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

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quent, and he is generally classed as a typical Athenian
demagogue. Perhaps much of his evil reputation is due to the come-
dies of Aristophanes, in which he was violently attacked. It is said
that the poet had a private grudge against him, because of a com-
plaint made to the Athenian Senate that the <' Babylonians ^^ held
Athenian institutions up to ridicule. However this may be, Cleon,
though the son of a tanner, and rude enough in his methods, was
certainly not wholly a demagogue in the modern sense, for in his
speech against the Mityleneans, reported by Thucydides, he begins
by boldly questioning the fitness of the turbulent Athenian democ-
racy to rule subject colonies. The date of Cleon's birth is uncertain.
He became noted at Athens after the death of Pericles as the leader
of the Athenian Democrats against the Aristocratic party under
Nicias. In 425 B. C. he carrried on a successful campaign against
the Spartans, but in 422 B. C, when put at the head of the expedition
against Brasidas, the Lacedaemonian commander, he was defeated
and killed at Amphipolis.


(From the Speech Against Mitylene as Reported by Thucydides in the Third

Book of the Peloponnesian War)

UPON many other occasions my own experience hath convinced
me that a democracy is incapable of ruling over others,
but I see it with the highest certainty now in this your
present repentance concerning the Mityleneans. In security so
void of terror, in safety so exempt from treachery, you pass your
days within the walls of Athens, that you are grown quite safe
and secure about your dependants. Whenever, soothed by their
specious entreaties, you betray your judgment or relent in pity,
not a soul amongst you reflects that you are acting the dastardly
part, not in truth to confer obligations upon those dependants,
but to endanger your own welfare and safety. It is then quite



remote from your thoughts, that your rule over them is in fact
a tyranny, that they are ever intent on prospects to shake off
your yoke — that yoke, to which they ever reluctantly submitted.
It is not forgiveness on your part, after injuries received, that
can keep them fast in their obedience, since this must be ever
the consequence of your own superior power, and not of grati-
tude in them.

Above all, I dread that extremity of danger to which we
are exposed, if not one of your decrees must ever be carried
into act and we remain forever ignorant that the community
which uniformly abides by a worse set of laws hath the advantage
over another which is finely modeled in every respect except
in practice; that modest ignorance is a much surer support than
genius which scorns to be controlled, and that the duller part
of mankind in general administer public affairs much better than
your men of vivacity and wit. The last assume a pride in ap-
pearing wiser than the laws; in every debate about the public
good they aim merely at victory, as if there were no other points
sufficiently important wherein to display their superior talents;
and by such conduct they generally subvert the public wel-
fare; the former, who are diffident of their own abilities, who
regard themselves as less wise than the laws of their country —
though unable to detect the specious orator, yet being better
judges of equity than champions in debate, for the most part
enforce rational conduct. This beyond denial is our duty at
present; we should scorn competitions in eloquence and wit, nor
willfully and contrary to our own opinion mislead the judgment
of this full assembly.

For my part, I persist in my former declarations, and I am
surprised at the men who propose to have the affair of Mitylene
again debated, who endeavor to protract the execution of justice,
in the interest of the guilty more than of the injured. For by
this means the sufferer proceeds to take vengeance on the crimi-
nal with the edge of his resentment blunted; when revenge, the
opposite of wrong, the more nearly it treads upon the heels of
injury, generally inflicts the more condign punishment. But I am
more surprised at him, whoever he be, that shall dare to contra-
dict, and pretend to demonstrate, that the injuries done by the
Mityleneans are really for our service, and that our calamities
are hardships on our dependants. He certainly must either pre-
sume upon his own eloquence, if he contends to prove that what
was plainly decreed was never decreed; or, instigated by lucre,



