Carmichael, John 1728-1785
Annals of the American Pulpit, Volume 3 - 1860 (see page 228)
History of the Presbyterian Church in the Forks of Brandywine, Chester County, Pa. (Brandywine Manor Presbyterian Church), from A.D. 1735 to A.D. 1885 : with biographical sketches of the deceased pastors of the church and of those who prepared for the Christian ministry under the direction of the Rev. Nathan Grier (1885) by James M'Clune, LL.D. (see page 79 for section devoted to Rev. John Carmichael)
War Against the British Is Justified (1775) John Carmichael (1728-1785) SOURCE: From A Self-Defensive War Lawful by John Carmichael (Philadelphia: John Dean, 1775).
John Carmichael, a Presbyterian minister serving in Chester County, Pennsylvania, began preaching and writing against British taxes and other actions in the colonies in the late 1760s. On June 4, 1775-less than two months after the April 1775 battles of Lexington and Concord--he preached a sermon to a company of Chester County militia in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The sermon was later reprinted in a Widely Circulated pamphlet titled A Self-Defensive War Lawful, from which the following viewpoint is excerpted. Carmichael argues that wars against oppressors are sometimes justified and that British actions against the colonies make violent resistance necessary. Carmichael's writings and sermons persuaded most members of his congregation to join the American cause. He later addressed the Continental Congress and was a frequent visitor to George Washington s Continental Army during the war,
ISSUES TO CONSIDER. What moral arguments does Carmichael make concerning violence? What does he say should be done about pacifists? about other opponents of revolution?
At a time when the unjust storm of ministerial wrath is discharging itself, in a cruel and ignominious manner, on the noble, patriotic, brave people of the ancient, loyal, important colony of the Massachusetts-Bay, in New-England;-at a time when all the other colonies in North-America, like the true children of a free-born family, are roused to some just resentment of such insults, on their natural and legal lights, taking each other as by the hand, and uniting by the invincible chains of love, friendship, and interest, are determined to support this their elder sister colony, now suffering so gloriously in the common cause, or sink together; at a time when the alarm is sounding from east to west, over this vast continent of North-America, to arms! to arms!-in short, at a time when the minds of all are in such a ferment, that they can be scarce composed to hear any subject, but what may have some reference to the present times;-it is but reasonable to suppose, that even the Minister of the Prince of Peace, whose business for ordinary is neither war or politicks, in such a situation, being member of civil society, and interested like other men would improve the times, by adopting their public instructions, to the best service of the people, and not offensive or displeasing to God; whose holy word is a blessed directory in every emergency.
It is also but reasonable to suppose, that every judicious, sober American, being now reduced to the dreadful alternative, either to take up arms, apparently against that very government, which he was wont to revere, and under which he expected protection for both life and property; or submit tamely to the galling yoke of perpetual slavery; I say, it is supposable, that every such Christian American soldier will be all ear to wholesome instructions, relative to his present duty ....
Discerning the Circumstances That Justify War
Although war is in itself a very great evil, and one of those sore judgments, by which a holy God punishes the world for sin, therefore to be deprecated, and avoided as much as possible; yet is, at times, by reason of certain circumstances, so unavoidable, that it is our duty to enter into it-The method I design to pursue, in opening up the doctrine, for improvement, is the following:
I. Humbly attempt to show (with submission to better judgment) when a war is so unavoidable and necessary, that it is our duty to enter into it. II. Show how we should enter into, and prosecute even a just war. III. Improve the subject, by the deduction of a few natural inferences from the whole.
You are sensible, my hearers, that there are some Christian people in the world, and some of them in these parts, who merit the regard of the public, by their general character of industry, inoffensiveness and sobriety; yet do maintain it, as a sacred conscientious tenet, not to be dispensed with, not to go to wm; or take up arms on any occasion whatsoever; and charity, the leading grace of the Christian system, will lead us to deal tenderly with such, as far as we have grounds to believe they are sincere in their profession: We ought to pity such for their mistake, and, if possible, to convince them; but not by any means to urge them against their avowed sentiments, lest we come under the odious appellations of persecutors.
As far as these sober people make use of the Bible, to found their principles on, they rely on such passages as these, Gen. ix, 6. He that sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed; and Exod. xx, 13. Thou shalt not kill; and in the New-Testament, But I say unto you, love your enemies;-if any smite thee on the one cheek turn to him the other also;-for all they that take the sword. shall perish by the sword: Matth. v. 39, 44 and xxvi, 52. and hence conclude, though I think falsely, that all war is unlawful, except the spiritual, with our own corruptions, by the sword of the spirit, in Christ's spiritual kingdom, which is not of this world, else would his children fight.
But if I mistake not, these people regard only such passages of holy scripture, as seem to favour their favourite opinion, let the language of other passages be what they will;-and hence their own imagination is substituted instead of divine revelation, so that when people are determined to keep by a sentiment, be it right or wrong, there is an end of all disputation.
