Copyright
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 4) online

. (page 33 of 39)
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 4) → online text (page 33 of 39)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


not only exempt themselves from distrust, but are considered as suffi-
cient guardians of the rights of their constituents against the danger
from the Executive. Hence it is a principle that the Parliament is un-
limited in its power, or, in their own language, is omnipotent. Hence,
too, all the ramparts for protecting the rights of the people, such
as their Magna Charta, their Bill of Rights, etc., are not reared
against the Parliament, but against the royal prerogative. They are
merely legislative precautions against Executive usurpations. Under
such a government as this, an exemption of the press from previous
restraint, by licensers appointed by the King, is all the freedom that
can be secured to it.

*'In the United States the case is altogether different. The peo-
ple, not the Government, possess the absolute sovereignty. The Leg-
islature, no less than the Executive, is under limitations of power.
Encroachments are regarded as possible from the one as well as from
the other. Hence, in the United States, the great and essential
rights of the people are secured against legislative as well as against
executive ambition. They are secured, not by laws paramount to
prerogative, but by constitutions paramount to laws. This security
of the freedom of the press requires that it should be exempt not
only from previous restraint by the Executive, as in Great Brit-
ain, but from legislative restraint also; and this exemption, to be
effectual, must be an exemption not only from the previous inspec-
tion of licenses, but from the subsequent penalty of laws.*

One other passage on page 547, which has an extraordinary
application to the subject now before you: —

« I. The Constitution supposes that the President, the Congress,
and each of its houses may not di:Dcharge their trusts, either from
defect of judgment or other causes. Hence they are all made re-
sponsible to their constituents at the returning periods of election;
4 — 22



238 BENJAMIN ROBBINS CURTIS

and the President who is singly intrusted with very great powers, JSi
as a further guard, subjected to an intermediate impeachment.

<* 2. Should it happen, as the Constitution supposes it may happen,
that either of these branches of the Government may not have duly
discharged its trust, it is natural and proper that, according to the
cause and degree of their faults, they should be brought into con-
tempt or disrepute, and incur the hatred of the people.

^* 3. Whether it has, in any case, happened that the proceedings of
either or all of those branches evince such a violation of duty as to
justify a contempt, a disrepute, or hatred among the people, can
only be determined by a free examination thereof, and a free com-
munication among the people thereon.

"4. Whenever it may have actually happened that proceedings of
this sort are chargeable on all or either of the branches of the Gov-
ernment, it is the duty, as well as the right, of intelligent and faith-
ful citizens to discuss and promulge them freely, as well to control
them by the censorship of the public opinion as to promote a remedy
according to the rules of the Constitution. And it cannot be avoided
that those who are to apply the remedy must feel, in some degjee,
a contempt or hatred against the transgressing party.*

These observations of Mr. Madison were made in respect to
the freedom of the press. There were two views entertained at
the time when the Sedition Law was passed concerning the power
of Congress over this subject. The one view was that when
the Constitution spoke of freedom of the press it referred to
the common-law definition of that freedom. That was tne
view which Mr. Madison was controverting in one of the pas-
sages which I have read to you. The other view was that the
common-law definition could not be deemed applicable, and that
the freedom provided for by the Constitution, so far as the
action of Congress was concerned, was an absolute freedom of
the press. But no one ever imagined that freedom of speech, in
contradistinction from written libel, could be restrained by a law
of Congress; for whether you treat the prohibition in the Consti-
tution as absolute in itself or whether you refer to the common
law for a definition of its limits and meaning, the result will be
the same. Under the common law no man was ever punished
criminally for spoken words. If he slandered his neighbor and
injured him, he must make good in damages to his neighbor the
injury he had done; but there was no such thing at the common
law as an indictment for spoken words. So that this prohibition



BENJAMIN ROBBINS CURTIS o'^Q

in the Constitution against any legislation by Congress in re-
straint of the freedom of speech is necessarily an absolute pro-
hibition; and therefore this is a case not only where there is no
law made prior to the act to punish the act, but a case where
Congress is expressly prohibited from making any law to operate
even on subsequent acts.

