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The present volume, is, with the exception of one discourse, a republication of various tracts, which were called forth by particular occasions, and which were never intended to appear in their present form.—The reader cannot be more aware than I am, that they need many and great changes; but they would probably have never been republished, had I waited for leisure to conform them to my ideas of what they should be, or to make them more worthy of the unexpected favor which they have received. The articles, in general, were intended to meet the wants of the times when they were written, and to place what I deem great truths, within reach of the multitude of men. If the reader will bear in mind this design, some defects will more readily be excused. The second review, in particular, should be referred to the date of its original publication.
Certain tracts, which drew a degree of attention on their first appearance, have been excluded from this volume. My reasons for so doing are various. Some have been omitted, because they seem to me of little or no worth; some, because they do not express sufficiently my present views; and some, because they owed their interest to events, which have faded more or less from the public mind. In their present form, I wish none of them to be found in a collection of my writings.
I esteem it a privilege, that my writings have called forth many strictures, and been subjected to an unsparing criticism. I know that in some things I must have erred. I cannot hope, that even in my most successful efforts, I have done full justice to any great truth. Deeply conscious of my fallibleness, I wish none of my opinions to be taken on trust, nor would I screen any from the most rigorous examination. If my opponents have exposed my errors, I owe them a great debt; and should I fail, through the force of prejudice, to see and acknowledge my obligation to them in this life, I hope to do so in the future world.
I have declined answering the attacks made on my writings, not from contempt of my opponents, among whom are men of distinguished ability and acknowledged virtue, but because I believed that I should do myself and others more good, by seeking higher and wider views, than by defending what I had already offered. I feared that my mind might become stationary by lingering round my own writings. I never doubted, that if anything in these were worthy to live, it would survive all assaults, and I was not anxious to uphold for a moment, what was doomed, by its want of vital energy, to pass away.
There is one charge, to which, it may be thought, that I ought to have replied,—the charge of misrepresenting the opinions of my opponents. When I considered, however, that in so doing, I should involve myself in personal controversy, the worst of all controversies, I thought myself bound to refrain. Had I entered on this discussion, I must have spoken with great freedom, and should have caused great exasperation. I must have set down as a grave moral offence, the disingenuousness so common at the present day, which, under pretence of maintaining old opinions, so disguises and discolors them, that they can with difficulty be recognised. I must have thrown back the charge of misrepresentation, and shown how unfairly I was reproached with ascribing to my adversaries opinions, which I supposed them to reject, and which I only affirmed to be necessarily involved in their acknowledged doctrines. I must have met the quotations from their standard authors, which were arrayed against me, by showing, that these were examples of the self-contradiction, or inconsistency, which is inseparable from
What kind of a controversy would have grown out of such a reply, can easily be conjectured. I certainly did not think, that, by provoking it, I should aid the cause of good morals or good manners, of piety or peace. That I have never been unjust to those who differ from me, I dare not say; for in this particular, better men than myself often err. Perhaps, too, I ought to apprehend, that I have sometimes wanted due deference to the feelings of those, whose opinions I have called in question; for I have been loudly
reproached with the want of christian tenderness. I can only say, and here I speak confidently, that I have written nothing in anger, or unkindness; and that I now retain the strong language which has given offence, only because it seems to me to be demanded by the greatness of the truths which I defend, and of the errors which I oppose.
It is due to myself to say, that the controversial character of a part of this volume, is to be ascribed, not to the love of disputation, but to the circumstances in which I was called to write. It was my lot to enter on public life at a time when this part of the country was visited, by what I esteem one of its sorest scourges; I mean, by a revival of the spirit of intolerance and persecution. I saw the commencement of those systematic efforts, which have been since developed, for fastening on the community a particular creed. Opinions, which I thought true and purifying, were not only assailed as errors, but branded as crimes. Then began, what seems to me one of the gross immoralities of our times, the practice of aspersing the characters of exemplary men, on the ground of differences of opinion as to the most mysterious articles of faith. Then began those assaults on freedom of thought and speech, which, had they succeeded, would have left us only the name of religious liberty. Then it grew perilous to search the scriptures for ourselves, and to speak freely according to the convictions of our own minds. I saw that penalties, as serious in this country as fine and imprisonment, were, if possible, to be attached to the profession of liberal views of Christianity, the penalties of general hatred and scorn; and that a degrading uniformity of opinion was to be imposed by the severest persecution, which the spirit of the age would allow. At such a period, I dared not be silent. To oppose what I deemed error was to me a secondary consideration. My first duty, as I believed, was, to maintain practically and resolutely the rights of the human mind; to live and to suffer, if to suffer were necessary, for that intellectual and religious liberty, which I prize incomparably more than my civil rights. I felt myself called, not merely to plead in general for freedom of thought and speech, but, what was more important and trying, to assert this freedom by action. I should have felt myself disloyal to truth and freedom, had I confined myself to vague commonplaces about our rights, and forborne to bear my testimony expressly and specially to proscribed and persecuted opinions. The times required that a voice of strength and courage should be lifted
up, and I rejoice, that I was found among those by whom it was uttered and sent far and wide. The timid, sensitive, diffident and doubting, needed this voice; and without it, would have been overborne by the clamor of intolerance. If in any respect I have rendered a service to humanity and religion, which may deserve to be remembered, when I shall be taken away, it is in this. Į believe, that had not the spirit of religious tyranny been met, as it was, by unyielding opposition in this region, it would have fastened an iron yoke on the necks of this people. The cause of religious freedom owes its present strength to nothing so much, as to the constancy and resolution of its friends in this quarter. Here its chief battle has been fought, and not fought in vain. The spirit of intolerance is not indeed crushed; but its tones are subdued, and its menaces impotent, compared with what they would have been, had it prospered in its efforts here.
The remarks, now offered, have been intended to meet the objection which may be made to this volume, of being too controversial. Other objections may be urged against it. Very possibly it may seem to want perfect consistency. I have long been conscious, that we are more in danger of being enslaved to our own opinions, especially to such as we have expressed and defended, than to those of any other person; and I have accordingly desired to write without any reference to my previous publications, or without any anxiety to accommodate my present to my past views. In treatises, prepared in this spirit and at distant intervals, some incongruity of thought or feeling can hardly fail to occur.
By some, an opposite objection may be urged, that the volume has too much repetition. This could not well be avoided in arti-: cles written on similar topics or occasions; written, too, without any reference to each other, and in the expectation that each would be read by many, into whose hands the others would not probably fall. I must add, that my interest in certain great truths, has made me anxious to avail myself of every opportunity to enforce them; nor do I feel as if they were urged more frequently, than their importance demands.
I ought not to close this Preface, without expressing my obligation to two of my most valued friends, the Rev. Dr. Tuckerman of Boston, and Professor Norton, of Cambridge, without whose solic