Bidwell Lore – An Oration by Barnabas Bidwell, Part II

Welcome to Bidwell Lore number 110! This week we continue to share a speech that Reverend Bidwell’s son Barnabas Bidwell delivered on July 4th, 1795, during an Independence celebration in Stockbridge. You can read Part I HERE.

Note: The original speech Barnabas Bidwell delivered is VERY long. I can only hope July 4th, 1795, was not an exceedingly hot day for all of those who attended. I plan to share excerpts over the next few weeks that get to the core of Barnabas’ message, which is why the citizens of Stockbridge, in 1795, should be celebrating American Independence. Keep in mind that while Barnabas makes some very salient points about freedom and liberty, he was living in a time when these freedoms mostly applied to white men. He does not mention the plight of the enslaved peoples in America nor of the Indigenous peoples displaced by the Europeans, though he was morally opposed to slavery which you can begin reading more about HERE – Heather Kowalski



….IF then you wish to be truly informed of the riches of those blessings, which we are met to celebrate, go ask the trembling Asiatic, who shrinks beneath the lash of an unfeeling Despot. He dares not even call his person his own. He tills and sows; but not for himself. Some Nabob of his own country, or some rapacious foreigner, a Clive perhaps or a Hastings, reaps the fruits of his labour. With desponding reluctance he half performs his daily task, that his master, whose only right is power, and whose only law his sovereign will and pleasure, may be dandled in the lap of luxury and sleep upon a bed of down; if indeed he can “give sleep to his eyes or slumber to his eyelids,” while conscience, that Promethean vulture, is preying upon his soul. At home the petty monarch exacts a degree of worship from his fawning domestics. When he ventures abroad, for health or pleasure, see him reclined at his ease upon a silken Palanquin, supported by the wearied limbs of fellow men, men entitled, by nature, equally with himself, to the rights of freemen, but by the arbitrary distinctions of despotism degraded to the rank of mere beasts of burden, not as a punishment for crimes which they have committed, but because they have not, what we scarcely realize to be a blessing, the protection of equal laws. Compare such a government with ours, and learn to set an estimate upon the political happiness, which on a day like this ought to inspire us with the warmest gratitude.

OR if Asia be too remote, to bring home these truths to our bosoms, cast a glance over the various states of Europe and Africa, from the Hottentots of the South, to the Laplanders of the North. Ask our brethren enslaved at Algiers, who are fastened to the Gallies, like the benches, on which they sit, or the oars which they ply; whose bitter lot it is to labour without the least expectation of reward, to be bastinadoed and insulted in a foreign land, to sigh for recollected pleasures, but to experience that sickness of the heart, which arises from hope deferred. What would they give to be sharers with us in this Anniversary? I trust in God their year of Jubilee is approaching. They have at least a hope of redemption; but thousands and millions, yes far the most numerous part of the human race, are bound in hopeless slavery. Inquire of the dejected Turk, whether he is not, any day, liable to be seized, imprisoned, tortured, or put to death in secret, without so much as the formality of a trial. Apply to the hardy Russian for instruction. He will tell you, that when his Empress, or her favourite, is pleased to pronounce the word, he must relinquish his house and lands, and what is inexpressibly more painful, must bid adieu to his beloved family, and be sacrificed, he knows not why perhaps, to the inhuman knout, or banished for life to the comfortless regions of Siberia. The strongest inducement to industry is the security of our acquisitions; and personal safety gives the highest relish to every enjoyment.—To both of these boons he is a stranger. What satisfaction can he take in acquiring or possessing property, which is liable, any moment, to be wrested from him, against his will and without the judgment of law? What enjoyment can he have of life itself, while he knows it depends upon the passion, the prejudice or the mere caprice of an individual, who feels all the intoxication of absolute power?

THE case of the Russians in this respect is not materially different from that of other countries of Europe, who claim a distinguished rank in the scale of civilization. Consult the regimented subjects of Austria and Prussia, who are unfeelingly torn from the embraces of their parents, their wives, their children, and all the tender endearments of domestic life, and forced into the service of a royal swindler; there taught to acknowledge no duty but that of implicit obedience, no moral obligation except the word of command; compelled to shut their eyes upon the light of information, to stop their ears and harden their hearts against the voice of nature and the melting cries of distress; formed into the machinery of modern discipline, instructed with blows, & governed by the whip; and without consulting the principles of religion or the oracle of conscience within them, whether the war they are engaged in is just or the reverse, whether it is directed against their real friends or enemies; without even the wretched privilege of complaining, whenever the order is announced, they must march to the field of battle, and have the honour of shedding their blood—for what? To defend their personal liberties and rights? Unhappy mortals! they have none to defend. To protect their families, their relatives and friends? Those, alas! are not the objects of royal protection. Is it to avenge the wrongs of an injured or insulted country? No, but to gratify a thankless tyrant’s whim. Think of such a despotism, ye who are disaffected with our free governments, if there are any such within the walls of this assembly; think a moment of the state of society, which necessarily attends it; then lay your hands upon your hearts and calmly ask yourselves, if your murmurs ought not to be turned to acclamations, and your opposition converted into affectionate attachment. A simple view of the state of other nations is a whole volume of the noblest panegyric upon our own.

ARE further examples of comparison needed, to impress these sentiments upon our hearts? Then turn your eyes, my friends, to devoted Poland, that land of slavery and tears, now bleeding at every vein, her strength exhausted, her late blooming hopes all withered, her spirits crushed beneath the iron rod of oppression, her liberties prostrate in the dust, her cities pillaged, her territories partitioned, and her peasants bought and sold, like cattle, by an accursed triumvirate of tyrants. Who, that loves mankind, and wishes for the promotion of general happiness, can forbear to drop a sympathetic tear over the miseries of that wretched people? Who can refrain from execrating their oppressors? But I forget myself. This is a day of rejoicing, and why should we dwell on gloomy themes? Shall I apologize for addressing sentiments of condolence to an assembly purposely convened for congratulation and festivity? My own feelings answer, no. To sympathize with those, who are panting for the same ennobling freedom, which is the subject of our present celebration, will not surely be thought unreasonable, even amidst the festive scenes of the day. On the contrary, it will operate, with all the magic of contrast, to enliven our gratitude and elevate our joy. Had our efforts, like theirs, been overpowered by superior force, we should have been, what they now are….

Next week Barnabas looks to the recent (for him) French Revolution…