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

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Dr Church's Boston Massacre Oration

On March 5th, 1773 Dr Church wrote and gave the third annual oration commemorating the Boston Massacre at the Boston Town Meeting held at the Old South Meeting House, the largest building in Boston at that time. The previous two addresses were given by James Lovell, now largely forgotten but a prominent Whig who later was arrested by General Gage, and Dr Joseph Warren, Church's colleague and sometime rival. So large was the crowd gathered to hear Church's oration that both he and John Hancock, the moderator, could only get into the building by climbing in through a window. Whereas the previous two orations were well recieved, they were rather sedate. Church, however, gave the crowd a very different speech, fiery being perhaps too modest a word to describe it. With references to the political solutions of Brutus, Cromwell, and Ravillac (Ravaillac, the 17th century assassin of Henry IV of France),  it was received with thunderous applause and a demand that it be published, which it immediately was. The following excerpt from the the end of the oration provides a taste of what must have had that Boston crowd so moved and energized:

         The whole soul clamors for arms, and is on fire to attack the brutal banditti; we fly agonizing to the horrid aceldama*;we gaze on the mangled corpses of our brethren and grinning furies, gloating o'er their carnage, the hostile attitude of the miscreant murders, redoubles our resentment, and makes revenge a virtue.
          By heaven they die! Thus nature spoke, and the swollen heart leap'd to execute the dreadful purpose; dire was the interval of rage, fierce was the conflict of the soul. In that important hour, did not the stalking ghosts of our stern forefathers, point us to bloody deeds of vengeance? Did not the consideration of our expiring liberties, impel us to remorseless havock? But hark! The guardian God of New England issues his awful mandate. "Peace, be Still." Hushed was the bursting war, the lowering tempest frowned its rage away. Confidence in that God, beneath whose wing we shelter all our cares, that blessed confidence released the dastard, the cowering prey. With haughty scorn we refused to become their executioners, and nobly gave them to the wrath of heaven. But words can poorly paint the horrid scene. Defenceless, prostrate, bleeding countrymen -- the piercing, agonizing groans --the mingled moan of weeping relatives and friends -- these best can speak; to rouse the luke-warm into noble zeal, to fire the zealous into manly rage; against the foul oppression of quartering troops, in populous cities, in times of peace.

 And, of course, New England's best contemporary poet ended with this poem:

                  Thou who yon bloody walk shalt traverse, there
                  Where troops of Britain's King, on Britain's Sons,
                  Discharg'd the leaden vengeance; pass not on
                  E'er thou hast blest their memory, and paid
                  Those hallowed tears, which sooth the virtuous dead:
                  O stranger! Stay thee, and the scene around
                  Contemplate well, and if perchance thy home,
                  Salute thee with a father's honor'd name,
                  Go call thy Sons __ instruct them what a debt
                  They owe their ancestors, and make them swear
                  To pay it, by transmitting down entire
                  Those sacred rights to which themselves were born.

  * "Aceldama" refers to the field Judas Iscariot purchased with the money he received for betraying Christ and means "field of blood."

Old South Meeting House