Nearly 250 years ago, Samuel Davis, a renowned Virginia orator and educator, gave a sermon designed to encourage young men to enlist to fight for the security of the colonies in what became known as the French and Indian War. In it, he acknowledged that our desire for peace must at times give way to a call for arms in order to secure a more lasting and just peace. His sermon continues to inspire; portions of it are reprinted below:
Nothing can be more agreeable to the God of Peace than to see universal harmony and benevolence prevail among His creatures; and He has laid them under the strongest obligations to cultivate a pacific temper toward one another, both as individuals and as nations. 'Follow peace with all men,' is one of the principal precepts of our holy religion. And the great Prince of Peace has solemnly pronounced, 'Blessed are the peacemakers.'
But when, in this corrupt, disordered state of things, where the lusts of men are perpetually embroiling the world with wars and fightings and throwing all into confusion; when ambition and avarice would rob us of our property, for which we have toiled and on which we subsist; when they would enslave the freeborn mind and compel us meanly to cringe to usurpation and arbitrary power; when they would tear from our eager grasp the most valuable blessing of Heaven, I mean our religion; when they invade our country, formerly the region of tranquillity, ravage our frontiers, butcher our fellow subjects, or confine them in a barbarous captivity in the dens of savages; when our earthly all is ready to be seized by rapacious hands, and even our eternal all is in danger by the loss of our religion; when this is the case, what is then the will of God?
Must peace then be maintained? Maintained with our perfidious and cruel invaders? Maintained at the expense of property, liberty, life, and everything dear and valuable? Maintained, when it is in our power to vindicate our right and do ourselves justice? Is the work of peace then our only business? No; in such a time even the God of Peace proclaims by His providence, 'To arms!'
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Here I thought to have concluded; but I must take up a few minutes more to ask this crowd — Is there nothing to be done by us who stay at home toward the defense of our country and to promote the success of the expedition now in hand? Shall we sin on still impenitent and incorrigible? Shall we live as if we and our country were self-dependent and had nothing to do with the Supreme Ruler of the universe? Can an army of saints or of heroes defend an obnoxious people, ripe for destruction, from the righteous judgment of God?
The cause in which these brave men, and our army in general, are engaged is not so much their own as ours. Divine Providence considers them not so much in their private, personal character as in their public character as the representatives and guardians of their country; and, therefore, they will stand or fall, not so much according to their own personal character as according to the public character of the people whose cause they have undertaken. Be it known to you, then, their success depends upon us even more than upon themselves.
Ye that complain of the burden of our public taxes; ye that love ease and shrink from the dangers of war; ye that wish to see peace restored once more; ye that would be happy beyond the grave and live forever — attend to my proposal. It is this: A THOROUGH NATIONAL REFORMATION. This will do what millions of money and thousands of men, with guns and swords and all the dreadful artillery of death, could not do — it will procure us peace again, a lasting, well-established peace.
As our nation undertakes to respond to the horrific attack not just on our land but on our way of life, lets us remember what it is about America that will distinguish the just retribution that we are about to exact from mere vengeance. Ours was and is a nation dedicated to the universal truth that all men, all human beings, are created equal, that we all are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights, including the right to life, to liberty, and to the pursuit of happiness. The perpetrators of yesterday's attacks — and yes, those who harbor them or in any way give them aid and comfort as well — have waged war not just upon America but upon the universal truths for which she stands, and it is supremely just that those who would wage such a war be brought to account, not just for their attack on America but for their assault against all humanity. But justice requires more. It requires the utter destruction of the enemies of freedom. As we resolve to fight this war against the nation of terrorism to completion, we can derive comfort from the fact that both the laws of nature and of nature's God sanction our cause. Let us rededicate ourselves to the universal and timeless principles on which this nation was founded to insure that we remain now, as then, deserving of the protection of Divine Providence.