What is the law to be ? Suppose it is, as the honorable
managers seem to think it should be, the sense of propriety of
each Senator appealed to. What is it to be ? The only rule I
have heard — the only rule which can be announced — is that
you may require the speaker to speak properly. Who are to be
the judges whether he speak properly ? In this case the Senate
of the United States on the presentation of the House of Repre-
sentatives of the United States; and that is supposed to be the
freedom of speech secured by this absolute prohibition of the
Constitution. That is the same freedom of speech, Senators, in
consequence of which thousands of men went to the scaffold
under the Tudors and the Stuarts. That is the same freedom of
speech which caused thousands of heads of men and of women
to roll from the guillotine in France. That is the same freedom
of speech which has caused in our day more than once ^^ order to
reign in Warsaw." The persons did not speak properly in the
apprehension of the judges before whom they were brought. Is
that the freedom of speech intended to be secured by our Con-
stitution ? . .




GEORGE WILLIAM CURTIS

(1824-1892)

I HEN in the Republican national convention held at Chicago
in June 1884, George William Curtis climbed on a chair to
protest, on behalf of those who were afterwards called
* mugwumps, ^^ against the Hawkins Resolution, the scene was one of
the most dramatic in American history. Mr. Curtis had been one of
those whose thorough-going earnestness had forced issues which had
retired the Democratic party from power for twenty-five years. Un-
der the Hawkins Resolution., he would have been bound to support
the nominee of the convention, with the consent of his conscience or
without it. He evidently felt himself in the presence of one of those
great crises when the history of a nation may depend for years on
the immediate and determined action of one man. When he climbed
on his seat to speak, with his white hair thrown back from his face,
and began : <^ Gentlemen of the convention, a Republican and a free
man, I came into this convention; by the grace of God a Republican
and a free man will I go out of this convention,'* his belief in the
far-reaching importance of his action was immediately communicated
to the thousands with whom the great hall was packed. The con-
vention which so shortly before had been apparently an uncontrolla-
ble chaos of conflicting elements became breathlessly silent, and in
making the speech which restored the Democratic party to power by
inaugurating the independent Republican movement of 1884, Mr.
Curtis had an audience which strained its ears to catch his every
word. Perhaps there has not bisen in all American history a more
striking example of the power of such oratory as is natural to any
man of great and cultivated intellect, when he is deeply moved by a
conscientious conviction of his duty. In his address on Wendell
Phillips, delivered in April 1884, Mr. Curtis shows us his own ideal
in his elucidation of the character of Phillips. He was not persist-
ently intense in his modes of thought as Phillips was, but at a crisis
he could call out wholly unsuspected reserves of power, as he did in
his Chicago speech. He was a scholar rather than a statesman; a
gentleman by instinct and habit; gracious in his demeanor, because
of being essentially gracious; and seemingly unfitted for the rude
and brawling contentions of practical politics; but such men as he
have determined the course of events in America at every crisis,

340



GEORGE WILLIAM CURTIS 34I

putting to confusion the merely professional politicians and asserting
the omnipotent supremacy of that higher intellect which can begin
and operate only under the direction of a sound and compelling con-
science. Mr. Curtis was born at Providence, Rhode Island, February
24th, 1824. In his early life he was possessed by the ideas which
moved a number of young transcendentalists to organize the Brook
Farm community. After eighteen months of that celebrated failure
to realize the ideal, he traveled in Europe, and returning, entered
New York journalism, first on the daily press, and afterwards as the
editor of weekly and monthly periodicals issued by well-known pub-
lishing houses. Of his numerous published books, the <Potiphar Pa-
pers > are perhaps best, as they are best known to the general public.
Mr. Curtis died at his home on Staten Island, August 31st, 1892.



