Excerpts from the book Political Sermons of the American Founding Era, 1730-1805, by Ellis Sandoz. Reprinted by Liberty Fund, 1991.
 
We will post more complete transcripts as we come upon them, or as they are submitted by our readers.
 

".. And as power is naturally restless, aspiring and insatiable; it therefore becomes necessary in all civil communities.. that certain great first principles be settled and established, determining and bounding the power and prerogative of the ruler, ascertaining and securing the rights and liberties of the subjects, as the foundation stamina of the government; which in all civil states is called the constitution, on the certainty and permanency of which, the rights of both the ruler and the subjects depend; nor may they be altered or changed by ruler or people, but by the whole collective body, or a major part at least, nor may they be touched by the legislator; for the moment that alters essentially the constitution, it annihilates its own existence, its constitutional authority. Not only so, but on supposition the legislator might alter it; such a stretch of power would be dangerous beyond conception;... the people might be deprived of their liberties and properties...; and for redress in such case,.. they must resort to their native rights, and be justified in making insurrection. For when the constitution is violated, they have no other remedy..." Moses Mather, "America's Appeal to the Impartial World," as found in Political Sermons of the American Founding Era, pg. 456.

"It not uncommonly happens that there are two statutes existing at the same time, clashing in whole or in part with each other and neither of them containing any repealing clause or expression. In such case, it is the province of the courts to liquidate and fix their meaning and operation. So far as they can, by fair construction, be reconciled to each other, reason and law conspire to dictate that this should be done; where this is impracticable, it becomes a matter of necessity to give effect to one in exclusion of the other. The rule which has obtained in the courts for determining their relative validity is that the last in order of time shall be preferred to the first. But this is a mere rule of construction, not derived from any positive law but form the nature and reason of the thing... But in regards to the interfering acts of a superior and subordinate authority of an original and derivative power, the nature and reason of the thing indicate the converse of that rule as proper to be followed. They teach us that the prior act of a superior ought to be preferred to the subsequent act of an inferior and subordinate authority... They ought to regulate their decisions by the fundamental laws rather than by those which are not fundamental... [O]r, in other words, the Constitution ought to be preferred to the statute, the intention of the people to the intention of their agents... There is no position which depends on clearer principles than that every act of a delegated authority, contrary to the tenor of the commission under which it is exercise, is void. To deny this would be to affirm that the deputy is greater than his principal; that the servant is above his master; that the representatives of the people are superior to the people themselves; that men acting by virtue of powers may do not only what their powers do not authorize, but what they forbid.."

"..If the reception of a law is an acknowledgment of sovereignty, it is not an acknowledgment that such sovereignty may be maintained in an unconsittuional manner.. You talk of 'the people ceding power..': if they ceded power, they must have possessed it. Nemo dat quod non habet--what a man has not, he cannot give to another; what is given, if abused, may surely be resumed. If the doctrine of resumable power is not admitted, the doctrine of divine hereditary rights [divine right of kings] must be maintined [and under this second and now defunct doctrine] their subjects must be hereditary slaves, whose lives and properties may be sported with, as men shoot birds, and catch fish, for diversion... A man has a natural right to the possessions of his parents, or to those which he has obtained by his own labor; and the laws of society, which prohibit fraud and rapine... contribute to secure it... Of this general principle.., in its primarily intended incorrupt state... money..is granted [to citizens], not taken;.. [and this] is the language of the constitution of all ages... Such are the simple principles of free government, in contradistinction to tyranny!.. It is an axiom which cannot be too forcibly impressed on the mind--'Government cannot be free, where property is taken not given... I believe there are some millions.. who perceive, with inexpressible grief and terror, our excellent constitution, planned by the best and wisest of our ancestors, and maintained with their blood, gradually deviating from its primitive purity... [T]hey see the influence of the crown over the Commons becoming so unlimited..; they see part of the elective body become so courrupt, that the intent of one principal security of.. liberty.. is now entirely frustrated;.. and may other flagrant perversions of our gloriuous constitution. [F]ar from wishing to subvert that constitution, [most citizens] wish only to restore it to its pristine integrity..." Source: "A Constitutional Answer to the Rev. Mr. John Wesley's 'Calm Address to the American Colonies,'" as found in Political Sermons of the American Founding Era, pg. 428-429, 431, 436.

