Yesterday, I had the great privilege of lecturing on John Dickinson’s response to the Townshend Acts of 1767. His response, to my mind, offers the perfect American patriotic understanding of two of the most fundamental of western concepts: virtue and free will. Virtue is the higher, but free will allows one–on a moment by moment basis–to move toward the good.
But this calamity is generally owing to the decay of virtue. A people is travelling fast to destruction, when individuals consider their interests as distinct from those of the public. Such notions are fatal to their country, and to themselves. Yet how many are there, so weak and sordid as to think they perform all the offices of life, if they earnestly endeavor to increase their own wealth, power, and credit, without the least regard for the society, under the protection of which they live; who, if they can make an immediate profit to themselves, by lending their assistance to those, whose projects plainly tend to the injury of their country, rejoice in their dexterity, and believe themselves entitled to the character of able politicians. Miserable men! Of whom it is hard to say, whether they ought to be most the objects of pity or contempt: But whose opinions are certainly as detestable, as their practices are destructive.
So beautiful. So Western. So American.