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Oration, poem, speeches, chronicles, &c., at the dedication of the Malden town hall on Thursday evening, October 29th, 1857 online

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God, and advancement of the Christian faith, and honor of our
King and Country, a voyage to plant the first Colony in the
Northern parts of Virginia, do by these presents solemnly and
mutually, in the presence of God, and one to another, covenant
and combine ourselves together into a Civil body politic, for our
better ordering and preservation, and furthermore of the ends
aforesaid ; by virtue hereof, to enact, constitute, and form such
just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices,
from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and conven-
ient for the general good of the colony, unto which we promise
all due submission and obedience.

'In witness whereof we have hereunder subscribed our names,
at Cape Cod, the 11th of November, in the year of the reign of
our sovereign lord. King James of England, France, and Ire-
land, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth, Anno
Domini, 1620.'

That Paper begot the Declaration of Independence, which
was passed by the Continental Congress, July 4th, 1776. That
paper, from the situation and forming power given to its sign-
ers, the first founders of a colony to stamp the character of



14

coming states, was the initiative of a new outgrowth in history,
unlike and in advance of all that the world had ever before seen.

That Paper was founded on a higher estimate of manhood
than the famous Magna Charta, which is the basis of the Eng-
lish Constitution ; for the Magna Charta merely wrings out of
a reluctant sovereign a few privileges for a special class, thus
conceding that what is not granted may rightly be retained.
But the May Flower Paper assumes all to be equal both in ob-
ligation to the law and in power to make it. Beautifully pro-
phetic name was that. Some angel must have suggested the
word when that little one hundred and eighty ton craft was to
receive its title. For in that little boat sprung up after a long
and tedious winter of centuries a delicate heaven-tinted blossom,
which proved to be no feeble plant, but hardy and reproductive,
destined to clothe America with beauty and ere long to perfume
the world.

Is it not fitting then that we now, sitting for the first time
within these walls, should rejoice in the vital principle that they
represent ? Happy is that people that can comprehend a prin-
ciple ! Our fathers comprehended one, and for its triumph
fought long and well.

These walls body forth a principle ; and were they far less
attractive than they are, were this building like that of our fath-
ers, thirty-three feet square, and rough and unsightly, still
would we exult in it as a town-house, because it asserts a vital
law, the very heart and centre of all genuine political freedom.

I need not describe to you the workings of those principles in
all our institutions. I need not portray to you the backward
fermenting influence of these primal laws in the structures of
European society, by which the joints of despotic fabrics are
loosening, and all kinds of temporary expedients are tried to
support them, and every school of medicine puts forth its skill
to keep the ' sick men ' alive — all of which will fail till they re-
turn to the simplicity of nature and work from within outward,
from the elements upward, from the individual, and the fam-
ily through some political organization corresponding to our
town.

A momentous question is it now with some whether the foun-



15

dation we have is capable of bearing the immense weight that
society on this continent must soon assume. It is a pleasing
and favorite practice to cast the horoscope of American destiny.
Nor is it by astrologic dreams, but by mathematical calculations
based upon solid facts, and in strict accordance with known
laws, that we by prophetic glass see North America peopled
with its hundreds of millions of civilized men. We expect here,
even as we believe in continued progress, to see every useful art
carried to a higher perfection than has yet been reached ; to
see marks of utility and beauty unparalleled, to see agriculture
and all kindred productive labor perfected ; to see every educa-
tional and reformative and preservative agency fully developed,
upon a scale of grandeur and in a degree of advancement never
before witnessed.

