On July 4, 1801, Eliphalet Nott, then the 28-year-old minister of the First Presbyterian Church in Albany, stood at his pulpit and delivered a powerful sermon celebrating the 25th anniversary of American independence.
A supremely gifted orator, Nott faced a mixed audience of Federalists and Republicans and hammered home a theme that the American republic was now “that wonder which God hath wrought for our fathers and for us.”
In his 1971 biography, Eliphalet Nott, Codman Hislop wrote that the pastor left no useful or dramatic metaphor unexploited. He raised the history of the American Revolution to the level of a holy war and cast Washington in the role of Moses sent “to rescue this western and modern Israel.”
America, before her triumph, was as Israel had been, groaning in bondage to a Britain as vile as Egypt, Hislop wrote. Nott seized on that theme, careful not to “act the partisan.” He addressed them now as though they were all New Englanders, all descendants of those Calvinist fathers who, “when they landed on these shores…made a covenant with God.”
And what must the congregation do 25 years after the Revolution?
“Choose this day,” Nott bellowed, “whom you will serve…your all is at stake.”
The contract must be kept, and the blandishments of an infidel Europe must not be heeded, Hislop wrote. Partisan Americans, Nott declared, must elect to become patriots, and cease their party quarreling.
“Why,” Nott asked, “will you weaken each other’s influence by division?”
United, all Americans must withstand “foreign influence” and that “Infidelity,” which, he warned, “has already converted Europe into one vast Golgotha.”
“While the will of the people is on the side of virtue, we shall remain happy; but whenever it preponderates to the side of vice, we must be miserable. Act then at all times a decided part in favor of religion. On this the safety of your country, as well as the salvation of your souls, depends. Without this no people can long be prosperous and happy. This is the cement of society; this the tie that binds man to man, and man to God. Without religion the sanction of an oath have no validity; contracts cannot be supported; crimes cannot be investigated; and courts of justice must cease. Without this, how is your reputation to be secured from the slanderer's tongue, your property from the robber's grasp, or your life from the assassin's dagger? Imperfect indeed must be that security which results only from the civil law."
Three years later, Nott became president of Union, a position he would hold for a record 62 years.