Sermon by Nathaniel Appleton
The Cry of Oppression


When the Massachusetts General Court burned down, it was viewed in the colony as an expression of divine displeasure, and the colonies' ministers were invited to preach sermons calling on the people to repent of the sins that had provoked the Lord. At the time, New England was nearing the end of what contemporaries knew as "The Great Inflation." After decades of moderate inflation, New England's entry into King George's War had involved all New England, and Massachusetts in particular, in expensive military expeditions. When these expeditions were financed by printing money, the price level doubled in just three years time. The inflation was a great hardship on those whose money incomes were fixed. Among those most affected were the colonies' ministers. Appleton used his sermon as an opportunity to denounce the injustice that had befallen victims of the inflation. His sermon gives a rare glimpse of how religious beliefs helped set the stage for the currency reform adopted the following year. Only the portion of Appleton's sermon dealing with the inflation is reproduced here.

The Cry of Oppression

where Judgment is looked for,

and the sore Calamities such a People

may expect from a righteous GOD.

January 28, 1748

III. Let us now consider what the Case is in Fact with Respect unto this People. And here, Must it not be acknowledged, that tho' God has looked for Judgment; yet there is Oppression? And tho' he has looked for Righteousness, yet there is a Cry, by Reason of Injustice and Oppression?

Who can deny that there is Oppression and a Cry, by reason of it, thro' the Land? I don't say that the Cry is universal: For it is not to be expected only on the Side of the Oppressed: As for Oppressors, and those who receive the Gain of Oppression, it cannot be thought that they will Cry; unless it be to conceal themselves, or to stop the Cry of others. Others also there may be, who do not oppress; yet have found out Ways to secure and help themselves, and they perhaps may be silent.

But is there not the CRY of some Officers and Soldiers, that thro' the continual Depreciation of the Bills of Credit, or by some other Means, their Wages fall greatly short of their real Value; and of what they were led to expect?

Is there not the CRY of Numbers, who depend upon the lawful Interest of their Money for their Support; that their Estates are so sunk in their Debtor's Hands, as to be reduced to a small Proportion of its original Value; and they can find no Relief?

Is there not the CRY of Colleges, and Schools, and other Societies, that depend upon the Incomes of publick Monies for their Support; that the Funds laid by their pious and generous Benefactors are sunk after such a Manner, that they are not able to support their Officers, nor defrey their necessary Charges? Is there not the CRY of many Widows, who have been taken up with a certain Sum, or Income, in Paper Bills, instead of their Dower; that the Value thereof is sunk in such a Manner, and will purchase so much less of the Necessaries of Life than at first, that they are brought into great Difficulties for a Living; and can get no Redress?(1)

Is there not the CRY of many fatherless Children, who have had their Portions assigned to them in Bills of Credit, which are so depreciated, that when they come of Age to receive their Portions, they are obliged to take up perhaps with one Half or less of the real Value that was assigned them?

Lastly, Is there not the CRY of School-Masters, and of the Priests, the Lord's Ministers, and many others, who live upon stated Salaries, that their yearly Stipends (scant enough at first) are reduced to so low a Value, as will be no Means afford a Support to them and their Families: And they have no effectual Methods in their Hands to relieve themselves, or to have their Salaries paid according to their original Value, and according to the true and honest Design of the original Contracts?

Thus I think it must be allowed that there is a Cry, a loud Cry: For all these People are crying and complaining by Reason of their Oppressions, and that there is not as yet any Help or Remedy for them. So I returned, and considered all the Oppressions that are done under the Sun, and beheld the Tears of such as were oppressed; and they had no Comforter: And on the Side of their Oppressors there was Power; but they had no Comforter.(2)

But now nothing is more natural, than to enquire, whence there is such Oppression and a Cry, by Reason of it; and how it comes to pass?

And this we may depend upon, that one and all will be for clearing themselves. One will say, It is not in me; and another will say, It is not in me. But if the Matter be thoroughly and impartially examined, I believe many more will be to be blamed than are aware of it. For my Part, I am at a Loss to say who is altogether clear, And would to God that every Man in the Land, from the highest to the lowest, would put the Question closely to his own Conscience, saying, What have I done?

A covetous selfish Spirit, which reigns among all Sorts of People, is doubtless the grand Cause of all the Cry by Reason of Oppression. The sad Case of this people is the Reverse of what the Apostle recommends, for all seek their own, and not anothers Wealth:(3) And every Man looks at his own Things, and not at the Things of others. And then no wonder if they who have it in their Power, oppress their Neighbours. Where a worldly, selfish Spirit prevails, there will be Oppression instead of Judgment, and a Cry instead of Righteousness.