But there are those whose visions of American prophecy are
sombre and forbidding. History to them reveals no law of pro-
gress but constant repetition. The ages are to rush on in their
treadmill cycles of destiny, never to rise above the ignorance,
superstition, and degradation of the past. Liberty, and knowl-
edge, and cultivation, and independence, are for the aristocracy ;
the great multitude must ever be a kind of semi-animate basis
on which the fortunate surface few shall rest and rejoice, the
mass below forming material for census reports, for the rank
and file in war, for productive service in peace, but wholly de-
prived of independent thought and action. These atrabiliary
interpreters of history do not attribute American freedom and
energy to its political institutions, nor to its schools and reli-
gion ; but to the thinness of its population, to its millions of
unappropriated acres, and to the fancied ease with which in a
new land the necessaries of life may be procured. And these
same dark-visaged prophets assure us, that when the United
States shall have its two or three hundred millions of human
beings it will be impossible to preserve a republican form of
government ; the bulk will be too massive for self control, the
people will be too ignorant, prejudiced, mutually hostile ; pas-
sion will be too strong, conflicting interests too violent, dema-
gogues too shrewd, and a sovereign will be needed with his ar-
my and nobility to preserve the form of order in the immense



16

mass. Then individualism shall die — for individualism in the
multitude and despotism cannot co-exist. The two facts are
contradictory and the one or the other must yield. The popu-
lation must be degraded into a mass to be counted or measured
by the foot or the cord, like wood, or mud, instead of being esti-
mated as so many individual intellects and souls to be trained
for thought and action here, and forever.

Let us allow no such vaticination to trouble our vision. We
repel it, not only because it conflicts with the promises of Christ-
ianity, the deductions of philosophy, and the rightly interpreted
teachings of history, but because we see in present American
institutions, if they are perfected and preserved, power to sus-
tain and vitalize a nation of any conceivable extent and number.
Yes, we do firmly believe that the fundamental idea of individ-
ual independent right and responsibility — the fact so well ex-
pressed in our noble Declaration — " all men are created 'free
and equal " — will yet with the force of an axiom find its way to
the universal mind, and like the Sun melt away all despotism,
and cause to spring up everywhere political institutions vital
and beautiful like that embodied in the American town.

For, be it observed, that there is this difference between na-
tions based on despotism and those based on freedom ; the for-
mer become unwieldy and unmanageable by growth, while the
latter will and must become by the same process more perma-
nent and mighty. Every additional State, in which the primal
conditions of safety are observed, strengthens the ties that bind
this union together. Any dangers that threaten our grand con-
federacy of States, do not arise from extent or numbers, but
from a want in some of the parts of individual cultivation in
the population, and also of the primary political institutions out
of which the great free State grows. The most essential of
these prime institutions is the true democratic town. Were all
of the United States, exclusive of the Territories as thickly pop-
ulated as Massachusetts, we should have a grand population of
about 190 millions, which is nearly equal to the whole of Europe
exclusive of Russia. And were the whole United States ex-
cluding its Territories as thickly inhabited as the Eastern half
of Massachusetts, it would contain a population equal to the



17

whole of Europe, including Russia. And yet nowhere does the
Republican system of government work moie perfectly and sat-
islactorily than in dense and enlightened Massachusetts. No-
where else is the theory better understood ; nowhere else is
there quite so perfect and harmonious and complete development
of it, in all its appendages and demands ; and nowhere else on
the round earth do all the people enjoy so high educational ad-
vantages.

It is not bulk that gives weakness — bulk makes strength.
But it must not be forgotten that in order that bulk may con-
stitute strength it is necessary that the ultimate or prime ele-
ments, out of which the bulk grows, should be properly consti-
tuted and arranged, and should in fact have each of the essen-
tial properties desirable in the final structure. This fact, con-
stituting the very pith and substance of my discourse, is of so
much value that I must illustrate it still farther.

The pyramids of Egypt are the most massive structures of
man's building. They are monuments of the earliest post-dilu-
vian history. If you inquire into the cause of this permanency
you will find it to consist partly in the solidity of the material,
and particularly in the regular mathematical forms of the con-
stituent blocks, and the nice adjustment of the joints, leaving
no fissures for the admission of destructive elements. Had they
been built of irregular stones, though piled together, with the
greatest care, they could not have withstood the silent wear of
thousands of years. But far more forcible illustrations of this
may be found in the works of God. Nature's works are always
symmetrical ; and when God seeks durability he always begins
the preparation for it in the primal element. Take for instance
the diamond, perhaps the hardest structure in nature's laboratory.
It is only by the most violent and skilful efforts that it can be
broken and reduced to powder ; and when so reduced, the mi-
croscope reveals the fact that the ultimate particles, the very
finest diamond dust, consist of perfect diamonds, each particle
as symmetrical as the original gem ; and it is a plausible con-
jecture that the very smallest primitive atoms of carbon, of
which it is composed, those, particles too minute to be detected
even by the microscope, many of which we are now breathing,



18

are little diamonds, and tliat the strength and beauty of this val-
nal)le gem consists in the fact that the original property of the
atoms is preserved throughout.

