Perpetual and Universal Peace: A Message of Thanksgiving in 1814

Thomas Belsham, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Thomas Belsham, Courtesy of Wikipedia

This week is the week of Thanksgiving, and like many others, I will be celebrating. However, before I go off to stuff myself with turkey, yams, and pumpkin pie, I wanted to leave you with a message delivered by the English Unitarian minister, Thomas Belsham at the Essex Street Chapel on July 3, 1814.

Belsham’s sermon of thanksgiving came after the Treaty of Paris was signed on May 30. This treaty put “an end to the long, extended, and bloody war in which [England had been]…engaged with France and her allies.” Belsham’s hopeful message touched on his wish that peace could be “perpetual and universal.”

Here are some applicable passages from that sermon that we may want to remember at this time of year.

From a state of cruel and unrelenting war, we are at once, on a sudden, and beyond all expectation, placed in a situation of profound peace with the continent of Europe; and this peace, originating in the universal wish of mankind, and founded upon the firm basis of equity and mutual advantages, promises a degree of stability beyond any which has been formed for upwards of a century. But is any lover of peace sufficiently sanguine to hope that this calm will be perpetual? that the happy hour is come…when nation shall not rise against nation, neither shall any learn war any more? or even that the present state of things will continue for any considerable time, or during the existence of the presentation generation? It would be infatuation to believe it. The pacificators themselves do not expect it. In very article of peace, provision is made for the renewal of war.

What then, may sickening humanity say, is the happy period never to arrive when man shall cease to be the foe of man? when universal harmony, and peace, and love shall pervade the great family of mankind? and when the business and delight of all, shall be to do good, and to contribute to the general happiness?

To this interesting inquiry I reply with unhesitating conviction, that notwithstanding the present dark and unsettled state of human affairs, the glorious period alluded to…will in due season certainly arrive; that the beautiful consummation of all things, in the universal prevalence of peace and love, and virtue and happiness, is incessantly advancing…

Surely, my friends, we have reason to be thankful…that our lot is cast in this enlightened, this comparatively happy, this rapidly improving age of the world; and it is our indispensable duty cordially and joyfully to contribute our part towards what yet remains to be done. And be assured that the glorious work of amelioration can never be checked in its career; but like the morning sun it shall advance with continually increasing splendour to the perfect day. And who can doubt that every step in progress of mankind to wisdom and virtue is a proportionate approximation to perpetual and universal peace?

Have a happy Thanksgiving, and I will see you next week.

References:

  • Belsham, Thomas, The Prospect of Perpetual and Universal Peace: A Thanksgiving Sermon, 1814

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