David J. (David Josiah) Brewer.

Crowned masterpieces of eloquence, representing the advance of civilization, as collected in The world's best orations, from the earliest period to the present time (Volume 10) online

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Online LibraryDavid J. (David Josiah) BrewerCrowned masterpieces of eloquence, representing the advance of civilization, as collected in The world's best orations, from the earliest period to the present time (Volume 10) → online text (page 18 of 56)
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an injudicious or inexpedient partition and distribution of power,
between the State governments and the General Government,
they can alter that distribution at will.

If anything be found in the national Constitution, either by
original provision, or subsequent interpretation, which ought not
to be in it, the people know how to get rid of it. If any con-
struction be established, unacceptable to them, so as to become,
practically, a part of the Constitution, they will amend it, at their
own sovereign pleasure: but while the people choose to maintain
it, as it is; while they are satisfied with it, and refuse to change
it, who has given, or who can give, to the State legislatures a
right to alter it, either by interference, construction, or other-
wise ? Gentlemen do not seem to recollect that the people have
any power to do anything for themselves; they imagine there is
no safety for them any longer than they are under the close guard-
ianship of the State legislatures. Sir, the people have liot trusted
their safety, in regard to the General Constitution, to these hands.
They have required other security, and taken other bonds. They
have chosen to trust themselves, first, to the plain words of the
instrument, and to such construction as the Government itself, in
doubtful cases, should put on its own powers, under their oaths
of office, and subject to their responsibility to them; just as the
people of a State trust their own State governments with a sim-
ilar power. Secondly, they have reposed their trust in the eflS-
cacy of frequent elections, and in their own power to remove
their own servants and agents, whenever they see cause. Thirdly,


they have reposed trust in the judicial power, which, in order
that it might be trustworthy, they have made as respectable, as
disinterested, and as independent as was practicable. Fourthly,
they have seen fit to rely, in case of necessity, or high expedi-
ency, on their known and admitted power, to alter or amend the
Constitution, peaceably and quietly, whenever experience shall
point out defects or imperfections. And, finally, the people of
the United States have, at no time, in no way, directly or indi-
rectly, authorized any State legislature to construe or interpret
their high instrument of government; much less to interfere, by
their own power, to arrest its course and operation.

If, sir, the people, in these respects, had done otherwise than
they have done, their Constitution could neither have been pre-
served, nor would it have been worth preserving. And, if its
plain provisions shall now be disregarded, and these new doc-
trines interpolated in it, it will become as feeble and helpless a
being as its enemies, whether early or more recent, could possi-
bly desire. It will exist in every State, but as a poor dependent
on State permission. It must borrow leave to be and it will
be no longer than State pleasure or State discretion sees fit to
grant the indulgence and to prolong its poor existence.

But, sir, although there are fears, there are hopes also. The
people have preserved this, their own chosen Constitution, for
forty years and have seen their happiness, prosperity and re-
nown grow with its growth, and strengthen with its strength.
They are now, generally, strongly attached to it. Overthrown
by direct assault, it cannot be; evaded, undermined, nullified, it
will not be, if we, and those who shall succeed us here, as agents
and representatives of the people, shall conscientiously and vigi-
lantly discharge the two great branches of our public trust —
faithfully to preserve and wisely to administer it.

Mr. President, I have thus stated the reasons of my dissent to
the doctrines which have been advanced and maintained. I am
conscious of having detained you and the Senate much too long.
I was drawn into the debate with no previous deliberation such
as is suited to the discussion of so grave and important a sub-
ject. But it is a subject of which my heart is full, and I have
not been willing to suppress the utterance of its spontaneous sen-
timents. I cannot, even now, persuade myself to relinquish it
without expressing once more, my deep conviction, that since it
respects nothing less than the Union of the States, it is of most