".. Let us with a conscientious care preserve the spirit of the constitution, and guard against whatever would be an infraction of the social compact between rulers and the people. It would be a glaring inconsistency, after people have chosen a form of government, and delegated authority to rulers to exercise the several powers of that government, to form combinations within [itself] in opposition to their own laws and government. It would be pulling down with one hand what they build up with the other, and setting up a government with a government, the greatest absurdity in politics..." Source: Samuel McClintock, "The New Hampshire Constitution," as found in Political Sermons of the Founding Era, pg. 811.

"..They who would be glad to live peaceably with all men, are often unhappily forced into contention, and obliged to take arms, and engage in hazardous contests, in order to defend thier lives and liberties, against the evil designs of unreasonable men, who when they suppose they have power and strength to accomplish their purposes, scruple not to give unbounded scope to their pride, covetousnes and ambition; which passions are mortal enemies to the rights of mankind, and the source of that slavery and cruel bondage, under which so many of the natins of the earth groan at this day.

"A consideration of the pernicious influence and effects of these corrupts lusts and passions should engage you and should engage us all to mortify them in ourselves. For where they prevail, they not only lead to a conduct prejudicial to the peace and welfare of human society, but make men slaves in the worst sense.. [Y]ou will permit me to remind you, that there is another kind of liberty of an higher and nobler nature, which it is of infinite importance to every one to be possessed of; I mean that glorious internal liberty, which consists in a freedom from the dominion of sin, and in the habit and practice of all the virtues of a good life... And this, once gained, will inspire you with the greatest magnanimity and fortitude, in the cause of outward liberty. For the righteous are bold as a lion..." Source: Henry Cumings, "A Sermon Preached at Lexington on the 19th of April, 1781," as found in Political Sermons of the American Founding Era pg. 680-681.

"... Rulers have their infirmities as well as their subjects, and are too often carried away by the stream of temptation to play the tyrant. And still as heretofore, the world affords many in it that love to have it so, and too may assistants in forging the hateful chains of slavery and riveting them on, too, [especially if in secret, while] they are industriously scattering false notions of power and obedience.. that they may effectually lock up the senses of those whom they would enslave... This pretended rule [does not hold] in matters of religion; so it does not hold true in all other cases, even in those that have no relation to the end of civil society... If civil rulers would take it into their heads to make a law, that no man shall have Luther's Table-Talk in his house, that every man shall turn round upon this right heel at twelve of the clock every day..., or any such like wise laws (thousands of which might be invented by a wise tyrant); by this rule [that every law not contrary to a superior law, is to be obeyed] these laws are to be strictly obeyed, a higher law to the contrary not being found. And yet I think it may be presumed, a free-born people can never become so servile as to regard them, while they have eyes to see that such rulers have gone out the line of their power. There is no reason they should be fools because their rulers are so. Whenever the power that is put in any hands for the government of any people is applied to any other end than the preservation of their persons and properties, the securing and promoting their civil interests (the end for which power was put into their hands), I say when it is applies to any other end, the.. it becomes tyranny..." Source: Excerpted from "The Essential Rights and Liberties of Protestants," Elisha Williams, March 30, 1744, as found in Political Sermons of the American Founding Era, pg. 81-83.

And every man having a property in his own person, the labor of his body and the work of his hands are properly his own, to which no one has right but himself... This every man having a natural right to his own person and his own actions and labor and to what he can honestly acquire by his labor, which we call property [which includes money as income]; it certainly follows, that no man can have a right to the person or property of another... That greater security therefore of life, liberty, money, lands, houses, family, and the like, which may be all comprehended under that of person and property, is the sole end of all civil governments..." Elisha Williams, "The Essential Rights and Liberties of Protestants," March 30, 1744, as found in Political Sermons of the Founding Era, pg. 57, 58.

".. The feelings of Americans were always the feelings of freemen. Those venerable men, from whom you boast your descent, brought with them to these shores an unconquerable sense of liberty. They felt, that mankind were universally entitled to be free; that this freedom, though modified by the restrictions of social compact, could yet never be annulled; and that slavery, in any of its forms, is an execrable monster, whose breath is poison, and whose grasp is death.

Concerning this liberty, however, they entertained no romantic notions. They neither sought nor wished the freedom of an irrational, but that of a rational being; not the freedom of savages, not the freedom of anchorites, but that of civilized and social man. The doctrine of equality was admitted by sober understandings. It was an equality not of wisdom, but of right; not a parity of power, but of obligation. they felt and advocated a right to personal security; to the fruits of their ingenuity and toil; to reputation; to choice of mode in the worship of God; and to such a liberty of action, as consists with the safety of others, and the integrity of the laws...

