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A New Catechism

From Diary of the American Revolution, Vol I. Compiled by Frank Moore and published in 1859.

A correspondent thinks the following new catechism will amply repay an attentive perusal:1

What is war?–It is the curse of mankind, the mother of pestilence and famine, and the undistinguishing destroyer of the human species.

How is war divided?–Into offensive and defensive.

What is the chief end of offensive war?–Sometimes it is to regain by the sword what had been unjustly taken away from the rightful possessor; but, for the most part, it is to gratify the ambition of a tyrannic prince, by subjecting to his arbitrary will a people whom God had created free, and giving their hard-earned possessions to support him in luxury, idleness, and sensuality.

Are there any instances of such princes?–Yes, many, both in ancient and modern times. History is filled with the wicked lives and miserable deaths of tyrants. The present King of Great Britain, whose history is not yet completed, is a living example of such a prince. He carried an offensive war into the East Indies, and deprived many thousands of those innocent people of their lives and properties, that he might snuff the spices of the east, and repose his sluggard limbs on the sofa of a nabob. He is now carrying an offensive war into America, without one specious plea for so doing, most wickedly aiming at the absolute disposal of that extensive country and all its numerous inhabitants; for this purpose he has spread desolation and death through their peaceful habitations, pursuing his iniquitous designs with every aggravated species of obstinacy, cruelty, and horror.

What may be said of such a prince?–That he looks upon mankind as created only for his use, and makes their misery his support; that the spirits of thousands, who have fallen a sacrifice to his ambition, cluster around the polished points of his imperial crown, and daily cry aloud to Heaven for justice; that his throne is built of the bones of his fellow creatures, and rests on the skulls of the slain; that his unhallowed feasts are sprinkled with human blood, and that the groans of widows and orphans attend him with innumerable curses at every rising sun.

What will be the probable end, of such a prince?–That history will do justice to his memory, in spite of all the fawning sycophants of his court, and hand his name to posterity with infamy and detestation; that whilst his royal carcass fattens the common worms of the earth, his miserable soul shall give an account to God for the wanton slaughter of his creatures, whose blood will most assuredly be required at his hands; and that the vaults of hell shall ring with, Hail, thou great destroyer of the human species!

What is a defensive war?–It is the taking up arms to resist tyrannic power, and bravely suffering present hardships, and encountering present dangers, to secure lasting liberty, property, and life to future generations.

Is a defensive war justifiable in a religious view?–The foundation of war is laid in the wickedness of mankind. Were all men virtuous, just, and good, there would be no contention, or cause of contention, amongst them; but as the case is far otherwise, war is become absolutely necessary, as many other things are which are only the product of the weaknesses or iniquity of men. Even the invaluable blessings of a constitutional government would be unnecessary incumbrances, were there no open violence or secret treachery to be guarded against. God has given to man wit to contrive, power to execute, and freedom of will to direct his conduct. It cannot be, therefore, but that some will abuse these great privileges, and exert these powers to the ruin of others. The oppressed will then have no way to screen themselves from injury but by executing the same powers in their defence, and it is their duty so to do. If it were otherwise, a few miscreants would tyrannize over the rest of mankind, and make them abject slaves of oppression and pensioners of their will. Thus it is that a just defensive war is not only necessary, but an indispensable duty, and consistent with religion, accommodated as it must be to our present imperfect state of existence.

Is it upon these principles that the people of America are now resisting the arms of England, and opposing force by force?–Strictly so. The Americans had nothing in view but to live peaceably and dutifully in a constitutional submission to Great Britain. They suffered patiently, for a long time, many unjust encroachments of power, being loath to offend their rulers by a too strict attention to every right, till at last the designs of the court became too evident to be mistaken, and they were pushed to the distressing necessity of choosing one of two evils, viz., either to enlist themselves and their unborn posterity the avowed unconditional slaves of a corrupt and wicked administration, or to brave the horrors of war in a noble contest for liberty and life. They have wisely determined on the latter; and after solemnly appealing to God and the world for the justice of their cause, they are prosecuting the war under the favor of Heaven, and with the most promising hopes of success. Supported by the equity of their principles, they have surmounted the greatest difficulties, and exhibited instances of bravery not exceeded by the heroes of antiquity–and may Heaven prosper their virtuous undertaking.

But it has often been said that America is in a state of rebellion: tell me, therefore, what is rebellion?–It is when a great number of people, headed by one or more factious leaders, aim at deposing their lawful prince, without any just cause of complaint against him, in order to place another on his throne.

Is this the case of America?–By no means. They have repeatedly declared, with all sincerity, that they were ever ready to support, with their lives and fortunes, the present King of Great Britain on the throne of his ancestors, and only requested in return the enjoyment of those inestimable rights which the British Constitution confirms to all its subjects, and without which the boasted freedom of that constitution is but a solemn mockery, and an empty name.

To whom has the British court committed the conduct of the present war?–To Lord and General Howe.

