Friday, October 1, 2010

Dr Church's Boston Massacre Oration - Part 2

  John Adams' Diary Entry: 1773. MARCH 5TH. FRYDAY.

Heard an Oration, at Mr. Hunts Meeting House, by Dr. Benja. Church, in Commemoration of the Massacre in Kings Street, 3 Years ago. That large Church was filled and crouded in every Pew, Seat, Alley, and Gallery, by an Audience of several Thousands of People of all Ages and Characters and of both Sexes.

Old South Meeting House Interior
  So much for the fire of Dr Church's oratory, but what about the substance you ask.

   In  March 1773, Dr Church stood as one of the unquestioned leaders of the Boston Whigs. Very active in Boston politics, Church was elected to numerous committees to deal with the serious disputes between the royal government and the people of Boston and, indeed, Massachusetts. For instance, in late October 1772, Samuel Adams, Dr Joseph Warren and Church were appointed in a town meeting to serve as a committee to deal with Gov Thomas Hutchinson on the contentious subject of royal salaries for provincial judges. In November of that year, Samuel Adams received permission to start the Committee of Correspondence. Church was a member of that committee and was selected to initiate a correspondence with John Wilkes.The significance of that selection has been obscured by time, but John Wilkes was a very famous English radical and member of Parliament (when not in jail or expelled from it) who was a thorn in the side of George III and various English ministers. American colonists followed his career very closely and many became convinced that his struggles were proof that the British constitution was being subverted by corrupt ministers. When drafting the Constitution some fifteen years after this oration, the delegates to the Constitutional Convention adopted two provisions, (expulsion from Congress and the use of general warrants) specifically because of Wilkes' experience with the British monarchy and government. The day before the oration Dr Church had met again with Gov Hutchinson as a member of a committee (Boston loved its committees) to answer Hutchinson and as reported by John Adams in his diary entry:

The Governor and General Court, has been engaged for two Months upon the greatest Question ever yet agitated. I stand amazed at the Governor, for forcing on this Controversy. He will not be thanked for this. His Ruin and Destruction must spring out of it, either from the Ministry and Parliament on one Hand, or from his Countrymen, on the other. He has reduced himself to a most ridiculous State of Distress. He is closetting and soliciting Mr. Bowdoin, Mr. Dennie, Dr. Church &c. &c., and seems in the utmost Agony.

   And so Dr Church stood as tall as any of the Boston Whigs as he gave his oration. Keep in mind the rhetoric of the Founding Fathers as set forth in the Declaration of Independence as you read these excerpts from Dr Church's Boston Massacre Oration.

     We are not to obey a Prince, ruling above the limits of the power entrusted to him; for the Common-wealth by constituting a head does not deprive itself of the power of its own preservation. Government or Magistracy whether supreme or subordinate is a mere human ordinance, and the laws of every nation are the measure of magistratical power; and Kings, the servants of the state, when they degenerate into tyrants, forfeit their right to government. (italics added)....
    To enjoy life as becomes rational creatures, to possess our souls with pleasure and satisfaction, we must be careful to maintain that inestimable blessing, Liberty. By liberty I would understand, the happiness of living under laws of our own making, by our personal consent, or that of our representatives....

    The constitution of England, I revere to a degree of idolatry; but my attachment is to the common weal; the magistrate will ever command my respect, by the integrity and wisdom of his administrations....

    As in every government there must exist a power superior to the laws, viz. the power that makes those laws, and from which they derive their authority; therefore the liberty of the people is exactly proportioned to the share the body of the people have in the legislature; and the check placed in the constitution on the executive power. That state only is free, where the people are governed by laws which they have a share in making; and that country is totally enslaved where one single law can be made or repealed without the interposition or consent of the people....

    But remember my Brethren! When a people have once sold their liberties, it is no act of extraordinary generosity, to throw their lives and properties into the bargain, for they are poor indeed when enjoyed at the mercy of a master....

    Where laws are framed and assessments laid without a legal representation, and obedience to such acts urged by force, the despairing people robbed of every constitutional means of redress, and that people, brave and virtuous, must become the admiration of ages, should they not appeal to those powers, which the immutable laws of nature have lent to all mankind. Fear is a slender tye of subjection, we detest those whom we fear, and with the destruction to those we detest; but humanity, uprightness and good faith, with an apparent watchfulness for the welfare of the people, constitute the permanency, and are the firmest support of the sovereign's authority; for when violence is opposed to reason and justice, courage never wants an arm for its defence....

    But let us not forget the distressing occasion of this anniversary: The sullen ghosts of murdered fellow-citizens, haunt my imagination "and harrow up my soul,"*  methinks the tainted air is hung with the dews of death, while Ate' hot from hell, cries havock, and lets slip the dogs of war.** Hark! the wan tenants of the grave still shriek for vengeance on their remorseless butchers: Forgive us heaven! Should we mingle involuntary execrations, while hovering in idea over the guiltless dad.

   * Hamlet Act 1, Scene 5
  ** Julius Caesar - words spoken by Mark Antony regretting the actions he has taken after Caesar's murder:

                                                          Blood and destruction shall be so in use   
 And dreadful objects so familiar
                     That mothers shall but smile when they behold
                    Their infants quarter'd with the hands of war;
                All pity choked with custom of fell deeds:
              And Caesar's spirit, ranging for revenge,
              With Ate by his side come hot from hell,
                      Shall in these confines with a monarch's voice
                Cry 'Havoc,' and let slip the dogs of war;
                     That this foul deed shall smell above the earth
          With carrion men, groaning for burial.

John Wilkes

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