Thomas B. (Thomas Brackett) Reed.

Modern eloquence; (Volume 11) online

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ligion by making it an engine of policy; and freedom of
thought and the right of private judgment in matters of
conscience, driven from every other corner of the earth,
direct their course to this happy country as their last
asylum. Let us cherish the noble guests, and shelter them
under the wings of a universal toleration! Be this the seat
of unbounded religious freedom. She will bring with her
in her train industry, wisdom, and commerce. She thrives
most when left to shoot forth in her natural luxuriance,
and asks from human policy only not to be checked in her
growth by artificial encouragements.

Thus, by the beneficence of Providence, we shall behold
our empire arising, founded on justice and the voluntary
consent of the people, and giving full scope to the exercise
of those faculties and rights which most ennoble our species.
Besides the advantages of liberty and the most equal con-
stitution, Heaven has given us a country with every variety
of climate and soil, pouring forth in abundance whatever is
necessary for the support, comfort, and strength of a nation.
Within our own borders we possess all the means of sus-
tenance, defense, and commerce; at the same time, these
advantages are so distributed among the different states of
this continent, as if nature had in view to proclaim to us :
Be united among yourselves, and you will want nothing
from the rest of the world.

The more northern states most amply supply us with
every necessary, and many of the luxuries of life; with
iron, timber, and masts for ships of commerce or of war;
with flax for the manufacture of linen, and seed either for
oil or exportation.

So abundant are our harvests, that almost every part
raises more than double the quantity of grain requisite for
the support of the inhabitants. From Georgia and the


Carolinas we have, as well for our own wants as for the
purpose of supplying the wants of other powers, indigo,
rice, hemp, naval stores, and lumber.

Virginia and Maryland teem with wheat, Indian corn,
and tobacco. Every nation whose harvest is precarious, or
whose lands yield not those commodities which we culti-
vate, will gladly exchange their superfluities and manufac-
tures for ours.

We have already received many and large cargoes of
clothing, military stores, etc., from our commerce with for-
eign powers, and, in spite of the efforts of the boasted
navy of England, we shall continue to profit by this con-

The want of our naval stores has already increased the
price of these articles to a great height, especially in Britain.
Without our lumber it will be impossible for those haughty
islanders to convey the products of the West Indies to their
own ports ; for a while they may with difficulty effect it,
but, without our assistance, their resources soon must fail.
Indeed, the West India Islands appear as the necessary ap-
pendages to this our empire. They must owe their support
to it, and ere long, I doubt not, some of them will, from
necessity, wish to enjoy the benefit of our protection.

These natural advantages will enable us to remain inde-
pendent of the world, or make it the interest of European
powers to court our alliance, and aid in protecting us against
the invasion of others. What argument, therefore, do we
want to show the equity of our conduct; or motive of inter-
est to recommend it to our prudence? Nature points out
the path, and our enemies have obliged us to pursue it.

If there is any man so base Or so weak as to prefer a de-
pendence on Great Britain to the dignity and happiness of
living a member of a free and independent nation, let me
tell him that necessity now demands what the generous
principle of patriotism should have dictated.

We have no other alternative than independence, or the
most ignominious and galling servitude. The legions of
our enemies thicken on our plains; desolation and death
mark their bloody career; whilst the mangled corpses of
our countrymen seem to cry out to us as a voice from
heaven :


"Will you permit our posterity to groan under the galling chains
of our murderers? Has our blood been expended in vain? Is the
only benefit which our constancy till death has obtained for our coun-
try, that it should be sunk into a deeper and more ignominious vas-
salage? Recollect who are the men that demand your submission, to
whose decrees you are invited to pay obedience. Men who, unmindful
of their relation to you as brethren; of your long implicit submission to
their laws; of the sacrifice which you and your forefathers made of your
natural advantages for commerce to their avarice; formed a deliberate
plan to wrest from you the small pittance of property which they had
permitted you to acquire. Remember that the men who wish to rule
over you are they who, in pursuit of this plan of despotism, annulled
the sacred contracts which they had made with your ancestors; con-
veyed into your cities a mercenary soldiery to compel you to submis-
sion by insult and murder ; who called your patience cowardice, your
piety hypocrisy."

