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

. (page 19 of 56)
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 19 of 56)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Parliament. This had been manifested in the act for altering
the government of the Province, and in that for shutting up the
port of Boston. Nothing sheds more honor on our early history,
and nothing better shows how little the feelings and sentiments
of the colonies were known or regarded in England than the im-
pression which these measures everywhere produced in America.
It had been anticipated that while the other colonies would be
terrified by the severity of the punishment inflicted on Massa-
chusetts, the other seaports would be governed by a mere spirit
of gain; and that, as Boston was now cut ofiE from all commerce,
the unexpected advantage which this blow on her was calculated
to confer on other towns would be greedily enjoyed. How mis-
erably such reasoners deceived thems.elves! How little they knew
of the depth, and the strength, and the intenseness of that feel-
ing of resistance to illegal acts of power which possessed the
whole American people! Everywhere the unworthy boon was
rejected with scorn. The fortunate occasion was seized every-
where to show to the whole world that the colonies were swayed
by no local interest, no partial interest, no selfish interest. The
temptation to profit by the punishment of Boston was strongest
to our neighbors of Salem. Yet Salem was precisely the place
where this miserable proffer was spurned in a tone of the most
lofty self-respect and the most indignant patriotism. *^We are
deeply affected,'* said its inhabitants, ^* with the sense 'of our pub-
lic calamities; but the miseries that are now rapidly hastening on
our brethren in the capital of the Province, greatly excite our
commiseration. By shutting up the port of Boston some imagine
that the course of trade might be turned hither, and to our bene-
fit; but we must be dead to every idea of justice, lost to all feel-
ings of humanity, could we indulge a thought to seize on wealth
and raise our fortunes on the ruin of our suffering neighbors.*
These noble sentiments were not confined to our immediate vi-
cinity. In that day of general affection and brotherhood, the


blow given to Boston smote on every patriotic heart, from one
end of the country to the other. Virginia and the Carolinas, as
well as Connecticut and New Hampshire, felt and proclaimed the
cause to be their own. The Continental Congress, then holding
its first session in Philadelphia, expressed its sympathy for the
suffering inhabitants of Boston, and addresses were received from
all quarters assuring them that the cause was a common one, and
should be met by common efforts and common sacrifices. The
Congress of Massachusetts responded to these assurances; and in
an address to the Congress at Philadelphia, bearing the official
signature, perhaps among the last of the immortal Warren, not-
withstanding the severity of its suffering and the magnitude of
the dangers which threatened it, it was declared that this colony
** is ready, at all times, to spend and to be spent in the cause of
America. *

But the hour drew nigh which was to put professions to the
proof and to determine whether the authors of these mutual
pledges were ready to seal them in blood. The tidings of Lex-
ington and Concord had no sooner spread than it was universally
felt that the time was at last come for action. A spirit pervaded
all ranks, not transient, not boisterous, but deep, solemn, deter-
mined, —

** Totamque infusa per artus
Mens agitat niolem, et magno se corpore miscetJ'*

War, on their own soil and at their own doors, was, indeed, a
strange work to the yeomanry of New England; but their con-
sciences were convinced of its necessity, their country called them
to it and they did not withhold themselves from the perilous trial.
The ordinary occupations of life were abandoned; the plow was
staid in the unfinished furrow; wives gave up their husbands,
and mothers gave up their sons to the battles of a civil war.
Death might come, in honor, on the field; it might come, in
disgrace, on the scaffold. For either and for both they were
prepared. The sentiment of Quincy was full in their hearts.
** Blandishments,** said that distinguished son of genius and patriot-
ism, " will not fascinate us, nor will threats of a halter intimi-
date; for, under God, we are determined that wheresoever, when-
soever, or howsoever we shall be called to make our exit, we will
die free men.**


The seventeenth of June saw the four New England colonies
standing here, side by side, to triumph or to fall together; and
there was with them from that moment to the end of the war,
what I hope will remain with them forever, — one cause, one
country, one heart.

