for the present, —we will stand by you and defend you, and keep off the fanatics, who are so visionary and insane as to call slavery a sin, and use arguments to persuade you to let go of your deadly grasp upon the poor innocents.’ Is there no danger that our liberties will be infringed and destroyed, when the nation by their practice give the lie to their profession; when they deal in oppression and uphold the oppressor? Is there no reason for alarm, lest He who hears the cry of the poor and pleads the cause of the oppressed, give the nation up to a reprobate mind to work out their own destruction?”

     “I am aware that many suppose we have guaranteed to the South the privilege of trampling on the necks of one sixth of the nation; of treating them as brutes and chattels, and therefore have no right to say anything on the subject. But the fact is, the Constitution does not bind a nation, nor any portion of it, to hold slaves; nor does it bind any portion of the nation to refrain from exposing the enormity of the system.  It does not seal our lips from discussion, nor from the free use of the press and mail on this, more than any other subject. We have the same right to discuss and write, and print, on the subject of slavery, as we have on the subject of intemperance, or gambling, or any other evil. The truth is, if slavery with all it abominations were blotted out this day, there need not be a syllable of the Constitution altered. It might remain obsolete, without abridging the freedom of any man. But in that same Constitution the freedom of speech and the press are not only recognized and permitted, but guaranteed to every man in the Union; and this liberty cannot be abridged or taken away without altering the Constitution, and turning it into an instrument of despotism. The Constitution says expressly, that ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or, prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press; or the right of people to peaceably assemble and to petition the government for redress of grievances.’ The Constitution of the several States guaranties the same, those who propose to ferret out and expose untold abominations of slavery, do not ask to have the Constitution changed: and I have often wondered why those who forbid discussion, and would even by violence stop the freedom of the press, do not first demand the Constitution be so altered that no citizen shall be permitted to use his tongue of his pen to effect any reformation whatsoever.”

    
“Here every man who would put a stop to the discussion of slavery out to begin…But it ought to be known, that no man or body of men have a legal right to abridge the freedom of speech respecting the giant sin of slavery…”

As you continue to read the rest of this sermon on free speech and slavery, reflect just a little on our current time, and how similar the themes are to our own circumstances and the muzzling of our free speech now. It’s truly eerie how history rhymes! The slave-owners, the elites, and the wealthy all wanted the abolitionist movement crushed. They didn’t want anybody discussing the inconvenient truth that it slavery was immoral and inconsistent with the freedoms exposed by the constitution. Their solution, the same with all tyrants, was an attempt to shut down free speech.

     “…and this liberty cannot be abridged or taken away without altering the Constitution, and turning it into an instrument of despotism. The Constitution says expressly, that ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or, prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press; or the right of people to peaceably assemble and to petition the government for redress of grievances.’ The Constitution of the several States guaranties the same, Those who propose to ferret out and expose untold abominations of slavery, do not ask to have the Constitution changed: and I have often wondered why those who forbid discussion, and would even by violence stop the freedom of the press, do not first demand the Constitution be so altered that no citizen shall be permitted to use his tongue of his pen to effect any reformation whatsoever.”

     “Here every man who would put a stop to the discussion of slavery ought to begin…But it ought to be known, that no man or body of men have a legal right to abridge the freedom of speech respecting the giant sin of slavery, till the bulwark of our liberties be first demolished; and least of all are those men to be accounted true republicans or supporters of free institutions, who would disseminate the false impression that Congress have no authority to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia and the Territories, or that we have no right to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

     “The most fearful indication of the speedy downfall of our free institutions, is the recent adoption of mob-law to prevent the freedom of speech respecting slavery. In this the troubled elements of infidelity, licentiousness, and oppression, are shaken together, and, like the burning lava of a volcano, seem ready to bury our liberties beneath their own ruins. Buy why is this enormity to be so sacredly guarded from all inquiry? Is it past all doubt, that it is right to trample in the dust and traffic in the sinews and souls of two millions and a half of our brethren, in this land of freedom? We have supposed that liberty of speech and free inquiry was our inheritance as a free people. But now we are peremptorily forbid to discuss or expose this system of wickedness. We must be tongue-tied, and not raise a note of remonstrance nor utter a sigh for this abomination, upon penalty of having our dwellings demolished, and our lives exposed to violence.”