This law must also prevail in the most permanent productions
of man. A despotism to be strong must be a despotism through.
out. It should begin with the serf, or slave, and end with the
unli ' ited sovereign. The Emperor of Russia, by abohshing
.''erfdom, is undermining his own throne. And, too, he is be-
ginning precisely at the right spot. It will require generations,
perhaps centuries, to perfect the work, and there shall be many re-
actions, but Russia will yet be a republic. The entering wedge
is 'he abolishment of serfdom. And the only leaven that can
tio the work is that which must be applied not to the top, not
to the surface, but to the particles, the people. So too, a Re-
public, to be permanent, to be able to breast all storms, to de-
feat all foes, and to withstand all defections, must be symme-
trical throughout. And the symmetry must begin, not end,
wif/iin. All reforms work upward — from the small to the
great: they ever have, they ever must. Jesus begins with the
C'Ximnion people. Perhaps the majority of the first Christians
were slaves. It is a law old as nature, old as fact. Abolish
our National Constitution and our Confederated Government
to-day, and it would be no great evil provided that the primary
ultimate organizations remain ; for out of them, if we deserve it,
soon another general organization would arise. Abolish our State
governments in like manner, and they would inevitably in some
form be replaced. But let the general organizations remain in-
tact, and abolish our school districts, and our towns, and you
make a vacuum within, leaving the whole structure like a hol-
low tree, beautiful without, but unsound and feeble, and ready
in any violent storm to collapse and perish ! This, Fellow Cit-
izens, is sound philosophy, and truth not sufficiently understood
by the American people. Let us then cherish a proper estimate
of the value of the town.

To preserve the primal integrity of our nation, we have two
grand agencies which ought not to be overlooked, and which ad-
ded to the ballot and town governments, constitute the pillars
on which the whole glory of the United States stands. The



19

first of these is Public Scliools. There are in t'lis :tate, their
birth place, the pruduct of the Town. In town meetings they
had their origin. From town nn-elings they receive their diiec-
tion and support.

There is a sense in which they are pre-eniinenlly American.
Our public schools, though proceeded by ^omc others in Europe
of a similar character, have some peculiarities giving them espe-
cial value, and had here an independent origin. They have
preserved the civilization of their e United ^tates. They aie in-
deed in this respect more elementary, more primal than the
Town, of which in fact they constitute a part. That they have
preserved the civilization of the continent is evident

Let us look at this sulgect carefully. It is written in the
history of the world, that the great preservers of civilization in
ancient times have been vast cities. What was the civilization
of former ages ? It was the civilization of Egypt — a compact
nation of cities. The whole extent of Egypt in its palmiest days
was about 4,600 square miles — smaller than the State of Mas-
sachusetts ; and yet, that little hive contained seven millions of
human beings. Is it a wonder that by constant contact and
motion they polished each other into civilization ? Such also
was the civilization of Nineveh, and Babylon, and Jcrusal m,
and Thebes, Damascus, and Athens, and finally of Rome. It is
not denied that for the want of true religion, in many of these
cities, the morals were grossly corrupt ; but it is a fact that
they were civilized. But what was the character of all rural
and scattered populations in ancient times ? Uniformly they
rapidly degenerated into barbarism, in all instances except
where some grand remedial agency existed to prevent it. The
Israelites having left Egypt gradually degenerated, and for the
space of five hundred years, descended in the scale of refine-
ment and strength, till the grand remedial agency devised by
Omniscience, was brought into perfect action, and all the males
were compelled annually to resort to Jerusalem, and engage in
one common worship ; and but for the wonderful preservative
power of the true religion, sustained even by inspired prophets
and miracles, their ruralization in the land of Canaan would
have made ihem savages. This is confirmed by the fact that



20

when tliG twelve tribes divided into two nations, the two tribes
or Jews, retaining Jerusalem and their centralization, retained
also after stern conflict, the true religion and civilization, and
were a compact and educated people ; while the ten tribes, out-
numliering them, loosing their centralization, sunk down into
barbarism, mingled with other pagan hordes, and, like the lost
Pleiad, are forever blotted out of human vision.