But then the Cry is at the Bills of Credit, the Paper Medium of Exchange of this and the neighbouring Provinces, as what is the grand Occasion of the Injustice and Oppression that is in the Land. For one and all agree, that the Sinking of the Value of these Bills below what is expressed in the Face of them, is the Cause of the present Complaints and Cries that are heard in the Land.

But now how comes it to pass that these Bills of Credit should be the Occasion or Means of so much Oppression? How came they to sink so as to cause such a universal Cry?

Now,

1. Some say it is from the little Regards that have been paid to the several Acts of Government for supporting the Credit and Value of their Bills. That notwithstanding what is declared in the Face of the Bills, as the Value of them, and notwithstanding the Laws that have been made to keep up their Value; that Merchants and other Traders have by their Practice in Trade run them down: Giving more of them for Silver and Gold, than the several Governments have set them at; and then advancing upon their Goods accordingly. And that their Practice has put the Husbandman and Tradesman upon doing the like with their Commodities; by which Means the Bills have lost their original Value.

And so it is alledged, that the crying Injustice and Oppression of the Land, is owing to People's not paying a due Regard to the Acts of Government, and not doing proper Honour to the publick Bills: And that if those who first transgressed the Laws (in those Cases made and provided) had been detected, and duly punished, and so made Examples of publick Justice, for a Warning to others; the Value of the Bills would have been upheld: And that if Merchants and Traders had acted the generous part, for the Good of the Provinces, had held their Laws to be sacred, and united their Endeavours agreable to the said Laws, they might have kept the Bills from sinking in such Manner as they have done.

And doubtless there is Blame lying upon these People: for if they had all been governed by a publick Spirit, they would have united their Endeavours to support the publick Credit. But for want of this Spirit, and from a greedy Desire of Gain, and from a craving Temper indulged in all Sorts of People, striving to advance the Prices of all their Goods, these Calamities have come upon us.

But then,

2. These excuse themselves, and say, the real Cause of the present Calamity, is the Nature of the Bills themselves, and the depreciating Tendency of them; and that by a Necessity of Nature they sink and lose their Value.

That the Bottom upon which they are established, and the Conduct of the several Governments with Respect to them, ever since they have had a Currency in the Land, has been such, that it is impossible for them, in the very Nature and Course of Things, to keep up their Credit, and hold the Value that is expressed in them: And so the Fault is thrown upon the Bills themselves; that they in their very Nature and Constitution cannot support the Value expressed in them; but that they must and will sink of Course. And now I shall not presume to pass a publick Censure upon the Governments of New-England, or say from whence this Error has proceeded: But this I will venture to say, that since there is such a Cry by Reason of Oppression thro' the Land, and since our Rulers, in the proclaiming a publick Fast this Day, declare that our publick Affairs are greatly embarrassed; and that remarkable Judgments of God lye upon us: And that God has signally frowned upon us, in consuming by Fire the Court-House at Boston, where all our publick Affairs have been transacted: And that this his righteous Anger is manifested against us for our many heinous and aggravated Sins: I say, considering these Things, it must needs be a Duty highly incumbent upon all who are or have been Rulers, seriously to consider, whether there have not been some Things amiss in them; and whether some of our publick Affairs have not been conducted in such a Manner, as to provoke a holy and a righteous Gold, who standeth in the Congregation of the Mighty, and who judgeth among the Gods. Surely the Cry of many by Reason of Oppression, and the Frowns of divine Providence we are under, and the dark Clouds that hang over, loudly call upon Rulers, as well as Ministers and People, to search and try their Ways, and turn unto the Lord.

Solomon saw under the Sun such a sad Sight as this; that in the Place of Judgment, Wickedness was there; in the Place of Righteousness, that Iniquity was there.(4) And now, since God has in such an awful Manner, and that even a second Time,(5) consumed the Place for Judgment and Righteousness; what more becoming at this Day, than for every one who has ever sat in that House, to enquire, whether he has ever been the Occasion of any Wickedness or Iniquity in it. We also are told that FIRE shall consume the Tabernacles of BRIBERY.(6) And since Gold has consumed the Court-House by Fire, how proper must it be fore all who have ever had a Seat in any Part of that House, seriously to ask themselves, whether they have made it a Tabernacle of Bribery; whether they have had their Eyes blinded with a Gift; and whether Self-Interest and private Views have govern'd them in any of their Proceedings. For if they have been knowingly under the Influence of such a corrupt Byass, it has been no better than Bribery.

And inasmuch as the loud Cry of Oppression is by Reason of a sinking Medium; I do in my Heart wish that all the Governments in New-England would take that Matter into their most serious Consideration, and enquire how far there are Grounds for such a Cry: And to examine into the Nature and Foundation of the several Sorts of Bills that are now passing among them; and see whether they be upon such a Bottom as can be vindicated by the Rules of Wisdom, and by the Laws of Truth and Justice. And I think God in his Providence is loudly calling not only this, but all the other Provinces to it.

