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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

The Citizen’s Obligations

By Benjamin Coleman (1673–1747)

[The Religious Regards we Owe to our Country. 1718.]

NO man is made only for himself, and his own private affairs, but to serve, profit, and benefit others. We are manifestly formed for society, and designed by our great Creator for a mutual dependance on and serviceableness unto each other here in the body. Both the safety and the pleasure of life depend upon our joint proposing and pursuing this design.

As soon as we read but of two men in the world, we find that God expected the one should be the other’s keeper. It were yet a Cainish temper to doubt or deny this obligation. He was both a murderer and a liar that first denied this, and ’tis pity that he has left any children behind him in his cursed image. Cain flew in the face of God, and did violence to nature, did outrage to his own conscience, when he asked, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Ignorant and impudent man! Did he not feel that within himself, that he ought to be so? As Cain was of that wicked one, so is he of Cain who thinks himself not born for the welfare of others, but merely for himself and his own petty, private, and temporal concerns. And like Cain he deserves to be cursed from the earth, and driven from the face of men, as well as hid from the face of God; a fugitive and a vagabond, and afraid of every one he sees. This is a due punishment of so barbarous a principle. For as the man renounces others, so must they him; and while he declares that others must look for no good from him, they may well apprehend all imaginable evil and mischief from him, and he from them again. For his principle runs him into all manner of injustice and injury, barbarity and bloodiness, as it did Cain; and the earth cannot bear the monster, but cries for vengeance against him.

A man’s private and domestic affairs are too petite to engross his noble soul; they are too small and narrow a compass for him to confine himself within. He is endowed for much greater things, and he much debases himself if he do not think so.

But our country, and the particular places where we dwell, are ordinarily the bounds of our influence. Especially is it so as to common and ordinary people, who are known only in their own neighborhood, and find enough near home to keep them employed. And here prudence as well as charity teaches us to begin.