HIS SOVEREIGNTY UNDER HIS HAT

(Delivered in the Republican National Convention, at Chicago, June 4th, 1884,
on the Resolution Offered by Mr. Hawkins, of Tennessee: *-^Resolved, As
the sense of this convention. That every member of it is bound in honor
to support its nominee, whoever that nominee may be, and that no man
should hold a seat here who is not ready to so agree » )

Gentlemen of the Convention: —

A Republican and a free man I came into this convention;
by the grace of God a Republican and a free man will I
go out of this convention. Twenty-four years ago I was
here in Chicago. Twenty-four years ago I took part with the
men of this country who nominated the man who bears the
most illustrious name in the Republican party, and the brightest
ray in whose halo of glory and immortality is that he was the
great emancipator. In that convention, sir, a resolution was
offered in amendment of the platform. It introduced into that
platform certain words from the Declaration of Independence.
That man was voted down in that convention, and Joshua R.
Giddings, of Ohio, rose from his seat and was passing out of the
convention. As he went to pass by my chair, I, well nigh a
boy and unknown to him, reached out my hand and said:
^* Sir, where are you going ? ** He said to me : " Young man, I
am going out of this convention, for I find there is no place in
a Republican convention for an original antislavery man like
me.*^ Well, gentlemen, after this he stopped and again took his
seat, and before the convention concluded the Republican party
declared no word, no deed, no sign should ever be made in a



342



GEORGE WILLIAM CURTIS



Republican convention that in the slightest degree reflected upon
the honor or the loyalty o£ the men who took part in that con-
vention, and upon their adhesion to liberty. The gentleman who
was last upon the floor dared any one upon this floor to vote
against that resolution. I say to him in reply that the presen-
tation of such a resolution in such a convention as this is a
stigma, an insult, upon every man who stands here. The ques-
tion is no question at all. Precisely the same motion was
brought up at the last convention, and a man from West Vir-
ginia (I honor his name!) said in the face of the roaring galler-
ies : ^* I am a Republican who carries his sovereignty under his
own hat.'*

Now, Mr. Chairman, Mr. Campbell's position in that conven-
tion agreed with the wise reflection, the afterthought of the Re-
publican convention of 1880, under the direction of that great
leader whose face fronts us there, James A. Garfield, of Ohio.
Under the lead of Garfield, I remind you, my friend from Cali-
fornia, that convention, taking its action, induced the gentleman
who presented the resolution to withdraw it from consideration.
Now, sir, in the light of the character of the Republican party;
in the light of the action of the last Republican convention, the
first convention I have known in which such a pledge was re-
quired of the members; I ask this convention, mindful of all that
hangs upon the wisdom, the moderation, the tolerance, and the
patriotism of our action,— mindful of it all I beg this conven-
tion to remember Lincoln, to remember Garfield, to remember
the most vital principle of the Republican party, and assume
that every man here who is an honorable man will vote this
resolution down, as something which should never have appeared
in a Republican convention, and as unworthy to be ratified by
the concourse of free men I see before me.



WENDELL PHILLIPS AS A HISTORY-MAKER

(From a Contemporary Stenographic Report of the Address Delivered in
Tremont Temple, Boston, April i8th, 1884)

WHEN the war ended, and the specific purpose of his relent-
less agitation was accomplished, Phillips was still in the
prime of his life. Had his mind recurred to the dreams
of earlier years, had he desired, in the fullness of his fame and



GEORGE WILLIAM CURTIS ^4,

the maturity of his powers, to turn to the political career which
the hopes of the friends of his youth had forecast, I do not
doubt that the Massachusetts of Sumner and of Andrew, proud
of his genius and owning his immense service to the triumphant
cause, although a service beyond the party line, and often appar-
ently directed against the party itself, would have gladly sum-
moned him to duty. It would, indeed, have been a kind of
peerage for this great Commoner. But not to repose and peace-
ful honor did this earnest soul incline. ^^ Now that the field is
won,'^ he said gaily to a friend, ^^do you sit by the camp-fire,
but I will put out into the underbrush.*^ The slave, indeed, was
free, but emancipation did not free the agitator from his task.
The client that suddenly appeared before him on that memorable
October day was not an oppressed race alone; it was wronged
humanity; it was the victim of unjust systems and unequal laws;
it was the poor man, the weak man, the unfortunate man, who-
ever and whatever he might be. This was the cause that he
would still plead in the forum of public opinion. " Let it not be
said,** he wrote to a meeting of his old Abolition friends, two
months before his death, " that the old Abolitionist stopped with
the negro, and was never able to see that the same principles
claimed his utmost effort to protect all labor, white and black,
and to further the discussion of every claim of humanity.'*