     “How is it, brethren—are we freemen ourselves, or are we slaves? Are you ready to become the supple menials of the South, and neither speak nor feel only as slave-masters or their agents, the mob, give you leave? Are you ready—are the freemen of the free States ready, to bow their necks under the yoke of tyranny, and be whipped mutes?…But it is said that slavery is a political question, and therefore the moralist and the Christian have no right to meddle with it. Just as though wrong and outrage and cruelty and blood were all right in politics, and no man has a right to expose any abuse or lift his voice of remonstrance to any measure but the unprincipled demagogue and political aspirant. How strange that men of integrity and character can be duped in this manner; and instead of maintaining their rights or pleading the cause of liberty, can turn apologists for a system of oppression and despotism which outrages all the principles of free government, and condemn the propagation of the doctrine that ‘slavery is a sin, and therefore ought to be abandoned.’”

     “Those who propagate this doctrine advocate no use of physical force;—we do not wish to legislate for the South;—we do not wish to alter the Constitution, nor do we countenance insurrection among the slaves. But we do wish for the privilege of using moral means to persuade the slave-masters to let go their hold upon the necks of their brethren, or at least to persuade the free States to wash their hands from this pollution and crime, by the abolition of slavery and the slave trade in the District of Columbia. We claim the constitutional right of thinking and discussing and writing, on this subject as well as any other;—and we shall never relinquish this right so long as we are freemen in a free country.

“The great contest between liberty and despotism in this country has fallen upon the Abolition Question. On this alter our liberties seem about to be immolated. And now it is at every man’s option whether to cast his influence into the scale of liberty or of lawless oppression. If you put down freedom of speech and of the press on this subject, then you put it down on every other. Every man, either in high station or low, in the ranks of the political demagogues or in the church of God, who frowns upon liberty of speech and would muzzle the press, is tying his own tongue, and preparing fetters of brass for his own feet. Every citizen is called to chose, between resisting the exorbitant demands of slave-owners on the one hand, and bowing his neck to the iron yoke of despotism on the other. There is no constitutional law to prevent any man from talking, writing, and publishing, on this or any other subject.

“On this point the exasperated southerners and their apologists are lame. What can be done to take away the liberty of speech from abolitionists? Can they be put to silence by argument? Why is not this expedient tried? Evidently for the reason, that the oppressor and his advocate know discussion will tend to the downfall of slavery. It cannot survive free discussion, and therefore we must be gagged. The most summary way of doing this has been supposed to be to create a general sentiment against all discussion, public meetings and condemnatory resolutions. These give countenance to mobs, who carry out in practice and character the anti-republican sentiments of the resolutions. If proof of this were needed, I might point to the Capital of our own State, where inflammatory resolutions were passed one night to put down free discussion, followed by a mob the next night for the same object. See also the same course of things in Boston, ‘the cradle of liberty,’ in Utica, and in many other places, Are our liberties in no danger when resort if had to brute force to deprive citizens of their lawful privileges? When this modern Vandalism is set on foot and countenanced by men of influence and character, and when even good men can apologize for such acts of violence, by laying the blame on those who are the innocent occasion of them? ‘We are opposed to mobs,’ say some of the sapient editors, ‘but then the abolitionists are so imprudent and fanatical, that they provoke the public indignation, and they must take the consequences. If they would keep still they would not be molested.’ How magnanimous! How republican! What greater countenance could the most savage banditti ask of any man than this? …This is letting lose the ‘dogs of war’ upon every man who uses moral means to redress grievances or reform abuses. To find this lawless, time-serving policy advocated in the nineteenth century—in this republican America, by even religious periodicals, shows our liberties to be on the brink of a precipice.. But it is said the abolitionist are so unpopular and offensive that they ought to be put down. That they are unpopular and offensive is admitted; but were not laws made for the very purpose of protecting the rights and privileges of those who are unpopular and offensive?”