vital ana essential importance to the public happiness. I pro-
fess, sir, in my career, hitherto, to have kept steadily in view the
prosperity and honor of the whole country, and the preservation
of our Federal Union. It is to that Union we owe our safety at
home and our consideration and dignity abroad. It is to that
Union that we are chiefly indebted for whatever makes us most
proud of our country. That Union we reached only by the dis-
cipline of our virtues in the severe school of adversity. It had
its origin in the necessities of disordered finance, prostrate com-
merce and ruined credit. Under its benign influence, these great
interests immediately awoke as from the dead and sprang forth
with newness of life. Every year of its duration has teemed
with fresh proofs of its utility and its blessings; and, although
our territory has stretched out wider and wider, and our popula-
tion spread further and further, they have not outrun its protec-
tion or its benefits. It has been to us all a copious fountain of
national, social and personal happiness. I have not allowed my-
self, sir, to look beyond the Union to see what might lie hidden
in the dark recess behind. I have not coolly weighed the chances
of preserving liberty when the bonds that imite us together shall
be broken asunder. I have not accustomed myself to hang over
the precipice of disunion to see whether, with my short sight, I
can fathom the depth of the abyss below; nor could I regard him
as a safe counselor in the affairs of this Government, whose
thoughts should be mainly bent on considering not how the
Union should be best preserved, but how tolerable might be the
condition of the people when it shall be broken up and destroyed.
While the Union lasts we have high, exciting, gratifying pros-
pects spread out before us, for us and our children. Beyond that
I seek not to penetrate the veil. God grant that in my day, at
least, that curtain may not rise. God grant that, on my vision,
never may be opened what lies behind. When my eyes shall be
turned to behold, for the last time, the sun in heaven, may I not
see him shining on the broken and dishonored fragments of a
once glorious Union; on States dissevered, discordant, belligerent;
on a land rent with civil feuds, or drenched, it may be, in fra-
ternal blood ! Let their last feeble and lingering glance rather
behold the gorgeous ensign of the Republic, now known and hon-
ored throughout the earth, still full high advanced, its arms and
trophies streaming in their original lustre, not a stripe erased or
polluted, nor a single star obscured, bearing for its motto no such



miserable interrogatory as, " What is all this worth ? " nor those
other words of delusion and folly, " Liberty first and union after-
wards'*; but everywhere, spread all over in characters of living
light, blazing on all its ample folds, as they float over the sea and
over the land, and in every wind under the whole heavens, that
other sentiment, dear to every true American heart — Liberty and
Union, now and forever one and inseparable!

(Delivered on the Seventeenth of June, 1825)

THIS uncounted multitude before me, and around me, proves
the feeling which the occasion has excited. These thou-
sands of human faces, glowing with sympathy and joy, and,
from the impulses of a common gratitude, turned reverently to
heaven, in this spacious temple of the firmament, proclaim that
the day, the place, and the purpose of our assembling have
made a deep impression on our hearts.

If, indeed, there be anything in local association fit to affect
the mind of man, we need not strive to repress the emotions
which agitate us here. We are among the sepulchres of our
fathers. We are on ground distinguished by their valor, their
constancy, and the shedding of their blood. We are here, not to
fix an uncertain date in our annals, nor to draw into notice an
obscure and unknown spot. If our humble purpose had never
been conceived, if we ourselves had never been born, the seven-
teenth of June, 1775, would have been a day on which all sub-
sequent history would have poured its light, and the eminence
where we stand, a point of attraction to the eyes of successive
generations. But we are Americans. We live in what may be
called the early age of this great continent; and we know that
our posterity, through all time, are here to suffer and enjoy the
allotments of humanity. We see before us a probable train of
great events; we know that our own fortunes have been happily
cast; and it is natural, therefore, that we should be moved by
the contemplation of occurrences which have guided our destiny
before many of us were born, and settled the condition in which
we should pass that portion of our existence, which God allows
to men on earth.


We do not read even of the discovery of this continent with-
out feeling something of a personal interest in the event; without
being reminded how much it has affected our own fortunes and
our own existence. It is more impossible for us, therefore, than
for others, to contemplate with unaffected minds that interesting,
I may say, that most touching and pathetic scene, when the
great discoverer of America stood on the deck of his shattered
bark, the shades of night falling on the sea, yet no man sleeps
ing; tossed on the billows of an unknown ocean, yet the stronger
billows of alternate hope and despair tossing his own troubled
thoughts; extending forward his harassed frame, straining west-
ward his anxious and eager eyes, till heaven at last granted him
a moment of rapture and ecstasy, in blessing his vision with the
sight of the unknown world.

