ON JULY 4th, 1776.








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Reprint and digital file November 9, 2002.

Joseph Dana graduated from Harvard, 1760, and received his Doctorate in Sacred Theology from Harvard (S.T.D.) in 1801.


Page numbers in the original publication are shown in brackets as such: [ 3 ]

The following begins the original text:





Deuteronomy iv. 9.

Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seem, and lest they depart from thy heart, all the days of thy life; but teach them thy sons, -and thy sons’ sons.

SO great is the occasion which every fourth of July Anniversary brings to remembrance; so filled with Divine Benignity; so unprecedented in the annals of our country; that one could wish, even now, for a new language to express it, and for unknown strains to celebrate it. For new hearts, we may well wish and pray, if sentiments of purest gratitude are not yet known.

Fifty one years are now past, since that magnanimous Declaration by our patriotic Fathers, which severed the political bands, which had connected us with the parent country: a Declaration made in the sight of their whole armament, recently arrived; a Declaration made at the hazard of life, of liberty, and all that is dear to man.

"0 pass not on—till thou hast bless’d their memory."

Nor let us ever think -ourselves not bound to imitate their virtues; their fortitude in duty. Bnt most of all, bless Him;

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who, after a seven years conflict, established that Independence; and gave to our America this honorable standing among the nations, from whence have been flowing, ever since, security to the rights of man; security to our dearest liberties—legitimate government—liberty with order— unparalleled rapidity of population—unexampled prosperity. Shall we not consider it our incumbent duty to be deeply affected with such favor; not only at the first reception, but in all time after; and to do what in us lies to perpetuate the memory of what the Lord bath done for us?

Shall we then, in the first place, note some of the memorable things which the eyes of our fathers saw, and numbers of us have seen in the course of the revolutionary contest, and in its conclusion. Then bring up the important charge here given.

It is one painful circumstance attending our first proposition, that we cannot trace the goodness of a gracious GOD, without bringing up afresh the unkind manueuvers of man.— May divine mercy preserve us from every unhallowed feeling! It is now profound peace—blessed be our Rock—and let the peace of GOD rule in our hearts! If the parent country were once hard hearted, the Lord forgive them: if they thought evil against us, God meant it unto good.

But it is one of the memorables to be now mentioned, that, when such were the claims of that nation, that to have yielded, would have been relinquishing every idea of property, and laying our natural rights, chartered liberties, every valuable possession, down at her feet; and when that submission was demanded at the point of the bayonet; these states were spirited to united resistance; all animated by one soul in the great cause, notwithstanding such diversities of genius, habits, manners; notwithstanding every local prepossession.

It is a circumstance equally memorable, that this so great and determined union of these states for the defence of their liberties, was so long hidden from their adversaries. They

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ought have read it in every page of our transactions, had not a blindness happened to them. The candid part of that nation saw it early, and warned the rest: but the ruling part, and those whose special duty it was to obtain the best intelligence, must not see it until afterward, It was astonishing to us, to see how long the deception was kept up—that America was not united, America was a rope of sand. It had its effect. If it did not answer the ends of its propagators, it served the great intention of Providence. First, it cherished in the parent kingdom the idea of frightening the states into submission; next, of decaying them by promises, or of crushing them with ease, at all events; and thus it went on, till America, favored by Heaven, had escaped, as a bird out of the snare; and no art of the fowler could retake her. Praise the Lord—the snare was broken, and we escaped

It is another circumstance much to be noted in honor of the Divine over-ruling favor, that, when the contest must come to a decision by horrid War, the commencement of hostilities should be at such a period—no earlier—no later, First, that it was no earlier. Our people, unpractised

in the art of war, must have time to be instructed. And by whom? They were to learn it from the troops of Britain—-and those troops, before the war begins, must be stationed some length of time, in different parts of this continent. In that way, an idea of their discipline must be diffused. Our minds too, must be gradually fitted for the dreadful conflict; by insults—and by contemplation of what was practicable.

On the other hand it was probably a happy circumstance that the crisis was not later. Beside that a lower degree of fear and dread of their enemy, might not have been sufficient to unite these states so firmly as was necessary, and awaken their attention to the necessary means of safety.— Besides This, strenuous endeavours had been used to divide the Colonies, and so to rule them. More were to be

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employed (who knows with what effect.?) had not a particular instance of opposition to insidious designs of the ruling power, precipitated that government into a violent measure, (that of the Boston Port bill) which at once determined every state to make a common cause of it, and take a decided part. Adored be the overruling power!

