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he chooses to discuss the all-absorbing topics of the day. If he is not, take him all in all, the greatest man in the nation, we feel safe in saying that he is surpassed by no one; and put him down where you might, on the other side of the Atlantic, he would stand with the very few, like Saul the Benjamite, who “from the shoulders upward, was higher than any of the people.” Let this tribute, however, which we could not refrain from rendering on so fitting an occasion, pass. Our main design in this article is not to eulogize Mr. Webster, nor to discuss any of the intricate legal questions, involved in the decision of the Supreme Court, confirming the will of the late Stephen Girard, for the establishment of an orphan college near the city of Philadelphia. As good citizens we bow to the decision of the highest judicial tribunal in the land, whose duty it is, not to make the laws, but to expound them. Nor do we enquire into the motives which prompted to the most princely bequest that ever was made in this country, for the endowment of any public charity whatever. These
motives we reverently leave with
Him, who “trieth the heart and the reins.” Having set apart the enormous sum of two millions of dollars from his vast estate, to erect and endow a college, for the accommodation of at least three hundred orphan scholars, and the requisite number of teachers, he ordered the ground on which it was to be built, consisting of no less than forty-five acres, to be enclosed with a high solid stone wall, capped with marble and lined upon the top with long iron spikes. Mr. Girard, in providing for the government and instruction of his three hundred orphan boys, in all future time, thought proper to insert the following remarkable restrictive clause in his will— “I enjoin and require that no ecclesiastic, missionary or minister of
any sect whatever, shall ever hold or exercise any station, or duty whatever in said college; nor shall any such person ever be admitted for any purpose, or as a visitor within the premises appropriated to the purpose of said college.” The ground which Mr. Webster takes, and maintains with all his great abilities, against this extraordinary proscription is, that “in the eye of equitable jurisprudence the devise of Mr. Girard so restricted, is not a charity, entitled to the favor with which such bequests are received and upheld by the courts of Christian countries, but contemplates the establishment of a school on the plain and clear principles of infidelity, and therefore that the will ought to be set aside.” Other points adverse to its validity are taken, but this is the chief. In giving a synopsis of Mr. Webster's masterly argument, we must of course study brevity, which will deprive our readers of much of the pleasure to be derived from the full report, in the pamphlet of sixty pages now before us. The lofty, moral, and Christian tone of the whole argument, which occupied the Court for nine hours on three successive days, was thrilling and delightful. We can not despair of the republic so long as our halls of justice are made to resound with such sentiments from the lips of our most illustrious statesmen and gifted advocates. And here let us say, that the decision of the Court, by which our great New England barrister was overruled, does not deduct in the slightest degree from his noble defense of the Christian religion, nor the vital importance of early Christian education, which he so powerfully advocates. Nor, again, does the decision prove that any member of the Supreme Court differed from Mr. Webster on either of these points. The laws of the land often extort judgments from the highest tribunals, which they
would gladly be excused from rendering; and the only remedy lies, if remedy be necessary, in revised and better legislation. Mr. Webster's first objection to Girard's will, is that “it attempts to attach reproach and odium to the whole clergy of the country—to every individual of the profession, without any exception. No minister of the gospel, of any denomination, may ever set foot upon the grounds belonging to this school, for any purpose however urgent. Against every man of the sacred profession, the iron gates are to be closed and barred and bolted.” This exclusion Mr. Webster denounces, (and how his dark eye flashed when he uttered it,) “as the most opprobrious, the most insulting and the most unmerited stigma that was ever cast, or attempted to be cast upon the preachers of Christianity, in the whole history of the country.” “When, where and how,” he indignantly demands, “have they deserved it 2 I take it upon myself to say, that in no country in the world, upon either continent, can there be found a body of ministers of the gospel, who perform so much service to man in a full spirit of self-denial, under so little encouragement from government of any kind, and under circumstances always much straitened and often distressed, as the ministers of the gospel in the United States, of all denominations. They form no part of an established order of religion; they constitute no hierarchy; they enjoy no peculiar privileges. They have to depend entirely on the voluntary contributions of those who hear them. “And this body of clergymen have shown, to the honor of their own country, and to the astonishment of the hierarchies of the old world, that it is practicable, in free governments, to raise and sustain a body of clergymen, which, for devotedness to their sacred calling, for
Mr. Webster's Plea in the Case of the Girard Will.