will endeavor to seduce you by the elaborate and plausible artifice
of words. In such contentions, the State, indeed, awards the vic-
tory to whom she pleaseth, but she sustains all the damage her-
self. You are answerable for this, Athenians — you, who fondly
dote on these wordy competitions — you, who are accustomed to
be spectators of speeches and hearers of actions. You measure
the possibility of future effects by the present eloquence of your
orators; you judge of actions already past, not by the certain con-
viction of your own eyes, but the fallible suggestions of your
ears, when soothed by the inveigling, insinuating flow of words.
You are the best in the world to be deceived by novelty of wit,
and to refuse to follow the dictates of the approved judicious
speaker, — slaves as you are to whatever trifles happen always to
be in vogue, and looking down with contempt on tried and ex-
perienced methods. The most earnest wish that the heart of any
of your body ever conceived is to become a speaker; if that be
unattainable, you range yourselves in opposition against all who
are so, for fear you should seem in judgment their inferiors.
When anything is acutely uttered, you are ready even to go be-
fore it with applause, and intimate your own preconception of
the point, at the same time dull at discerning whither it will
tend. Your whole passion, in a word, is for things that are not
in reality and common life; but of what passeth directly before
your eyes you have no proper perception. And, frankly, you are
quite infatuated by the lust of hearing, and resemble more the
idle spectators of contending sophists than men who meet to de-
liberate upon public affairs. From such vain amusements, en-
deavoring to divert you, I boldly affirm that no one city in the
world hath injured you so much as Mitylene. . . .

It is the usual effect of prosperity, especially when felt on a
sudden, and beyond their hope, to puff up a people into insolence
of manners. The successes of mankind, when attained by the
rational course, are generally of much longer continuance than
when they anticipate pursuit. And in a word, men are much
more expert at repelling adversity than preserving prosperity.
By this ought we long ago to have adjusted our conduct towards
the Mityleneans, never distinguishing them above others with
peculiar regard; and then they never would have been that inso-
lent people we have found them now. For so remarkably per-
verse is the temper of man, as ever to contemn whoever courts
him, and admire whoever will not bend before him. Let condign

punishments therefore be awarded to their demerits. . . .



[rover Ci^eveland was born at Caldwell, Essex County, New
Jersey, March i8th, 1837. He was educated at the common
schools, and admitted to the bar in 1859. His first public
position was that of Assistant District Attorney in Erie County, New
York, from 1863 till 1866. After being defeated as a candidate for
District Attorney in 1865, he remained in private life until 1870, when
he was elected Sheriff. In 1881 he was elected Mayor of Buffalo on
the Democratic ticket, and the prominence he gained as a reformer dur-
ing his administration resulted in his election as Governor of New York,
Serving as Governor from 1883 until 1884, he was nominated by the
Democrats for the Presidency and elected President in 1884. Defeated
for a second term in 1888, he was renominated and re-elected in 1892.
After the expiration of his term, in 1897, he retired to Princeton, New
Jersey, where he died June 24th, 1908.


(Delivered March 4th, 1885)
Pellozio-Citisens : —

IN THE presence of this vast assemblage of my countrymen, I am
about to supplement and seal by the oath which I shall take

the manifestation of the will of a great and free people. In
the exercise of their power and right of self-government they
have committed to one of their fellow-citizens a supreme and
sacred trust, and he here consecrates himself to their service.

This impressive ceremony adds little to the solemn sense of
responsibility with which I contemplate the duty I owe to all the
people of the land. Nothing can relieve me from anxiety lest
by any act of mine their interests may suffer, and nothing is
needed to strengthen my resolution to engage every faculty and
effort in the promotion of their welfare.

Amid the din of party strife the people's choice was made,

but its attendant circumstances have demonstrated anew the



strength and safety of a government by the people. In each
succeeding year it more clearly appears that our democratic
principle needs no apology, and that in its fearless and faithful
application is to be found the surest guaranty of good govern-

But the best results in the operation of a government wherein
every citizen has a share largely depend upon a proper limitation
of purely partisan zeal and effort and a correct appreciation of
the time when the heat of the partisan should be merged in the
patriotism of the citizen.