Nearer to our times, more closely connected with our fates,
and therefore still more interesting to our feelings and affections,
is the settlement of our own country by colonists from England.
We cherish every memorial of these worthy ancestors; we cele-
brate their patience and fortitude; we admire their daring enter-
prise; we teach our children to venerate their piety; and we are
justly proud of being descended from men who have set the
world an example of founding civil institutions on the great and
united principles of human freedom and human knowledge. To
us, their children, the story of their labors and sufferings can
never be without its interest. We shall not stand unmoved on
the shore of Plymouth, while the sea continues to wash it; nor
will our brethren, in another early and ancient colony, forget the
place of its first establishment, till their river shall cease to flow
by it. No vigor of youth, no maturity of manhood, will lead the
nation to forget the spots where its infancy was cradled and de-

But the great event, in the history of the continent, which we
are now met here to commemorate; that prodigy of modern
times, at once the wonder and the blessing of the world, is the
American Revolution. In a day of extraordinary prosperity and
happiness, of high national honor, distinction, and power, we are
brought together, in this place, by our love of country, by our
admiration of exalted character, by our gratitude for signal serv-
ices and patriotic devotion.

The society, whose organ I am, was formed for the purpose
of rearing some honorable and durable monument to the memory



of the early friends of American independence. They have
thought that for this object no time could be more propitious
than the present prosperous and peaceful period; that no place
could claim preference over this memorable spot; and that no
day could be more auspicious to the undertaking than the anni-
versary of the battle which was here fought. The foundation of
that monument we have now laid. With solemnities suited to
the occasion, with prayers to Almighty God for his blessing, and
in the midst of this cloud of witnesses, we have begun the work.
We trust it will be prosecuted, and that springing from a broad-
foundation rising high in massive solidity and unadorned grand-
eur it may remain as long as heaven permits the works of man
to last, a fit emblem, both of the events in memory of which it
is raised and of the gratitude of those who have reared it.

We know, indeed, that the record of illustrious actions is most
safely deposited in the universal remembrance of mankind. We
know that if we could cause this structure to ascend, not only
till it reached the skies, but till it pierced them, its broad sur-
faces could still contain but part of that which, in an age of
knowledge, hath already been spread over the earth, and which
history charges itself with making known to all future times.
We know that no inscription on entablatures less broad than the
earth itself can carry information of the events we commemorate
where it has not already gone; and that no structure which shall
not outlive the duration of letters and knowledge among men,
can prolong the memorial. But our object is by this edifice to
show our own deep sense of the value and importance of the
achievements of our ancestors; and by presenting this work of
gratitude to the eye to keep alive similar sentiments and to fos-
ter a constant regard for the principles of the Revolution. Hu-
man beings are composed not of reason only, but of imagination
also, and sentiment; and that is neither wasted nor misapplied
which is appropriated to the purpose of giving right direction to
sentiments and opening proper springs of feeling in the heart.
Let it not be supposed that our object is to perpetuate national
hostility, or even to cherish a mere military spirit. It is higher,
purer, nobler. We consecrate our work to the spirit of national
independence, and we wish that the light of peace may rest upon
it forever. We rear a memorial of our conviction of that un-
measured benefit which has been conferred on our own land and
of the happy influences which have been produced by the same