We readily allow, that it would be happy for us all, if there was no moral or natural evil in the world. But how plausible soever such opinions may appear, to the weal of society, they are rather calculated to the condition of innocent, than depraved nature; which now is, and ever has been such, since the fall of our first parents, that there is need of some remedy to curb its evil tendencies, or mankind would scarce be able to subsist in the world; and this our always righteous Creator knows; and has therefore set up civil government to keep men from destroying each other: But civil government has no power, if it has not the sword, to be a terror to evil-doers, and a praise to them that do well.-Hence it will follow, that men are under a necessity to part with some of their natural rights, to secure the rest; they must give part of their earnings to such as are chosen by themselves to rule the whole; and then again, they must help the rulers to execute the good and wholesome laws of government, against their violators. Suppose, for instance, a great banditti rise to rescue murderers; if these are not quelled, government is overthrown, if the people do not assist good government, and here then arises a necessity to go to war.
And suppose again, on the other hand, which is very supposable, that the rulers of the people should give way to the many temptations their high stations will lead them to; to indulge the inclinations of a lust for absolute dominion, independent of the people, so that all the barrier of oaths and covenants are broke through, to effect the plan; and the people have no security, for either life or property, but the mere sovereign pleasure of the absolute rulers; then the people are under a disagreeable, but pressing necessity, rather than be crushed by an iron rod, to re-ascertain their own just rights; and stand forth all of them to oppose such tyranny-Here then is another instance of self-defence-in which a war is both unavoidable and necessary, and therefore lawful, if self-preservation is lawful; which is the point I shall next, in order, endeavour to prove indisputably, both from the light of nature, and divine revelation; and first from the light of nature.
It is certainly evident, wherever we turn our eyes, on any part of the whole creation of God, that the principle of self-love or self-preservation, or the desire of existence, is deeply engraved on the nature of every creature ....
The little industrious bee is furnished by her Creator with a sting, to preserve for her own use her sweet honey, the fruit of her toil and industry.
The ox has his horns; and the horse his teeth and hoofs.- The deer her feet for flight, and the fowls their wings to escape danger and preserve themselves. And shall man, the noblest creature in his lower world, be destitute of this necessary principle! which we see engraved by instinct on the irrational creation: Man is blest with reason to direct his enquiries, in search of happiness. His maker God allows him to seek to be as happy as he possibly can, both in this life and the life to come. But since man is a fallen, sinful creature, he has lost his true road to happiness-and can never find it, until his Maker points it out to him in the Holy Bible. Here we are taught how to conduct both in the civil and religious life: We are certain the scriptures allow us to defend ourselves in the best manner we can against an enemy.
Therefore, such passages, as would seem to speak a different language; such as those already quoted, must be understood, in a consistency with this great law of nature; as well as consistent with other parts of scripture. For Christ came not to make void, or destroy the law, but to fulfill-when therefore we are forbid to shed blood, or to kill; it is innocent blood is meant-but this doth not forbid to execute a murderer. The divine law requires, that a murderer should be executed, and forbids to take a ransom for his life.
Also, when a body of wicked people join together, or a nation unite, to fall upon and destroy without any just cause an innocent people: The insulted, or invaded people, are then to unite together, to oppose, expel and punish the guilty invaders-as in Judges v, 23. Curse ye Meraz, (said the Angel of the Lord) curse ye bitterly the inhabitants thereof Because they came not to the help of the Lord, against the mighty: And Jeremiah xlviii, 10. Cursed be he that doth the work of the Lord deceitfully; and cursed be he that keepeth back his sword from blood: And in Luke xxii, 36. Jesus Christ told his Disciples to arm themselves against approaching danger. And he that hath no sword let him sell his garment and buy one ....
Also, it must of course follow, that where our blessed Lord enjoins us, when smote on the one cheek, to turn the other also, he does not mean to forbid us to use lawful and proper means of self-preservation. But the meaning must be as the phrase is proverbial, that we should at no time discover a revengeful or unforgiving disposition; but should be ready to put up with a good deal of ill-usage, before we would create disturbance,-yea that we should do any thing consistent with our own safety. Again, where our Lord enjoins us to love our enemies-he can't possibly mean that we should love them better than ourselves-that we should put it in the enemy's power to kill us, when we had it in our power to save our own life, by killing the enemy. I say, this cannot be the meaning; for that exposition will thwart the original first great law of self-preservation. The meaning therefore must be, that we do not cherish a spirit of hatred towards the enemies, and would be willing to be reconciled again-and would be desirous, then my would be convinced of his evil sentiment against us, that we might be again on friendly terms,-that we can b sincere in our prayer to God, to bring such a desirable event to pass. Again,
That a self-defensive war is lawful, I will prove from the conduct of Jesus Christ himself. If civil government is necessmy to self-preservation, and war is necessary, at times, in government, as has been already proved; then it will follow, that those who support civil government, do support war, and so of consequence approve of war. But Jesus Christ did pay his tribute money, to the Emperor Tiberius, Matthew xvii, 27. And those who are acquainted with the life of Tiberius Caesar know that he had frequent wars ....