Was this the habit of mere agitation, the restless discontent
that followed great achievement ? There were those who thought
so. But they were critics of a temperament which did not note
that with Phillips agitation was a principle, and a deliberately
chosen method to definite ends. There were still vast questions
springing from the same root of selfishness and injustice as the
question of slavery. They must force a hearing in the same
way. He would not adopt in middle life the career of politics,
which he had renounced in youth, however seductive that career
might be, whatever its opportunities and rewards, because the
purpose had grown with his growth and strengthened with his
strength, to form public opinion rather than to represent it, in
making or in executing the laws. To form public opinion upon
vital public questions by public discussion, but by public discus-
sion absolutely fearless and sincere, and conducted with honest
faith in the people to whom the argument was addressed — this
was the service which he had long performed, and this he would
still perform, and in the familiar way.



244 GEORGE WILLIAM CURTIS

His comprehensive philanthropy had made him, even during
the antislavery contest, the untiring advocate of other great re-
forms. His powerful presentation of the justice and reason of
the political equality of women, at Worcester, in 1857, more than
any other single impulse launched that question upon the sea of
popular controversy. In the general statement of principle, noth-
ing has been added to that discourse. In vivid and effective
eloquence of advocacy it has never been surpassed. All the ar-
guments for independence echoed John Adams in the Continental
Congress; all the pleas for applying the American principle of
representation to the wives and mothers of American citizens
echo the eloquence of Wendell Phillips at Worcester. His, also,
was the voice that summoned the temperance voters of the Com-
monwealth to stand up and be counted; the voice which reso-
lutely and definitely exposed the crime to which the busy American
mind and conscience are at last turning — the American crime
against the Indians. Through him the sorrow of Crete, the trag-
edy of Ireland, pleaded with America. In the terrible experience
of the early antislavery debate, when the Church and refined
society seemed to be the rampart of slavery, he had learned pro-
found distrust of that conservatism of prosperity which chills
human sympathy and narrows the conscience. So the vast com-
binations of capital, in these later days, with their immense mo-
nopolies and imperial power, seemed to him sure to corrupt the
Government and to obstruct and threaten the real welfare of the
people. He felt, therefore, that what is called the respectable
class is often really, but unconsciously and with a generous pur-
pose, not justly estimating its own tendency, the dangerous class.
He was not a party politician; he cared little for party or for
party leaders. But any political party which in his judgment
represented the dangerous tendency was a party to be defeated in
the interest of the peace and progress of all the people.

But his judgment, always profoundly sincere, was it not some-
times profoundly mistaken ? No nobler friend of freedom and
of man than Wendell Phillips ever breathed upon this continent,
and no man's service to freedom surpasses his. But before the
war he demanded peaceful disunion — yet it was the Union in
arms that saved Liberty. During the war he would have super-
seded Lincoln — but it was Lincoln who freed the slaves. He
pleaded for Ireland, tortured by centuries of misrule, and while
every generous heart followed with sympathy the pathos and the



GEORGE WILLIAM CURTIS ^4:^

power of his appeal, the just mind recoiled from the sharp ar-
raignment of the truest friends in England that Ireland ever had.
I know it all; but I know also, and history will remember, that
the slave Union which he denounced is dissolved; that it was the
heart and conscience of the nation, exalted by his moral appeal
of agitation, as well as by the enthusiasm of patriotic war, which
held up the hands of Lincoln, and upon which Lincoln leaned
in emancipating the slaves, and that only by indignant and ag-
gressive appeals like his has the heart of England ever opened
to Irish wrong.