A popular man does not need the protection of law. No one will molest his rights. But when public sentiment turns against him, then he needs protection, and every good citizen ought the supremacy of the laws for his protection. Those who are now trimming their sails to the wind of popular favor, and feel themselves safe, ought to bear in mid that the wind may suddenly shift, and unless they now support the supremacy of laws for the protection of the unpopular, they may yet fall into the tender mercies of an infuriated mob. And above all the ought the poor and laboring man of this country to be jealous of their rights, and maintain their liberty of speech. If these be taken from them, they will have no alternative but to swear silence under their rich task-masters. It is lamentable to see many of this class duped and led on by interested and unprincipled demagogues to trample in the dust and destroy their own most precious privileges. Is there any prospect of preserving the Union by the combined energies of infidelity, avarice and lust to lay the abolitionists on the alter of burnt sacrifice? Will it appease the wrath of heaven? Is the spirit of the Lord in the whirlwind of popular fury which is now sweeping  over our country? It is despotism of the meanest character. Better be under the Autocrat of Russia or the Emperor of Austria, than lie at the popular fury in a republican land, without the protection of law. But suppose the reign of anarchy should succeed for a time, and by intimidation or the offering of ten thousand human hecatombs on the alter of despotism, the cause of Abolition should be crushed. Would it continue to slumber? Must not the question come up? Must not the nation meet it, with all its perplexing and exciting difficulties? It surely must come sooner r later; the nation must canvass it, and put it away by deep repentance and humiliation. God is against this system of cruelty; —conscience, humanity, the love of liberty and patriotism, is against it. Discussion cannot be suppressed.; the press cannot be muzzled. Our of an abundance of the heart the mouth will speak. God himself will plead the cause of the oppressed. The tempest of human passion may gather and blacken and lower; the thunders of the South may utter their voices, and the North may mutter their response, but inquiry and discussion will go on, till our land is freed from licentiousness, oppression and cruelty.”

    “Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty: liberty to ‘sigh and cry for the abominations of the land’—to plead the cause of the oppressed—to ‘remember those who are in bonds as bound with them’—liberty to pray for out country, and to use moral means for her salvation. And if this liberty can be enjoyed only under threats of prisons, or at the burning stake, then be it so. God will raise up helpers to such a cause.”

    Is it not time to remonstrate and to give the alarm, when our constitution is trampled in the dust,—when a premium is set upon the scalps of its citizens because their opinions are offensive to tyrants and oppressors;—when burglary, abduction and assassination are encouraged, and when rulers even cease to be a terror to evil doers? Where are out liberties—  our safety? Shall we therefore harden out hearts and hold out peace? Who can tell whether we have come to the kingdom for such a time as this? If we together hold our peace, deliverance will come from another quarter, while we perish with the workers of iniquity. If God be with us, we will pray for out country; we will expose her sins; we will defend discussion and free inquiry. Nor will we envy the responsibility of those editor and ministers of religion, from whatever motive they act, who strive to suppress free inquiry and to keep the people ignorant of their dangers and duties, in the present solemn crisis of the nation. While this nation is approaching the whirlpool— while the wind howls, the ocean heaves, and her frail bark is already broken by the violence of the waves, it becomes every man to apprize himself of her danger—and not only be at his post, but to look to Him in humble prayer, who can guide her through the storm to the haven of riotousness and peace…”

   “…This is the subject of devout gratitude, and this is our confidence while we live in this world of wrongs and wickedness, ‘God is our refuge and strength, a very special help in trouble.’ We know he will bring good out of evil, order out of confusion, and cause the wrath of man to praise him…The gospel will prevail to restore to all men their inalienable rights, and to protect the enjoyment of liberty…. ‘The triumphing of the wicked is short.’ While therefore we rejoice this day in the bounties of the year, let us especially rejoice in the future but certain triumph of truth over error, and liberty over all that molests and  or destroys the rights of men…Let every man reflect on the guilt and provocations of this nation; let him review the gross impositions and cruel injustices practiced against the aborigines of this country; our hypocritical professions of liberty, while one sixth of the population are in cruel bondage… Let the wicked rage and the people imagine a vain thing, but we rejoice in the Lord, and praise him for his long suffering and patience towards our beloved country…”

Find The full transcript of Rev. Cutler’s Sermon here:

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