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Trent and Wells, eds. Colonial Prose and Poetry. 1901.

Vol. III. The Growth of the National Spirit: 1710–1775

John Wise

JOHN WISE, a New England clergyman and son of a quondam serving-man, was born in Roxbury, Massachusetts, in 1652, and died at Ipswich in 1725. He was graduated at Harvard in 1673, and ten years later was ordained pastor of Chebacco, near Ipswich, where he remained till his death. In the agitation against the government of Sir Edmund Andros, he took a leading part, for which he was fined and imprisoned. He was also deprived of his ministerial office, whereupon his town, having paid his fine, sent him to Boston as its representative. The Revolution of 1688 bringing a change in the home government, he was active in reorganizing the colonial administration, and was chaplain of the unfortunate expedition in 1690 to Canada. In later ecclesiastical controversies he sided against the Mathers in The Churches’ Quarrel Espoused (1710), an essay much praised for its logical clarity and forensic ability. His views were afterward presented more fully in A Vindication of the Government of New England Churches (1717). Wise was one of the earliest American champions of democracy, a student of government, of wide reading and much penetration, and a writer of a sonorous if somewhat cumbrous style. It is significant that his two treatises were reissued on the eve of the Revolutionary War as well as on that of the War between the States. There is no doubt as to where the valiant clergyman, who, with his almost herculean strength once overcame a champion wrestler, would have taken his stand in either crisis.

Loyalty to State and Church.
[From “The Churches’ Quarrel Espoused.” 1710. The Epistle Dedicatory.]

MY conclusion is with devoutest application to the supreme throne, that the almighty God will bless the great Anne, our wise and protestant princess; New-England’s royal nurse, and great benefactress, that she may live to see all the Protestant Churches through her vast empire, more virtuous and more united, as they all meet and center with their differing persuasions, by their love and royal actions, in her person and government. Let her most excellent majesty, next to Christ, continue absolute in her empire over their hearts, and as she has made such a complete conquest, of all differing parties within her dominions, by her wise and virtuous measures, and thereby won all the fame of rule and sovereignty from her royal progenitors, who could never so charm such mighty nations. Let her reign continue the exactest model for all courts in Europe! and when she is full replete and satisfied with length of days, and the most glorious effects of a prosperous reign, let God favor her lasting and flourishing name with an unperishing monument, on which justice shall become obliged to inscribe this memento, viz. “Here lies in funeral pomp, the princess of the earth, the store-house of all ennobling and princely perfections.” That if all the monarchs on earth, have lost their excellencies, their arcana imperii, their state, wisdom, skill in government, and all sorts of heavenly, princely and heroic virtues; here they may be found lodged in this one unparalleled MONARCH.

Let God bless his Excellency, and preserve the government of the Province, and let it continue always in the hands of natives, and let our country, successively breed men of such merit, as shall always enamor imperial majesty with their loyalty and worth; and that their true deserts may ever purchase for them such a high station, whilst they shall plainly out-weigh their rivals in the royal balance. And let them be always patrons to these churches, as an acknowledgement to the crown of heaven, as the settled condition of tenure they hold by, and possess such royal demesnes.

Let the great and good God of heaven and earth bless these churches, the beauty of the wilderness, and continue so noble a ministry as they now have, and prosper and requite their faithful and unwearied labors, and let him continue the succession, and furnish the next set with greater accomplishments and virtue.

Let Christ Jesus, the great shepherd, who hath the care of the flocks in the wilderness, preserve inviolable, the inestimable privileges and liberties of these churches; and let them entail them, with all other civil and sacred rights and immunities which they now enjoy, as a sure estate of inheritance, to the last posterity of this people. And let their children, and children’s children remain from generation to generation, until the world be done with; and the sun has left shining.

So prays, the meanest of all your servants
May 31, 1710.

Disaffected Workmen.
[From “The Churches’ Quarrel Espoused.” Answer to 4th Query.]

AND that we can as soon reconcile a republic with an absolute monarchy, or the best sort of free states with a politic tyranny, or at least with an oligarchy, where the chief end of government is the enriching and greatness of its ministers; and this we may do, when we have compounded these proposals and our platform, so that as that faithful and noble friend to these churches, the famous and learned Increase Mather, D.D. in an appendix to his dissertation concerning the sacrament, laments several plots conspiring the dissolution of these famous churches, in these words, viz. The bold attempts which have of late been made to unhinge and overset the congregational churches in New-England, by decrying their holy covenant, &c. We may here justly heighten the complaint, and cry, Pro Dolor! hinc Lachrimae! Alas, alas! here’s the grief! hence flows our tears! for here is a bold attempt indeed, not only to despoil the house of some particular piece of furniture, but to throw it quite out at windows; not only to take away some of its ornaments, but to blow up its foundations. For these bold attempts which that worthy complains of, seem now to be grown very rampant; for here is in view a combination of workmen disaffected with the fashion of the old fabric, who (in pretence) design to repair, but in reality to ruin the whole frame. They appear (indeed) something in the manner of Nehemiah’s men on the wall, Neh. 4. 17. as it were with a trowel in one hand, with which they now and then put on a little untempered mortar, to plaster over a chink or two, where the old work by length of time, is somewhat weather-beaten, to pacify the jealousies of the inhabitants, that they may think these builders (surely) are mending, and not marring their old comfortable habitation. But in reality, they have in the other hand a formidable maul, not as Nehemiah’s weapon to defend, but to break down the building; for they are all hands at work banging the platform in pieces, upon which the old fabric is built. That may not the churches, and all their lovers sigh and complain, as once Cicero did, O Tempora! O Mores! who would have expected such times and such things from such men?

Harvard’s Commendamus.
[From the Same, Part I. Section IV.]

