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Religion in Illinois-Constitution of the State in relation thereto-Emigration hither
Its effect on society-Clergy members of Legislative bodies—Methodists in Lunois
Religion and learning, in every age, and almost every clime, have hitherto advanced with equal, though frequently, uncertain strides. Con. nected intimately, as they are, with human freedom, and with an enlightened system of legislation and jurisprudence, they are sometimes accelerated, and sometimes retarded, in their march. Each, therefore, deserves separate attention.
Religion, in Illinois, is lefi precisely where our Saviour wished it might be—unshackled by legislation—in the care, and under the protection of its author, a wise and holy God.
The 3rd section in the 8th article of our Constitution, declares, that “All men have a natural and indefeasible right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences; that no man can of right be compelled to attend, erect, or support any place of worship, or maintain any ministry against his consent; that no human authority can, in any case whatever, control or interfere with the right of con. science; and that no preference shall be given by law to any religious establishment or mode of worship; and that no religious test shall erer be required as a qualification to any office or public trust, under the State.”
The policy of religious establishments has always been questionable ; and the idea of producing uniformity in religious opinions by legislative acts, has long been exploded. Christianity, while our Saviour was here on earth, and during the age of the Apostles, was rapidly diffused, even to "earth’s remotest realms.” It soon pervaded the Roman empireassumed the purple, and lost its purity. Neither armies nor thrones are its appropriate theatre. Even David, “the man after God's own heart," was a great offender. Solomon, the wisest of princes, (surrounded by earthly glory,) forgot his Maker; and one of the ablest of the Roman pontiffs, who in early life, (when a priest of humble pretensions, had hopes of Heayen, on reaching the papal throne, had none at all.”
There is something in Christianity adapted to every station, and to every condition in life; but more especially to the humble, the afflicted, and the oppressed :
“ Art thou scorned, dost thou repine,
That a lowly birth was thine ;
Were sickness and sorrow to be done away, religion would at once be despoiled of half her charms ; duty would be forgotten, or but slightly remembered, and truth and obedience be shipwrecked on their passage to eternity. Sickness and sorrow, therefore, are as necessary in the moral, as industry in the natural world. Were the earth to produce its fruits spontaneously, and further efforts on our part no longer required, man, civilized as he is, would relapse into barbarism, and the globe we inherit, now so beautiful, into a wild and solitary waste. God, however, in his Providence, has enjoined on man to toil; labor, therefore, so much de. plored, is a blessing only in disguise.
The journal of one of the first settlers of Plymouth, or of James Town, detailing his progress from day to day, in building, inclosing, improving, and advancing, from the rude shelter that first protected his uncovered family against the elements, to comfort, convenience, and finally to ele. gance, would at the present time be sought for with avidity. The human mind traces with delight the majestic river to its source--and the power, the improvement, and the splendor of states and empires, to the germ from whence they sprung. The cottages of Romulus and Remus would, at the present time, be regarded with interest among broken columns, and the ruins of ancient magnificence.
To gratify a curiosity so laudable and so natural, in relation even to our own State, scarce anything remains; and even that is fast dininish. ing from vision and memory. To the greater part of our western readers, (and the State of Illinois, it will be recollected, is but of yesterday,) a faithful picture of some of the habitations of its early pioneers, the result of their first efforts in agriculture, and the festivities which solaced their early privations, would present a view of things already past, and nearly forgotten.
There is scarcely a nation in Europe which has not furnished us with emigrants. Even Norway's frozen cliffs, and Italy's land of song:
“ Here exiles meet from every clime,
And speak in friendship every distant tongue.”
Philosophers from beyond the seas, princes and nobles, men of letters and learning, have resorted thither-some to study our natural history,
some to spy out the nakedness of our land—some to contemplate a people rising in the freshness of nature, from the ruins of a once submerged world; but far the greater part, to seek and secure for themselves and their children the comforts of present existence, with its expectations and
On coming hither, their implements of husbandry, their cooking utensils, (of the simplest kind,) an axe, a rifle, a few mechanic tools, and some horses, cattle, and hogs, constituted their principal, almost their only wealth. They brought, however, with them stout hearts and willing hands; their first abodes were in camps and stations ; their next, in the primitive log-cabin, erected in all the simplicity of early mechanisin, almost without tools with the axe and the auger, to which the drawing. knife, the broad-axe, and the cross-cut saw, were sometimes added. The wooden fire-place and the wooden chimney, protected from the action of fire by a lining of clay; the floor of hewed logs; the door made of the latter, split asunder, and smoothed with the drawing-knife, united together with wooden pins, hung upon wooden hinges, and fastened with a wooden latch ; without nails, glass, or metal of any kind—once so common, are beginning already to be matters of wonder.
The occupants of such dwellings, however, enjoyed substantial com. forts. Amid privations, they lived in plenty; their cattle, hogs, and poultry, supplied them with meat—the forest with game; the earth yielded her increase ; bread, milk, and honey abounded in every dwell. ing, and fish from every stream. They lived, therefore, in profusion ; the hungry traveller and the indigent neighbor, participating their bounty. Exposed to a common danger, and to incessant toil, they were united to their fellow-men by the closest ties ; accustomed to arm in each other's defence, and to aid in each other's labor; to assist in nursing the sick, and performing the last mournful service to the dead; the best and the holiest affections of the heart were kept in play, and the calls of friendship and the claims of benevolence were promptly discharged, without inquiry into the means or the ability of their recipient.
