Bidwell Lore – An Oration by Barnabas Bidwell, Part III

Welcome to Bidwell Lore number 111! 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 and Part II 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



….SOME objector may perhaps inquire why we confine our attention to monarchies, and extinguished Republics, in drawing the contrast in favour of the United States. To obviate this objection and make a fair estimate upon the subject, let us take a cursory survey of France, the boasted land of triumphant republicanism. Both the friends and enemies of the French agree, that they have performed a series of political miracles, astonishing and unparalleled in the history of the world. They have pulled down the motly fabrick of ancient institutions, and torn up the very foundations of their former religion and government. Twenty-four millions, possessing unbounded resources, with arms in their hands and the enthusiasm of Liberty in their hearts, have proved absolutely irresistable. The combined powers, who, in violation of the laws of nations, madly and wickedly undertook to prescribe a form of government to the French, have been defeated, routed and nearly dissipated before them.

WHILE their armies have been gathering laurels in every direction; while they have been adding cities and provinces to the number of their Departments, what has been the state of their internal government? The history of their antecedent circumstances furnishes a reason, if not an apology, for some of their measures. They had not, like the American people, been accustomed to assemble peaceably in small corporations authorized and regulated by law, to decide upon questions of local police, acquiring thereby the double benefit of information upon political subjects, and a habit of temperate discussion, and thus serving an easy apprenticeship to the higher employments of legislation. They had not been trained up, in early life, at free schools, where the children of the poor and the rich are admitted on equal terms, and governed indiscriminately by the same discipline; where the whole mass of citizens are furnished with competent educations for common business, and prepared to acquire still higher degrees of learning at academies, colleges & universities, as well as from books, pamphlets, newspapers and other periodical publications, in which every subject of politics is proposed and discussed in a manner adapted to general comprehension…..Not permitted to act in their own behalf, they had never learned to think for themselves.—Without these preparatory advantages, and under many positive disadvantages…..the French undertook the Herculean task of forming a new National Government.

AMIDST the passions inspired by the Revolution, moderation was not to be expected. The public mind, no less than that of an individual, when [it] breaks loose from one extreme, is inclined, by the momentum of its own exertions, to pass to the opposite, and must necessarily [wait] awhile before it settles upon the golden mean. Their conduct is a verification of this remark. In their zeal to abolish the ecclesiastical tyranny, under which they and their fathers had groaned, they have [decided] to proscribe Religion and substitute the Goddess of Liberty, as the object of national worship. Not contented with overturning the altars of papal superstition and demolishing the images of saints, they have impiously canonized a Rosseau, a Voltaire and a Mirabeau, and even prostituted the honours of their Pantheon upon the popular villain Marat. From the rigours of unlimited monarchy, it was natural for them to deviate into the extreme of democracy. Tho’ they have not gone to the same extent, as the ancient Republics of Greece and Rome, in their democratic days; but have admitted the great modern doctrine of Representation, without which, indeed, no community, of magnitude sufficient to be denominated a Nation, can govern themselves at all: yet they have adopted the fundamental error of a concentration of powers in a single assembly, possessing in itself, or by subordinate communications, the whole national authority, legislative, executive and judicial, and in effect the sovereign prerogative of modelling their own constitution. In the exercise of such a political omnipotence, unassisted by experience, uncontrolled by a paramount constitution, without the needful balance of a second branch deliberating by themselves and equally entitled to a negative vote, and without the check of a well constituted Executive, they have exhibited a succession of tragedies, at which the friends of Liberty in all countries blush, while her enemies exult in the acquisition of new arguments to support their favourite opinion, that Republicanism, however beautiful in theory, cannot stand the test of actual experiment.

ANARCHY, with all its hydras, has succeeded to despotism, and produced a government not of laws, but of men, not of principles, but of passions and parties. Where solitary individuals were formerly buried alive in the gloomy caverns of the Bastile, in obedience to the irresistible mandates of arbitrary princes, there unarmed prisoners have been torn to pieces by a frantic populace, where the feeble authorities of the Republic looked on and wept, but [had] no power to save. Where Richelieu and Mazarine, under the old monarchy, by their ministerial intrigues, moved the wheels of the great political machine, as a mountebank behind the skreen gives motion to his puppets; there Marat and Robespierre, by their clubs and extra-constitutional juntos, have managed the national mob, and been able for a while to “ride in the whirlwind and direct the storm;” until at last they have justly been caught in their own snares. Where the gibbet and the rack once slew its thousands, the guillotine has slain its tens of thousands…For the honour of liberty and humanity, it is hoped that these enormities originated in part from temporary causes, that they are palliated by the imperious circumstances of the times, and that the true principles of rational Freedom and Government will at length prevail, to the ultimate melioration of the condition of Frenchmen. Indeed a less malignant planet has already begun to prevail. A milder and more permanent system appears to be introduced. But they have yet to learn the great art of self government. What their Constitution may be, at some future day, when experience shall have corrected the errors of wild theory and mad enthusiasm, and taught them the necessity of practical checks and balances, to guard as well against popular instability, on the one hand, as the systematic encroachments of power, on the other, is a question of mere conjecture…..At present, however, it is undeniable that their Revolution has admitted, if not occasioned, many horrid excesses, which we never experienced in the most disheartening moments of our contest, and has produced few, very few indeed, of the inestimable blessings, which are derived to us from our National and State Governments.

Next week Barnabas moves to the topic of gratitude.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.