So the mean time, the union of our New England was not a little strengthened1 by the detection of a great number of secret confidential letters, which manifested beyond a doubt what a change of government was intended for us; and how unworthy those were of the confidence of their countrymen who under the guise of friendship, had been concealed advocates for that change; hoping to find their account in it— and whose reputation for wisdom, and integrity, had been a snare to many.

To go on.. It was wonderful, considering the power we were to contend with, and the many

disadvantages we were under, what courage was given to this people at the very commencement of hostilities. Some kind invisible hand evidently strengthened their hearts; and, with all the fear and trembling, a prevailing persuasion., that Gracious Heaven would not leave us in the power of the oppressor, strangely pervaded all ranks of people. Bless the Lord—a panic at that time would probably have been fatal.

And let us not forget, what admirable good order, this people were influenced to maintain, for such a length time; when no courts of law were held., and we were in many respects without government.

At the same time it is much to be remembered, to the praise of Divine compassion, that our

enemy did not think proper to bring forth all their strength against us, at the first. Unfurnished as we were with necessaries for the war—(not to mention how much time was required to collect a sufficient army, and form it into regular order)— who does not tremble at only looking back on the almost

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entire emptiness of our magazines after the action of Bunker Hill. But so early and striking discovery of spirit in the little handful of Americans, who were engaged in that memorable action, and the serious effects of their exertions, staggered their enemy. And so it pleased Heaven, that nothing further of any consequence was attempted by them, until more than fourteen months after, when they had collected all their force. Supplies in the meantime, such as were most wanted, were sent us in an extraordinary and almost miraculous manner. Who would have thought of a plenty of military store; which were intended for the army of Britain, captured on the Atlantic, by our little privateers and brought into our ports, while the coasts were lined by British ships of war—which is another circumstance worthy of lasting remembrance.

But it is quite time to mention a particular, which these states, I am very sure, have considered with great pleasure, and I believe will never forget. (The Lord enable us to remember it with devout acknowledgments to His great mercy, and give HIM all the praise)—That such a Commander in Chief was raised up for us :—whose great qualities I would not attempt to delineate at large, but am compelled to say—whose abilities in his important station, approved upon all occasions, formed a most striking counterpart to the diffidence with which he accepted it— whose admirable talent of at once commanding, and making happy, every soldier under him—whose respectable dignity, and yet easiness of access, and fatherly attention to the lowest person who had business with him——whose vigilance, consummate prudence, calm, cool temper, and yet enterprisingness, and greatness of spirit, appearing upon all great occasions; have all been so conspicuous—whose impartial treatment of the troops of every line, approved itself to all, and was of no small influence to banish invidious comparisons, and unite them as a band of brothers—whose

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patience in difficulties, great feeling for the lives and comfort of his troops, and generous participation of their hardships, have been of such infinite service to us in difficult times. What more? whose religious respect to sacred things, and whose blameless morals have been such a check upon profanity and licentiousness in the army—who, with all his military power, was never known to encroach on the civil department—who knew how to treat his enemies, and, by the elegant address appearing in all his communications, by his magnanimity, humanity, unspotted honor, and uniform adherence to the line of delicacy, was greatly revered by them, and as much trusted as by ourselves.

While we admire and love his memory, let us bless the GOD who made him such, and preserved him for so great an occasion. What passes for a great general in other countries, would not have been adequate to our necessities.

But in other respects, it is distinguishing favor, and distinguishing honors that ever there was such a character in America. Is it possible that, among the millions who have beheld it with such veneration, there are not large numbers whose ideas of greatness, and of honor, it has done much to improve? Atn shall not the very name of WASHINGTON correct, more or less, the false taste of modern times? and teach the disciples of Chesterfield how low are their conceptions. 0, if I were near enough to drop a word to the "vain persons" of the age, who would fain be something, and scarcely know what; sensualists, latitudinarians, profane monsters—any thing to figure away and be distinguished—I would say to them, behold this great man’s character, and ask if it was any defect in it, that he did not think himself above religion; that he was neither infidel, nor libertine.

But to return. It would he ingratitude not to acknowledge the goodness of a gracious GOD, in other great characters,

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both in the civil and military departments—Statesmen, whose virtues and abilities have shone conspicuous in that important struggle—Heroic Officers and Soldiers who have honored themselves and their country.—Praise the Lord, who, when he called these States to such a conflict, raised up such numbers of qualified persons to stand foremost in it.

But 0, how worthy of affectionate remembrance are the many signal interpositions of a gracious Providence, to extricate us out of our difficulties! Instance, the wonders on Bunker-hill, before mentioned; the astonishing deliverance of Boston out of the enemy’s hand, which every one seemed to have despaired of seeing recovered, except in ashes.— But the GOD of New England so provided, by planting in the night time, our beloved General, with his artillery, on Dorchester height, that the enemy was glad to leave Boston unharmed, on condition of being unmolested in his retreat.

