Dr. Thomas and the Peace Society
Impressed by thoughts such as those expressed in the previous chapter, Dr. Thomas looked around for an opportunity to call the attention of the British public to the great principles for which he stood. To find such an opportunity was not easy, but he determined to take advantage of a meeting that was to take place in connection with the Peace Society. It was likely to attract a large number of people, so that it would provide an opportunity to reach what might prove to be a thoughtful audience.
At the time the Peace Society were trying to convert the world to the “peace and safety” idea. The fact might be an indication that the coming of the Lord was at hand, for it was said that when such a cry was heard, sudden destruction from the lord might be anticipated. The society was, as he expressed it, treading upon gospel ground because it hardened the hearts of the people against the idea of the Kingdom of God which was to bring to an end all dominions and bear sway over all the earth. He therefore felt called upon to protest against their utopian ideas though he recognised that he was but one in a wilderness of people. The following is Dr. Thomas’ own account of the occasion.
“On Thursday evening, Feb. 22nd, 1849, a public meeting was to be held at the British Institution, Cowper Street, City Road, for the purpose of adopting a petition to Parliament in favour of Mr. Cobden’s motion for special treaties of arbitration instead of war in the settlement of national disputes. I determined to attend the meeting . . .. Arrived at the place of meeting, I found an audience assembled of about two thousand men, principally of the working class. Two persons from America were expected to address them. These were a Mr. Clapp from Massachusetts, and Elihu Burritt, ‘the learned blacksmith.’ After the chairman had opened the meeting, and the petition had been read, the former delivered his speech, which was chiefly remarkable for its length of wind. Though the meeting was convened for ‘no discussion on the evils of war, and the desirableness of peace,’ Mr. Clapp’s speech was a discussion of the subjects from first to last. But I found afterwards that by ‘no discussion’ was meant discussion in solo, but not in duobus. If a speaker’s arguments were all in favour of Peace Society principles, the utmost liberty of speech was granted; but if the arguments were contrary to these, the clamour became deafening, and speech impossible. Mr. Clapp’s address, like all others on the same subject, resolved itself into three heads; first, the costliness of war; second the cruelty of war; and third, its anti-christian character. It would be very unprofitable to occupy our space with any of his sayings. He talked a good deal about Christianity and its adaptation to all national emergencies; but being entirely ignorant of the ‘mystery of godliness,’ his speculations were all wide of the mark, and by no means worth the trouble of transferring them from the notes before me.”
“When he had concluded, I rose to speak. On this there was a call for Elihu Burritt. I remarked that I had the floor with the consent of the chair, and was desirous of addressing them before Mr. Burritt. He was the great Peace Society apostle, and consequently, no doubt, a very efficient advocate of its principles. Now, I intended to controvert those principles, and I wished him to attend to what I had to say, that when I had done he might point out to them wherein I had failed in sustaining the anti-peace society principles to be submitted to them in the amendment I was about to propose. But the clamour was still for ‘Elihu Burritt’; and as speech was impossible in the midst of so much tumult, I yielded. Mr. Burritt, however, refused to present himself. He had a cold, or a headache, or something, and therefore begged to be excused. I was then suffered to proceed in quietness for a few moments.”
For a short time Dr. Thomas was able to continue his speech, in which he answered the points raised by Mr. Clapp, producing many scriptural passages in reply to them.
The meeting soon became so turbulent that the Doctor could only proceed with difficulty. He says: “It was Mammon shouting and hissing, and yelling through this unthinking multitude, who made the delivery of my protest almost an impossibility. When I could get a chance, I told them they might just as well hear me peaceably, as I intended to maintain my ground, if I had to stand there till morning. I saw a well-dressed, white-headed man in the centre, gymnasticising with awful energy. Of course I could hear not a word he said; but by the shaking of his head, beating the air, and flourishing, now his cane and then his fist, I interpreted his signs as very ominous to the security of my cranium, were it within his reach. The tumult was terrible, and I doubt not instigated by peace-loving enemies to peace, except according to their own crotchet. I had expected to meet a respectable, religiously-disposed, and sober-minded audience; but it proved the very reverse. It was a mere mob of swine, to whom it was not only useless, but dangerous, to cast the pearls of truth. But I was engaged in the fray, and being single-handed, I had to open for myself a way out as best I could. Having at length got through my remarks by snatches, I promised to conclude if they would agree to hear me read my amendment peaceably. They seemed to assent to this, so I read as follows: -
‘AMENDMENT.’—‘Resolved, that war being an institution of Divine appointment for the bruising to death of the Serpent-power, though disastrous to the subjects of it, has proved of great benefit to the human race; that civil and religious liberty have been won by the war power in connection with the advocacy of truth, which it has often protected; that the rights of God in the earth, the vengeance due to the blood of His people poured out like water in past ages, the chastisement and overthrow of civil and spiritual tyrants, the defence of liberty, and the establishment of peace based upon the ascendancy of right over wrong, of knowledge and faith over ignorance and superstition, and of a well ordered and enlightened liberty over despotism—are things of infinitely greater value than gold or human life; —that those who rule the nations, being men who have been trained in the school of State superstition, arbitrary power, covetousness, and contempt of the laws of God, and the rights of humanity, are malprincipled, seared in conscience, and amenable only to fear; that natural wars to avenge the injured, and defend liberty, are neither impious nor impolitic; —that while a Bible Christian must not fight in the absence of the captain of his salvation, the Scriptures leave the nations to do as they please, holding them, however, NATIONALLY RESPONSIBLE for the principles and manner in which they make war; —that the nations of Europe, being Papal, Protestant, Infidel, and Mahomedan, and NOT CHRISTIAN, the question of international war as compatible or incompatible with the spirit of Christianity, is extraneous; —that while taxation to maintain an extravagant and luxurious regal establishment; to enrich a pampered and vicious aristocracy; official sinecurists in Church and State; to bribe religious sects with costly endowments; and to build royal and episcopal palaces in the midst of impoverished and almost breadless populations, is odious and abominable—taxation to maintain an efficient military and naval force in the present condition of the world is wise, prudent, and indispensable; —that an army and navy are as necessary to the body politic of nations as at present constituted as the right and left arms to the body natural; —that considering the known traditionary ambitious designs of the Court of Russia, and the threatening attitude of the Autocrat in relation to Schleswig-Holstein, Transylvania, Turkey, and Persia, in which countries its ascendancy would be to bring the Cossacks to the gates of Britain in Europe and India, a reduction in the army and navy of England is loudly to be deprecated by all the real friends of liberty and humanity in the TWO WORLDS: that these things being so, it is the enlightened and sober-minded conviction of this meeting that whatever may be the merit of Mr. Cobden’s financial speculations in other respects, ‘special treaties of arbitration instead of war’ is a visionary, utopian, and impracticable project; and that his ‘motion’ to that effect ought not to be sustained by petitions in its favour.”
Of course, the amendment was rejected by a multitudinous majority. The Doctor hoped that the press would mention his amendment, if it did not report his speech. Only one newspaper referred to it, saying, “An amendment was moved by Dr. Thomas, which was not adopted.” Dr. Thomas afterwards wrote a letter on the subject to the Morning Advertiser, in which a report of the meeting appeared, hoping to excite a controversy in the interest of the doctrine concerning the Kingdom; but the letter was not allowed to appear.
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