The grand preservative agency among the ancient Greeks, to
hold up the rural population, was their Olympic games, held
quadrennially, at which tliey assembled by tens, perhaps hun-
dre s of thousands, not only to witness the combats of wrest-
lers, chariot-drivers, and foot-racers, developing the body, but
also to listen to the speeches of orators, the recitations of poems,
the reading of histories, and to gaze upon statuary and paint-
ings, and hear the charms of music, in those noble ' world fairs.'
Thus did the Greeks preserve their civilization.

Now come down to Roman times. Rome was for many cen-
turies the heart of the world. Her great basaltic road, the Ap-
pian Way, may almost have been called the great aorta of the
earth. Over its lava pavement rolled the wheels of every kind
of vehicle from every part of the woi'ld. It was trodden by the
foot of the Parthian horse, the Indian elephant, and the Arabi-
an camel. Thousands of pedestrians, like flowing and ebbing
water, wore its pavement smooth. Rome was the fountain of
civilization and the mistress of the world. She sent forth her
armies and her arts, her governors and her pedagogues, into
distant parts of the then known three grand divisions of the
earth. She partially conquered, and partially civilized, Spain
and Germany, and Britain, and her influence was not unfelt in
France. But she attempted too much. Her empire broke
down by its own weight. The heart of the world became clog-
ged with b:id blood. And there came down on Europe, after
Cnristianity became corrupt for the want of .some great civiliz-
ing power, a night of a thousand years ; a night in which near-
ly all that was good and noble, was buried and forgotten ; a
night of barbarism, from which Europe and the world would
never have emerged, had there not been buried in the ruins an
unseen element — Chiisti.auitij^ which, like a living seed in a



21

pile of fermenting rubbish, retained its vitality, and after long
struggles burst forth, a crimped, twisted, sickly shrub, which
from that day to this, has been putting forth its limbs, stretch-
ing toward the sunlight, and striving, in spite of the cruel in-
termeddling of state-supported churches, to show itself as it is —
the tree of life for the healing of the nations, transplanted from
the paradise of God. In all this history we may trace the ten-
dency of thinly-settled communities to neglect the cultivation of
the mind.

Indeed it would not be difficult to show that all the savagism
of the world has originated in this way. God never made man
a savage — he became so by wandering off into the woods.

Why, then, it may be asked, is not America degenerate ? —
This applies no more to the west than to the east, for the pro-
cess of- population has been the same throughout. About two
centuries ago the primitive forests kissed the Atlantic shore.
The deer bounded where now is Broadway, and the Indians
pitched their wigmam, or smoked the pipe of peace, on the site
of Faneuil Hall. There had come to this vast expanse previous
colonists from Europe, many years before ; the Northmen, who,
after vain struggles for a home, left it, with scarcely a trace be-
hind ; afterwards, a company of Welchmen, who actually de-
generated into savages, and mingled with the aboriginal tribes ;
and afterwards, other English colonists, all of whom perished or
returned. But now there came men of sterner material— the
Pilgrims of New England, and the Cavaliers of Virginia ; the
former, rugged and strong as the rocks on which they landed ;
and the latter, bringing with them the polish of classical educa-
tion, and the refinement of courts. It was the Pilgrims who
gave character and stability to this country. Early they were
the tower of its strength ; and their principles and peculiari-
ties, like their descendants, can be traced in every part of Amer-
ica's domain.*

The common school^ next to Christianity, was the sheet-an-
chor of their hope. Ere yet their log-houses were complete,
the church was built and dedicated to God, and the humble

* The early Duch settlers of New York also established common schools.