Can We ever forget our army’s safe retreat from Long Island, after a hard and unequal combat with the enemy; which retreat, it is astonishing that they, when they were so near, did not discover, and defeat, in the first attempt.

Can we remember without trembling, the unpromising, but heaven-protected flight before the enemy? When, after the loss of all our fortresses near New York, our army, reduced by losses, and the expiration of enlistments, to a very small number; when that little band, with their beloved General, the faithful companion of their toils and dangers, was for so many days pursued through Jersey by their enemy then in full force; pursued in vain! for the Lord was their helper!

Add to these the brilliant retreat from Trenton, a few nights after the memorable enterprize upon the Hessians at that post. Can we ever forget that night, when the two armies, our own and that of the enemy, far superior in numbers, both encamped in the same town, on opposite sides of a bridge; (as if it’had been on opposite sides of our Ipswich

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river;) and the British thought sure of their prey, when the morning should arrive. Yet, when the morning opened, our people, with their artillery and baggage, were at twelve miles distance; and had intercepted a British regiment, before the enemy at Trenton had one idea of their having moved a step from thence. Blessed be the Lord, who gave to our beloved Commander such presence of mind at that hour, and inspired him with such invention !

Need I mention the distress at the Northward, and the paleness upon all faces, at the evacuation of Ticonderoga, and the triumphant progress of the British army toward Albany? Who would have thought that such distress and fear would soon be succeeded by the joy of such victory as that at Bennington, that at Saratoga, and the surrender of a whole army there? Glory to the Most High, who in this instance, and in many beside, over ruled the success of our enemy to his greater disappointment in the issue.

Shall I call to mind the deplorable state of affairs at the Southward, when Charleston, after a long and gallant defence by the brave LINCOLN, had surrendered ; and the enemy reigned triumphant in all that region? And, yet, how soon the face of things was changed! and in the issue, all recovered ! Much praise is due to the illustrious GREENE; but who inspired him and the little army under him, to those great actions: and covered them with such glory?

How worthy of lasting remembrance, is the Divine favor, in raising up for us such a powerful ally, in the King of France! And how much is due to heroic and liberal spirits of that nation, for their early friendship to the American cause! Great Britain, in the mean time, could form no alliances; so general was the disposition of Europe to favor our cause, even beyond what the most sanguine had preconceived.

Time would fail me to recount one half of the memorables of a war so distinguished. But let me add, that,

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although we have too often had cause to deplore the failure of public spirit in our countrymen ; yet it is, on the whole, a great wonder, that the spirits of this people were so kept up amidst the embarrassments, and great sufferings to many, from a sinking currency, that deplorable, and yet perhaps, in our case, necessary evil. That our sinking currency did not sink us; that we were so much aided, as well as endangered by it, and at last straggled to the shore—we may well remember with great thankfulness., Our poor bark went to the bottom ; but we, through surprising favor, were safe landed.

But how great, and memorable an event, was the cessation of war, which our beloved country, after so many conflicts, and dangers—at length experienced! In the most general view, how sweet is the return of peace, after an eight years absence! If defending our country by arms, against the invader, is sometimes necessary, and a duty indispensable; still WAR, in its nature, is dreadful. Men and brethren, Christians, in name, and of kindred blood, destroying each other, plundering one another, distressing each other; and striving " which shall do the other the most harm ;"—what a sight is this, for angels to behold !—How long, blessed Savior, before that day shall arrive, when the nations shall learn war no more: when there shall be no invader, none to hurt or destroy? How pleasant have we found it, after so many tearful alarms, as our land has witnessed—to sit quietly, and have none to make us afraid!

Peace is a sweetener of every sweet—a cherisher of industry, arts, learning, every valuable improvement ; friendly to commerce, and, what is more than all, friendly to virtue and piety. Heaven bless it effectually to these ends.

But to pass from general observations; In our peace there were great specialties. First, we had escaped greater evils than nations ordinarily at the close of war, realize an escape from. For the object of this war, on the part of the

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assailants was, at last, nothing short of entire conquest; and the reduction of these States to absolute, unconditional subjection: Say, like the state of Ireland, that conquered country—Do not our hearts tremble, to think what we have escaped?

