New-York Historical Society.

Semi-centennial celebration. Fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the New York Historical Society. Monday, November 20, 1854 (Volume 2) online

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principle of the unity of the race, and to discover how
fully and how beneficently it is fraught with interna-
tional, political, and social revolutions. Without at-
temj)ting to unfold what the greater wisdom of coming
generations can alone adequately conceive and practi-
cally apply, we may observe, that the human mind
tends not only toward unity, but universality.

Infinite truth is never received without some ad-
mixture of error, and in the struggle Avhich necessarily
ensues between the two, the error constantly undergoes
the process of elimination. Investigations are con-
tinued without a pause. The explanatory hyj^othesis,
perpetually renewed, receives perpetual correction.
Fresli observations detect the fallacies in the former
hypotliesis ; again, mind, acting a iwiori^ revises its
theory, of which it repeats and multiplies the tests.
Thus it proceeds from observation to hypothesis, and
from hypothesis to observation, progressively gaining
clearer perceptions, and more perfectly mastering its
stores of accumulated knowledge by generalizations
which approximate nearer and nearer to absolute truth.

With each successive year, a larger number of
minds in each separate nationality inquires into man's
end and nature ; and as truth and the laws of God are
unchangeable, the more that engage in their study, the
greater will be the harvest. Nor is this all ; the na-
tions are drawn to each other as members of one fami-
ly; and their nmtual acquisitions become a common
property.

In this manner, truth, as discerned by the mind of
man, is constantly recovering its primal lustre, and
is steadily making its w^ay toward general accepts
ance. Not that greater men will appear. Who can



33

ever embody tlie liigli creative imagination of the poet
more perfectly than Ho^iek, or Dante, or Shake-
speare? Who can discern "the ideas" of existences
more clearly than Plato, or l)e furnished with all the
instruments of thought and scientific attainment more
completely than Aristotle ? To what future artist
will beauty be more intimately present, than to Phidias
or Raphael ? In universality of mind, who will sur-
pass Bacon, or Leibnitz, or Kant ? Indeed, the world
may never again see their peers. There are not want-
ing those who believe, that the more intelligence is dif-
fused, the less will the intelligent be distinguished from
one another ; that the colossal greatness of individuals
implies a general inferiority ; just as the solitary tree
on the plain alone reaches the fullest development ; or
as the rock that stands by itself in the wilderness,
seems to cast the widest and most grateful shade ; in
a word, that the day of mediocrity attends the day
of general culture. But if wiser men do not arise,
there will certainly be more wisdom. The collec-
tive man of the future will see further, and see more
clearly, than the collective man of to-day, and he will
share his superior power of vision and his attain-
ments with every one of his time. Thus it has come
to pass, that the child now at school could instruct
Columbus respecting the figure of the earth, or Newton
respecting light, or Franklin on electi'icity ; that the
husbandman or the mechanic of a Christian congrega-
tion solves questions respecting God and man and
man's destiny, which perjDlexed the most gifted phi-
losophers of ancient Greece.

Finally, as a consequence of the tendency of the
race towards unity and universality, the organization
of society must more and more conform to the pi-inci-

3



34

pie of FREEDO^r. This will be tlie last triumph ; partly
because the science of government enters into the
sj)here of personal interests, and meets resistance from
private selfishness ; and partly because society, before
it can be constituted aright, must turn its eye upon
itself, observe the laws of its own existence, and arrive
at the consciousness of its capacities and relations.

The system of political economy may solve the
question of the commercial intercourse of nations,
by demonstrating that they all are naturally fellow-
workers and friends ; but its abandonment of labor to
the unmitigated effects of personal competition can
never be accepted as the rule for the dealings of man
with man. The love for others and for the race is as
much a part of human nature as the love of self ; it is
a common instinct that man is responsible for man.
The heart has its oracles, not less than the reason, and
this is one of them. No practicable system of social
equality has been brought forward, or it should, and it
would have been adopted ; it does not follow that none
can be devised, for there is no necessary opposition be-
tween handcraft and intelligence ; and the masses them-
selves will gain the knowledge of their rights, courage
to assert them, and self-respect to take nothing less.
The good time is coming, when humanity will recog-
nise all members of its family as alike entitled to its
care ; when the heartless jargon of over-production
in the midst of want will end in a better science of
distribution ; when man will dwell with man as with
his brother ; when political institutions will rest on
the basis of equality and freedom.

