John Ireland.

Address at the unveiling of the statue of General Shields : in the Capitol of Minnesota, October 20, 1914 online

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Online LibraryJohn IrelandAddress at the unveiling of the statue of General Shields : in the Capitol of Minnesota, October 20, 1914 → online text (page 1 of 1)
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To James Shields, the soldier, the statesman, the jurist,
honor is paid by the citizenship of Minnesota. A monument of
him is enthroned in the hall of the Capitol of the State, there to
perpetuate his name and memory, to the intent that coming
generations may know him, and, knowing him, emulate in the
service of humanity and of country his deeds of noble and dis-
interested patriotism and valor.

No unusual occurrence is it in America that a monument be
built to pay honor to James Shields. In the Hall of Fame, be-
neath the dome of the Capitol of the nation in Washington,
stands his figure, placed there by the State of Illinois, when it
was summoned to name to America 's admiring vision two of its
most distinguished citizens. A statue also has been erected to
him by the State of Missouri, in the public square of the City of
Carrollton. Minnesota may well, without fear or peril of blame,
do as its sister states, Illinois and Missouri, have done, extol
the fame of "the Jurist, the Statesman, the Soldier," James
Shields, and do so with especial joyousness, inasmuch as at
one period of his career he was a citizen and a loyal servant of
our commonwealth.

From 1855 to 1860 James Shields claimed Minnesota as his
home. "While commissioner of the Federal Land Office in Wash-
ington, he had learnt of the fertility of our fields and the salu-
briousness of our climate, and had resolved, that, when freed
from the toils of public office, he would draw hither colonists
from the ranks of his fellow Irishmen in the Eastern States and
in Ireland itself, less likely to find elsewhere than in Minnesota
peace and prosperity. He became one of the proprietors and


founders of what is now the flourishing City of Faribault, and
thence sent far and wide invitations to settlement in the neigh-
boring districts. The fruits of his labors as a colonizer are the
townships of Shieldsville, Erin, Kilkenny, Montgomery, in our
Counties of Rice and Le Sueur, where reside hundreds of in-
dustrious and wealthy farmers, of whose good American citi-
zenship their Celtic names give sure guarantee. When the first
legislature of the newly organized State of Minnesota convened
in 1858, it chose, as its representatives in the Senate of the
United States, Henry M. Rice and James Shields, the conti-
nent-wide fame of the latter commending him to the electors in
lieu of more immediate labors in Minnesota itself. As the result
of the drawing of lots between the new senators, James Shields
took to himself the short term of two years. This expired, the
majority in the State Legislature meanwhile having changed
its political coloring, he ceased his service in Washington, and
shortly afterward sought a new home in California.

James Shields was the Irishman and the American, the
Irishman by birth, temper, and education, the American by
loyalty and service, the Irishman and the American to a
typical degree. His whole career is summed up in those words,
the Irishman and the American.

I give the outlines of his life. He was born in Ireland in
1806, of honorable and respected lineage. His direct ancestor,
with four sons, fought on the losing side in the battle of the
Boyne, one of those sons later joining the army of Spain, and
there rising from one honor to another until finally he was com-
missioned the Captain General of Cuba. An immediate uncle
of our hero was a soldier in America's revolutionary war and
in that of 1812. James decidedly sprung from a family in which
fear of the battlefield was unknown. In his native isle he re-
ceived, mainly through the tutorship of another uncle, a priest
who had been a professor in the College of Maynooth, a liberal
education. At the age of sixteen he emigrated from Ireland in
search of fortune in other lands. Arrived in America, he first
adopted a seafaring life, afterwards serving as a soldier in the
Seminole War, thence pushing westward to Kaskaskia, at the
time the Territorial capital of Illinois. There he was the school-


teacher, the lawyer, and quickly the office-holder. He served
four years in the State Legislature, was elected State Auditor,
and in 1843 succeeded Stephen A. Douglas as Justice of the
Supreme Court of Illinois. Two years later he was named by
President James K. Polk, Commissioner of the Land Office in
Washington. This office he resigned to become the brigadier
general of volunteers, to be soon brevetted major general, in
the Mexican War. The war over, he was named by President
Polk governor of the newly organized Territory of Oregon, a
position, however, which he did not accept a higher distinc-
tion coming to him from the State of Illinois. Illinois chose
him as its representative in the Senate of the United States,
where he served the full term of six years. In 1855 he was in
Minnesota, the colonizer, and later its representative in the
Senate of the United States. The outbreak of the Civil War
found him a resident of California. At once he buckled on his
warrior sword, and was appointed by President Lincoln briga-
dier general, soon to be major general of the volunteer army. In
1863 he resigned his commission in the army, owing to misun-
derstandings with the Secretary of War, Mr. Stanton. Mis-
souri now became his home. Here he was Adjutant General of
the State, and later was chosen again to membership in the
Senate of the United States, occupying the seat vacated through
the death of Senator Bogy. Later he filled two terms in the
State Legislature. The last years of his life were spent in cul-
tivating a modest farm near Carrollton, in Missouri, and giving
lectures in different parts of the country in aid of charitable
and religious works. He died in 1879, leaving to his wife and
children all that he was able to leave to them as the pecuniary
result of his many years of civil and militant office-holding
his few acres of farm land, the diamond-studded swords which
had been given to him, one by the State of South Carolina, the
other by the State of Illinois, and his blessing.