To-day the executive branch of the Government is transferred
to new keeping. But this is still the Government of all the peo-
ple, and it should be none the less an object of their affectionate
solicitude. At this hour the animosities of political strife, the
bitterness of partisan defeat, and the exultation of partisan tri-
umph should be supplanted by an ungrudging acquiescence in
the popular will and a sober, conscientious concern for the gen-
eral weal. Moreover, if from this hour we cheerfully and hon-
estly abandon all sectional prejudice and distrust, and determine,
with manly confidence in one another, to work out harmoniously
the achievement of our national destiny, we shall deserve to
realize all the benefits which our happy form of government can

On this auspicious occasion we may well renew the pledge of
our devotion to the Constitution, which, launched by the founders
of the Republic and consecrated by their prayers and patriotic
devotion, has for almost a century borne the hopes and the aspi-
rations of a great people through prosperity and peace and
through the shock of foreign conflicts and the perils of domestic
strife and vicissitudes.

By the Father of his Country our Constitution was com-
mended for adoption as ^^ the result of a spirit of amity and mu-
tual concession.'* In that same spirit it should be administered,
in order to promote the lasting welfare of the country and to
secure the full measure of its priceless benefits to us and to
those who will succeed to the blessings of our national life. The
large variety of diverse and competing interests subject to Fed-
eral control, persistently seeking the recognition of their claims,
need give us no fear that '^ the greatest good to the greatest
number** will fail to be accomplished if in the halls of national
legislation that spirit of amity and mutual concession shall pre-


vail in which the Constitution had its birth. If this involves the
surrender or postponement of private interests and the abandon-
ment of local advantages, compensation will be found in the
assurance that the common interest is subserved and the general
welfare advanced.

In the discharge of my official duty I shall endeavor to be
guided . by a just and unstrained construction of the Constitu-
tion, a careful observance of the distinction between the powers
granted to the Federal Government and those reserved to the
States or to the people, and by a cautious appreciation of those
functions which by the Constitution and laws have been espe-
cially assigned to the executive branch of the Government.

But he who takes the oath to-day to preserve, protect, and
defend the Constitution of the United States only assumes the
solemn obligation which every patriotic citizen — on the farm,
in the workshop, in the busy marts of trade, and everywhere —
should share with him. The Constitution which prescribes his
oath, my countrymen, is yours; the Government you have chosen
him to administer for a time is yours; the suffrage which exe-
cutes the will of freemen is yours; the laws and the entire
scheme of our civil rule, from the town meeting to the State
capitals and the national capital, is yours. Your every voter, as
surely as your Chief Magistrate, under the same high sanction,
though in a different sphere, exercises a public trust. Nor is
this all. Every citizen owes to the country a vigilant watch and
close scrutiny of its public servants and a fair and reasonable
estimate of their fidelity and usefulness. Thus is the people's
will impressed upon the whole framework of our civil polity —
municipal, State, and Federal; and this is the price of our liberty
and the inspiration of our faith in the Republic.

It is the duty of those serving the people in public place to
closely limit public expenditures to the actual needs of the Gov-
ernment economically administered, because this bounds the right
of the Government to exact tribute from the earnings of labor
or the property of the citizen, and because public extravagance
begets extravagance among the people. We should never be
ashamed of the simplicity and prudential economies which are
best suited to the operation of a republican form of government
and most compatible with the mission of the American people.
Those who are selected for a limited time to manage public
affairs are still of the people, and may do much by their example


to encourage, consistently with the dignity of their official func-
tions, that plain way of life which among their fellow-citizens
aids integrity and promotes thrift and prosperity.

