Bidwell Lore – An Oration by Barnabas Bidwell, Part IV

Welcome to Bidwell Lore number 112! This week we continue to share the 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, Part II HERE, and Part III 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 who attended. I am planning 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



…YET the French rejoice with rapture in their acquisitions.—And shall we, my friends, shall we Americans, be less grateful, for the very reasons, which ought to double our gratitude? In spite of philosophy, such is the constitution of human nature, that objects, which have once become familiar to common observation, lose much of the impression, which they are naturally calculated to make, when accompanied by the never-failing char[aracter] of novelty. Why else are we not struck with admiration, every time we open our eyes upon the beauties of nature, with which we are constant-surrounded? And why else, with equal propriety it may be asked, why else are we not filled with transport, when we contemplate the unequalled happiness of our country?

THE real truth is, we have numberless privileges both civil and sacred, unknown to any other people under heaven, which we have enjoyed so long and to such a degree of perfection, that we hardly perceive them to be the fruits of good government. Our Bills of Rights, which contain enumerations of some of them, are even viewed by certain persons among us, as unnecessary declarations of self-evident maxims and rights which nobody controverts. Many of these immunities may be traced to the first period of our national existence. The origin of Independent America was no less honourable than auspicious. The first settlements were effected by emigrants, who fled from the flames of persecution & the oppressors’ scourge, to enjoy the rights of conscience at a distance from the usurpations of the old world. They left Europe at a time when the enlightened few were beginning to be sensible of that complicated tyranny, which had for ages held mankind in bondage. The intellectual faculties had been shamefully enslaved by a system of philosophical despotism invented by Aristotle, and propagated by the school-men. On the foundation of general ignorance, the Romish Ecclesiastics had erected a throne of superstition, before which not humble vassals only, but titled nobles and sceptered kings, were obliged to fall down and worship. At the same time, the Feudal system had bound Europe fast in a political servitude, the most deep-rooted and permanent ever devised by the will of man, the consequences of which, incorporated with their various constitutions and laws, remain to this day, monumental proofs of the degeneracy of those times and the force of inveterate customs.—From this three-fold lethargy the minds of men had begun to awake, when our adventurous ancestors crossed the Atlantic, and planted in the wilderness of America the seeds of those civil, religious and literary institutions, which have blessed their descendants, for more than a century and a half, with industry, frugality, temperance, knowledge, morals, arts of peace, resources for war, the genuine principles of equality, liberty and government, and the religion of God.

IT is true the American genius was shackled, during the state of colonial pupilage, which preceded the revolution. The mother country, as we then fondly called Great-Britain, was perfectly idolized. Under her superintending controul, we even imported our learning, our laws, our customs, our manners, and our very fashions. Arts and manufactures, in this then infant land, were restrained by statutes, which we had no voice in making. Our trade was monopolized, and consequently checked. At length the British Parliament, in the career of their folly, arrogated a right to tax us without our consent, and to bind us by law in all cases whatever. This wanton claim of power led to a crisis in the relative situation of the two countries, and hastened on the event, which we are now celebrating. We appealed to the God of armies, and assumed a rank among Independent nations. The Colonies united in the common cause, renovated their respective constitutions, and adopted a hasty plan of general government. Formed amidst the confusion of arms, the articles of Confederation were calculated for the meridian of a Revolution. They were designed for a nation of patriots and heroes, inspired with a disinterested enthusiasm and superior to the influence of selfish passions. To such men, at such a crisis, a recommendation of Congress was a sufficient law, without any compulsory sanction. So long as a sense of common danger was the spring of action, that Government of advice, unsupported by the strong arm of coertion and destitute of the resources of revenue, answered the valuable purposes intended by its formers. Considering the circumstances, under which it originated, it was indeed a great attainment. But as zeal is a short lived passion, and patriotism requires too great sacrifices to be a steady principle of operation, when the inspiration of the war ceased, the Confederation became a rope of sand. The requisitions of Congress were treated with neglect, and their authority dwindled into insignificance. An alarming insurrection broke out in one of the States [1], and symptoms of disunion and general disorganization appeared.

AT this gloomy period, the Americans performed the greatest national act ever accomplished by any people ancient or modern. The federal Constitution introduced a new order of things. As soon as its operations commenced, the impending gloom was dissipated; our palsied commerce was restored to health and vigour; public credit arose from the dead; Government was respected, and the people were happy….

Next week Barnabas talks about the Constitution.

[1] We assume he is speaking here about Shays’ Rebellion in Western Massachusetts, 1786-1787.