They had ever been taught, that property acquires title by labour; and they were conscious of having expended much of the one for little of the other. They were naturally tenacious of what they possessed, and conceived, that no human power might legally diminish it without their consent....

They were the feelings of men, who were vigilant of the rights of human nature, of freemen, whose liberties (were)... determined never to survive the honour of their country.

Such were the manners, which distinguished Americans for a century and an half. They were the manners of men, who, thought poor, were too rich to be venal; though humble in pretension, too proud for servility; and though overlooked in the mass of mankind, as possessing no national character, yet convinced the proudest monarchy in the world, that an attempt to oppress them was dangerous, and to conquer them, impossible...

Americans called themselves free, because they were governed by laws originating in fixed principles, and to in the caprice of arbitrary will. They held, that the ruler was equally obliged to construct his laws in consonance with the spirit of the constitution, as were the people to obey them when enacted; and that a departure from duty on his part virtually absolved them from allegiance... Who is the rebel against law and order, the legislator ordaining, or the citizen resisting, unconstitutional measures? It is the unprincipled minister, who artfully innovates on the custom of governing; the ambitious senator, whose self is his god; the faithless magistrate, who tramples on rights, which he as sworn to protect; these are the men, who, by perverting the purpose of government, destroy it's foundations, bring back society into a state of war, and are answerable for its mischievous effects. Not those who defend, but those who attack, the liberties of mankind, are disturbers of the public peace;...

(T)he principles of common law and of eternal justice.. were the principles of men, who sought not to subvert the government.. but to save it from degeneracy;...

... And after the prostration of religious principle, how can you hope for purity of manners... (An) unholy spirit of atheism has already deteriorated the political and moral condition of this country, and still menaces hour hopes, privileges, and possessions. Should it be the fate of America to drink still deeper of the inebriating bowl, it's government, whose existence depends on the public sentiment, must fall victim to the draught. Should the rulers of our country, especially, become intoxicated with the poison; should they deviate from the course prescribed by their wise predecessors, incautiously pulling down what had been carefully built; should they mutilate the form, or impair the strength of our most excellent constitution; should they amuse themselves with ephemeral experiments, instead of adhering to principles of certain utility; and should they despise the religion and customs of our progenitors, setting an example of impiety and dissipation, deplorable will be the consequences. From an head so sick, and an heart so faint, disease will extend to the utmost extremities of the political body. As well may you arrest the flight of time, or entice the moon from her orbit, as preserve your freedom under atheistical rulers, and amidst general profligacy of habit. Libertinism and lethargy, anarchy and misrule will deform our once happy republic; and it's liberties will receive an incurable wound. The soil of America will remain; but the name and glory of the United States will have perished, forever... Excerpts from an oration pronounced July 5, 1802 by William Emerson (1769-1811), the father of Ralph Waldo Emerson, as found in Political Sermons of the American Founding Era, Liberty Fund, pg. 1559, 1560, 1562, 1563

"... Cherish then, that immortal document of what once were declared in the face of the world to be the principles of this country... Give me leave to say further, you will not mistake the will and pleasure of the country, if you give all your friendship, all your best wishes, and all the support in your power to the incomparable Constitution of the United States. This Constitution was adopted by a fair expression of the public will. It is the government of the country and the ordinance of God. When we examine its merits, we find it but another edition of the genuine principles of republicanism, equal rights if foundation, and the welfare of the people its object. The precious maxims of the Declaration of Independence are transplanted into the Constitution. And as under the former the country marched to victory, so under the latter she may advance to prosperity.

"Let the Constitution then, be esteemed the palladium of all that we hold dear. Let it be venerated as the sanctuary of our liberties and all government. Be genuine friends of order...

"Be not devoted to man. Let principles ever guide your attachments. To be blindly devoted to names and men's person's, is at once a token of a slavish spirit, and a sure way to throw the country into virulent parties...Our Constitution contemplated independent freemen, men having a mind of their own, when it provided the right of suffrage... So long as a man in power behaves well and cleaves to your own principles, give him your support and your applause. But the instant he departs from the line prescribed for him by your social compact, peaceable resort to your right of suffrage, and hurl him from his eminence, be he who he may...

Let the spirit of our fathers come upon us. Be men: rise: let another race of patriots appear: bring forward another band of sages. Let America once more be the admiration of the world... Stanley Griswold (1763-1815), Sermon Delivered at Wallingford, Connecticut, March 11, 1801, as found in Political Sermons of the American Founding Era, Liberty Fund, 1991, pg. 1548. 1549, 1551, 1552