The battle of Bunker Hill was attended with the most im-
portant effects beyond its immediate result as a military engage-
ment. It created at once a state of open, public war. There
could now be no longer a question of proceeding against indi-
viduals as guilty of treason or rebellion. That fearful crisis was
past. The appeal now lay to the sword, and the only question
was whether the spirit and the resources of the people would
hold out till the object should be accomplished. Nor were its
general consequences confined to our own country. The previous
proceedings of the colonies, their appeals, resolutions, and ad-
dresses had made their cause known to Europe. Without boast.
ing, we may say that in no age or country has the public causc:
been maintained with more force of argument, more power of
illustration, or more of that persuasion which excited feeling and
elevated principle can alone bestow, than the revolutionary State
papers exhibit. These papers will forever deserve to be studied,
not only for the spirit which they breathe, but for the ability with
which they were written.

To this able vindication of their cause, the colonies had now
added a practical and severe proof of their own true devotion to
:t, and evidence also of the power which they could bring to its
support. All now saw that if America fell, she would not fall
without a struggle. Men felt sympathy and regard as well as
surprise when they beheld these infant States, remote, unknown,
unaided, encounter the power of England, and in the first con-
siderable battle leave more of their enemies dead on the field, in
proportion to the number of combatants, than they had recently
known in the wars of Europe.

Information of these events circulating through Europe at
length reached the ears of one who now hears me. He has not
forgotten the emotion which the fame of Bunker Hill and the
name of Warren excited in his youthful breast.

Sir, we are assembled to commemorate the establishment of
great public principles of liberty, and to do honor to the dis-
tinguished dead. The occasion is too severe for eulogy to the
living. But, sir, your interesting relation to this country, the



peculiar circumstances which surround you and surround us, call
on me to express the happiness which we derive from your pres-
ence and aid in this solemn commemoration.

Fortunate, fortunate man ! with what measure of devotion will
you not thank God for the circumstances of your extraordinary
life! You are connected with both hemispheres and with two
generations. Heaven saw fit to ordain that the electric spark of
liberty should be conducted, through you, from the New World
to the Old; and we, who are now here to perform this duty of
patriotism, have all of us long ago received it in charge from our
fathers to cherish your name and your virtues. You will account
it an instance of your good fortune, sir, that you crossed the
seas to visit us at a time which enables you to be present at
this solemnity. You now behold the field, the renown of which
reached you in the heart of France, and caused a thrill in j^our
ardent bosom. You see the lines of the little redoubt thrown
up by the incredible diligence of Prescott; defended to the last
extremity, by his lion-hearted valor; and withi'^x w~nich the corner-
stone of our monument has now taken its position. You see
where Warren fell, and where Parker, Gardner, McCleary, Moore,
and other early patriots fell with him. Those who survived that
day, and whose lives have been prolonged to the present hour,
are now around you. Some of them you have known in the
trying scenes of the war. Behold! they now stretch forth their
feeble arms to embrace you. Behold! they raise their trembling
voices to invoke the blessing of God on you and yours forever.

Sir, you have assisted us in laying the foundation of this edi-
fice. You have heard us rehearse, with our feeble commenda-
tion, the names of departed patriots. Sir, monuments and eulogy
belong to the dead. We give them this day to Warren and his
associates. On other occasions they have been given to your
more immediate companions in arms, to Washington, to Greene,
to Gates, Sullivan, and Lincoln. Sir, we have become reluctant
to grant these, our highest and last honors, further. We would
gladly hold them yet back from the little remnant of that im-
mortal band. *^ Serus in cesium redeas?^ Illustrious as are your
merits, yet far, oh, very far distant be the day when any inscrip-
tion shall bear your name, or any tongue pronounce its eulogy!