And would to God that our General Assembly would review the several Sorts of Bills that are passing among us; viz. those of the Old Tenor, of the Threefold or Middle Tenor, (so called) of the New Tenor, and of the Last Emission: And see whether according to the Faces of those Bills they are reconcileable one with another, and all of them with Truth and Justice.

And were I now preaching to the General Court, I would propose, and submit to their Wisdom and Justice, whether the following Inquiries might not proper for them to make; as what might lead them to see whether there have been any Mistakes in former Assemblies relating to the Medium: And lead them more clearly to see how to correct them, if there has been any such.

Whether the Old Tenor Bills declared a Truth when they say, that the Value specified in them, is due from the Province to the Possessor, is in Value equal to Money, and shall be accordingly accepted by the Treasurer, &c? And if so much Money as the Bill expressed was due to the Possessor; whether it ought not in Justice to have been paid by the Province, from whom it is declared to be due? And whether ever that Promise of the Province has been perform'd?

Whether the Promise of Silver at such a Rate in the Threefold or Middle Tenor Bills (so called) has been fulfilled?

Whether the New Tenor Bills, which express no greater Value in the Face of them than those of the Old Tenor, can truly and justly be deemed four Times so valuable? And whether when Persons have been obliged to receive them as equivalent to four Times so much of the Old Tenor Bills, it could be called a full Payment of what was due to the Possessor of the Old Bills? And whether many Persons have not been really injured, who have taken them in such a Proportion; especially for Bonds, and other Debts, contracted so long ago as when the Old Tenor Bills were of equal Value with those of the New? And whether the Estates of Colleges, and other Societies, which lay in Bonds for Bills of the Old Tenor; and of so long standing as when they were (as they say in the Face of them) equal to Money, are not really reduced to one Quarter-part of their original Value?

How are the Words on the Face of the present Bills to be construed so as to correspond with Truth, either in the declaratory or promissory Part of them?

In what Sense can they be said to be equal in Value to Silver at so much an Ounce, as is expressed in the Bills if they go out of the Treasury, and are treated in all common Trade and Business, at no more than half that Value? And for Bills that now go out of the Treasury, how can they be said to be due to the Possessor according to the Sum expressed in the Bill, if really there is in Value received but one Half of what is expressed?

And as to the promissory Part of the Bills, let it be enquired and considered, whether Persons in publick Station are not obliged to maintain as strict a Regard to Truth, as to what they declare and promise in their publick Capacity, as Persons in private Life; and whether a Community is not as much obliged to render to all individuals their Dues, as one Individual to another? And whether the publick Faith relating to the promissory Part of the Bills, has been kept sacred and inviolable, as it ought to be? And if there has been any Failure as to the express Promises of the Publick upon their Bills, whether that has not been one of the grand Causes of the Bills sinking in their Value, and so of all the sad Consequences thereof?

Furthermore, I think the Governments would do well to enquire, whence it is that these New-England Provinces and Colonies are under so much more Difficulty by Reason of a sinking Medium, than the neighbouring Provinces, who keep up the Credit of their Bills so much better than these?

Lastly, I wish the Governments would consider and enquire, whether there are not some Laws wanting to be made, which might in some Measure relieve the Oppressed, and still a great Part of the present Cry? And whether, as a former Assembly gave a just Relief to the Court, the Justice of this Assembly will not appear yet more conspicuous in taking as effectual Care for the Relief of other Societies and Bodies of people that are oppressed?

And now if our honoured Rulers, upon a strict, serious, close, and impartial Consideration of these Things, should find that in Years past there have been any Mistakes or Defects in managing the publick Credit, instead of casting severe Reflections upon those who were in the Administration, let us all be humble, from the highest to the lowest, to think that God did so far, in righteous Anger, withdraw from us; and that so much Darkness has been scattered in their Paths; that Wisdom has been so far hid from our wise Men, and Knowledge from Men of Understanding.

What I have further to add here, is, that if upon Inquiry any Thing be found in the Nature of the Bills passing among us, that is the real, the natural, and the necessary Cause of any of the Oppressions that are in the Land, the Governments would do their utmost to rectify the same: And consider with themselves, whether it can possibly be consistent with the Rules of Wisdom, Truth and Justice ever to emit any more of them. For ought not a Province to make any Shift, rather than send forth any more Bills of such a Tenor, as will plainly and necessarily injure and oppress great Part of the Community; that will plunge the whole deeper and deeper into Difficulties, and cause the Cry to rise louder and louder?(7)