purity of life and character, for learning, intelligence, piety, and that wisdom which cometh from above, is inferior to none and superior to most others, by voluntary contributions alone.” How common was it in Mr. Jefferson's palmy days, and how common is it even now, in some quarters, for men of high and commanding political consideration, to speak reproachfully of the clergy, as bigoted, narrow-minded, canting, nasal hypocrites, who are so far from doing anything to promote the true interests of the country, that no class of men require to be more narrowly and jealously watched than they do. Now, let us hear Mr. Webster. To call this great American politician and statesman an ignorant or canting eulogist, would be more than the reputation of the bitterest enemies of the Christian ministry, for intelligence and candor, is worth. Let us hear him. “I hope that our learned men have done something for the honor of our literature abroad. I hope that the courts of justice and members of the bar of this country have done something to elevate the character of the profession of the law. I hope the discussions in Congress have done something to meliorate the condition of the human race, to secure and extend the great charter of human rights, and to strengthen and advance the great principles of human liberty. But I contend that no literary efforts, no adjudications, no constitutional discussions, nothing that has been said or done in favor of universal man, has done this country more credit, at home and abroad, than the establishment of our body of clergymen, their support by voluntary contributions, and the general excellence of their character, their piety and their learning. And yet, every one of them is, by Mr. Girard's devise, denied the privileges which are open to the vilest of our race. Did the man ever live, who had a respect for the Christian religion, and yet had no regard for any one of its ministers ? Did that system of instruction ever exist, which denounced the whole body of Christian teachers, and yet called itself Christianity 2 “I maintain,” continues Mr. Webster, in a noble strain of manly, Christian eloquence, “that in every institution for the instruction of youth, where the authority of God is disowned, and the duties of Christianity derided and despised, and its ministers shut out from all participation in its proceedings, there can no more be charity, true charity, found to exist, than evil can spring out of the Bible, error out of truth, or hatred and animosity come forth from the bosom of perfect love. “No, sir—no, sir! If charity denies its birth and parentage; if it turns infidel to the great doctrines of the Christian religion; if it turns unbeliever, it is no longer charity, for it separates itself from the fountain of its own creation l’” Mr. Webster then goes on to maintain, with climacteric force and eloquence, (we give the sense, though not his exact language,) that this unblest feature in the Girard College is a perfect anomaly. There is nothing like it in the whole history of the Christian religion. A great charity school, in a Christian land, where thousands are to be educated for the duties and trials of life, but which no minister of the gospel, of any denomination, can ever be allowed to enter | It is monstrous ! It is an insult to high heaven, which the wealth of a kingdom, devoted to
the purposes of education, could not
atone for. Having proved, as he thinks, that the Girard bequest lacks the essential element of a Christian charity, and ought not to be sanctioned by any court in a Christian land, Mr. Webster proceeds, most feelingly and eloquently, to portray the situation of those who may be so unfor
tunate as to be placed in the proposed college.
“Now let us look at the condition and prospects of these tender children, who are to be submitted to this experiment of instruction, without Christianity. In the first place, they are orphans—have no parents to guide and instruct them in the way they should go—no father, no religious mother, to lead them to the pure fount of Christianity; they are orphans. If they were only poor, there might be somebody, bound by the ties of human affection, to look after their spiritual welfare, to see that they imbibed no erroneous opinions on the subject of religion; the child would have its father or its mother to teach it to lisp the name of its Creator in prayer, or hymn his praise.
“But in this experimental school of instruction, if the orphans have any friends or connections able to look after their welfare, it shuts them out. It is made the duty of the governors of the institution, on taking the child, to keep it from any after interference on the part of guardians or relations, in any way whatever.
“The school, or college, is to be surrounded with high walls, with two gates, and no more. They are to be of iron within, and iron-bound without—thus answering more the description of a castle, than a schoolhouse. The children are to be thus guarded for twelve years, in one great enclosure, and all that is done for their bodily or mental welfare, is to be done within this enclosure. It has been said, that they could attend public worship elsewhere. Where is the proof of this 2 There is no provision in the devise, there is nothing said about it in any part of Mr. Girard's will, and such a privilege would be just as adverse to his whole scheme, as it would be that the doctrines of Christianity should be preached within the walls of the college.
