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 20 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 20 of 56)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

preserve the consistency of this cheering example and take care




that nothing may weaken its authority with the world. If in
our case the representative system ultimately fail, popular govern-
ments must be pronounced impossible. No combination of cir-
cumstances more favorable to the experiment can ever be expected
to occur. The last hopes of mankind, therefore, rest with us;
and if it should be proclaimed that our example had become an
argument against the experiment, the knell of popular liberty
would be sounded throughout the earth.

These are incitements to duty; but they are not suggestions
of doubt. Our history and our condition, all that is gone before
us and all that surrounds us, authorize the belief that popular
governments, though subject to occasional variations, perhaps not
always for the better in form, may yet in their general character
be as durable and permanent as other systems. We know, in-
deed, that in our country any other is impossible. The principle
of free governments adheres to the American soil. It is bedded
in it — immovable as its mountains.

And let the sacred obligations which have devolved on this
generation and on us sink deep into our hearts. Those are daily
dropping from among us who established our liberty and our
government. The great trust now descends to new hands. Let
us apply ourselves to that which is presented to us as our appro'
priate object. We can win no laurels in a war for independence.
Earlier and worthier hands have gathered them all. Nor are
there places for us by the side of Solon, and Alfred, and other
founders of states. Our fathers have filled them. But there re-
mains to us a great duty of defense and preservation; and there
is opened to us also a noble pursuit to which the spirit of the
times strongly invites us. Our proper business is improvement.
Let our age be the age of improvement. In a day of peace let
us advance the arts of peace and the works of peace. Let us
develop the resources of our land, call forth its powers, build up
its institutions, promote all its great interests, and see whether
we also, in our day and generation, may not perform something
worthy to be remembered. Let us cultivate a true spirit of
union and harmony. In pursuing the great objects which our
condition points out to us, let us act under a settled conviction,
and a habitual feeling that these twenty-four States are one coun-
try. Let our conceptions be enlarged to the circle of our du-
ties. Let us extend our ideas over the whole of the vast field in
which we are called to act. Let our object be our country, pur


whole country, and nothing but our country. And by the bless-
ing of God may that country itself become a vast and splendid
monument, not of oppression and terror, but of wisdom, of peace,
and of liberty, upon which the world may gaze with admiration,


(From the Discourse in Commemoration of the First Settlement of New
England, Delivered at Plymouth, December 22d, 1820)

THERE may be, and there often is, indeed, a regard for ances-
try, which nourishes only a weak pride; as there is also a
care for posterity, which only disguises a habitual avarice,
or hides the workings of a low and groveling vanity. But there
is also a moral and philosophical respect for our ancestors, which
elevates the character and improves the heart. Next to the
sense of religious duty and moral feeling, I hardly know what
should bear with stronger obligation on a liberal and enlightened
mind than a consciousness of alliance with excellence which is
departed; and a consciousness, too, that in its acts and conduct,
and even in its sentiments and thoughts, it may be actively
operating on the happiness of those who come after it. Poetry
is found to have few stronger conceptions, by which it would
affect or overwhelm the mind, than those in which it presents
the moving and speaking image of the departed dead to the
senses of the living. This belongs to poetry, only because it is
congenial to our nature. Poetry is, in this respect, but the hand-
maid of true philosophy and morality; it deals with us as human
beings, naturally reverencing those whose visible connection with
this state of existence is severed, and who may yet exercise we
know not what sympathy with ourselves; and when it carries us
forward also, and shows us the long-continued result of all the
good we do, in the prosperity of those who follow us, till it bears
us from ourselves, and absorbs us in an intense interest for what
shall happen to the generations after us, — it speaks only in the
language of our nature, and affects us with sentiments which be-
long to us as human beings.

