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THE DANGER AND VANITY OF INTERFERENCE
WITH THE DOMESTIC CONSTITUTION.
Mistaken benevolence inventing systems of relief, from obligations
which can never be fulfilled beyond the Domestic Circle.- Danger and vanity of interference illustrated by reference to the apparent intentions of the Almighty, in founding and continuing to uphold this singular Constitution.
This household economy, once understood and established, we are prepared to step beyond the threshold, and survey the general body of a Nation. It consists simply of a number of such families; and it is of domestic virtues we must think, when we think of the morals of a nation. “A nation is but a shorter name for the individuals who compose it; and when these are consistent Husbands and Wives, Fathers and Children, Brothers and Sisters, Masters and Servants, they will be good citizens." Every thing which is moral in a nation, and much that is holy, and worthy, and useful in the church, if not actually formed, is fostered and cherished before the household fire. This is especially worthy of regard, since whatever form of political government the nation may assume, the constitution of her families may, and generally does, remain the same; and any interference with that constitution, any worldly policy, or even any officious intermeddling benevolence, which would here interfere, will, to a certainty, weaken, and, at last, endanger the body politic: that is, any interference affecting the moral strength and mutual obligations of this constitution; the connection between its parts, whether natural or civil, moral or instituted, by the God of nature and of grace.
On the part of the ruling power in a State, one might imagine such an interference; but let us see what must be the result. Looking at human nature, not as it ought to be, but as it is, we find “two strong feelings have always agitated, in a greater or less degree, the state of human society,—the desire to possess power, and the desire to resist it. The struggle between these feelings necessarily exists under every form of government; nor can the most imperious despotism, though it may intimidate and subdue, ever entirely eradicate and destroy the spirit of opposition. We hear of Asiatic monarchs, who, in the mere wantonness of their moody cruelty, command human beings to be butchered before them; and we are thence apt to infer, that there is no restraint on their will, and no limit to their power. But this is an error into which Europeans have frequently fallen, from their imperfect acquaintance with the laws, and usages, and manners of eastern nations. It is generally among his ministers, his slaves, and his favorites, that the Asiatic tyrant seeks for his victims. He seldom ventures beyond the sphere of his court to murder or to spoliate ; and while the floors of the imperial residence are purpled with the blood of his officers, his vizirs, and his concubines, he would pause, ere he unjustly deprived the meanest citizen of his property, his life, or his domestic power. The man who passes within the gates of the palace, leaves behind him the sympathy of his fellow-subjects. They know that ambition has' guided his steps to the foot of the throne, and that he has bound himself to obey the will, in order to share the power of his master. They, therefore, hear with indifference of his disgrace, his exile, or his death; but let a sovereign violate the laws of justice, in depriving a private and unoffending citizen of his liberty or his life," much more should he invade the province of parental duty, or violate the rights of Parents, “and he will learn to his peril in the East, as well as in the West, that no King can be secure on his throne, where no subject is safe in his house."
But though no monarch had ever dreamt of trespassing on the province of parental duty, his subjects may; and perhaps some persons may be disposed to aver-his subjects have. Unwittingly, indeed, in most cases, if not in all, and in many from motives of high-toned, though mistaken benevolence, they certainly have sometimes tried to devise a substitute, in a case for which no substitute or scheme of human device can be found—the negligence or indisposition of Parents. Then it is, however, though benevolence exert all its energies, that you see education, so called, narrowed, as to its vital import, into the mere mechanical arts of reading, writing, and arithmetic, with perhaps some proposed outward polish of manners. A mere corner of the wide field of parental duty is occupied; the rest, to a superficial eye, may seem left vacant merely, but it is not so. There grow up, with spontaneous, luxuriance, the very worst of habits and dispositions, to which these arts of reading and writing only give a more insidious power of working mischief. In short, the general surface of this broad field no heart or hand can cultivate, save the parental.
The application of a system of relief for the body, generally denominated Poor-rate, has, by, many, in our day, been strongly deprecated, as ultimately endangering the tone and the health of human society; but whatever may he said on that subject, let these same individuals, and all others, have a care how they interfere here. The professed application of relief to the mind, by any theoretical scheme of man's devising, where a constitution of God's own creation and upholding stands ready before us, must ever be productive of consequences the most pernicious. Were human benevolence uniformly associated with wisdom; were it not found often connected with want of forethought; in its impatience of applying a remedy, were it not often particularly impatient of what may seem the most formidable, though it should have been proved to be the only right commencement; were it not too often heedless of patient and powerful, because prospective measures, then the constitution of the human family would not have been so often and so sadly overlooked. Such, however, being the imperfections which often accompany the contrivances of human benevolence, may I not inquire, whether it is not very possible, or rather very likely, in this day of plans and schemes, for benevolence itself, if not associated with other qualities, to frame, without-doors, some things which, on the parental mind within, shall operate so far as a bounty on idleness, and as a drawback on exertion; so far take from parental obligation its appropriate awe, and from parental neglect its salutary shame; so far deprive parental improvidence of its just responsibility, and parental foresight of its fair, and rich, and delightful reward? These are at least important questions, and to me they seem to deserve the deliberate and serious consideration of not a few.
To the occasional aberrations of human benevolence, however, I need not be confined. In man, generally, there is a strong, if not a constant tendency, either to overlook or slight, and then to interfere with the arrangements of Infinite Wisdom; or if one party slight or neglect them, another at last interferes, not by calling men to first principles, and their consequently incumbent duty to God, but in the way of furnishing some expedient of human ingenuity, to supply the defect, and restore the tone of society. The vanity, however, of any such interference here, will, I presume, be more apparent, when the designs of the Almighty, in framing and upholding the Family Constitution, are regarded with serious attention. If it is true, that “God never made his work for man to mend," in every design of his the ends must be carefully observed, since, if those ends could have been reached by the ingenuity of man, no such constitution of things had existed. As a specimen of these, take the following :
1. By the Family Constitution, its divine Founder intended to produce and prolong natural affection; for this alone has done both.
“ To the human race, the importance of natural affection is incalculable. It resists, in a great degree, the tendency to absolute selfishness; expands and softens the heart; excites and nourishes sympathy and compassion ; and prevents the world from becoming the seat of unbearable violence and cruelty. But natural affection is solely the result of natural relations, and almost all these are originated by the family state ; while with every other distribution of mankind, which can be substituted or proposed, they are wholly incompatible. Besides the attachment which natural affection forms in men towards the branches of their families, ultimately extends itself, and by a natural process, to their country and laws, their government and nation."*
“ Domestic love is sure the mind to wake,
As the small pebble stirs the peaceful lake;