“These children then are taken, before they know the alphabet, to be kept till the period of early manhood, and then sent out into the world. By this time their character will have been stamped; for, if there is any truth in the Bible, if there is any truth in those oracles which soar above all human authority, or if anything be established by the experience of mankind, the character is formed in the first third of human life. And what sort of character is likely to be made by this process—this experimental system of instruction ? “Mr. Girard, as we have seen, enjoins that no ministers of religion of any sects shall be allowed to enter his college, on any pretense whatever. Now it is obvious, that by sects he means Christian sects. Any of the followers of Voltaire or L'Alembert may have admission into this school, whenever they please, because they are not usually spoken of as “sects.” The doors are to be opened to the opposers and revilers of Christianity in every form and shape, and shut to its supporters. While the voice of the upholders of Christianity is never to be heard within the walls, the voices of those who impugn Christianity may be raised high and loud, till they shake the marble roof of the building. “They say, on the other side, that infidel teachers will not be admitted into this school. How do they know that 2 What is the inevitable tendency of such an education as is here prescribed The trustees, if they accept Mr. Girard's bequest, must carry out the details of his Plan. “Now what,” Mr. Webster earnestly demands, “is likely to be the effect upon the minds of those children, left solely to its pernicious influence, with no one to care for their spiritual welfare, in this world or the next? They are to be left entirely to the tender mercies of those who will try upon them this experiment
of moral philosophy—morality without sentiment—benevolence towards man, without a sense of responsibility towards God. The duties of this life performed without any reference to the life which is to come—this is Mr. Girard's theory of useful education Half of these poor children may die before the time of their education expires. Still, those who survive must be brought up, imbued fully with the inevitable tendencies of the system.” In answer to a suggestion from the other side, that the deficiency might be supplied by lay preachers or teachers, Mr. Webster contends that this would be just as adverse to Mr. Girard's original object and plan, as to admit professional preachers— that his manifest design was to keep the orphans free from all bias of any kind, in favor of any Christian creed, till they arrived at manhood, as the only effectual guard against sectarianism—that, accordingly, there is no provision in his will for any religious teaching whatever, and that if there were, laymen are just as likely to launch out into sectarian views, and to advance clashing doctrines, as professional preachers, and even more so; and finally, that there is nothing original in the plan, it being borrowed from Paine's Age of Reason, where he says, “Let us devise means to establish schools of instruction, that may banish the ignorance that the ancient regime of kings and priests have spread among the people. Let us propagate morality unfettered by superstition.” Here Mr. Webster might have dismissed this part of the subject; but when he thought of the design of establishing an infidel college with great funds, just in the suburbs of one of our largest cities, for the education, or rather immolation as he regards it, of its orphan children, as long as the marble lasts, his soul was stirred within him, and he proceeded to expose this attack upon the Christian religion through its ministers, in one of the finest and loftiest strains of Christian remonstrance, that ever was heard in our great national hall of justice, or any other. So just and scriptural are his views on this head, so cogent is the reasoning and so rarely have we an opportunity of enriching our pages with such truly Christian sentiments, from the lips of our most distinguished statesmen and jurists, that we can hardly resist the temptation of quoting much more, than our limits will possibly allow. And we are quite sure our readers will extend to us more than ordinary indulgence in this case, especially when they recollect how fitting it is, that the New ENGLANDER should do what it can, to embalm the Christian thoughts and reasonings of her most gifted and illustrious men. They will not only bear with us, but we shall receive their thanks for letting Mr. Webster speak, where we might have spoken ourselves. He strongly objects to Mr. Girard's scheme, as derogatory to Christianity on two grounds. “First, as rejecting it, by rejecting its teachers—by rejecting the ordinary agencies of instilling the Christian religion into the minds of the young. He who rejects the ordinary means of accomplishing an end, intends to defeat that end itself, or else he has no meaning. This is strictly true, where the end rests on divine authority, and human agency devises and uses the means. But if the means themselves be of divine authority also, then the rejection of them is direct rejection of that authority. “Now,” continues Mr. Webster, “I suppose there is nothing in the New Testament more clearly established, than the appointment of the Christian ministry. The world was to be evangelized, was to be brought out of darkness into light, by the influences of the Christian religion, spread and propagated by the instrumentality of man. A Christian min
istry was appointed by the author of the Christian religion himself, and it stands on the same authority, as any other part of his religion. When the lost sheep of the house of Israel were to be brought to the knowledge of Christianity, the disciples were commanded to go forth and preach, “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ And after his resurrection, in the appointment of the great mission to the whole human race, he commanded his disciples “to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” This was one of his last commands, and one of his last promises was, ‘Lo, I am with you alway, even to the end of the world.' I say, therefore, there is nothing set forth more authentically in the New Testament, than the appointment of a Christian ministry. And why should we shut our eyes to the whole history of Christianity ? ls it not the preaching of the ministers of the gospel, that has evangelized the more civilized parts of the world Why do we this day enjoy the lights and benefits of Christianity ourselves P Do we not owe it to the instrumentality of the Christian ministry The ministers of Christianity, departing from Asia Minor, traversing Asia, Africa and through Europe, to Iceland, Greenland and the poles of the earth; suffering all things, enduring all things, hoping all things, raising men every where from the ignorance of idol worship, to the knowledge of the true God, and every where bringing life and immortality to light through the gospel, have only been acting in obedience to the divine instruction. They were commanded to go forth, they have gone forth, and they still go forth. And descending from kingdoms and empires, to cities and parishes and villages, do we not all know, that wherever Christianity has been carried, and wherever it has been taught by human agency, that agency was the agency of ministers of the gos