The leading reflection to which this occasion seems to invite
us respects the great changes which have happened in the fifty
years since the battle of Bunker Hill was fought. And it pecul-

DANlfiL WEBSTfili tg$

iarly marks the character of the present age that, in looking at
these changes and in estimating their effect on our condition, we
are obliged to consider, not what has been done in our own
country only, but in others also. In these interesting times, while
nations are making separate and individual advances in improve-
ment, they make, too, a common progress; like vessels on a com-
mon tide, propelled by the gales at different rates, according to
their several structure and management,, but all moved forward
by one mighty current beneath, strong enough to bear onward
whatever does not sink beneath it.

A chief distinction of the present day is a community of opin-
ions and knowledge amongst men, in different nations, existing
in a degree heretofore unknown. Knowledge has, in our time,
triumphed, and is triumphing over distance, over difference of
languages, over diversity of habits, over prejudice, and over bigo-
try. The civilized and Christian world is fast learning the great
lesson, that difference of nation does not imply necessary hostility,
and that all contact need not be war. The whole world is be-
coming a common field for intellect to act in. Energy of mind,
genius, power, wheresoever it exists, may speak out in any tongue,
and the world will hear it. A great chord of sentiment and feel-
ing runs through two continents, and vibrates over both. Every
breeze wafts intelligence from country to country; every wave
rolls it; all give it forth, and all in turn receive it. There is a
vast commerce of ideas; there are marts and exchanges for in-
tellectual discov.eries, and a wonderful fellowship of those indi-
vidual intelligences which make up the mind and opinion of the
age. Mind is the great lever of all things; human thought is the
process by which human ends are ultimately answered; and the
diffusion of knowledge, so astonishing in the last half-century,
has rendered innumerable minds, variously gifted by nature, com-
petent to be competitors, or fellow-workers, on the theatre of
intellectual operation.

From these causes, important improvements have taken place
in the personal condition of individuals. Generally speaking,
mankind are not only better fed and better clothed, but they are
able also to enjoy more leisure; they possess more refinement
and more self-respect. A superior tone of education, manners,
and habits prevails. This remark, most true in its application to
our own country, is also partly true when applied elsewhere. It
is proved by the vastly augmented consumption of those articles
10 — 13



of manufacture and of commerce which contribute to the com-
forts and the decencies of life, — an augmentation which has far
outrun the progress of population. And while the unexampled
and almost incredible use of machinery would seem to supply
the place of labor, labor still finds its occupation and its reward;
so wisely has Providence adjusted men's wants and desires to
their condition and their capacity.

Any adequate survey, however, of the progress made in the
last half century, in the polite and the mechanic arts, in ma-
chinery and manufactures, in commerce and agriculture, in letters,
and in science, would require volumes. I must abstain wholly
from these subjects, and turn, for a moment, to the contempla-
tion of what has been done on the great question of politics and
government. This is the master topic of the age; and during
the whole fifty years, it has intensely occupied the thoughts of
men. The nature of civil government, its ends and uses, have
been canvassed and investigated; ancient opinions attacked and
defended; new ideas recommended and resisted, by whatever
power the mind of man could bring to the controversy. From
the closet and the public halls the debate has been transferred to
the field; and the world has been shaken by wars of unexampled
magnitude, and the greatest variety of fortune. A day of peace
has at length succeeded; and now that the strife has subsided,
and the smoke cleared away, we may begin to see what has
actually been done, permanently changing the state and condition
of human society. And without dwelling on particular circum-
stances, it is most apparent that, from the before-mentioned
causes of augmented knowledge and improved individual condi-
tion, a real, substantial, and important change has taken place,
and is taking place, greatly beneficial, on the whole, to human
liberty and human happiness.