A wonderful career, that of James Shields, in the pictur-
esqueness of its varieties, in the confidences reposed in him by
his fellow Americans from Illinois to Washington City, from
Minnesota to Missouri, in the enthusiasms his name everywhere
was wont to evoke ; and wonderful, equally so, in the talents he


displayed wherever the can TO oince placed mm, magnificently
so in the martial skill and bravery of which his sword was ever
the token upon fields of gore and glory. Picturesqueness it is,
seldom equalled in the fortunes of other heroes though so
many and so illustrious in the annals of America. Only re-
call the chief head-lines in the narratives of his career, Soldier
and Statesman ; Jurist and Orator ; Legislator in the chief cities
of two states; Senator of the United States from three of its
commonwealths ; Soldier in three American wars.

Fellow Americans, we announce a noble name, when that of
James Shields is spoken; we glorify a noble memory, when we
fling out his figure to the gratitude and the admiration of
Americans of today, of Americans of tomorrow.

To what do we attribute these manifold honors, bedecking
the years in the career of James Shields?

It is plain from the record that James Shields was no in-
triguer in politics, no shrewd, insidious wire-puller. He was
ignorant of the arts of combinations and machineries. He was
the single-minded and the open-tongued citizen. He simply
showed himself as he was, willing to take what was offered,
unwilling, unable even, to plan for favor of preferment. He
was the old-fashioned knight, without fear, but, also, without
reproach. Nor, as distinction of office came, was he cunning in
schemes to retain it. He did his duty, regardless of conse-
quences, regardless of the dictates of the political party that
had entrusted him with power, bidding friends and foes to
judge his deeds on their bare desert. At all times, and in all
stations, he was James Shields, to be taken, or to be pushed
aside, for what he was, for what he was believed to be.

To what, then, is due his career? To personal character and
qualifications; to value of service rendered, whatever the posi-
tion to which he was lifted; to the willingness of America to
recognize and reward merit, wherever merit is discernible.

Shields was the good man. His private life was above re-
proach. No weakness was his in the use of drink; no moral
stain ever darkened his escutcheon. In him deep religious con-
viction begot the personal and social virtues, and brightened
their uses and practices. I might, perhaps, blame the impetu-


osity of a moment which led him to the brink of a duel with a
famed citizen, Abraham Lincoln. Let the false notions of
honor, prevailing at the time, excuse the one and the other.

Shields was the gentleman, in manner polished and refined ;
in the maintenance of principle, the soul itself of honor and
integrity. A base proposal would have at once awakened in
him indignant ire. To give service, to friend or to foe, was the
imperious dictate of his code of chivalry.

We read of the typical Irish gentleman. That was Shields,
warm Celtic blood ever coursing in his veins, kingly Irish tradi-
tions ever ruling heart and head. He had the Celtic faults,
he was emotional, maybe now and then too quick in decision,
too impatient, perhaps, for his own welfare, too much of a rover
and a seeker of new things. But at times those very faults
served him well, as when his sword was brandished on the bat-
tlefield. And with Celtic faults he had all the Celtic virtues.
Brave he was and valorous, generous of gift and service, the
high-tempered knight, whose flashing passage across the ranks
of fellow-men sheds over our world of dull matter and selfish
plodding the sunshine of uplifting poetry, the sweetness of the
supernal life.

Shields was the scholar. His early liberal education served
him well, and continuous study through the years increased its
brilliancy and power. And, of course, he was the orator, hold-
ing, as charmed victims of his fiery phrase and his orphean
voice, no less the sages of legislative and senatorial halls than
the ruder and less thinking multitudes of voters of Kaskaskia,
Vandalia, and Springfield.