Standing in this relation to our ancestors and our posterity,
we are assembled on this memorable spot, to perform the duties
which that relation and the present occasion impose upon us.
We have come to this Rock, to record here our homage for our


Pilgrim Fathers; our sympathy in their sufferings; our gratitude
for their labors; our admiration of their virtues; our veneration
for their piety; and our attachment to those principles of civil
and religious liberty which they encountered the dangers of the
ocean, the storms of heaven, the violence of savages, disease,
exile, and famine, to enjoy and establish. And we would leave
here also, for the generations which are rising up rapidly to fill
our places, some proof that we have endeavored to transmit the
great inheritance unimpaired; that in our estimate of public prin-
ciples and private virtue, in our veneration of religion and piety,
in our devotion to religious and civil liberty, in our regard to
whatever advances human knowledge or improves happiness, we
are not altogether unworthy of our origin. . . .

The hours of this day are rapidly flying, and this occasion
will soon be passed. Neither we nor our children can expect
to behold its return. They are in the distant regions of fu-
turity; they exist only in the all-creating power of God, who
shall stand here a hundred years hence, to trace, through us,
their descent from the Pilgrims, and to survey, as we have now
surveyed, the progress of their country during the lapse of a
century. We would anticipate their concurrence with us in our
sentiments of deep regard for our common ancestors. We would
anticipate and partake the pleasure with which they will then
recount the steps of New England's advancement. On the morn-
ing of that day, although it will not disturb us in our repose,
the voice of acclamation and gratitude, commencing on the Rock
of Plymouth, shall be transmitted through millions of the sons of
the Pilgrims, till it lose itself in the murmurs of the Pacific seas.

We would leave for the consideration of those who shall then
occupy our places some proof that we hold the blessings trans-
mitted from our fathers in just estimation; some proof of our at-
tachment to the cause of good government and of civil and
religious liberty; some proof of a sincere and ardent desire to
promote everything which may enlarge the understandings and
improve the hearts of men. And when, from the long distance
of a hundred years, they shall look back upon us, they shall
know at least that we possessed affections, which, running back-
ward and warming with gratitude for what our ancestors have
done for our happiness, run forward also to our posterity, and
\neet them with cordial salutation, ere yet they have arrived on
the shore of being.


Advance, then, ye future generations! We would hail you, as
you rise in j^our long succession, to fill the places which we now
fill, and to taste the blessings of existence where we are now
passing, and soon shall have passed, our own human duration.
We bid you welcome to this pleasant land of the fathers. We
bid you welcome to the healthful skies and the verdant fields of
New England. We greet your accession to the great inheritance
which we have enjoyed. We welcome you to the blessings of
good government and religious liberty. We welcome you to the
treasures of science and the delights of learning. We welcome
you to the transcendent sweets of domestic life, to the happiness
of kindred, and parents, and children. We welcome you to the
immeasurable blessings of rational existence, the immortal hope
of Christianity, and the light of everlasting truth!

(From the Oration Delivered in Faneuil Hall, Boston, August 2d, 1826)

THIS is an unaccustomed spectacle. For the first time, fellow-
citizens, badges of mourning shroud the columns and over-
hang the arches of this hall. These walls, which were
consecrated so long ago to the cause of American liberty, which
witnessed her infant struggles, and rung with the shouts of her
earliest victories, proclaim now that distinguished friends and
champions of the great cause have fallen. It is right that it
should be thus. The tears which flow, and the honors that are
paid when the founders of the Republic die, give hope that the
Republic itself may be immortal. It is fit that by public as-
sembly and solemn observance, by anthem and by eulogy, we
commemorate the services of national benefactors, extol their vir-
tues, and render thanks to God for eminent blessings early given
and long-continued to our favored country.

Adams and Jefferson are no more; and we are assembled,
fellow-citizens — the aged, the middle-aged, and the young — by
the spontaneous impulse of all, under the authority of the mu-
nicipal government, with the presence of the Chief Magistrate
of the Commonwealth, and others its official representatives, the
university, and the learned societies, to bear our part in those
manifestations of respect and gratitude which universally pervade


the. land. Adams and Jefferson are no more. On our fiftieth an-
niversary, the great day of national jubilee, in the very hour of
public rejoicing, in the midst of echoing and re-echoing voices of
thanksgiving, while their own names were on all tongues, they
took their flight together to the world of spirits.