The genius of our institutions, the needs of our people in
their home life, and the attention which is demanded for the set-
tlement and development of the resources of our vast territory,
dictate the scrupulous avoidance of any departure from that for-
eign policy commended by the history, the traditions, and the
prosperity of our Republic. It is the policy of independence,
favored by our position and defended by our known love of jus-
tice and by our own power. It is the policy of peace suitable
to our interests. It is the policy of neutrality, rejecting any
share in foreign broils and ambitions upon other continents and
repelling their intrusion here. It is the policy of Monroe, and
of Washington, and of Jefferson — *^ Peace, commerce, and honest
friendship with all nations; entangling alliance with none."

A due regard for the interests and prosperity of all the peo-
ple demands that our finances shall be established upon such a
sound and sensible basis as shall secure the safety and confidence
of business interests and make the wages of labor sure and
steady, and that our system of revenue shall be so adjusted as
to relieve the people of unnecessary taxation, having a due re-
gard to the interests of capital invested and workingmen em-
ployed in American industries, and preventing the accumulation
of a surplus in the treasury to tempt extravagance and waste.

Care for the property of the nation and for the needs of fut-
ure settlers requires that the public domain should be protected
from purloining schemes and unlawful occupation.

The conscience of the people demands that the Indians within
our boundaries shall be fairly and honestly treated as wards of
the Government and their education and civilization promoted
with a view to their ultimate citizenship, and that polygamy in
the Territories, destructive of the family relation and offensive to
the moral sense of the civilized world, shall be repressed.

The laws should be rigidly enforced which prohibit the immi-
gration of a servile class to compete with American labor, with
no intention of acquiring citizenship, and bringing with them and
retaining habits and customs repugnant to our civilization.

The people demand reform in the administration of the Gov-
ernment and the application of business principles to public
affairs. As a means to this end, civil service reform should be


in good faith enforced. Our citizens have the right to protec-
tion from the incompetency of public employees who hold their
places solely as the reward of partisan service, and from the cor-
rupting influence of those who promise and the vicious methods
of those who expect such rewards; and those who worthily seek
public employment have the right to insist that merit and com-
petency shall be recognized instead of party subserviency or the
surrender of honest political belief.

In the administration of a government pledged to do equal
and exact justice to all men, there should be no pretext for anx-
iety touching the protection of the freedmen in their rights or
their security in the enjoyment of their privileges under the
Constitution and its amendments. All discussion as to their fit-
ness for the place accorded to them as American citizens is idle
and unprofitable except as it suggests the necessity for their im-
provement. The fact that they are citizens entitles them to all
the rights due to that relation and charges them with all its
duties, obligations, and responsibilities.

These topics and the constant and ever-varying wants of an
active and enterprising population may well receive the attention
and the patriotic endeavor of all who make and execute the Fed-
eral law. Our duties are practical and call for industrious appli-
cation, an intelligent perception of the claims of public office,
and, above all, a firm determination, by united action, to secure
to all the people of the land the full benefits of the best form of
government ever vouchsafed to man. And let us not trust to
human effort alone, but humbly acknowledging the power and
goodness of Almighty God, who presides over the destiny of na-
tions and who has at all times been revealed in our country's
history let us invoke his aid and his blessing upon our labors.


( 1 769-1828)

jE Witt Clinton was the foremost man in the pubHc Hfe of
New York durmg the first quarter of the nineteenth century,
and he no doubt deserves to be called the chief of those whose
sagacity and successful efforts lifted New York to its position of "Em-
pire State." He was the son of Gen. James Clinton of the Revolution,
and nephew of another statesman and general. Gov. George Clinton, of
New York, who was Vice-President of the United States from 1805
to 1812. Educated at Columbia College and admitted to the bar at the
age of twenty in 1788, he became the secretary of his uncle. Governor
Clinton, and one of the rising young men in the dominant Republican
party. After serving in both houses of the State legislature, he became
United States Senator in 1802. Besides being a member of the State
senate and Lieutenant-Governor (from 181 1 to 1813), he was Mayor
of the city of New York from 1803 to 1815, with the exception of two
short intervals amounting to three years. In 1812 he was defeated as a
candidate for the Presidency by James Madison. He then devoted
himself to plans for internal improvement of which he had long been
a distinguished advocate. The Federal Government having refused to
undertake the proposed canals from the Hudson to Lake Erie and Lake
Champlain, he presented a memorial which induced the State legislature
to enter upon the preliminary steps. On this issue he was elected Gov-
ernor in 1816, and re-elected in 1819, in 1824, and 1826. He was born
at Little Britain, Orange County, New York, March 2d, 1769, and died
February nth, 1828, at Albany.