Who are these gentlemen?–They are the brothers of a Colonel Howe, who fought bravely by the side of the Americans in a former war, and fell in battle; who, by his amiable character, endeared himself to those people so much, that they lamented his fate with unfeigned sorrow, and erected, at their own expense, a costly monument to his memory. But these gentlemen, with unrelenting hearts and sacrilegious hands, have defiled their brother’s monument with the blood of those whose affection reared it to his honor, and plunged their murderous weapons into bosoms glowing with love and esteem for their mother’s son.2

What progress have the English made in subduing America?–Very little. They got possession of Boston by the tacit consent of its inhabitants, but could not hold it long. They were but tenants at will, strictly speaking, for their landlords turned them out without any warning, and distrained upon certain military stores, &c., although they had sat there at a rent of about five hundred pounds per day.

What did they next?–They took Staten Island, where there was nothing to oppose them, and a part of Long Island, by an exertion of almost their whole force against a small part of the American army, and then ferried themselves over to the city of New York; from thence they crept into the Jerseys, and taking advantage of a critical period, when the American army was disbanded by the terms of enlistment, and before a new force could be raised, they heroically advanced to the banks of the Delaware, well knowing there was nothing to oppose their progress. On the banks of the Delaware they set them down, settled, as they thought, for the winter season, and plundered the adjacent country. In the mean time these extraordinary conductors of the war published a wonderful and gracious proclamation, offering such protection as they could afford to all those who would accept of it, upon the easy terms of absolute, unconditional submission. But the Americans, whose resources are endless, soon found a spirited militia to supply the place of the disbanded troops until a new army could be raised. This militia crossed the Delaware in a snow storm at midnight, and after marching ten miles, very uncivilly attacked the enemy before they had breakfasted, and drove them from the banks of the Delaware in the utmost consternation, and with a loss of twelve hundred men. The American army then recrossed the Delaware and suffered the enemy to return to their post, where they anxiously waited the arrival of an expected reinforcement. But the American general, by a stroke of policy above their comprehension, once more passed the river with his army, and kindled a few fires in the night near their station; and whilst they were foolishly gazing at the beauty of the curling flames, he marched on, attacked, routed, and entirely defeated the said reinforcement. The shattered remains of General Howe’s army are now close confined in Brunswick, where they are doing penance on salt meat and musty biscuit.

Where are injustice, obstinacy, and folly united in one character in an eminent degree?–In George the Third. He is unjust, because he endeavors to gain by force what is denied him by the laws of the realm over which he presides, in direct violation of his coronation oath, and pursues his unconstitutional claims to the effusion of human blood; he is obstinate, because he refuses to hear the humble petitions and modest reasonings of an oppressed people, and will not yield to the forcible convictions of truth; and his folly is conspicuous in quarrelling with a people who loved and honored him, who were the chief supporters of his crown and dignity, and a never-failing source of increasing wealth.

Who is the soggiest man in the world?–Lord Howe.

Who is the weakest?–General Howe.

Who is the greatest liar upon earth?–Hugh Gaine, of New York, printer.3

Who is the most ungrateful man in the world?–Governor Skinner.4

Why do you call him governor?–Because when Lord and General Howe thought that they had conquered the Jerseys, they appointed him lieutenant-governor of that State. Skinner assumed that title over one-tenth part of the said State, and continued his usurpation for six weeks, five days, thirty-six minutes, ten seconds, and thirty hundred parts of a second, and then was deposed.

Why is he called ungrateful?–Because he has joined the enemies of his country, and enlisted men to fight against his neighbors, his friends, and his kinsfolk; because he has endeavored to transfer the soil that gave him bread from the rightful possessors to a foreign hand; because he is doing all he can to defraud the fruit of his body of their just inheritance; and because, to gain present ease and transitory honors, he would fasten the chains of slavery on three millions of people and their offspring forever.

Who is the best man living?–His Excellency General Washington, to whom the title of Excellency is applied with the greatest propriety. He has left a peaceful habitation and an affluent fortune to encounter all the dangers and hardships of war, nobly stepping forth in the defence of truth, justice, and his country. In private life he wins the hearts and wears the love of all who are so happy as to live within the sphere of his action. In his public character he commands universal respect and admiration. Conscious that the principles on which he acts are indeed founded on virtue, he steadily and coolly pursues those principles, with a mind neither depressed by disappointments nor elated by success, giving full exercise to that discretion and wisdom which he so eminently possesses. He retreats like a general and acts like a hero. If there are spots in his character, they are like the spots in the sun, only discernible by the magnifying powers of a telescope. Had he lived in the days of idolatry, he had been worshipped as a god. One age cannot do justice to his merit, but the united voices of a grateful posterity shall pay a cheering tribute of undissembled praise to the great asserter of their country’s freedom.5


1 Brasher’s Journal.
2 Lord Viscount George Howe was the eldest son of Sir E. Scrope, second Lord Viscount in Ireland. He arrived at Halifax in the summer of 1757, having under his command five thousand British troops, who had been despatched from England to assist in the expedition against the French. In the next year he was with Abercrombie at the renowned attack on Ticonderoga, and at the first fire of the French, who were posted in the woods a short distance westward of the fort, he fell mortally wounded. “In him the soul of the army seemed to expire.” His kindly disposition, bravery, and many virtues, endeared him to the soldiers; and Massachusetts, as a “proof of her love and esteem for his gallantry and daring,” erected a monument to his memory in Westminster Abbey. At the time of his death he was thirty-three years of age.
3 And editor of the New York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.
4 Cortlandt Skinner.
5 Pennsylvania Journal, February 19.

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