Frugality is an old fashioned virtue that is deeply covered with the alluvion of modern extravagance. With a large proportion of the community--economy is no longer a governing principle. More generally is this the case with public bodies and associations. When we look at the enormous and worse than useless expense of public buildings a large proportion of them are marked with an extravagance far from republican simplicity--large expenditures without enlarging comfort or convenience, Girard College is an example in point. A large portion of the money expended on that too splendid structure, was diverted from its legitimate channel--_the support and education of the poor orphan_. It is a tolerated--not an excusable error. So with many other public buildings erected with money drawn directly and indirectly from the hard earnings of the people. As inconsistent as it is--professing Christians have adopted this error with a vengeance--although the great Author of Christianity was born in a stable--cradled in a manger and preached his thrilling soul-cheering sermons in the open air. As churches are now conducted--how great the change--how alarming the contrast. The landmarks of primitive Christianity are buried by the alluvion of human inventions. Millions are expended in building extravagant edifices--furnishing them with velvet, damask or other cushions--the congregation involved in debt--the poor necessarily excluded--when half the amount contracted would have been sufficient and the other half should have been expended to alleviate the wants of the suffering poor and in sending the Gospel of Peace to the destitute. Extravagant professed followers of the lowly Jesus--think of this when you rise from reposing--perhaps _sleeping_ on your gaudy church cushions. Think of the birth place of your Lord--of his life of poverty--his friendship to the poor--his constant efforts to do them good--of the habits and limited comforts of his disciples--and more--think how destitute you are of the very foundation of true religion--HUMILITY. How will you answer for these things at the searching tribunal of the great Jehovah? Even your funerals are marked with an extravagance that should be reduced to an amount that would leave a sum sufficient to make your poor neighbors comfortable for a long time. If you would honor the religion of the immaculate Redeemer--learn and practice frugality--enlarge your charity and adorn your conduct with consistency.
With the _true_ patriots of the American Revolution frugality was proverbial. Independence Hall, built of plain brick and mortar, was deemed sufficiently splendid for the accommodation of the master spirits of that eventful era. A plain yard, with native forest trees for an ornament, was satisfactory. Now nothing but a marble structure, surrounded by extensive highly ornamented pleasure grounds, at an expense of MILLIONS, will answer for the legislators of this anti-republican era. The dear people are no longer consulted relative to the expenses of our government--to _pay_ is their only privilege. Imported extravagance--imported customs--apish imitations of European usages--are fast driving republican simplicity from our once happy land. If the people tamely submit to these gross innovations they will ultimately reap the bitter fruits of their culpable neglect of duty.
Among the sages of the American Revolution, John Dickinson figured conspicuously. He was born in Maryland in 1732. After acquiring a good education he read law and had a lucrative practice in the city of Philadelphia. He was elected to the legislature at an early age and became a prominent member--an eloquent speaker and ready writer. He was a member of the General Congress in 1765 when he boldly exposed the unwarranted conduct of crown officers urged on by corrupt ministers. In 1767 he published a series of letters--boldly exposing the unconstitutional features of sundry acts of parliament. They contributed largely towards preparing the people for that resistance which resulted in FREEDOM.
Mr. Dickinson was a member of the important preliminary Congress of 1774 and wrote the lucid petition to the King that emanated from that body. He was the author of the declaration published by the Congress of 1775 which ably set forth the causes that impelled the down-trodden colonists to take up arms and resolve on victory or death. The second petition to the King was from his pen and adopted by Congress. All his writings were well suited to the occasions that induced them and were eminently calculated to advance the cause of the patriots. He was slow to believe England could not be brought to see and relinquish her suicidal course. He believed the Declaration of Independence premature and did not vote for it. He had great confidence in his own persuasive powers. His opposition to the Declaration of Rights caused his constituents to give him leave of absence. He subsequently sanctioned it and repented of his error. In 1779 he was again elected to Congress and became a zealous, active, useful member. The following extract from an address, adopted by Congress on the 26th of May 1779, is from his pen.
"Infatuated as your enemies have been from the beginning of this contest do you imagine they can flatter themselves with a hope of conquering you unless you are false to yourselves? When unprepared, undisciplined and unsupported--you opposed their fleets and armies in full conjoined force--then, if at any time, was conquest to be apprehended. Yet, what progress towards it have their violent and incessant efforts made? Judge from their own conduct. Having devoted you to bondage and after vainly wasting their blood and treasure in the dishonorable enterprise--they deigned at length to offer terms of accommodation with respectful addresses to that once despised body--the Congress--whose humble supplications, only for peace and safety, they had contemptuously rejected under pretence of its being an unconstitutional assembly. Nay more--desirous of seducing you into a deviation from the paths of rectitude from which they had so far and rashly wandered, they made most specious offers to tempt you into a violation of your faith given to your illustrious ally."
"Foiled again and stung with rage, embittered by envy--they had no alternative but to renounce the inglorious and ruinous controversy or to resume their former modes of prosecuting it. They chose the latter. Again the savages are stimulated to horrid massacres of women and children and domestics to the murder of their masters. Again our brave and unhappy brethren are doomed to miserable deaths in jails and prison-ships. To complete the sanguinary system--all the 'EXTREMITIES of war' are denounced against you by authority. * * Rouse yourselves, therefore, that this campaign may finish the great work you have so nobly carried on for several years past. What nation ever engaged in such a contest under such a complication of disadvantages so soon surmounted many of them and in so short a period of time had so certain a prospect of a speedy and happy conclusion. We will venture to pronounce that so remarkable an instance exists not in the annals of mankind. * * * Consider how much you have done and how comparatively little remains to be done to crown you with success. Persevere and you insure peace, FREEDOM, safety, glory, sovereignty and felicity to yourselves, your children and your children's children." * * *
"Fill up your battalions--be prepared in every part to repel the incursions of your enemies--place your several quotas in the constitutional treasury--lend money for public uses--sink the emissions of your several states--provide effectually for expediting the conveyance of supplies for your armies and fleets and for your allies--prevent the produce of your country from being monopolized--effectually superintend the behaviour of public officers (what a poser if the dear people should do this imperious duty now) diligently promote piety, virtue, brotherly love, learning, FRUGALITY and moderation and may you be approved before Almighty God--worthy of those blessings we devoutly wish you to enjoy."
Here is a bright specimen of the republican principles that governed the public officers and people of the Revolution. They are too simple for the present portentous era of imported extravagance and customs--too pure for the politicians of our time. They will be read with approving admiration--but few will put them in practice.
Mr. Dickinson filled the office of President of Pennsylvania and subsequently removed to the state of Delaware and there filled the same chair. His political writings were collected and published in 1810 making two volumes octavo. His famous "Farmer's Letters to the Inhabitants of the British Colonies" were so highly prized by the astute Franklin that he had them republished in London and sent a French translation to Paris. But few of the sages did as much with their pen as this patriot. He lived to enjoy the fruits of his labors to a good old age. He resided at Wilmington, Delaware, for a long time where he closed his earthly pilgrimage on the 15th of February 1808. He was a member of the Society of Friends. His private character was without reproach.
Source: Sages and Heroes of the American Revolution, by L. Carroll Judson: Copyright, 1854 Available for download at the Project Gutenberg website.