But this result must flow from internal activity
developed by universal culture ; it cannot be created
by the force of exterior philanthrojjy ; and still less by



35

the reckless violence of men whose desperate audacity
would employ terror as a means to ride on the whirl-
wind of civil war. Where a permanent reform appears
to have been instantaneously effected, it will 1)e found
that the happy result was but the sudden plucking of
fruit which had slowly ripened. Successful revolutions
proceed like all other formative processes from in-
ward germs. The institutions of a j)eople are always
the reflection of its heart and its intelligence ; and
in proportion as these are purified and enlightened,
must its public life manifest the dominion of universal
reason.

The subtle and irresistible movement of mind
silently but thoroughly correcting opinion and chano -
ing society, brings liberty both to the soul and to the
world. All the desj^otisms on earth cannot stay its
coming. Every fallacy that man discards is an emanci-
pation ; every superstition that is thrown by, is a re-
deeming from captivity. The tendency towards uni-
versality implies necessarily a tendency towards free-
dom, alike of thought and in action. The faith of the
earliest ages was of all others the grossest. Every cen-
tury of the Christian Church is less corrupt and less in
bondage than its predecessor. The sum of spiritual
knowledge as well as of liberty is greater, and less
mixed with error now, than ever before. The future
shall surpass the present. The senseless strife between
rationalism and supernaturalism will come to an end ;
an age of skepticism will not again be called an age
of reason ; and reason and religion will be found in
accord.

In the sphere of politics the Republican Govern-
ment has long been the aspiration of the w ise. " The
human race," said Dante, summing up the experience



36

of the Middle Age, " is in the best condition, when
it has the greatest degree of liberty;" and Kant,
in like manner, giving utterance to the last word
of Protestantism, declared the republican government
to be " the only true civil constitution." Its permanent
establishment presupposes meliorating experience and
appropriate culture ; but the circumstances under which
it becomes possible, prevail more and more. Our coun-
try is bound to allure the world to freedom by the
beauty of its example.

The course of civilization flows on like a mighty
river through a boundless valley, calling to the streams
from every side to swell its current, which is always
growing wider, and deeper, and clearer, as it rolls along.
Let us trust ourselves upon its bosom without fear ;
nay, rather with confidence and joy. Since the pro-
gress of the race appears to be the great purpose of
Providence, it becomes us all to venerate the future.
We must be ready to sacrifice ourselves for our suc-
cessors, as they in their turn must live for their pos-
terity. We are not to be disheartened, that the in-
timate connection of humanity renders it impossible
for any one portion of the civilized world to be much
ill advance of all the rest ; nor are we to grieve be-
caiise an unalterable condition of perfection can never
be attained. Every thing is in movement, and for the
better, except only the fixed eternal law by which the
necessity of change is established ; or rather except
only God, who includes in himself all being, all truth,
and all love. The subject of man's thoughts remains
the same, but the sum of his acquisitions ever grows
with time ; so that his last system of philosophy is
the best, for it includes every one that went before.



37

The last political state of the world, likewise, is ever
more excellent than the old, for it presents in activity
the entire inheritance of truth, fructified by the living
mind of a more enlightened generation.

You, BROTHEES, who are joined together for the
study of history, receive the lighted torch of civiliza-
tion from the departing half-century, and hand it along
to the next. In fulfilling this glorious office, remember
that the principles of justice and sound philosophy are
but the inspirations of common sense, and belong of
right to all mankind. Carry them forth, therefore, to
the whole people ; for so only can society build itself
up on the imperishable groundwork of universal free-
dom.



ERRATUM.
Page 27, line 18, for

morals or reason. They who listen to the instructions,

read

morals or reason.

Philosophy, which leaned on Heaven before,
Shrinks to her second cause, and is no more.

They who listen to the instructions &,c.



PHOCEEDINOS



NEW YOEK HISTORICAL SOCIETY,



SEMI-CENTENNIAL ANNIVERSARY,



MONDAY, NOVEMBER 20, 1854.