4



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school-house rose as if by magic, for a hundred hands combined
to throw the logs together ; and on the rough seat running all
around the inside of the house, were ranged the coarse-clad ur-
chins and damsels, some with their backs towards the centre
and their faces towards the wall, and some listening to the
teachings of the master, who paced through the centre, proud as
the ruler of an empire, though his wages were perhaps a pound
sterling a month, and he " boarded round." But founder of an
empire he was. And but for that same unpretending class,
common school teachers, America would not have been a proud
republic as to-day ; but if peopled by white inhabitants at all,
they would have been like the serf of Russia, or the peasant of
Brazil. Long ago the people of these colonies were by far the
best educated people in the world ; and long before any nation
of Europe had begun to think of educating the masses, you
might have walked up and down the whole length and breadth
of New England — and though every man was obliged to carry
a loaded musket — though they went armed to church — though
every outward influence was toward barbarism — yet you could
not find one single native of the soil that could not read and
write. Such was the effect of common schools. And not the
smallest honor have most of our great men esteemed it (inclu-
ding some who have sat in the presidential chair,) that in their
boyhood they attended, and some of them in their youth taught
common schools.

Could such a nation become barbarian ? No ! The fire of in-
tellect was kindled in every soul, and many waters could not
quench it.

I have said that public schools are one of the elements which
with the town form the support of national freedom. The oth-
er element, and I bespeak your hearty interest when I mention
it, is the pulpit. The pulpit, too modest to urge its own claims
in this regard, must not be slighted. I must forget now that I
have ever stood within it, and here on this social and political
platform, maintain its power. Let the peculiarities of sect dis-
appear, too insignificant to be noticed in this grand survey. By
the pulpit, I understand the regular presentation and enforce-
ment of those central moral truths, around which the whole



23

universe centres, and on which it rests, on every seventh day of
time, sacredly devoted to this high aim. What historian can
faithfully depict its influence ? What poet shall clothe its do-
ings in fitting heroic verse ? Is there a man so blind as not to
see it ? Is there a man so prejudiced as not to acknowledge it?
There are those whom reason cannot convince, but are there
any who can resist the omnipotence of fact ? You see the
streams imprisoned by winter, leaping and laughing at the re-
turn of Spring, and the pent up vegetable powers, budding into
beauty, and can you doubt that it is the effect of the smile of
the sun ? You see the tides following regularly the track of
the orb of night, and can you doubt that they are caused by the
moon ? It were certainly idle to argue that fire does warm.
Now observe that where the pulpit is unknown, or if known, is
degenerate, and has not its proper ammunition, the bible, and
that too read and studied by the people, there constitutional
liberty is always unprized and unknown; while within the
range of its light, and always in proportion to the purity cf its
beams the people arise into the majesty of independence and
manhood. 0, it were inexcusable folly to deny the fact that the
greatest system of individualizer on earth is Christianity, and
the greatest individualism that ever appeared among men, was
he whom we call the Savior of the world. To him, and in the
light of his doctrine, every human being is more valuable than
all worlds, and the beggar is as truly a man as the prince. It
was because our fathers were enlightened by the pulpit, that
they, unconscious of its full power, and moved by a sublime im-
pulse, signed that glorious paper in the cabin of the May Flow-
er, anchored off Cape Cod.

And was it not almost prophetic that afterwards the town
house and the meeting house were one, and the people met to
discuss and vote in the very familiar and sacred spot where
their understandings were enlightened and their hearts stirred
by immortal truth ? And if in the advance of society, it is de -
manded that the buildings should be separate, never let the mu-
tual dependence of the two be denied or forgotten.

Thus have I endeavored to discharge, though it be unwortlii-
iy, the duty you have imposed upon me. There are itoany



24

branches of thought appropriate, but none seemed to me so na-
turally to grow out of the occasion as the value of that Ameri-
can institution, the Town. Our fathers were not led to its es-
tablishment by any marked sagacity which distinguished them
above all other people. It was partly the resiilt of their circum-


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Online LibraryMass MaldenOration, poem, speeches, chronicles, &c., at the dedication of the Malden town hall on Thursday evening, October 29th, 1857 → online text (page 2 of 5)