If it be true that no one can safely be pronounced happy
while he lives; if that event which terminates life can alone
crown its honors and its glory, what felicity is here! The great
epic of their lives, how happily concluded ! Poetry itself has
hardly closed illustrious lives and finished the career of earthly
renown by such a consummation. If we had the power, we could
not wish to reverse this dispensation of the Divine Providence.
The great objects of life were accomplished; the drama was ready
to be closed; it has closed; our patriots have fallen; but so fallen
at such age, with such coincidence on such a day, that we cannot
rationally lament that that end has come which we knew could
not be long deferred. Neither of these great men, fellow-citizens,
could have died at any time without leaving an immense void in
our American society. They have been so intimately and for so
long a time blended with the history of the country, and espe-
cially so united in our thoughts and recollections with the events
of the Revolution, that the death of either would have touched
the strings of public sympathy. We should have felt that one
great link connecting us with former times was broken; that we
had lost something more, as it were, of the presence of the Rev-
olution itself and of the act of independence, and were driven on
by another great remove from the days of our country's early
distinction to meet posterity and to mix with the future. Like
the mariner whom the ocean and the winds carry along till he
sees the stars which have directed his course, and lighted his
pathless way, descend one by one beneath the rising horizon, we
should have felt that the stream of time had borne us onward till
another great luminary whose light had cheered us, and whose
guidance we had followed, had sunk away from our sight.

But the concurrence of their death on the anniversary of in-
dependence has naturally awakened stronger emotions. Both had
been Presidents; both had lived to great age; both were early
patriots; and both were distinguished and even honored by their
immediate agency in the act of independence. It cannot but
seem striking and extraordinary that these two should live to see
the fiftieth year from the date of that act; that they should


complete that year; and that then, on the day which had fast
Hnked forever their own fame with their country's glory, the
heavens should open to receive them both at once. As their lives
themselves were the gifts of Providence, who is not willing to
recognize in their happy termination, as well as in their long
continuance, proofs that our country and its benefactors are ob-
jects of his care ? . . .

We are not assembled, therefore, fellow-citizens, as men over-
whelmed with calamity by the sudden disruption of the ties of
friendship or affection, or as in despair for the Republic, by the
untimely blighting of its hopes. Death has not surprised us by
an unseasonable blow. We have, indeed, seen the tomb close,
but it has closed only over mature years, over long-protracted
public service, over the weakness of age, and over life itself only
when the ends of living had been fulfilled. These suns, as they
rose slowly, and steadily, amidst clouds and storms, in their as-
cendant, so they have not rushed from their meridian to sink
suddenly in the west. Like the mildness, the serenity, the con-
tinuing benignity of a summer's day, they have gone down with
slow-descending, grateful, long-lingering light, and now that they
are beyond the visible margin of the world, good omens cheer
us from *^ the bright track of their fiery car. "

There were many points of similarity in the lives and for-
tunes of these great men. They belonged to the same profes-
sion, and had pursued its studies and its practice, for unequal
lengths of time indeed, but with diligence and effect. Both
were learned and able lawyers. They were natives and inhabit-
ants, respectively, of those two of the colonies, which, at the Rev-
olution, were the largest and most powerful, and which naturally
had a lead in the political affairs of the times. When the colo-
nies became, in some degree, united, by the assembling of a
general congress, they were brought to act together, in its delib-
erations, not indeed at the same time, but both at early periods.
Each had already manifested his attachment to the cause of the
country, as well as his ability to maintain it, by printed ad-
dresses, public speeches, extensive correspondence, and whatever
other mode could be adopted, for the purpose of exposing the
encroachments of the British Parliament and animating the peo-
ple to a manly resistance. Both were not only decided, but early
friends of independence. While others yet doubted, they were
resolved: while others hesitated, they pressed forward. They


were both members of the committee for preparing the Declara-
tion of Independence, and they constituted the subcommittee, ap-
pointed by the other members to make the draught. They left
their seats in Congress, being called to other public employments,
at periods not remote from each other, although one of them re-
turned to it, afterwards, for a short time. Neither of them was
of the assembly of great men which formed the present Consti-
tution, and neither was at any time Member of Congress under
its provisions. Both have been public ministers abroad, both
Vice-Presidents, and both Presidents. These coincidences are now
singularly crowned and completed. They have died together;
and they died on the anniversary of liberty.