NEW YORK:
PRINTED FOR THE SOCIETY,

H DOCO LIV.



|0rk JnsUxial Batut^,



cele:biia.tion



J^IFTIETH ANNIVERSARY,



NOVEMBER 20, 1854.



This leing the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Founding of the
New ^Drk Historical Society, in accordance with previous ar-
rangements the officers and members of the Society assembled
at theiryooms, in the University of the city of New York, at
two o'cl(ck, p. M., where their guests were received and intro-
duced to the President.

At hilf past two o'clock, the officers and members of the So-
ciety, wilh their guests, proceeded to Niblo's Saloon, where a
numeroui and brilliant audience already occupied the seats in
the hous( not reserved for the Society. After an overture by
the orchstra, under the direction of Mr. Harvey B. Dodworth,
the exerdses of the day were opened by the President, who
made the following remarks :

Fellow-ahmbers of the Society, and Ladies and Gentlemen :

Fifty jears have rolled their ceaseless tide along the current of
Time, sines a few enlightened men laid in weakness, but with wise
forecast, tie foundations of the New York Historical Society. This



42

iustitution, through varying fortunes, but with ever-increasing effort?
and expanding usefulness, has already reached the close of the firit
half century of its existence ; and we are now assembled to celebrale
the first semi-centennial anniversary of its origin. The anniversary
address will be delivered by Mr. Bancroft. The exercises of tie
occasion will commence with prayer to be offered by the Rev. Ir.
De Witt, first Vice-President of the Society.

PRAYER.

thou High, and Holy One, who inhabitest eternity, and im-
mensity ; Sovereign Ruler and Lord of All, thine is the kingcom,
and power, and glory. We bow before thee at thy footstool. While
thy throne is founded in justice, and judgment, we thank thee,that
polluted and guilty as we are, we may approach thee with hunble
confidence in the name of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ who
has abolished death, and brought life and immortality to ligit by
his gospel. We thank thee for all the mercies of thy ProvUence
which we partake individually, and in our domestic and socia rela-
tions. We thank thee especially for all thy favors extended to us,
and all the blessings poured forth upon the people of these Jnited
States. We revert to a little more than two centuries am a half
since, when the first colonists came with the open Bible, tie open
school, and the open sanctuary, and now realize that the " haidful of
corn " then sown " shakes like Lebanon," and that the " vuc thou
didst plant when the heathen were cast before it has talen deep
root, has spread its branches from sea to sea," bearing frvit which
shall be for the healing of the nations. We hold in mem cry before
thy throne our ancestry, the wise men in counsel, and the /aliant in
the field, and trace their onward course in the struggle f)r liberty,
the attainment of our independence, and the formation of car Consti-
tution under which we have dwelt so quietly and prosperoisly. We
would exclaim. "What hath God wrought?" in view of tie wonder-
ful growth of our population, the results of active industr; in its va-
rious departments, and our national influence which is spreading
abroad through the world. May wisdom and knowledge be the sta-
bility of our times. May righteousness ever exalt us, and sin never
be our reproach. We pray for all in authority, and vho are in-
trusted to bear rule in our national and respective Stite govern-
ments. May they be men fearing God, hating covetcusness, and
prove a blessing to the people over whom they are placel. Assem-
bled at the jubilee anniversary of the New York Historiial Society,



43

we thank thee for its institution, and the success which has attended
it. Grant thy blessing upon it continually, and bless kindred insti-
tutions in search of materials to fill up the history of our country.
Bless all institutions designed to spread education, mental, moral,
and spiritual, and to remove the sins and suiferings of men. Be
with us as now assembled, and be with him who has consented to ad-
dress us, and may we feel that the influence and result of this meet-
ing is to increase our feelings of Christian patriotism and Christian
philanthropy. All we ask is in the name of our adored, and pre-
cious Redeemer, who has taught us to pray, " Our Father who art in
Heaven, hallowed be thy name ; thy kingdom come ; thy will be
done on earth as it is done in Heaven ; give us this day our daily
bread ; forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass
against us ; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from
evil ; for thine is the kingdom, and power, and glory, for ever and
ever. Amen."