No man, I say, can take a pre-eminent and effective part in
contentions that shake nations, or in the discussion of great na-
tional policies, of foreign relations, of domestic economy and
finance, without keen reproach and fierce misconception. ^* But
death, ^^ says Bacon, ^^bringeth good fame.*' Then, if moral integ-
rity remain unsoiled, the purpose pure, blameless the life, and
patriotism as shining as the sun, conflicting views and differing
counsels disappear, and firmly fixed upon character and actual
achievement, good fame rests secure. Eighty years ago, in this
city, how unsparing was the denunciation of John Adams for be-
traying and ruining his party, for his dogmatism, his vanity and
ambition, for his exasperating impracticability — he, the Colossus
of the Revolution ! And Thomas Jefferson ? I may truly say
what the historian says of the Saracen mothers and Richard
Coeur de Lion, that the mothers of Boston hushed their children
with fear of the political devil incarnate of Virginia. But, when
the drapery of mourning shrouded the columns and overhung
the arches of Faneuil Hall, Daniel Webster did not remember
that sometimes John Adams was imprudent and Thomas Jeffer-
son sometimes unwise. He remembered only that John Adams
and Thomas Jefferson were two of the greatest American patriots
— and their fellow-citizens of every party bowed their heads and
said, Amen. I am not here to declare that the judgment of
Wendell Phillips was always sound, nor his estimate of men al-
ways just, nor his policy always approved by the event. He
would have scorned such praise. I am not here to eulogize the
mortal, but the immortal. He, too, was a great American patriot;
and no American life — no, not one — offers to future generations
of his countrymen a more priceless example of inflexible fidelity
to conscience and to public duty; and no American more truly



346 GEORGE WILLIAM CURTIS

than he purged the national name of its shame, and made the
American flag the flag of hope for mankind.

Among her noblest children his native city will cherish him,
and gratefully recall the unbending Puritan soul that dwelt in a
form so gracious and urbane. The plain house in which he
lived, — severely plain, because the welfare of the suffering and
the slave were preferred to books and pictures and every fair
device of art; the house to which the North Star led the trem-
bling fugitive, and which the unfortunate and the friendless
knew ; the radiant figure passing swiftly through these streets,
plain as the house from which it came, regal with a royalty be-
yond that of kings; the ceaseless charity untold; the strong
sustaining heart of private friendship; the sacred domestic affec-
tions that must not here be named; the eloquence which, like
the song of Orpheus, will fade from living memory into a doubt-
ful tale; that great scene of his youth in Faneuil Hall; the sur-
render of ambition; the mighty agitation and the mighty triumph
with which his name is forever blended; the consecration of a
life hidden with God in sympathy with man — these, all these,
will live among your immortal traditions, heroic even in your
heroic story. But not yours alone! As years go by, and only
the large outlines of lofty American characters and careers re-
main, the wide republic will confess the benediction of a life like
this, and gladly own that if with perfect faith and hope assured
America would still stand and "bid the distant generations hail,^*
the inspiration of her national life must be the sublime moral
courage, the all-embracing humanity, the spotless integrity, the
absolutely unselfish devotion of great powers to great public
ends, which were the glory of Wendell Phillips.




LORD CURZON

(GEORGE NATHANIEL, BARON CURZON OF KEDLESTON,

IRELAND)

(1859-....)

iHEN he is speaking in the House of Lords, Lord Curzon, of
Kedleston, may often, though not always, illustrate the art
in oratory which manifests itself in the dignity of restraint,
demonstrating the repose which the late Laureate has led many to ex-
pect as the hall-mark of "the caste of Vere de Vere." If "often," this
is not "always" the case, for those who follow the parliamentary de-
bates through the proceedings of the Lords may form the habit of grow-
ing suddenly broad awake at the name of Curzon, of Kedleston. As a
defender of the Lords in their aggregated official presence, this "rous-
ing" quality of his eloquence is very likely to overcome the restraint of
their dignity in such emergencies as belong to modern times of crisis.
Away from their presence, his oratory is always likely to become rous-
ing, as he suddenly thrusts home with the point at issue. Whether he is
defining India as the most valuable British asset, or explaining all civil-
ization as the "work of aristocracies," with Renan as his authority. Lord
Curzon, as a "representative Irish peer," is always likely to become sud-
denly as striking in the Celtic sense as if he were to the blood as well
as to the manner born, under the striking traditions of Celtic argument.
He was born at Kedleston, January 11, 1859, ^s the eldest son of
the Reverend Alfred Nathaniel Holden Curzon, fourth Baron Scars-
dale. Though trained at Eton and Oxford, he may have begun a still
more important course in education later, when, in 1885, he began the
study of Conservative statesmanship as one of the undersecretaries of



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 4) → online text (page 33 of 39)