The great wheel of political revolution began to move in
America. Here its rotation was guarded, regular, and safe.
Transferred to the other continent, from unfortunate but natural
causes, it received an irregular and violent impulse; it whirled
along with a fearful celerity, till at length, like the chariot wheels
in the races of antiquity, it took fire from the rapidity of its own
motion, and blazed onward, spreading conflagration and terror

We learn from the result of this experiment how fortunate
was our own condition, and how admirably the character of our


people was calculated for making the great example of popular
governments. The possession of power did not turn the heads
of the American people, for they had long been in the habit of
exercising a great portion of self-control. Although the para-
mount authority of the parent State existed over them, yet a
large field of legislation had always been open to our colonial
assemblies. They were accustomed to representative bodies and
the forms of free government; they understood the doctrine of
the division of power among different branches and the necessity
of checks on each. The character of our countrymen, moreover,
was sober, moral, and religious; and there was little in the change
to shock their feelings of justice and humanity, or even to dis-
turb an honest prejudice. We had no domestic throne to over-
turn, no privileged orders to cast down, no violent changes of
property to encounter. In the American Revolution, no man
sought or wished for more than to defend and enjoy his own.
None hoped for plunder or for spoil. Rapacity was unknown to
it; the ax was not among the instruments of its accomplishment;
and we all know that it could not have lived a single day under
any well-founded imputation of possessing a tendency adverse to
the Christian religion.

It need not surprise us that, under circumstances less auspi-
cious, political revolutions elsewhere, even when well intended,
have terminated differently. It is, indeed, a great achievement,
it is the master-work of the world, to establish governments en-
tirely popular, on lasting foundations; nor is it easy, indeed, to
introduce the popular principle at all into governments to which
it has been altogether a stranger. It cannot be doubted, how-
ever, that Europe has come out of the contest, in which she has
been so long engaged, with greatly superior knowledge, and, in
many respects, a highly improved condition. Whatever benefit
has been acquired is likely to be retained, for it consists mainly
in the acquisition of more enlightened ideas. And although king-
doms and provinces may be wrested from the hands that hold
them, in the same manner they were obtained; although ordinary
and vulgar power may, in human affairs, be lost as it has been
won, yet it is the glorious prerogative of the empire of knowl-
edge, that what it gains it never loses. On the contrary, it in-
creases by the multiple of its own power; all its ends become
means; all its attainments help to new conquests. Its whole
abundant harvest is but so much seed wheat, and nothing has



ascertained, and nothing can ascertain, the amount of ultimate

Under the influence of this rapidly-increasing knowledge, the
people have begun, in all forms of government, to think and
to reason on affairs of state. Regarding government as an insti-
tution for the public good, they demand a knowledge of its
operations and a participation in its exercise. A call for the
representative system, wherever it is not enjoyed, and where there
is already intelligence enough to estimate its value, is persever-
ingly made. Where men may speak out, they demand it; where
the bayonet is at their throats, they pray for it.

When Louis XIV. said: ** I am the state, '^ he expressed the
essence of the doctrine of imlimited power. By the rules of that
system, the people are disconnected from the state; they are its
subjects; it is their lord. These ideas, founded in the love of
power, and long supported by the excess and the abuse of it, are
yielding in our age to other opinions; and the civilized world
seems at last to be proceeding to the conviction of that funda-
mental and manifest truth, that the powers of government are
but a trust, and that they cannot be lawfully exercised but for
the good of the commtinity. As knowledge is more and more
extended, this conviction becomes more and more general. Knowl-
edge, in truth, is the great sun in the firmament. Life and
power are scattered with all its beams. The prayer of the Gre-
cian combatant, when enveloped in unnatural clouds and darkness,
is the appropriate political supplication for the people of every
country not yet blessed with free institutions: —

" Dispel this cloud, the light of heaven restore ;
Give me to see — and Ajax asks no more.^^

