Nonfiction > E.C. Stedman & E.M. Hutchinson, eds. > A Library of American Literature > 1835–1860
Stedman and Hutchinson, comps.  A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes.  1891.
Vols. VI–VIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 1835–1860
Eternal Justice the Ultimate Court of Appeal
By Theodore Parker (1810–1860)
[Thanksgiving Day Sermon in Boston, 28 November, 1850.]

IT is not for men long to hinder the march of human freedom. I have no fear for that, ultimately,—none at all, simply for this reason, that I believe in the Infinite God. You may make your statutes; an appeal always lies to the higher law, and decisions adverse to that get set aside in the ages. Your statutes cannot hold him. You may gather all the dried grass and all the straw in both continents; you may braid it into ropes to bind down the sea; while it is calm you may laugh, and say, “Lo, I have chained the ocean!” and howl down the law of him who holds the universe as a rosebud in his hand—its every ocean but a drop of dew. “How the waters suppress their agitation,” you may say. But when the winds blow their trumpets, the sea rises in its strength, snaps asunder the bonds that had confined his mighty limbs, and the world is littered with the idle hay! Stop the human race in its development and march to freedom? As well might the boys of Boston, some lustrous night, mounting the steeples of this town, call on the stars to stay their course! Gently, but irresistibly, the Greater and the Lesser Bear move round the pole; Orion, in his mighty mail, comes up the sky; the Bull, the Ram, the Heavenly Twins, the Crab, the Lion, the Maid, the Scales, and all that shining company, pursue their march all night and the new day discovers the idle urchins in their lofty places, all tired, and sleepy, and ashamed.
  It is not possible to suppress the idea of freedom, or forever hold down its institutions. But it is possible to destroy a State; a political party with geographical bounds may easily be rent asunder. It is not impossible to shiver this American Union. But how? What clove asunder the great British party, one nation once in America and England? Did not our fathers love their fatherland? Aye. They called it home, and were loyal with abundant fealty; there was no lack of piety for home. It was the attempt to make old English injustice New England law! Who did it,—the British people? Never. Their hand did no such sacrilege. It was the merchants of London, with the “Navigation Act”; the politicians of Westminster with the “Stamp Act”; the tories of America, who did not die without issue, that for office and its gold would keep a king’s unjust commands. It was they who drove our fathers into disunion against their will. Is here no lesson? We love law; all of us love it; but a true man loves it only as the Safeguard of the Rights of Man. If it destroy these rights, he spurns it with his feet. Is here no lesson? Look further then.  2
  Do you know how empires find their end? Yes, the great States eat up the little. As with fish, so with nations. Aye, but how do the great States come to an end? By their own injustice, and no other cause. They would make unrighteousness their law, and God wills not that it be so. Thus they fall; thus they die. Look at these ancient States, the queenliest queens of earth. There is Rome, the widow of two civilizations—the Pagan and the Catholic. They both had her, and unto both she bore daughters and fair sons. But, the Niobe of Nations, she boasted that her children were holier and more fair than all the pure ideas of justice, truth, and love, the offspring of the eternal God. And now she sits there, transformed into stone, amid the ruins of her children’s bones. At midnight I have heard the owl hoot in the colosseum and the forum, giving voice to desolation; and at midday I have seen the fox in the palace where Augustus gathered the wealth, the wit, the beauty, and the wisdom of a conquered world; and the fox and the owl interpreted to me the voice of many ages, which came to tell this age, that though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not prosper….  3
  Come, old Assyria, with the Ninevitish dove upon thy emerald crown! What laid thee low? “I fell by my own injustice. Thereby Nineveh and Babylon came, with me, also, to the ground.”  4
  Oh queenly Persia, flame of the nations, wherefore art thou so fallen, who troddest the people under thee, bridgedst the Hellespont with ships, and pouredst thy temple-wasting millions on the western world? “Because I trod the people under me, and bridged the Hellespont with ships, and poured my temple-wasting millions on the western world. I fell by my own misdeeds!”  5
  Thou muselike, Grecian queen, fairest of all thy classic sisterhood of States, enchanting yet the world with thy sweet witchery, speaking in art, and most seductive song, why liest thou there with beauteous yet dishonored brow, reposing on thy broken harp? “I scorned the law of God; banished and poisoned wisest, justest men; I loved the loveliness of flesh, embalmed it in the Parian stone; I loved the loveliness of thought, and treasured that in more than Parian speech. But the beauty of justice, the loveliness of love, I trod them down to earth! Lo, therefore have I become as these Barbarian States—as one of them!”  6
  Oh manly and majestic Rome, thy sevenfold mural crown, all broken at thy feet, why art thou here? It was not injustice brought thee low; for thy great book of law is prefaced with these words: justice is the unchanging, everlasting will to give each man his right! “It was not the saint’s ideal: it was the hypocrite’s pretence! I made iniquity my law. I trod the nations under me. Their wealth gilded my palaces—where thou mayest see the fox and hear the owl—it fed my courtiers and my courtesans. Wicked men were my cabinet counsellors; the flatterer breathed his poison in my ear. Millions of bondmen wet the soil with tears and blood. Do you not hear it crying yet to God? Lo, here have I my recompense, tormented with such downfall as you see! Go back and tell the new-born child, who sitteth on the Alleghanies, laying his either hand upon a tributary sea, a crown of thirty stars about his youthful brow—tell him that there are rights which States must keep, or they shall suffer wrongs! Tell him there is a God who keeps the black man and the white and hurls to earth the loftiest realm that breaks his just, eternal law! Warn the young Empire that he come not down dim and dishonored to my shameful tomb! Tell him that justice is the unchanging, everlasting will to give each man his right. I knew it, broke it, and am lost. Bid him to know it, keep it, and be safe!”  7
  “God save the Commonwealth!” proclaims the Governor. God will do his part,—doubt not of that. But you and I must help him save the State. What can we do? Next Sunday I will ask you for your charity; to-day I ask a greater gift, more than the abundance of the rich, or the poor widow’s long-remembered mite. I ask you for your justice. Give that to your native land. Do you not love your country? I know you do. Here are our homes and the graves of our fathers; the bones of our mothers are under the sod. The memory of past deeds is fresh with us; many a farmer’s and mechanic’s son inherits from his sires some cup of manna gathered in the wilderness, and kept in memory of our exodus; some stones from the Jordan, which our fathers passed over sorely bestead and hunted after; some Aaron’s rod, green and blossoming with fragrant memories of the day of small things when the Lord led us—and all these attach us to our land, our native land. We love the great ideas of the North, the institutions which they founded, the righteous laws, the schools, the churches too—do we not love all these? Aye. I know well you do. Then by all these, and more than all, by the dear love of God, let us swear that we will keep the justice of the Eternal Law. Then are we all safe. We know not what a day may bring forth, but we know that Eternity will bring everlasting peace. High in the heavens, the pole-star of the world, shines Justice; placed within us, as our guide thereto, is Conscience. Let us be faithful to that
 “Which, though it trembles as it lowly lies,
Points to the light that changes not in heaven.”

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