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DELIVERED IN THE CITY OF ALBANY, OCCASIONED BY THE
DEATH OF ALEXANDER HAMILTOX, JULY 9, 1804,
BY ELIPHALET NOTT,
PASTOR OF THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH IN THAT PLACE.
“ HOW ARE THE MIGHTY FALLEN !"
THE occasion explains the choice of my subjecta subject on which I enter in obedience to your request. You have assembled to express your elegiac sorrows, and sad and solemn weeds cover you.
Before such an audience, and on such an occasion, I enter on the duty assigned me with trembling. Do not mistake my meaning. I tremble indeed—not, however, through fear of failing to merit your applause; for what have I to do with that when addressing the dying, and treading on the ashes of the dead; not through fear of failing justly to portray the character of that great man, who is at once the theme of my encomium and regret. He needs not eulogy. His work is finished, and death has removed him beyond my censure, and I would fondly hope, through grace, above my praise. You will ask then, why I tremble? I tremble to think that I am called to attack, from this place, a crime, the very idea of which almost freezes one with horror-a crime, too, which exists among the polite and polished orders of society, and which is accompanied with every aggravation; committed with cool deliberation, and openly in the face of day! But I have a duty to perform : and difficult and awful as that duty is, I will not shrink from it.
Would to God my talents were adequate to the occasion. But such as they are, I devoutly proffer them to unfold the nature and counteract the influence of that barbarous custom, which, like a resistless torrent, is undermining the foundations of civil government, breaking down the barriers of social happiness, and sweeping away virtue, talents and domestic felicity, in its desolating course.
Another and an illustrious character-a father-a general-a statesman—the very man who stood on an eminence and without a rival among sages and heroes, the future hope of his country in danger-this man, yielding to the influence of a custom, which deserves our eternal reprobation, has been brought to an untimely end.
That the deaths of great and useful men should be particularly noticed, is equally the dictate of reason and revelation. The tears of Israel flowed at the decease of good Josiah, and to his memory the funeral women chanted the solemn dirge. But neither examples nor arguments are necessary to wake the sympathies of a grateful people on such occasions. The death of public benefactors surcharges the heart, and it spontaneously disburdens itself by a flow of sorrows. Such was the death of Washington: to embalm whose memory, and perpetuate whose deathless fame, we lent our feeble, but unnecessary services. Such, also, and more peculiarly so, has been the death of Hamilton. The tidings of the former moved us, mournfully moved us, and we wept. The account of the latter chilled our hopes, and curdled our blood. The for. mer died in a good old age; the latter was cut off in the midst of his usefulness. The former was a customary providence: we saw in it, if I may speak so, the finger of God, and rested in his sovereignty. The latter is not attended with this soothing circumstance.
The fall of Hamilton, owes its existence to mad deliberation, and is marked by violence. The time, the place, the circumstances, are arranged with barbarous coolness. The instrument of death is levelled in daylight, and with well directed skill pointed at his heart. Alas! the event has proven that it was but too well directed. Wounded, mortally wounded, on the very spot which still smoked with the blood of a favorite son, into the arms of his indiscreet and cruel friend the father fell.
Ah! had he fallen in the course of nature; or jeopardizing his life in defence of his country; had he fallenbut he did not. He fell in single combat-pardon my mistake-he did not fall in single combat. His noble nature refused to endanger the life of his antagonist. But he exposed his own life. This was his crime: and the sacredness of my office forbids that I should hesitate explicitly to declare it so. He did not hesitate to declare it so himself. “ My religious and moral principles are strongly opposed to duelling." These are his words before he ventured to the field of death. “ I view the late transaction with sorrow and contrition." These are his words after his return. . Humiliating end of illustrious greatness!“ How are the mighty fallen!” And shall the mighty thus fall ? Thus shall the noblest lives be sacrificed and the richest blood be spilt ? 66 Tell it not in Gath; publish it not in the streets of Askelon!”
Think not that the fatal issue of the late inhuman interview was fortuitous. No; the hand, that guides unseen the arrow of the archer, steadied and directed the arm of the duellist. And why did it thus direct it? As a solemn memento—as a loud and awful warning to a community where justice has slumbered—and slumbered-and slumbered—while the wife has been robbed of her partner, the mother of her hopes, and life after life rashly, and with an air of triumph, sported away.
And was there, O my God! no other sacrifice valuable enough-would the cry of no other blood reach the place of retribution ard wake justice, dozing over her awful seat! But though justice should still slumber, and retribution be delayed, we, who are the ministers of that God who will judge the judges of the world, and whose malediction rests on him who does his work unfaithfully, we will not keep silence.
I feel, my brethren, how incongruous my subject is with the place I occupy. It is humiliating; it is distressing in a Christian country, and in churches consecrated to the religion of Jesus, to be obliged to attack a crime which outstrips barbarism, and would even sink the character of a generous savage. But hu. miliating as it is, it is necessary. And must we then, even for a moment, forget the elevation on which grace hath placed us, and the light which the gospel sheds around us? Must we place ourselves back in the midst of barbarism; and instead of hearers, softened to forgiveness by the love of Jesus, filled with noble sentiments towards our enemies, and waiting for occasions, after the example of divinity, to do them good; instead of such hearers, must we suppose ourselves addressing hearts petrified to goodness, incapable of mercy, and boiling with revenge? Must we, o my God! instead of exhorting those who hear us, to go on unto perfection, adding to virtue charity, and to charity brotherly kindness; must we, as if surrounded by an auditory, just emerging out of darkness, and still cruel and ferocious, reason to convince them that revenge is improper, and that to commit deliberate murder, is sin ?
Yes, we must do this. Repeated violations of the law, and the sanctuary, which the guilty find in public sentiment, prove that it is necessary.
Withdraw, therefore, for a moment, ye celestial spirits—ye holy angels accustomed to hover round these altars, and listen to those strains of grace which, heretofore, have filled this house of God. Other subjects occupy us. Withdraw, therefore, and leave us; leave us to exhort Christian parents to restrain their vengeance, and at least to keep back their hands from blood; to exhort youth, nurtured in Chris
tian families, not rashly to sport with life, nor lightly to wring the widow's heart with sorrows, and fill the orphan's eye with tears.
In accomplishing the object which is before me, it will not be expected, as it is not necessary, that I should give a history of duelling. You need not be informed, that it originated in a dark and barbarous age. The polished Greek knew nothing of it; the noble Roman was above it. Rome held in equal detestation the man who exposed his life unnecessarily, and him, who refused to expose it when the public good required it.* Her heroes were superior to private contests. They indulged no vengeance except against the enemies of their country. Their swords were not drawn unless her honor was in danger; which honor they defended with their swords not only, but shielded with their bosoms also, and were then prodigal of their blood. But though Greece and Rome knew nothing of duelling, it exists. It exists among us: and it exists at once the most rash, the most absurd and guilty practice, that ever disgraced a Christian nation.
Guilty-because it is a violation of the law. What law? The law of God. « Thou shalt not kill.” This prohibition was delivered by God himself, at Sinai, to the Jews. And, that it is of universal and perpetual obligation, is manifest from the nature of the crime prohibited not only, but also from the express declaration of the Christian Lawgiver, who hath recognized its justice, and added to it the sanctions of his own authority.
“ Thou shalt not kill.” Who? Thou, creature. I, the Creator, have given life, and thou shalt not take it away! When and under what circumstances may I not take away life? Never, and under no circumstances, without my permission. It is obvious, that no discretion whatever is here given. The prohibition is addressed to every individual where the law of
* Sallust de bell. Catil. ix.