We may hope that the growing influence of enlightened senti-
ments will promote the permanent peace of the world. Wars, to
maintain family alliances, to uphold or to cast down dynasties,
to regulate successions to thrones, which have occupied so much
room in the history of modern times, if not less likely to happen
at all, will be less likely to become general and involve many
nations, as the great principle shall be more and more established,
that the interest of the world is peace, and its first great statute,
that every nation possesses the power of establishing a govern-
ment for itself. But public opinion has attained also an influence
over governments which do not admit the popular principle into


their organization. A necessary respect for the judgment of the
world operates, in some measure, as a control over the most un-
limited forms of authority. It is owing, perhaps, to this truth,
that the interesting struggle of the Greeks has been suffered to
go on so long, without a direct interference, either to wrest that
country from its present masters, and add it to other powers, or
to execute the system of pacification by force, and, with united
strength, lay the neck of Christian and civilized Greece at the
foot of the barbarian Turk. Let us thank God that we live in
an age when something has influence besides the bayonet, and
when the sternest authority does not venture to encounter the
scorching power of public reproach. Any attempt of the kind I
have mentioned should be . met by one universal burst of indig-
nation; the air of the civilized world ought to be made too warm
to be comfortably breathed by any who would hazard it.

It is, indeed, a touching reflection, that while, in the fullness
of our country's happiness, we rear this monument to her honor,
we look for instruction in our undertaking, to a country which is
now in fearful contest, not for works of art or memorials of
glory, but for her own existence. Let her be assured that she
is not forgotten in the world; that her efforts are applauded, and
that constant prayers ascend for her success. And let us cherish
a confident hope for her final triumph. If the true spark of re-
ligious and civil liberty be kindled, it will burn. Human agency
cannot extinguish it. Like the earth's central fire, it may be
smothered for a time; the ocean may overwhelm it; mountains
may press it down; but its inherent and unconquerable force will
heave both the ocean and the land, and at some time or another,
in some place or another, the volcano will break out and flame
up to heaven.

Among the great events of the half-century, we must reckon,
certainly, the revolution of South America; and we are not likely
to overrate the importance of that revolution, either to the peo-
ple of the country itself or to the rest of the world. The late
Spanish colonies, now independent States, under circumstances less
favorable, doubtless, than attended our own revolution, have yet
successfully commenced their national existence. They have ac-
complished the great object of establishing their independence;
they are known and acknowledged in the world; and, although in
regard to their systems of government, their sentiments on re-
ligious toleration, and their provisions for public instruction, they



may have yet much to learn, it must be admitted that they have
risen to the condition of settled and established States more rap-
idly than could have been reasonably anticipated. They already
furnish an exhilarating example of the difference between free
governments and despotic misrule. Their commerce at this mo-
ment creates a new activity in all the great marts of the world.
They show themselves able by an exchange of commodities to
bear a useful part in the intercourse of nations. A new spirit
of enterprise and industry begins to prevail; all the great inter-
ests of society receive a salutary impulse; and the progress of
information, not only testifies to an improved condition, but con-
stitutes itself the highest and most essential improvement.

When the battle of Bunker Hill was fought, the existence of
South America was scarcely felt in the civilized world. The thir-
teen little colonies of North America habitually called themselves
the "Continent.'^ Borne down by colonial subjugation, monopoly,
and bigotry, these vast regions of the South were hardly visible
above the horizon. But in our day there hath been, as it were, a
new creation. The Southern Hemisphere emerges from the sea.
Its lofty mountains begin to lift themselves into the light of
heaven; its broad and fertile plains stretch out in beauty to the
eye of civilized man and at the mighty being of the voice of po-
litical liberty, the waters of darkness retire.

And now let us indulge an honest exultation in the convic-
tion of the benefit which the example of our country has pro-
duced and is likel}'- to produce on human freedom and human
happiness. And let us endeavor to comprehend in all its mag-
nitude and to feel in all its importance the part assigned to us
in the great drama of human affairs. We are placed at the head
of the system of representative and popular governments. Thus
far -our example shows that such governments are compatible,
not only with respectability and power, but with repose, with
peace, with security of personal rights, with good laws and a just

We are not propagandists. Wherever other systems are pre-
ferred, either as being thought better in themselves or as better
suited to existing conditions, we leave the preference to be en-
joyed. Our history hitherto proves, however, that the popular
form is practicable and that, with wisdom and knowledge, men
may govern themselves; and the duty incumbent on us is to

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 19 of 56)