(Delivered in the New York Constitutional Convention of June, 1788. From

Elliot's Debates)

I RISE, Mr. Chairman, to make a few observations, with a view
to obtaining information, and discovering on which side of
this important question the truth rests. I have attended with
pleasure to the gentlemen who have spoken before me. They

appear, however, to have omitted some considerations, which have



tended to convince my mind that the representation in Congress
ought to be more comprehensive and full than is proposed by
this Constitution. It is said that the representation of this State
in the legislature is smaller than the representation of the
United States will be in the General Government. Hence it is
inferred that the Federal Government, which, it is said, does not
embrace more powers than that of the States, will be more favor-
able to the liberties of the people, on the principle that safety
consists in numbers. This appears plausible at first view; but
if we examine it we shall discover it to be only plausible. The
cases, indeed, are so different as to admit of little comparison;
and this dissimilarity depends on the difference of extent of ter-
ritory. Each State is but a narrow district compared with the
United States. The situation of its commerce, its agriculture,
and the system of its resources, will be proportionably more
Uniform and simple. To a knowledge of these circumstances,
therefore, every member of the State legislature will be in some
degree competent. He will have a considerable share of infor-
mation necessary for enacting laws which are to operate in
every part of the State. The easy communication with a large
number of representatives from the minute districts of the State
will increase his acquaintance with the public wants. All the
representatives, having the same advantages, will furnish a mass
of information which will be the securest defense from error.
How different will be the situation of the General Government!
The body of the Legislature will be totally unacquainted with
all those local circumstances of any particular State, which mark
the proper objects of laws, and especially of taxation. A few
men, possessed of but a very general knowledge of these objects,
must alone furnish Congress with that information on which they
are to act; and on th«-se few men, in the most interesting trans-
actions, must they rely. Do not these considerations afford rea-
sons for enlargement of the representation ?

Another argument may be suggested to show that there will
be more safety in the State than in the Federal Government.
In the State, the legislature, being generally known, and under
the perpetual observation of their fellow-citizens, feel strongly
the check resulting from the facility of communication and dis-
covery. In a small territory, maladministration is easily cor-
rected, and designs unfavorable to liberty frustrated and punished.
But in large confederacies, the alarm excited by small and


gradual encroachments rarely extends to the distant members, or
inspires a general spirit of resistance. When we take a view of
the United States, we find them embracing interests as various
as their territory is extensive. Their habits, their productions,
their resources, and their political and commercial regulations, are
as different as those of any nation upon earth. A general law,
therefore, which might be well calculated for Georgia, might
operate most disadvantageously and cruelly upon New York.
However, I only suggest these observations for the purpose of
hearing them satisfactorily answered. I am open to conviction,
and if my objections can be removed, I shall be ready frankly
to acknowledge their weakness. ...

I declare, solemnly, that I am a friend to a strong and effi-
cient government. But, sir, we may err in this extreme; we
may erect a system that will destroy the liberties of the people.
Sir, at the time some of these resolves were passed, there was a
dangerous attempt to subvert our liberties, by creating a supreme
dictator. There are many gentlemen present who know how
strongly I opposed it. My opposition was at the very time we
were surrounded by difficulties and danger. The people, when
wearied wifeh their distresses, will, in the moment of frenzy, be
guilty of the most imprudent and desperate measures. Because
a strong government was wanted during the late war, does it

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 8 of 39)