The prayer being concludedj the oration was delivered by
tlie Hon. George Bancroft. At the conclusion of the ora-
tion, which was received with great applause, the Rev. George
W. Bethune, D. D., addressed the President as folloAvs :

Mr. President : — I shrink from following, with my awkward
sentences, the eloquent thoughts and diction to which we have been
listening with such pleasure and advantage ; but the committee act-
ing for the Society to-day, have just now made it my duty to ask
through you, sir, permission to express the thanks of this assembly
to the gentleman who has conferred so great a kindness upon us.

It is not necessary to use language for the purpose of telling hira
our appreciation of his address. The rapt attention with which it
has been heard during the hours of its delivery, has testified our
sense of its excellence, and I should err in doing more than to move
a vote of thanks to our orator.

Yet, Mr. President, I cannot forget the most pleasing fact, that,
however ambitious we may have been to secure one, who, on the
present occasion, would do us honor, and give us profit by his emi-
nent qualifications, we did not need to go beyond the limits of our
own city, or the list of our own members, to find an orator in him,
whose magnificent genius has illustrated the annals of our country,
and has now taught us how we may act worthily of its citizenship ;
for when that gentleman returned from representing with e(|ual dig-
nity and diplomatic skill the interests of our government at the first



44

court in Europe, and not only our government but the educated
American mind in its highest accomplishment, he chose our beloved
New York as his place of residence, giving to our social circles the
welcome presence of a cultivated gentleman, to many of us, a plea-
sant friend, and to our Society, a faithful collaborator.

With these few words. I have the honor to move you. sir, that
the thanks of the Society, and of this audience, be presented to the
Hon. Mr. Bancroft for his address.

The resolution was seconded by the Hon. William W.
Campbell, and unanimously adopted.

The exercises at the Saloon were concluded by a benedic-
tion, pronounced by the Rev. Dr. Adams.

The Society, with their guests, then proceeded to the Astor
House, where an entertainment had been prepared for them by
Messrs. Coleman and Stetson. At six o'clock. Dr. De Witt
having asked a blessing, the company sat down to dinner, which
was admirably served. The cloth having been removed, Rev.
Dr. Mathews returned thanks, and the President introduced
the first regular toast, with the following remarks :

To the members and friends of the New York Historical Society,
this its first semi-centennial anniversary is one of great interest. In
looking back, through the intervening half century, to the origin of
the Society, to the early difficulties it had to encounter, and to its
progress through those difficulties to its present condition of high
prosperity, we find abundant reasons for congratulation and en-
couragement. In looking forward, from this advanced point of pre-
sent achievement, to the Future, the horizon of our field of labor
becomes enlarged before us, our responsibility increases with our pro-
gress, and admonishes us that past success should only serve to stim-
ulate future effort ; and that the practical motto of the Society
should ever be " to consider nothing as done, while any thing yet re-
mains to be done."

With these preliminary remarks, I have now to propose our first
regular toast :

1. The 20th November, 1804— the birth-day of the New York Historical
Society ; rich in its memories of the Past, and in its hopes of the Future, may-
each return of this Anniversary find the Society more abounding in its means,
more active in its operations, and more extended in its usefulness.

This toast having been received with all the honors, the
President rose and said :



45

On an occasion like the present, it is eminently fitting and pro-
per that we should not be unmindful of those to whose enlightened
wisdom, public spirit, and personal eiforts we are indebted for the
origin, the progress, and the present prosperity of this Society.
Among these are the names of Egbert Benson, Brockholst Living-
ston, De Witt Clinton, Samuel Miller, Samuel L. Mitchell, David
Hosack, John M. Mason, Charles Wilkes, John Pintard, Peter A. Jay,
James Kent, Peter G. Stuyvesant, Albert Gallatin, Samuel Jones,
Philip Hone, James G. King, Jonathan M. Wainwright, James
Lenox, and other names that not only adorn the annals of this
Society, but many of which are high and brilliant on the Records of
the History of our State and Country.