I think I have now proved, from the light of nature, from the reason of things-from the Old and New-Testament, as well as from the example of Christ and his Apostles, that a elf-defensive war is lawful ....
It is also equally unfair, to say, Let us stand still and see the salvation of God; for if this proves any thing, it proves too much, it proves that we are to use no means at all, for why to use lawful means in our power one time, and not another; we must therefore neither plow or sow; build, raise stock, or do any thing in the use of means, but stand still and see the salvation of God: But our reason is given us to use it in a proper manner, to preserve our own lives and the lives of others, as God's servants, in a state of probation in this world; and God will reward every one finally, according to his works; when we have no means in our power, we honor God to trust him, as Israel at the Red-Sea, and in the wilderness;-but when means are in our power, and we do not use them, we then tempt God, and rebel against his government, which he exercises over the world, in the way of free and moral agency.
Do Not Persecute Pacifists
Therefore for these people, to argue as they do now, when they are among other societies,-who they know will preserve the state from slaughter or slavery, in the use of lawful means, as has been now proved, is vastly disingenuous, and will undoubtedly subject their opinions to this censure, that it is a sanctum)' of sloth--for greed--cowardice, &c.-for it is easy to stay at home and earn money, to what it is to spend money and expose life, to protect and defend the worldling coward;-it is easy to pay money, to what it is to be slain in battle, &c. But after all that has been said, I am myself so warm an advocate for the sacred lights of conscience, that if these people will not be convinced of their duty; can not get their eyes open; they are to be pitied, but not persecuted, I beg of all, for God and conscience sake, to let them alone, if they will not in these terrible times, draw the sword for Liberty and their Country, surely they will not against Liberty and their Country, and if we can do with them, we can without them: 0 then, let there be no disturbance on that head! But should any of these inoffensive guiltless anti-warriors be detected in assisting Gage or his m'my with provisions, &c. for lucre or any other motive whatever conscience could not apologize for them but ought to be dealt with accordingly. ...
I am happy, that I can with a good conscience, congratulate you and myself this day, on the certainty we have, for the justice and goodness of our cause: The angry tools of power who mislead government, may call us American "rebels, who would throw off all government,-would be independent and what not." But we can now, with great confidence, appeal to God that that is false-we desire no such things-we desire to be as we were in the beginning of the present unhappy reign-we have tried every lawful, peaceable mean in our power-but all in vain!-we would love them if they would suffer us-we would be peaceable, obedient, loving subjects if they would let us; but it would seem as if the present ministry were determined to cram disloyalty, and disobedience down our throats--and then call us all rebels-then confiscate our country and sell it, to pay their [£] 140,000,000 of debt, or else we know not what they would be at. We do in America all declare ourselves the subjects of King George the third, but we never swore allegiance to the Parliament of Great-Britain -or else we would have above 500 Kings-they are our fellow-subjects, chosen by the freeholders of that island to legislate for them, as our Assembly doth for Pennsylvania; but if their present claims are admitted, we may give up our Assemblies-and our Charters are cyphers!-
In the close of the last war, the King had not in all his dominions so many more affectionate subjects than the Americans-and in every valuable enterprise which would exhaust both treasure and blood the brave New-Englanders took the lead-and by our industry and trade with England, the nation rose to her present eminence; and now the very power we helped to give her, is retorted on us with redoubled vengeance and unheard of cruelty-but if they beat down our trading Cities and oppress us all they can, we will have our woods and liberty; for as we are the descendants of Britons, we scorn to be slaves. We are now come to our ne plus ultra--the sword, the last argument must decide the controversy, Therefore, you can, Gentlemen Soldiers, appeal to GOD, for the justice of your cause, he is the judge of all the earth, and will do right, the final determination of all matters is in his righteous, holy, powerful hand. When England went to war with France and Spain in the time of last reign, they invoked the aids of the God of heaven by fasting and prayer-and then government discovered no leanings to popery. But now, when they are going to murder and and butcher their own children in America, that have been so obedient, useful and affectionate-we do not hear that they ask counsel of God-but if they do not let us ask counsel and assistance from the God of heaven-he is on our side, we hope, and if God is on our side we need not fear what man can do unto us. http://www.ysursa.com/history/US%20Hist/War_Rhyme.htm
A Self-defensive War Lawful, proved in a Sermon, preach at Lancaster, before Captain Ross's Company of Militia, in the Presbyterian Church, on Sabbath Morning, June 4th, 1775, by the Rev. John Carmichael, A.M., now published at the request of said Company.
[An Authentic History of Lancaster County: In the State of Pennsylvania (1869) by Jacob Isidor Mombert (see page 234 and following)]