events on the general interests of mankind. We come as Amer-
icans to mark a spot which must forever be dear to us and our
posterity. We wish that whosoever, in all coming time, shall turn
his eye hither, may behold that the place is not undistinguished
where the first great battle of the Revolution was fought. We
wish that this structure may proclaim the magnitude and import-
ance of that event to every class and every age. We wish that
infancy may learn the purpose of its erection from maternal lips
and that weary and withered age may behold it and be solaced
by the recollections which it suggests. We wish that labor may
look up here and be proud in the midst of its toil. We wish
that in those days of disaster which, as they come on all nations,
must be expected to come on us also, desponding patriotism may
turn its eyes hitherward and be assured that the foundations of
our national power still stand strong. We wish that this col-
umn rising towards heaven among the pointed spires of so many
temples dedicated to God may contribute also to produce in all
minds a pious feeling of dependence and gratitude. We wish,
finally, that the last object on the sight of him who leaves his
native shore, and the first to gladden his who revisits it, may
be something which shall remind him of the liberty and the
glory of his country. Let it rise till it meet the sun in his com-
ing; let the earliest light of the morning gild it, and parting day
linger and play on its summit.

We live in a most extraordinary age. Events so various and
so important that they might crowd and distinguish centuries are
in our times compressed within the compass of a single life.
When has it happened that history has had so much to record in
the same term of years as since the seventeenth of June, 1775 ?
Our own revolution, which under other circumstances might itself
have been expected to occasion a war of half a century, has been
achieved; twenty- four sovereign and independent States erected;
and a General Government established over them, so safe, so
wise, so free, so practical, that we might well wonder its estab-
lishment should have been accomplished so soon were it not for
the greater wonder that it should have been established at all.
Two or three millions of people have been augmented to twelve;
and the great forests of the West prostrated beneath the arm of
successful industry; and the dwellers on the banks of the Ohio
and the Mississippi become the fellow-citizens and neighbors of
those who cultivate the hills of New England. We have a com-


merce that leaves no sea unexplored; navies which take no law
from superior force; revenues adequate to all the exigencies of
government, almost without taxation ; and peace with all nations,
founded on equal rights and mutual respect.

Europe, within the same period, has been agitated by a mighty
revolution, which, while it has been felt in the individual condi-
tion and happiness of almost every man, has shaken to the centre
her political fabric, and dashed against one another thrones which
had stood tranquil for ages. On this, our continent, our own ex-
ample has been followed; and colonies have sprung up to be
nations. Unaccustomed sounds of liberty and free government
have reached us from beyond the track of the sun; and at this
moment the dominion of European power in this continent, from
the place where we stand to the South pole, is annihilated for-

In the meantime, both in Europe and America, such has been
the general progress of knowledge; such the improvements in
legislation, in commerce, in the arts, in letters, and, above all, in
liberal ideas and the general spirit of the age, that the whole
world seems changed.

Yet, notwithstanding that this is but a faint abstract of the
things which have happened since the day of the battle of Bunker
Hill, we are but fifty years removed from it; and we now stand
here to enjoy all the blessings of our own condition, and to look
abroad on the brightened prospects of the world, while we hold
still among us some of those who were active agents in the
scenes of 1775, and who are now here from every quarter of
New England to visit once more, and under circumstances so
affecting, I had almost said so overwhelming, this renowned the-
atre of their courage and patriotism.

Venerable men, you have come down to us from a former
generation. Heaven has bounteously lengthened out your lives
that you might behold this joyous day. You are now where you
stood fifty years ago this very hour, with your brothers and your
neighbors, shoulder to shoulder, in the strife for your coun-
try. Behold, how altered! The same heavens are, indeed, over
your heads; the same ocean rolls at your feet; but all else, how
changed! You hear now no roar of hostile cannon, you see no
mixed volumes of smoke and flame rising from burning Charles-
town. The ground strewed with the dead and the dying; the im-
petuous charge; the steady and successful repulse; the loud call


to repeated assault; the summoning of all that is manly to re-
peated resistance; a thousand bosoms freely and fearlessly bared
in an instant to whatever of terror there may be in war and
death; all these you have witnessed, but you witness them no
more. All is peace. The heights of yonder metropolis, its tow-
ers and roofs which you then saw filled with wives and children
and countrymen in distress and terror, and looking with unutter-
able emotions for the issue of the combat, have presented you
to-day with the sight of its whole happy population come out to
welcome and greet you with a universal jubilee. Yonder proud
ships by a felicity of position appropriately lying at the foot of
this mount, and seeming fondly to cling around it, are not means
of annoyance to you, but your country's own means of distinction
and defense. All is peace; and God has granted you this sight
of your country's happiness ere you slumber in the grave for-
ever. He has allowed you to behold and to partake the reward
of your patriotic toils; and he has allowed us, your sons and
countrymen, to meet you here, and in the name of the present
generation, in the name of your country, in the name of liberty,
to thank you!