In the second place, we had much more confirmed to us by treaty, than we contended for, or even dreamed of, at the beginning of the contest. The utmost we then had in view was to be placed on the footing we were upon in 1763; when a King, at three thousand miles distance, had a negative upon all our laws—appointed most of our Governors through the States; in some, a whole train of principal Magistrates and Officers; the British parliament to regulate our trade at pleasure. But such, in the progress of things, was the alternative: we must be independent, or be slaves—We chose the first: and through the smiles of Heaven, this Independence was not barely left to us; but acknowledged ; with this memorable circumstance, that those who had thought to bring us to their feet, confessed themselves compelled to that acknowledgment. Praised be the Lord, by whose favor, our horn was so exalted. We are left to govern ourselves by our own best judgment—Heaven grant us the wisdom for it, and the integrity ! —Add to this, an extent of territory confirmed to us, which exceeds what had been our utmost expectations. What shall we render?

Let us now, as compendiously as is allowable, bring up the memorable charge in the text. "Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen; and lest they depart from thy .eart, all the days of thy life; but teach them thy sons, and thy sons’ sons."—The words are still of the same authority, in every case like that which Moses had now in view; and if ever they were justly applicable to a nation since Israel’s time, they are to us.

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It will not be forgotten, that there is one humiliating sentiment implied in this charge; namely, that man is but too capable of forgetting even the greatest wonders of Divine favor. May we then note this with humility; and ever watch and pray, and keep our souls diligently; against so great an evil.

At the same time there is an intimation, that nothing is more clearly due to the Sovereign of the world,—nothing more indispensable, than keeping in grateful remembrance such great instances of his Divine favor. This emphatic force is evidently carried in the word on~y. (Only take heed to thyself.) As if it had been said, Be this the every thing—in a manner—of thy pious care.

We are likewise reminded, that such great things must be retained, not in our memories alone, but in our hearts; with every pious affection which heart can feel: And that we must never be content with any forms of celebration, which do not include this. Such are the deep-felt remembrances, which we are to carry with us all the days of our lives; and therefore be able to teach them to our children, not only of the first, but of the second generation, (if we shall stay long enough for it,)—and teach them, with the same pious recognition of that GOD, who did such wonders in our day, for us, and for them. We shall, if we feel the subject properly.

Such wonders have a claim to be handed down to remotest posterity. And, if we religiously do our part, distant ages will speak of these wondrous works of the Lord, and the might of his terrible acts.*

All the prayers, which were offered in times of America’s distress, bind us inviolably to this; and if instead of it, there shall he a negligence, an ungrateful forgetfulness—we shall sink wonderfully in a moral view. On the other hand,

* Psalm cxlv.

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maintaining a suitable remembrance of the wonders of our revolution, in which so much of GOD is to be seen, must have a general influence into the state of religion, arid of virtue at large, through the land. 0 that the experiment could be fully made! and made under that same direction, which Moses has here given!

Such a remembrance, as is here called for, will bring much assistance, and excitement, in essential duties. For instance, that of setting a high value upon liberties, for which so many precious lives have been sacrificed; and having a care to use them for the highest and best purposes; and hand them down undiminished, and untarnished, to succeeding generations.

How will such remembrances teach us compassion to all the oppressed ! Say, if you please, to the suffering Greeks. Say, most of all, to the oppressed of our own country; a compassion which will never cease from friendly exertions, that every yoke may be broken, as soon as it is possible. How otherwise can they, who have felt it so hard, and intolerable, to have their own natural rights invaded, hold up their faces without blushing?

On the other hand, it is hoped, that remembering the past, will greatly endear a free government; where the small, and the great, find equal security to the rights which the GOD of nature gave them; and equal freedom of access to the tribunals of justice, for the redress of all wrongs: (with only one known exception—that which was just mentioned.) We will prize a free government, respected brethren, and feel inviolable obligations to honor, and support it.

If there be an individual in all the land, who would prefer a lawless freedom ; be it known to such a one, it was not for this, that our renowned patriots pledged " their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor." It was for "a government of laws." And this was proved out, by their early care to

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establish constitutions, which combined " liberty with order ;" and from the first, have happily maintained both.— May the GOD of our fathers long preserve them unimpaired! To go on.

Proper remembrances will teach us to enjoy in a right way, that liberty, and those blessings, which so many brave men have toiled, and bled, to obtain for us. Let therefore, not only flagrant crimes, but excesses of every species, be banished by these remembrances; and a sentimental moderation ever accompany the use we make of that profusion of pleasant things, which that GOD, who so signally gave us an establishment in this land of our forefathers, pours out to us in such abundance! So far, at least, the example of the pious and heroic David, may with safety be adopted by every one of us—when tempted to any form of rioting, or of inordinate indulgence. ‘Be it far from me, 0 Lord, that I should do this! Is not this the blood of the men, that went in jeopardy of their lives?" *

May a Gracious GOD, who has done such things for us, and for this people, fill our hearts, and theirs, with all those sentiments, which a due remembrance of things so wonderful, can inspire.

* Samuel, xxiii. 17.