When many of us were last in this place, fellow-citizens, it
was on the day of that anniversary. We were met to enjoy the
festivities belonging to the occasion, and to manifest our grate-
ful homage to our political fathers.

We did not, we could not here, forget our venerable neighbor
of Quincy. We knew that we were standing, at a time of high
and palmy prosperity, where he had stood in the hour of utmost
peril; that we saw nothing but liberty and security, where he
had met the frown of power; that we were enjoying everything,
where he had hazarded everything; and just and sincere plaudits
rose to his name, from the crowds which filled this area and
hung over these galleries. He whose grateful duty it was to
speak to us, on that day, of the virtues of our fathers, had, in-
deed, admonished us that time and years were about to level his
venerable frame with the dust. But he bade us hope, that the
^^ sound of a nation's joy, rushing from our cities, ringing from
our valleys, echoing from our hills, might yet break the silence
of his aged ear; that the rising blessings of grateful millions
might yet visit, with glad light, his decaying vision. ^^ Alas! that
vision was then closing forever. Alas! the silence which was
then settling on that aged ear was an everlasting silence! For,
lo ! in the very moment of our festivities, his freed spirit ascended
to God who gave it! Human aid and human solace terminate at
the grave ; or we would gladly have borne him upward, on a na-
tion's outspread hands; we would have accompanied him, and
with the blessings of millions, and the prayers of millions, com-
mended him to the Divine favor. . . .

The eloquence of Mr. Adams resembled his general character,
and formed, indeed, a part of it. It was bold, manly, and ener-



getic; and such the crisis required. When public bodies are to
be addressed on momentous occasions, when great interests are at
stake and strong passions excited, nothing is valuable in speech
further than it is connected with high intellectual and moral en-
dowments. Clearness, force, and earnestness are the qualities
which produce conviction. True eloquence, indeed, does not
consist in speech. It cannot be brought from far. Labor and
learning may toil for it; but they will toil in vain. Words and
phrases may be marshaled in every way; but they cannot com-
pass it. It must exist in the man, in the subject, and in the
occasion. Affected, passion, intense expression, the pomp of dec-
lamation, all may aspire after it — they cannot reach it. It comes,
if it come at all, like the outbreaking of a fountain from the
earth, or the bursting forth of volcanic fires, with spontaneous,
original, native force. The graces taught in the schools, the
costly ornaments, and studied contrivances of speech, shock and
disgust men, when their own lives, and the fate of their wives,
their children, and their country, hang on the decision of the
hour. Then, words have lost their power, rhetoric is vain,
and all elaborate oratory contemptible. Even genius itself then
feels rebuked and subdued, as in the presence of higher quali-
ties. Then patriotism is eloquent; then self-devotion is eloquent.
The clear conception, outrunning the deductions of logic, — the
high purpose, — the firm resolve, — the dauntless spirit, speaking
on the tongue, beaming from the eye, informing every feature,
and urging the whole man onward, right onward, to his object, —
this, this is eloquence; or, rather, it is something greater and
higher than all eloquence, — it is action, noble, sublime, godlike

In July 1776 the controversy had passed the stage of argu-
ment. An appeal had been made to force, and opposing armies
were in the field. Congress then was to decide whether the tie
which had so long bound us to the parent state was to be sev-
ered at once and severed forever. All the colonies had signified
their resolution to abide by this decision, and the people looked
for it with the most intense anxiety. And surely, fellow-citizens,
never, never were men called to a more important political delib-
eration. If we contemplate it from the point where they then
stood, no question could be more full of interest; if we look at
it now, and judge of its importance by its effects, it appears in
still greater magnitude.