… ACCADEMICAL learning we profess to be a very essential accomplishment in the gospel ministry. It is introduced by the ordinary blessing of God upon human endeavors, to supply the place of the cloven tongues, and those other miraculous gifts and endowments of mind, impressed upon Christ’s ambassadors, whereby fisher-men commence (per saltum) doctors of divinity; and in an instant were stocked with such principles of religion, reason, and philosophy, that they were capable to dispute with Athens itself, and baffle the greatest wits she could produce, in defence, and for the advancement of Christ’s kingdom, Acts 17. 18.

Thus it is very reasonable that the churches should be well assured of the sufficiency of the learning of those persons, ere they presume on the ministry; yet there is a fairer way in view, fuller of honor and safety, than what the proposal directs to.

Our academy is the store-house of learning, and this all mankind will assent to. When you have lost the company of the Muses, there they are found in their freeholds, where they hold the balance of honor amongst the learned. This is the place, if not of the goddess Minerva or Apollo, yet the Bethel or temple of God himself; the God of wisdom, where he, as chief architect, with his under workmen, form wise and learned men, and where you may have them wrought off at first-hand. Then, certainly, here we are to secure our credulity and confidence in this affair; here we are to know whether they be of the right stamp, yea or no.

That of all men living, the best and most infallible standard for the philosophical accomplishments of our candidates, is the judgment of the honorable president, and noble fellows of our famous college; for this I am sure must needs stand for a verity, that the judgment of a real honest and skilful artificer (keeping close to his shop) concerning the nature and qualities of an edge-tool which he hath wrought, and hammered on his own anvil, out of its first rude matter, must certainly excel him that hath been long from the trade, that only takes it, turns and tries the edge slightly, or has but a transient view of it: so that we may fairly infer, that (as to human learning) Harvard’s Commendamus is most valuable and sufficient, and justly supplants these testimonials.

English Hatred of Arbitrary Power.
[From the Same, Part II. Section I.]

ENGLISHMEN hate an arbitrary power (politically considered) as they hate the devil.

For that they have through immemorial ages been the owners of very fair enfranchizements and liberties, that the sense, favor or high esteem of them are (as it were) extraduce, transmitted with the elemental materials of their essence from generation to generation, and so ingenate and mixed with their frame, that no artifice, craft or force used can root it out. Naturam expellas furca licet usque recurrit. And though many of their incautelous princes have endeavored to null all their charter rights and immunities, and agrandize themselves in the servile state of the subjects, by setting up their own separate will, for the great standard of government over the nations, yet they have all along paid dear for their attempts, both in the ruin of the nation, and in interrupting the increase of their own grandeur, and their foreign settlements and conquests.

Had the late reigns, before the accession of the great William and Mary, to the throne of England, but taken the measures of them, and her present majesty, in depressing vice, and advancing the union and wealth, and encouraging the prowess and bravery of the nation, they might by this time have been capable to have given laws to any monarch on earth; but spending their time in the pursuit of an absolute monarchy (contrary to the temper of the nation, and the ancient constitution of the government) through all the meanders of state craft, it has apparently kept back the glory, and dampt all the most noble affairs of the nation. And when, under the midwifery of Machiavilan art, and cunning of a daring prince, this MONSTER, tyranny, and arbitrary government, was at last just born, upon the holding up of a finger! or upon the least signal given, ON the whole nation goes upon this HYDRA.

The very name of an arbitrary government is ready to put an Englishman’s blood into a fermentation; but when it really comes, and shakes its whip over their ears, and tells them it is their master, it makes them stark mad; and being of a memical genius, and inclined to follow the court mode, they turn arbitrary too.

That some writers, who have observed the governments and humors of nations, thus distinguish the English.

The emperor (they say) is the king of kings, the king of Spain is the king of men, the king of France the king of asses, and the king of England the king of devils; for that the English nation can never be bridled, and rid by an arbitrary prince. Neither can any chains put on by despotic and arbitrary measures hold these legions. That to conclude this plea, I find not amongst all the catalogues of heroes or worthy things in the English empire, peers to these undertakers; therefore we must needs range them with the arbitrary princes of the earth, (such as the great Czar or Ottoman monarch) who have no other rule to govern by, but their own will….

Concerning Rebellion.
[From “A Vindication of the Government of New England Churches.” 1717.]

IN general concerning rebellion against government for particular subjects to break in upon regular communities duly established, is from the premises to violate the law of nature; and is a high usurpation upon the first grand immunities of mankind. Such rebels in states, and usurpers in churches affront the world with a presumption that the best of the brotherhood are a company of fools, and that themselves have fairly monopolized all the reason of human nature. Yea, they take upon them the boldness to assume a prerogative of trampling under foot the natural original equality and liberty of their fellows; for to push the proprietors of settlements out of possession of their old, and impose new schemes upon them, is virtually to declare them in a state of vassalage, or that they were born so; and therefore will the usurper be so gracious as to insure them they shall not be sold at the next market: They must esteem it a favor, for by this time all the original prerogatives of man’s nature are intentionally a victim, smoking to satiate the usurper’s ambition. It is a very tart observation on an English monarch, and where it may by proportion be applied to a subject, must needs sink very deep, and serve for evidence under his head. It is in the secret history of K. C. 2. and K. J. 2. p. 2, says my author, Where the constitution of a nation is such, that the laws of the land are the measures both of the sovereign’s commands, and the obedience of the subjects, whereby it is provided; that as the one are not to invade what by concessions and stipulations is granted to the ruler; so the other is not to deprive them of their lawful and determined rights and liberties; then the prince who strives to subvert the fundamental laws of the society, is the traitor and the rebel, and not the people, who endeavor to preserve and defend their own. It’s very applicable to particular men in their rebellions or usurpations in church or state.