But then it must be said,

3. The Cry of Oppression thro' the Land, arises very much from the People in general?

People are very apt to shift the Blame off themselves, and lay it upon others, when perhaps they themselves are as much or more to blame. The popular Cry is against Merchants and Traders, as if they had ruined the Country; or against those who are or have been in the Government: But it ought to be duly considered, how much the common People have had a Hand in our present Calamities. And this must be acknowledged, that that very Thing which has caused the Oppression and the Cry, the People in general have been too fond of. The common People have been pleased with large Emissions of Bills: And as for a Plenty of this Paper Currency, they loved to have it so, not considering what they should do in the End thereof. The People have chosen rather to lay up Debts for their Children in these promissory Bills, than to pay their Debts themselves. Nay, Is it not to be feared that many have been wishing for Plenty of these Bills with this View, that they might depreciate, that so they might the more easily pay their Debts; yea, and to get discharged of them by paying for less than the honest Debt. And in some Years past, how did the Clamours of the People even drive the Governments into large Emissions? And since that Time, have not Multitudes of the People been so set for encreasing a Paper Currency, that they were setting up private Banks in all Quarters of the Land; some of which could not be easily restrained, but by the higher Powers from Home?

And may not the Cry of Oppression be so far charged upon the People, as they neglect to fulfil their original Contracts, according to the honest Meaning of them, merely because there are no human Laws compelling them to it?

Moreover, The Pride, the Prodigality, the Luxury and Extravagance of this People have had a great Hand in causing the Oppression and Cry in the Land.

And there are a Multitude of other Sins among us; such as horrible Impiety, Profaneness and Infidelity. There is an horrible Neglect of God's Day, his House, and his holy Ordinances. Fear is cast off, and Prayer is restrained before God. The Land also is defiled by Swearing, Lying and Stealing, by Rioting and Drunkenness, by Chambering and Wantonness. Truly we have provoked an holy God very much to depart from us, and to bring us into such sore Calamities.

Our Ways have very much displeased God, and he has stirred up our Enemies to be at War against us; and this has necessarily drawn forth longer Emissions, and run us into greater Difficulties, and plunged us the deeper into Debt; and the People's rising upon it in their Demands one upon another, increases the Cry of Oppression every Day.

And surely it is Matter of deep Humiliation to think that by one Means and another this is come to be in so a considerable a Measure our wretched Case, that is represented by the Prophet; Judgment is turned away backward, Justice standeth afar off: Truth is fallen in the Street, and Equity cannot enter: Yea, Truth faileth, and he that departeth from Evil, maketh himself a Prey: And the Lord saw it, and it displeased him that there was no Judgment.(8) Are we not come, in some Measure, to such a sad Pass as this, that if a Man will depart from Evil, and will honestly pay his old Debt to the full Value of the Debt when it was contracted, he maketh himself a Prey, as he is not able to recover the same of others that are indebted to him? And God saw it, and it displeased him that there was no Judgment.

And now altho I have gone into an unusual Strain, and touch'd upon a Subject uncommon for the Pulpit; yet I hope I shall not be thought to have gone out of my Line; for the Occasion is special: And the Authority calls upon Ministers and People this Day to make penitent Confession of their own Sins, and the Sins of this People. And what more crying Sins in the Land than those of Injustice and Oppression? And how can these be clearly and fully reasoned against without pointing at the grand Causes and Occasions thereof?


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Footnotes

1. I am credibly inform'd of an ancient Widow, whose Husband died more than Forty Years ago, who had Three Pounds a Year settled upon her, instead of her Dower; Which Three Pounds would, at that Day, and at the Place where she lives, procure towards her Support, the following Articles; viz. Two Cords of Wood, Four Bushels of Indian Corn, One Bushel of Rye, One Bushel of Malt, Fifty pound of Pork, and Sixty pound of Beef: Which would go a considerable Way towards the Support of a single Woman. Now she can at most demand but Seventeen Shillings and Three Pence, New Tenor; which is but about an Eighth Part of her original Three Pounds; and besure won't purchase more than half a Quarter of the above Necessaries of Life: And this she must take up with; because there is no Remedy in the Law for her. And this is, in a Measure, the deplorable Case of many Widows in the Land.

2. Eccl. iv. I.

3. I Cor. X. 24

4. Eccl. iii. 16.

5. The former Court-House was consumed by Fire in the same Place where the latter stood, October 1711.

6. Job XV. 34.

7. Since the Preaching these Sermons, I find the Governour, in his late excellent Speech to both Houses of the General Assembly, sets forth the general Distress of the Province, arising from the extraordinary Emissions of Paper Money; whereby the Value thereof, for all Occasions of Life, is sunk so low, and is still sinking, and thereby the Estates of Orphans and Widows, and many others, who have no Remedy in their Power against this growing Evil, daily diminishing; which must, in a very little Time, being many good Families to Poverty. And upon these and other Considerations, he earnestly recommends to them, to find some other Way for the Supply of the Treasury, than by making new Emissions of Paper Money; as the Way to give Relief to the Oppressed, who justly expect it from them.

8. Isai. lix. 14, 15.


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