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under the historian's pen. Herod, the Jewish king, a monster of barbarity, who murdered his wife and two or three of his own sons, was called GREAT, merely because he was prodigal of human blood. Ancient historians, biassed
by superstition, that disease of the human mind, are not more correct, nor more to be credited, in the account they give of natural phenomena, than in their history of civil transactions. I will state but a single case: One of their historians, speaking of a great luminous, stony substance, that fell in the river Argos, a few years before the Peloponnesian war, tells us, that“ for seventy-five days before it fell, there was seen in the heavens a large body of fire, like a burning cloud, casting out fragments like shooting stars." If he had told us that the luminous body appeared seventy-five minutes, instead of days, before it fell, he would have exceeded the truth very much: but the phenomenon would have been less miraculous. This, however, we learn from the story, that the circumstance of a great ignited, stony substance, such as lately fell from the upper regions in Connecticut; such as fell not long since in India, and such as have lately fallen in sundry parts of Europe, was observed to fall two thousand years ago in Greece. And we learn, to our mortification, that to this hour we are perfectly ignorant of the origin, or cause, of those phenomena.
Keeping in view the cases in which the historian may have been tempted, by some unworthy motive, to forsake the truth, civil history may be read with pleasure and advantage. It is not only the most amusing, but it is the most instructive part of human literature. Being creatures of yesterday, we are indebted to history for the greater part of what we know. We are tenants of a spot on this globe, and that for a few days only. It is little that we have seen. History gives us an astonishing length of days: for it makes us cotemporary with every nation that ever flourished. Accompanied by this Mentor, we take a short view of the antediluvian race of men. We traverse the greater part of Asia, observing the destruction that was made by the armies of Cyrus and Alexander, and we visit every part of Europe, and a considerable part of Africa, attending to the legions of Rome. We converse with the great men and wise men, the statesmen and philosophers, of Greece and Rome. Descending to later ages, we observe the Goths, the Vandals, and the Saracens, overturning old kingdoms and old forms of government; introducing new customs, and attempting, with no small degree of success, to cover the world with a thick cloud of ignorance. Fatigued and disgusted with the chieftains of a dark age, we attend to the
progress of society, and we observe that learning, like the fabled Phoenix, is rising from the ashes of its parent. The world is illuminated by a new discovery-the art of printing; and the nations of Europe enjoy some degree of freedom, prosperity, and peace. Our sight and our strength remaining, we approach the nineteenth century, when we see another Atila, rising in his might, and making war with the genius of liberty. We see him overturning every state on the old continent that had any pretences to political freedom, and introducing a new species of military despotism. The tenth plague of Egypt was usually supposed to be the severest stroke with which God, in his wrath, had ever chastised a nation; but the military conscription is much more calamitous : it is not contented with the first born; for in many cases it sweeps off the oldest, the youngest, and every other son in the family. This man is bidding fair to cover the bright luminary of science by a total eclipse, and to darken the world by a long night of ignorance.
We are taught by history how it was that nations have acquired learning, power, and riches and how they sunk into ignorance, poverty, and contempt. We are also taught a lesson that claims the particular attention of our fellow citizens in this state, and the attention of this society: We are taught that learning and the useful arts have always flourished in a free government, and have constantly shrunk beneath the sword of a conqueror. It is not that wise men or learned men are the productions of any particular soil or climate; they are constantly begotten and nourished by ciril liberty. The Egyptians, as we know, were long since distinguished by their learning, but the tenure of property in that nation was secure; every man lived on his own lands, and the bounds were correctly marked. Lest the annual inundations of the Nile should deface their landmarks, they had recourse to annual surveys. For this reason the Egyptians were called a nation meted out. It appears that a great proportion of the inhabitants of that kingdom lived upon their own lands. If this bad not been the case, they could not have subsisted, during a long famine, by selling their lands to the king. The Egyptian nionarchy, as we know, was overturned above two thousand years ago, and that unfortunate nation has ever since been ruled by foreign princes. The subject at this time has neither liberty nor property. We observe the consequences. It would now be a poor compliment to any man to say, that “he is learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians.”
The Grecians, about twenty-five hundred years ago, enjoyed a great degree of civil liberty. It followed, as a natural consequence, that the Grecians exceeded all other nations in arts and learning. The Grecians, or rather the Athenians, were not indebted to soil or climate for the extraordinary progress they made in science and the liberal arts; they were merely indebted to the high degree of liberty they enjoyed. Sparta was but a few leagues distant from Attica; the soil, climate, and language, nearly the same: but the citizen in Sparta was hampered by a rigid military discipline. It was a discipline that chained the mind by inflexible rules, and pervaded the very forms of social intercourse. Hence it followed that the Spartans made little progress in arts or learning. Lest it should be alleged that the climate of Attica, and not the form of government, had been the parent of learning, we find that learning among those people withered beneath the touch of Alexander, and perished beneath the legions of Rome.
It has been correctly observed, that the history of a few centuries would do much toward forming a prophet; and this prophetic inspiration is confessedly among the most essential benefits that can be derived from civil history. The same causes will ever produce the same effects; and the things that have happened will happen again, in the like circumstances. When we have traced the steps by which a nation has acquired power, wealth, and knowledge, we shall be taught, by the same historian, how it was that they sunk into poverty, ignorance, and contempt. We are taught that commerce has ever produced riches, and some degree of learning. By commerce Palmyra in the desert became a splendid city. Tyre, Carthage, Alexandria, Venice and Amsterdam, were enriched by the same prolific stream. The inhabitants of each city retained such a degree of civil liberty, that the tenure of his property was secure; therefore the citizen was industrious.
It may be worth while, for a few minutes, to consider in what manner some of the most respectable free states have been destroyed. Of the ancient states, I shall only consider Greece and Rome. While the small republics of Greece retained that principle of virtue, by which they were formed and connected, we know what glory they acquired by repelling the numerous and formidable armies of Persia. In comparing their situation with ours, it is hardly necessary to observe, how few those people were in number, when compared with the citizens of the United States; nor what a rivulet the Hellespont was when compared with the Atlantic ocean. But the very men who had effectually resisted the myriads of Persia, sunk beneath the arms of Macedon. These facts may seem to be improbable, but they are not to be questioned. The states by prosperity were diseased. Let us attend to the operation of their disease in the Athenian republic alone. Men there were in Athens, as in all societies, who were too indolent and too vicious to support themselves hy honest industry. Those Lazaroni, those pests of society, in all cases, expect to be supported by the public, and where the people have the rule, they succeed by flattering the people. The Athenians had become rich by industry and cominerce, and the people in general were greatly debauched. They cared little about the state, or about the other Grecian republics. The demagogues flattered their vices. They gratified the people by promoting plays and other public amusements: money was necessary to the support of their measures ; and, to the eternal reproach of those people, the money that had been collected for military defence, was expended in supporting comedians and buffoons. The Lazaroni to whom I refer, the men who seduced the people, had long been in the pay and service of Alexander of Macedon.