Posted by: Democratic Thinker | November 5, 2009

Without Morals a Republic Cannot Subsist Any Length of Time

American Correspondence

 
Charles Carroll of Carrollton—signer of the Declaration of Independence—writes to James McHenry encouraging him to oppose factional divisiveness. Carroll, a devoted Catholic, also offers commentary on morality as the foundation of a republic and of the despotism of the “pretended” French republic.


If our country should continue to be the sport of parties, if the mass of the People should be exasperated & roused to pillage the more wealthy, social order wrill be subverted, anarchy will follow, succeeded by Despotism; these changes have, in that order of succession, taken place in France: yet the men, so far as I am informed, who stile themselves republicans very generally wish success to France; in other words the friends of freedom here are the friends of Buonaparte, who has established by a military force the most despotic governt. in Europe: how are we to reconcile this contradiction of their avowed principles?

Letter to James McHenry.

Annapolis 4th Nov. 1800

DEAR SIR

Charles Carroll of Carollton.

I REGRET my absence from this city when Mr. Caldwell brought your letter of the 21st inst, as it deprived me of showing those attentions & that civility, to which his character & his near connection with you justly entitled him.

I hoped to have had the pleasure of a visit from you at the Manor; I wished much to see you to discourse on a variety of subjects & particularly on the present critical situation of this country. The President remarks that we are fallen upon evil times; I fear a great part of the evil may be attributed to his shifting conduct, his passions, his indiscretion, vanity & jealousy—I had a high opinion of Mr. Adams, and I still believe him to be an honest man, but his integrity can not compensate for his weaknesses, which unfit him for his present station. Were a competition for places and power between the friends and opposers of the administration the only object of the contest, it would be a matter of indifference to me by what party the governt. should be administered: If Mr. Adams should be reelected, I fear our constitution would be more injured by his unruly passions, antipathies, & jealousy, than by the whimsies of Jefferson: I am not acquainted with ye characters of the leaders of the opposition, but it is to be apprehended, that to obtain & retain power, they might sacrifice the true interest & real independance of this country to France. Judge Duvall says that no well informed man can doubt of there being a british faction among us, wishing to establish a monarchy in lieu of a Republican govent; if he writes the truth, I own I am not of the number of the well informed. I know of no such faction; if it exists & is endeavouring to effect such a change, its attempt should be crushed. If our country should continue to be the sport of parties, if the mass of the People should be exasperated & roused to pillage the more wealthy, social order wrill be subverted, anarchy will follow, succeeded by Despotism; these changes have, in that order of succession, taken place in France: yet the men, so far as I am informed, who stile themselves republicans very generally wish success to France; in other words the friends of freedom here are the friends of Buonaparte, who has established by a military force the most despotic governt. in Europe: how are we to reconcile this contradiction of their avowed principles? is their aversion to the English constitution the cause of this inconsistency, do they consider the naval power of that nation as the strongest barrier to yr revolutionary arts, by wh all the rulers of France, each in their turn, have endeavoured & are endeavouring to weaken & subvert all other governments, that France may establish an influence over all, & thus become all-powerful? They dare not avow the sentiments, yet their wishes & their conduct point to it—I wish the british to retain the empire of the seas, while the rulers of France are actuated by such motives: the decided naval superiority of Britain is ye only effectual check to ye ambition of that soi-disant Republick: the true interests, & independance of this country require, that those rival nations should be balanced.

If the people of this country were united, it would have nothing to fear from foreign powers; but unhappily this is not the case; many of the opposers of ye present administration, I suspect want change of the federal constitution; if that should be altered, or weakened so as to be rendered a dead letter, it will not answer the purposes of its formation and will expire from meer inanity: other confederacies will start up & ye scene of ye Grecian States, after an interval of more than two thousand years, will be renewed on this continent, & some British or Buonaparte will melt the whole of them into one mass of despotism.