But, alas! you are not all here! Time and the sword have
thinned your ranks. Prescott, Putnam, Stark, Brooks, Read, Pom-
eroy. Bridge! our eyes seek for you in vain amidst this broken
band. You are gathered to your fathers, and live only to your
country in her grateful remembrance and your own bright ex-
ample. But let us not too much grieve that you have met the
common fate of men. You lived at least long enough to know
that your work had been nobly and successfully accomplished.
You lived to see your country's independence established and to
sheathe your swords from war. On the light of Liberty you saw
arise the light of Peace, like —

** Another morn,
Risen on mid-noon,* —

and the sky on which you closed your eyes was cloudless.

But — ah! — Him! the first great martyr in this great cause!
Him! the premature victim of his own self-devoting heart! Him!
the head of our civil councils and the destined leader of our mil-
itary bands, whom nothing brought hither but the unquenchable
fire of his own spirit; him! cut off by Providence in the hour of
overwhelming anxiety and thick gloom; falling ere he saw the

1 88


Star of his country rise; pouring out his generous blood like
water before he knew whether it would fertilize a land of free-
dom or of bondage! how shall I struggle with the emotions that
stifle the utterance of thy name! Our poor work may perish, but
thine shall endure! This monument may molder away; the
solid ground it rests upon may sink down to a level with the
sea, but thy memory shall not fail! Wheresoever among men a
heart shall be found that beats to the transports of patriotism
and liberty, its aspirations shall be to claim kindred with thy
spirit !

But the scene amidst which we stand does not permit us to
confine our thoughts or our sympathies to those fearless spirits
who hazarded or lost their lives on this consecrated spot. We
have the happiness to rejoice here in the presence of a most
worthy representation of the survivors of the whole Revolution-
ary army.

Veterans, you are the remnant of many a well-fought field.
You bring with you marks of honor from Trenton and Mon-
mouth, from Yorktown, Camden, Bennington, and Saratoga. Vet-
erans of half a century, when in your youthful days you put
everything at hazard in your country's cause, good as that cause
was, and sanguine as youth is, still your fondest hopes did not
stretch onward to an hour like this! At a period to which you
could not reasonably have expected to arrive; at a moment of
national prosperity, such as you could never have foreseen, you
are now met here to enjoy the fellowship of old soldiers and to
receive the overflowings of a universal gratitude.

But your agitated countenances and your heaving breasts in-
form me that even this is not an unmixed joy. I perceive that
a tumult of contending feelings rushes upon you. The images
of the dead, as well as the persons of the living, throng to your
embraces. The scene overwhelms you, and I turn from it. May
the Father of all mercies smile upon your declining years and bless
them! And when you shall here have exchanged your embraces;
when you shall once more have pressed the hands w^hich have
been so often extended to give succor in adversity, or grasped in
the exultation of victory; then look abroad into this lovely land,
which your young valor defended, and mark the happiness with
which it is filled; yea, look abroad into the whole earth and see
what a name you have contributed to give to your country, and
what a praise you have added to freedom, and then rejoice in


the sympathy and gratitude which beam upon your last days
from the improved condition of mankind.

The occasion does not require of me any particular account
of the battle of the seventeenth of June, nor any detailed narra-
tive of the events which immediately preceded it. These are
familiarly known to all. In the progress of the great and inter-
esting controversy, Massachusetts and the town of Boston had
become early and marked objects of the displeasure of the British

Online LibraryDavid J. (David Josiah) BrewerCrowned masterpieces of eloquence, representing the advance of civilization, as collected in The world's best orations, from the earliest period to the present time (Volume 10) → online text (page 18 of 56)