Let us, then, bring before us the assembly, which was about
to decide a question thus big with the fate of empire. Let us
open their doors, and look in upon their deliberations. Let us
survey the anxious and careworn countenances — let us hear the
firm-toned voices of this band of patriots.

Hancock presides over this solemn sitting; and one of those
not yet prepared to pronounce for absolute independence is on
the floor and is urging his reasons for dissenting from the Dec-
laration : —

^* Let us pause ! This step, once taken, cannot be retraced. This
resolution, once passed, will cut off all hope of reconciliation. If suc-
cess attend the arms of England, we shall then be no longer col-
onies, with charters and with privileges. These will all be forfeited
by this act; and we shall be in the condition of other conquered
people — at the mercy of the conquerors. For ourselves, we may be
ready to run the hazard; but are we ready to carry the country to
that length ? Is success so probable as to justify it ? Where is the
military, where the naval, power, by which we are to resist the
whole strength of the arm of England } for she will exert that
strength to the utmost. Can we rely on the constancy and persever-
ance of the people? — or will they not act as the people of other
countries have acted, and, wearied with a long war, submit, in the
end, to a worse oppression ? While we stand on our old ground, and
insist on redress of grievances, we know we are right, and are not
answerable for consequences. Nothing, then, can be imputable to us.
But if we now change our object, carry our pretensions further, and
set up for absolute independence, we shall lose the sympathy of
mankind. We shall no longer be defending what we possess, but
struggling for something which we never did possess, and which we
have solemnly and uniformly disclaimed all intention of pursuing,
from the very outset of the troubles. Abandoning thus our old
ground, of resistance only to arbitrary acts of oppression, the nations
will believe the whole to have been mere pretense, and they will
look on us, not as injured, but as ambitious subjects. I shudder be-
fore this responsibility. It will be on us, if, relinquishing the ground
we have stood on so long, and stood on so safely: we now proclaim
independence, and carry on the war for that object, while these cities
burn, these pleasant fields whiten and bleach with the bones of their
owners, and these streams run blood. It will be upon us, it will be
upon us, if failing to maintain this unseasonable and ill-judged Dec-
laration, a sterner despotism, maintained by military power, shall be
established over our posterity, when we ourselves, given up by an


exhausted, a harassed, a misled people, shall have expiated our rash-
ness and atoned for our presumption on the scaffold."

It was for Mr. Adams to reply to arguments like these. We
know his opinions, and we know his character. He would com-
mence with his accustomed directness and earnestness.

"Sink or swim, live or die, survive or perish, I give my hand and
my heart to this vote. It is true, indeed, that in the beginning we
aimed not at independence. But there's a divinity which shapes our
ends. The injustice of England has driven us to arms; and, blinded
to her own interest, for our good, she has obstinately persisted, till
independence is now within our grasp. We have but to reach forth
to it, and it is ours. Why, then, should we defer the Declaration ?
Is any man so weak as now to hope for a reconciliation with Eng-
land, which shall leave either safety to the country and its liberties,
or safety to his own life and his own honor ? Are not you, sir, who
sit in that chair, — is not he, our venerable colleague near you, — are
you not both already the proscribed and predestined objects of
punishment and of vengeance ? Cut off from all hope of royal clem-
ency, what are you, what can you be, while the power of England
remains, but outlaws ? If we postpone independence, do we mean to
carry on, or to give up, the war ? Do we mean to submit to the
measures of Parliament, Boston Port Bill and all ? Do we mean to
submit, and consent that we ourselves shall be ground to powder,
and our country and its rights trodden down in the dust? I know
we do not mean to submit. We never shall submit. Do we intend
to violate that most solemn obligation ever entered into by men —
that plighting, before God, of our sacred honor to Washington, when,

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 20 of 56)