Rushed from one occupation to another, from one political
office to another, he was at home, whatever the duties assigned
to him. His talents were most varied in kind. As lawyer and
as justice of the Supreme Court of Illinois, he had his reward in
the genial companionship and the esteem of great men, of whom
Illinois was at the time the plentiful parent, and all America the
proud beneficiary, Abraham Lincon, John M. Palmer, E. B.
Washburn, Stephen T. Logan, to name but the few. As Auditor
of the State of Illinois, he wrested from confusion and uncer-
tainty its financial budget, and placed it on a secure and envi-


able foundation. In legislative halls he was the skilled debater,
the magnetic speaker, the promoter of whatever was wise and
just, himself the author of several useful and far-reaching meas-
ures. In Washington they were the days of Webster, Clay,
Calhoun, Sumner, Jefferson Davis, Breckenridge. In no way
was Shields below the exalted standard then set to the law-
makers of America. I note but a few of the famed issues amid
which he was the consistent champion of righteous patriotism,
that of allotment of free homes on the lands of the national
domain to soldiers of the Mexican War, and to actual settlers,
that opposing the extension of slavery to newly organized
states, that of the preservation of the nation as one and indivisi-

His own party was opposed to him in the question of the
extension of slavery. The admission of California to statehood
was the occasion. Shields' greatest speech entered into the
debate. I quote a passage, showing not only his firmness of
resolve with regard to the extension of slavery, but also his
prophetic view of things to come, of things that are today:
"Sir, they are laying the foundations of a great empire on the
shores of the Pacific, a mighty empire, an empire that at some
future day will carry your flag, your commerce, your arts and
your arms into Asia, and through China, Hindustan, and Persia,
into Western Europe. Talk about carrying slavery there, of
imposing such a blight upon that people, of withering their
strength and paralyzing their energies by such an institution !
No, Sir, such a thing was never intended by God, and will
never be permitted by man."

As to the perpetuation of the Union, his voice always rose
loud amid the threats of secession, then thundering through
senate and chamber, always proclaiming that secession would
be the blackest of crimes, the most stupid of follies, that never
should America permit or endure it.

Always James Shields was the truest of patriots, the most
earnest and loyal of Americans. Country was his idol. To
country he gallantly sacrificed personal interest, dictate of
party, hope and prospect of popular applause and approval. It
is the undoubted and indubitable fact: From every office, of


the many held by him, at one time or another, under the gift of
one state or of another, Shields always went back to private
life with clean hands, poor in the possession of all emoluments,
save that of honor for faithful service.

But, whatever his other achievements, it is the field of war
where James Shields is to be seen at his best. There his Celtic
nature bursts forward in special efflorescence. Above all else
he is the soldier. As the soldier, especially, we salute him, we
honor him. All the virtues of the soldier are in him in
plenary apportionment, skill of strategy, firmness of discipli-
nary mastership, magic power of control of troops, undaunted
courage, a dash in attack that bewilders, an endurance of pain
and fatigue that secures victory when defeat is most threaten-
ing. The vanguard is always his coveted place, there brandish-
ing his sword, compelling by sheer magnetism of example oth-
ers to follow his lead. Wounded he was wounded in almost
every engagement he still fights on, so long as strength to
move remains. Compelled to retire, he frets like the caged lion,
until again he has leaped into the saddle. Warriors of Napo-
leon, Ney, Murat, McDonald, how fittingly Shields should have
ridden with them ! I must not tarry in details. Let praise
from General Scott suffice. In his report of the battle of Cerro
Gordo, the commander-in-chief wrote : ' ' General Shields, a
commander of activity, zeal and talent, is, I fear, if not dead,
mortally wounded. ' ' Later he said : ' ' Shields ' brigade, brave-
ly assaulting the left, carried the rear battery (five guns) on
the Islapa road, and added materially in the rout of the enemy. ' '
And again : ' * The brigade so gallantly led by General Shields,
and after his fall by Colonel Baker, deserves commendation for
fine behavior and success."

Scarcely convalescent, Shields is again on his charger in the
march to the City of Mexico always the undaunted soldier.
In the battle of Contreras, "Shields," said General Scott, "by
the wise disposition of his brigade and gallant activity, con-
tributed much to the general results. He held masses of cav-
alry and infantry, supported by artillery, in check below him,
and captured hundreds, with one general (Mendoza) of those
who fled from above. " "At Cherubusco, ' ' I still quote General


Scott, "Shields concentrated the division about a hamlet and
determined the attack in front. The battle was long, hot and
varied; but ultimately success crowned the zeal and gallantry
of our troops, ably directed by their distinguished commander,
General Shields." At Chapultepec, his horse was killed under
him ; Shields fought on foot, bareheaded, in shirt sleeves, lead-
ing his brigade, sword in hand. Yet another wound, but no
cessation of rush and combat. Shields' command led the van
into the City of Mexico, and first planted the Stars and Stripes
on the walls of the Belen Gate.