I, therefore, ask you to unite with me in honoring our second re-
gular toast :

2. The memory of the Founders and Benefactors of the Society.

A call for Dr. John W. Francis being loudly made, he
was received with much enthusiasm. He said :

I wish, Mr. President you had summoned some one more com-
petent than myself. You will at once perceive that I labor under
considerable embarrassment, owing to difficulty of speech caused by
a severe cold caught a few evenings ago and not properly attended to.
Besides, sir, I do not see how it is possible to gather confidence enough
for the evening, surrounded as I am with so much loveliness at this
end of the room, and so much talent throughout the entire hall.
I am, sir, within an atmosphere of intellect. You have had to-day a
blaze of it. You have seen the force of it. You have witnessed
its incantation, and you know how wonderfully magnificent its influ-
ence has been. How then can a farthing rush-light display any de-
monstration on this occasion ? Your toast is one of most copious
extent. You have demanded of me that I should say something re-
lative to the commencement of the Society. I hardly know in what
manner to take it up : " The Founders and Benefactors of the New
York Historical Society." Were I to descant vipon but a few of
them it would take all night. However, with great deference to the
Society and this large assemblage here this evening, I will make a
few passing remarks upon some individuals.

No man who lives in New York — no man who has resided in this
city within the last twenty, thirty, forty, or fifty years, who has heard
of the Historical Society, can for one moment doubt that John
Pintard was its founder. — John Pintard was a descendant of that



46

noble army of Huguenots who fled to this country upon the revoca-
tion of the edict of Nantz. He was a native of the city of New
York and born May 18,. 1759. He studied the elements of general
and classical education with the learned Cutting on Long Island ;
and afterwards entered Princeton College. His acquisitions were
commanding ; and at this early period of his life he studied public
men and public measures ; enjoyed the society of the patriotic presi-
dent of the college, Dr. Witherspoon; read the letters of Junius in
the public papers of the day, and formed a wide circle of learned
and distinguished friends. Upon the Declaration of Independence
being announced, he left his classical retreat ; and his relative, Elias
Boudinot, being appointed Commissary for American prisoners,
Pintard was selected for his Secretary. To his range of elegant
literature he added some knowledge of the law, and after the tri-
umphs of the revolutionary struggle had been secured, we find him
in close employment in the memorable scrip afl"airs of 1792-93, &c. His
interests in these matters proving disastrous, he became a prominent
editor in the old Daily Advertiser for several years. He was a rigid
Washingtonian in his politics. Resigning his station as editor, we
find him at New Orleans, where he examined so minutely the con-
dition of things, that shortly after his return to his native place he
published, in 1804, a topographical and medical review of that metro-
polis. Again settled in this city, he seems to have been indus-
triously and worthily employed in enjoining upon the counsellors
of the Municipal Government, the importance of statistical records
of Births and Deaths, which was finally adopted by the authorities,
and we now possess a series of documentary Reports on that subject,
faithfully preserved from 1800, up to the present time. He was ap-
pointed the First City Inspector in 1804. But I dare not dwell
upon the numerous civic services he rendered this city during his
long and industrious life. The First Bank of Savings originated
with him. He was conspicuous in the formation of the American
Bible Society : he was a main spring in the organization of the
Theological Seminary of the Protestant Episcopal Church : he gave
impetus to the revival of the Chamber of Commerce. While a mem-
ber of our City Corporation and of our State Legislature, so early as
1791-2, when the latter body held its sessions in this city, we find
him projecting measures for the improvement of the public aflfairs of
his native place and for incorporating the Bank of New York, the
earliest bank in the State. But I have elsewhere already specified
most of his useful undertakings of which our people now reap the
benefit.



47

John Pintard was a man of extensive historical, geographical;
and above all, didactic information. I hardly speak within the charge
of exaggeration, when I aflSrm that he knew nearly all Dr. Johnson's
writings by heart. You could scarcely approach him without having
something of Dr. Johnson's thrust on you. He was versed in
theological and polemical divinity — Stillingfleet was his idol ; of
South he was a great admirer, and in the progress of Church affairs
among us, he was ever a devoted disciple. He had read with the dili-
gence of a student our historical annals, and in particular our early
State history, our Indian and French wai'S, the story of the Revolu-
tionary contest ; the history of the Iroquois, and the confederated
Six Nations. He dwelt like Clinton upon that wonderful orator. Red


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Online LibraryNew-York Historical SocietySemi-centennial celebration. Fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the New York Historical Society. Monday, November 20, 1854 (Volume 2) → online text (page 3 of 9)