Dressed frequently in the skins of beasts--with no other shoes than those made of leather tanned in their solitudes, resembling in their whole contour so many Robinson Crusoes in picture--they carried frequently within them, beneath the rudeness of their primitive habitations, the carelessness of their agriculture, the apparent roughness of their man. ners, the unsightly coarseness of their implements and furniture, the unambitious homeliness of their goods and chattels, (with the exception of their axes, their horses, and their rifles,) hearts expanded by benevolence.
In such a community, those charities and religious principles and feel. ings, which are nursed among people of one race, born, baptized, reared and intermarried together, whose lot of human vicissitudes has been cast in the same mould, do not, except occasionally, put forth the same excellent and abundant fruit. Still, in a society thus constituted, and especially
in our western cities—shifting continually by the accession of strangers, from whom the claims of friendship, hallowed by long acquaintance, cemented by ancient ties, and destined, to all appearance, for duration, are necessarily excluded—there is something that charms; the appetite for novelty is fostered ; and though it leads frequently to apparent fickle. ness, (an evil of great magnitude everywhere,) it bids the stranger wel. come-a generous hospitality succeeds, and settlements of recent origin thus frequently acquire, and deservedly so, a reputation for social virtues, which in older communities are unfelt or unseen.
The growth of religion, and its prevalence in the end, is everywhere certain ; and in a community like this, made up, as it were, of strangers from every land, and of every creed, 't is natural to suppose that numerous sects will always be found.
In the Constitution of several of the American States, ministers of the gospel are excluded from office. The prohibition, however, is confined to States where religion has at some time or other struggled for mastery. No exclusion is tolerated here. Religion seeks no legislative aid—not even its recognition by Government. 'Tis here a settled maxim, that religion is an exclusive matter between man and his God, with which courts and legislatures have nothing to do. Hence, the estimation in which it is held ; hence, too, the respect paid to its teachers, many of whom have repeatedly honored our legislative halls.
The Methodists, at present, are by far the most numerous. The zeal, the humility, the perseverance, and sometimes the ability of their teachers, have seldom been equalled. Even the Jesuits, have at times been eclipsed ; and the modern Catholics, in many instances, completely outdone. Obedient to the commands of their Lord and Master, these humble followers of the cross have ascended the highest hills, and descended into the lowest valleys-have forded its sluices, and crossed its rivers and prairies, to seek the objects of a Saviour's love, amid the darksome fens. Although
“ The sound of the church-going bell,
These rocks and these valleys ne'er heard ;"
as many, and perhaps as faithful preachers of the gospel, during the last thirty years, have traversed the Mississippi valley, and administered religious consolation to its inhabitants, as during that time have taught in the Atlantic States.
In Chicago, (for instance,) containing a little more than eight thousand people, we have two churches for Presbyterians; two for Episcopalians; two for Baptists; two for Methodists; two for Catholics; one for Unitarians; one for Universalists; one for German Lutherans; and one Bethel church, for sailors. A society, also, of Swedenborgians has been organized; and another of “ Latter Day Saints,” or Mormons. Many of these churches are supplied with talented preachers, and their congregations are numerous and attentive.
A large proportion of the religious instruction now received by the people of this State, is still given by those who itinerate, most of whom, (reports to the contrary notwithstanding,) are men of zeal and sanctity: Having little to expect of a pecuniary nature, and less from the prescribed reverence which appertains to a stated ministry, everything with them depends on the cultivation of popular talents. Zeal for religion, accom- . panied, sometimes, “ with a spice of earthly ambition,” and the latent pride and emulation of our nature, which unconsciously influence, more or less, even the disinterested and the sincere ; and the desire of distinc. tion among their brethren, and sometimes, even “ the world's people," not unfrequently make such the most eloquent of men. The dark forest through which they travel; the time given for thought and reflection, “ as they amble slowly along on horseback;" the primitive and romantic turn of thought and expression thus acquired, favor their object exceedingly; and if to this be superadded the character of their audience, living remote, as they usually do, from each other; musing on the loneliness of their condition, in the forest and on the prairie, where society itself is a novelty, and the arrival of a stranger the cause of some considerable ex. citement; it would be strange indeed if the preacher, possessing a particle of native eloquence, did not give utterance to thoughts that “ breathe, and words that burn."
A Methodist camp-meeting in the evening, is one of the most admirable theatres for eloquence our country anywhere presents; and is scarcely inferior to the once famed popular assemblies of Greece and Rome.
No one can imagine the interest they excite. The people assemble in imposing numbers, from a vast region around, to hear some popular preacher, whose fame has preceded him. Notice having previously been given, persons of every age and every condition resort thither, frequently by thousands. The ambitious and the wealthy, aspirants for fame and candidates for office; the aged, the middle aged, and the young; some from curiosity, some from a desire to display their equipage, their persons, or their charms, and a vast multitude from the best and purest of motives.*
A religious city, in a few hours, springs up as if by magic, on the confines of some dark forest, and in the vicinity of some running stream. A line of tents is immediately pitched. Lamps are suspended from the trees, and the whole constitutes a vast temple, worthy of the Being to be worshipped there.
A hymn is first given out, in which the assembled multitude joins, and the forest becomes vocal with praise. Prayer and exhortations, by ser. eral preachers; religious exercises, in which the orator talks of God, eternity, and a judgment to come ; of his own experience, his toils, and his travels; his persecutions, his welcome reception, and consequent joys, till every eye overflows with moisture, and every heart dissolves in tenderness. The moral effect of camp-meetings has often been ques.
* Flint's Mississippi valley.