Came the great war, the war for the salvation of the Union.
Shields, a resident of California, bounded across the continent,
joyous to be again a soldier. He was commissioned brigadier
and assigned to the Shenandoah Valley. At Winchester he met
Stonewall Jackson, fated there to meet under the blow of our
own hero his only defeat. Shields again was wounded; much
of the engagement he directed from his blood-stained cot, in the
rear of his command ; Colonel Kimball, who led the final charge,
reported, after the victory, that in all details he carried out the
plans and directions of his leader. Shields' division alone had
confronted Jackson's much larger army, and had won the vic-
tory. If later, at Port Republic, Jackson did not receive an-
other severe defeat, it was because orders given by General
Shields to burn the bridge across Aquia Creek, for some un-
explained reason, had not been obeyed. This is the testimony
of General Gates, an officer under Stonewall Jackson, speaking
at the unveiling of the Shields Statue in the Capitol at "Wash-
ington: "Had General Shields' orders been obeyed, there was
no escape for Jackson." The orders obeyed, the bridge burnt,
one of the most decisive victories of the War should have been
gained by General Shields.

General Shields resigned from the army March 28, 1863. I
take his act to have been a mistake. He and the Secretary of
War, Mr. Stanton, were not in accord. Shields should have
borne with patience Mr. Stanton 's displeasure and gone for-
ward in spite of temporary opposition, gone whither his merits
bade him go, forward to greater victories and higher rewards.
It was a mistake of his Celtic temperament, to which we must


grant indulgence, in view of the deeds of glory, of which else-
where it was the generous prompter.

General Shields is the soldier of three wars. He barely
missed being the soldier of four wars. While a resident of Min-
nesota he heard of an Indian outbreak near the southern border
line of the State. Quickly his appeal echoed through Faribault
and Shieldsville ; a troop of his Irish Colonists rallied around
him, with whatever arms, they could gather together. Soon
General Shields and his braves were on the field of strife, but,
alas for his expectation of that war, peace had already been

So, when building a monument to James Shields, we have
built it to the soldier, General Shields. Have you done well,
Companions of the Loyal Legion, Comrades of the Grand Army
of the Kepublic, in setting up before the eyes of present and
future generations, in Minnesota's Hall of Fame, the man who
rushed to war, in defence of country's rights and country's
honor? Most decidedly so. Peace is the ideal condition of
human society, all things, even war itself, must tend to peace ;
but God avert from America the ruin of its commonwealth, the
plunder of its territory, the dishonor to its flag, from which war
alone could have wrested it. Rather war, a hundred times,
than evils such as those. Never do we know when menace may
be nigh; never, consequently, must America's sons be void of
the martial spirit, which bids America ever be free, ever secure,
ever honored and respected. The names of our military heroes
are safeguards of patriotism ; their memories are perennial
founts of its life and vigor.

Another factor in the career of General Shields was America
itself. America gave to him inspiration and blessed his labor.
America rewarded his merits.

General Shields was by birth an Irishman, by religion a
Catholic. By lifelong and most loyal service,- by the oft offered
sacrifice of his blood, he was the American. Never did the
Star-spangled Banner look down upon more sincere and braver
patriotism than that which fired the heart and electrified the
sword of General James Shields. America put faith in the
plighted troth and the deeds of General Shields; accepted him


into the fullness of sonship, accorded to him all opportunities,
all rights, all privileges, within the gift of the Star-spangled
Banner. General Shields was the citizen of America ; it was all
that he should have desired, all that he could have needed for
himself, to fall or to stand. Right nobly did he stand.

Now and then whispers pass through the air that men like
to General Shields in birthplace and in religious belief are not
the truest of Americans. Such whispers are the vilest of false-
hoods. In contradiction, we evoke into speech the battlefields
reddened by the armies of America, the lakes and oceans fur-
rowed by its navies ; we evoke into speech the monument erect-
ed this day, within the Capitol of Minnesota, to the name and
the fame of General James Shields.

Back again, General Shields, to Minnesota, back with the
memories of your services to Minnesota itself, with the glories
in other states of the Union, back with the triumphant flags of
Cerro Cordo, and of Winchester, back, the true and loyal son
and servant of the Republic of the United States of America.
Our Welcome the welcome of our admiration and love is



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Online LibraryJohn IrelandAddress at the unveiling of the statue of General Shields : in the Capitol of Minnesota, October 20, 1914 → online text (page 1 of 1)