"WE ARE ENGAGED IN A MOST IMPORTANT CONTEST; NOT FOR POWER, BUT FREEDOM": RARE FIRST EDITION OF BOSTON MINISTER SAMUEL STILLMAN'S MAY 26, 1779 SERMON PREACHED BEFORE THE MASSACHUSETTS HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, INVOKING JOHN LOCKE IN AMERICA'S REVOLUTIONARY CAUSE FOR "CIVIL AND RELIGIOUS LIBERTY"
STILLMAN, Samuel. A Sermon Preached Before the Honorable Council, and the Honorable House of Representatives of the State of Massachusetts-Bay, in New-England, at Boston, May 26, 1779. Being the Anniversary for the Election of the Honorable Council. Boston: Printed by T. and J. Fleet, in Cornhill, and J. Gill, in Court-Street, 1779. Slim octavo, period-style full speckled calf gilt, raised bands, red morocco spine labe, marbled endpapers; pp. (3-4), 5-38.
First edition of the Revolutionary minister's fiery 1779 Sermon, inspiring Americans to "remain steadfast" in battle and proclaiming, “let us not amuse ourselves with the prospect of peace,” speaking at the Massachusetts-Bay House mere weeks before it enacted procedures for a state constitution—"the oldest functioning written constitution in the world," here also calling for an end to slavery, asking, "Shall we hold the sword in one hand to defend our just as men; and grasp chains with the other to enslave the inhabitants of Africa?" Stillman, "said to be the only clergyman to hold public services throughout the duration of the war," was elected the same year to the Massachusetts constitutional convention and the next year to the federal constitutional convention.
Stillman, who was installed in 1765 as minister of Boston's First Baptist Church, "created an immediate sensation and preached to full house for the next 40 years" (Akers, Religion and the American Revolution, 482). Famed for his "powerful and impressive" sermons, in 1779 he was elected to serve as a member of the Massachusetts state constitutional convention, and the following year as a member of the federal constitutional convention. It was there, as well, that he "delivered a very eloquent speech and… contributed much toward its adoption" (Moore, Patriot Preachers, 259-60). Clergymen such as Stillman "made an inseparable connection between America's privileged place in history and national responsibility" (Smylie, Protestant Clergymen, 218). Stillman, who particularly "valued the social and political thoughts of John Locke… [was] an ardent patriot during the Revolution, Stillman urged the army to fight well so that diplomats could construct an honorable peace. In 1775, during the British occupancy of Boston, he and his family fled to Philadelphia. He returned in 1776 and was said to be the only clergyman to hold public services throughout the duration of the war… and in 1799 was invited to preach the eulogy in Boston for George Washington" (ANB). In this momentous Sermon, delivered in the midst of the Revolution, Stillman pointedly asks where is "the boasted freedom of the British government" and proclaims: "We are engaged in a most important contest; not for Power, but Freedom… to secure to ourselves, and to generations yet unborn, the perpetual enjoyment of civil and religious liberty." In urging the embattled Americans to remain steadfast, he declares it is the will of the people "that the government should pay their first attention to the war. If America is respectable in the field, the greater will be the prospect of success in arms, and of an honorable peace… let us not amuse ourselves with a prospect of peace, and in consequence thereof abate in our preparations for the war."
Citing John Locke, Thomas More and biblical sources, he states: "as all men are equal by nature, so when they enter into a state of civil government, they are entitled precisely to the same rights and privileges; or to an equal degree of political happiness" (emphasis in original). Stillman also seizes on the day to speak out against "that cruel practice, which has long prevailed, of reducing to the state of slavery for life, the free-born Africans. The Deity hath bestowed upon them and us the same natural rights as men… Shall we hold the sword in one hand to defend our just rights as men; and grasp chains with the other to enslave the inhabitants of Africa?" John Hancock and John Adams were among those who often heard Stillman preach. On June 15, mere weeks after he delivered this Sermon before the state House of Representatives, it passed a resolution for towns to choose delegates "for the sole purpose of framing a new Constitution." Substantially authored by John Adams, the Massachusetts constitution became effective in October 1780—"the oldest functioning written constitution in the world" (McCullough, John Adams, 220-25). First edition first printing: without half title. ESTC W3242. Evans 16537. Sabin 91803.
Interior very fresh with trace of soiling, tiny gutter-edge pinholes from original stitching not affecting text.