These events will be hastened by the pretended Philosophy of France: divine revelation has been scoffed at by the Philosophers of the present day, the immortality of the soul treated as the dreams of fools, or the invention of knaves, & death has been declared by public authority an eternal sleep: these opinions are gaining ground among us, & silently sapping the foundations of a religion the encouragement of ye good, the terror of evil doers, and the consolation of the poor, the miserable, and the distressed. Remove the hope and dread of future rewards & punishments, the most powerful restraint on wicked actions, & ye strongest inducement to virtuous ones is done away. Virtue may be said is its own reward; I believe it to be so and even in this life the only source of happiness; and this intimate & necessary connection between virtue & happiness here and between vice and misery is to my mind one of the surest pledges of happiness or misery in a future state of existence—But how few practice virtue for its own reward! some of happy disposition & temperament, calm reflecting men, exempt in a great degree from the turbulence of passions may be virtuous for virtue’s sake: small, however, is the number who are guided by reason alone, & who can always subject their passions to its dictates? he, who can thus act, may be said to be virtuous; but reason is often inlisted on the side of the passions, or at best, when most wanted, is weakest—Hence the necessity of a superior motive for acting virtuously; now, what motive can be stronger than ye belief, founded on revelation, that a virtuous life will be rewarded by a happy immortality? without morals a republic cannot subsist any length of time; they therefore who are decrying the Christian religion, whose morality is so sublime & pure, wh denounces against the wicked eternal misery, & insures to the good eternal happiness are undermining the solid foundation of morals, the best security for the duration of free governments.

If there be force in this reasoning, what judgt. ought we to form of our pretended republicans, who admire & applaud the proceedings of revolutionary France!

These declaimers in favor of freedom & equality act in such a questionable shape that I cannot help suspecting their sincerety.

This is a long preaching letter: & I fear tedious & dull one; but you wished to know my sentiments about the present parties & impending fate of our country, and I could not give them, without developing the reasoning of my opinion—you see that I almost despair of the commonwealth—The end of every legitimate Government is the security of life, liberty & property: if this country is to be revolutionised, none of these will be secured. Perhaps the leaders of the opposition, when they get into office, may be content to let the constitution remain as it is, & may pursue the policy & measures of Washington’s administration: but what will become in that case of their consistency? Patriots, you will say, are not always consistent; granted; yet other patriots & opposers will arise to arraign this inconsistency, & the storm once raised who will stop its fury?

Celui qui met un pein a la fureur des flots,
Soit aussi des mechans arreter les complots.

My only hope is in that Being, who educes good out of evil: may he, in his abundant mercy, incline the hearts of our countrymen to peace, justice, & concord.

I have read Mr. Hamilton’s pamphlet; the drift of its publication at this time I conjecture was not so much with a view of vindicating his character, as to prevent the electors in Massachusetts from scattering their votes in order to secure the election of Mr. Adams in preference to Mr. Pinkney. All, with whom I have conversed, blame, however, Mr. Hamilton & consider his publication as ill-timed; altho’ I pay a deference to the opinions of others, whose motives I know to be good, yet I can not help differing from them in this instance. The assertions of ye pamphlet, I take it for granted, are true; and if true, surely it must be admitted that Mr. Adams is not fit to be President, and his unfitness should be made known to the Electors & ye Publick; I conceive it a species of treason to conceal from the Publick his incapacity.

Altho’ your remaining rather a spectator of than an actor in the passing scenes, is founded on a proper motive, yet you will find it impossible to retain a neutral character, nor do I think it fit you should: we ought all, each in our several spheres, to endeavour to set the public mind right, & to administer antidotes to the poison that is widely spreading through the country.

Excuse the interlineations, & the incoherence of this letter. I write currente calamo, I have not time to arrange & methodise my thoughts, or to copy. I am in the sentiments of real regard and esteem

Dr. Sir
Yr. most hum. Servt
CH. CARROLL of Carrollton

A tip o’ the hat to The Moral Liberal.

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