Countrymen, the men who now invite you to surrender
your rights into their hands are the men who have let loose
the merciless savages to riot in the blood of their brethren ;
who have dared to establish Popery triumphant in our land ;
who have taught treachery to your slaves, and courted them
to assassinate your wives and children.

These are the men to whom we are exhorted to sacrifice
the blessings which Providence holds out to us: the happi-
ness, the dignity, of uncontrolled freedom and independence.

Let not your generous indignation be directed against
any among us who may advise so absurd and maddening a
measure. Their number is but few, and daily decreases;
and the spirit which can render them patient of slavery will
render them contemptible enemies.

Our union is now complete; our constitution composed,
established, and approved. You are now the guardians of
your own liberties. We may justly address you, as the
decemviri did the Romans, and say: "Nothing that we pro-
pose can pass into a law without your consent. Be your-
selves, O Americans, the authors of those laws on which
your happiness depends."

You have now in the field armies sufficient to repel the
whole force of your enemies and their base and mercenary
auxiliaries. The hearts of your soldiers beat high with the
spirit of freedom; they are animated with the justice of


their cause, and while they grasp their swords can look up
to Heaven for assistance. Your adversaries are composed
of wretches who laugh at the rights of humanity, who turn
religion into derision, and would, for higher wages, direct
their swords against their leaders or their country. Go on,
then, in your generous enterprise, with gratitude to Heaven
for past success, and confidence of it in the future. For
my own part, I ask no greater blessing than to share with
you the common danger and common glory. If I have a
wish dearer to my soul than that my ashes may be mingled
with those of a Warren and a Montgomery, it is that these
American States may never cease to be free and inde-



[^Eschines was born in Athens in 389 B.C., six years before his life-
long rival Demosthenes. According to that rival his parents taught
a primary school, he assisting them in his youth. Later he was an
actor, then became a scribe, in which occupation he gained a knowledge
of the governmental system of Greece, which proved a valuable prep-
aration for his chosen profession public speaking. yEschines served
in various Athenian expeditions, and in 347 B.C. went on an unsuc-
cessful envoyship into the Peloponnesus to form a Greek union against
Philip of Macedon. He was accused, while acting on an embassy sent
to Philip, of traitorous intrigue with the king, which accusation further
developments seemed to bear out. When Philip finally conquered
Greece, yEschines boasted of his intimacy with him, offering to use his
influence to secure leniency for the Greeks. Accusing Ctesiphon of
advocating an unconstitutional measure in proposing to give Demos-
thenes a crown for his patriotic services, ^schines gave notice that he
would take action against him. He delayed the action for six years,
seizing a moment of patriotic agitation to deliver a harangue against
the whole life and policy of his rival. Demosthenes answered with his
magnificent " On the Crown," and as the votes of the people did not
sustain ^Eschines, and as he had incurred the penalty attached to
making an unfounded accusation, he was compelled to leave Athens.
He went to Rhodes, and finally established there a very successful
school of rhetoric. He died in 314 B.C.]

OUR days have not fallen on the common chances of
mortal life. We have been set to bequeath a story
of marvels to posterity. Is not the King of Persia, he who
cut through Athos and bridged the Hellespont, he who
demands earth and water from the Greeks, he who in his
letters presumes to style himself lord of all men from the
sunrise to the sunset, is he not struggling at this hour,
no longer for authority over others, but for his own life?
Do you not see the men who delivered the Delphian tern-


pie invested not only with that glory but with the leadership
against Persia? While Thebes Thebes, our neighbor city
has been in one day swept from the face of Greece; justly
it may be in so far as her general policy was erroneous, yet
in consequence of a folly which was no accident, but the
judgment of Heaven. The unfortunate Lacedaemonians,
though they did but touch this affair in its first phase by
the occupation of the temple they who once claimed the
leadership of Greece are now to be sent to Alexander in
Asia to give hostages, to parade their disasters, and to hear
their own and their country's doom from his lips, when
they have been judged by the clemency of the master they
provoked. Our city, the common asylum of the Greeks,
from which, of old, embassies used to come from all Greece
to obtain deliverance for their several cities at our hands,
is now battling, no more for the leadership of Greece, but
for the ground on which it stands. And these things have
befallen us since Demosthenes took the direction of our
policy. The poet Hesiod will interpret such a case. There
is a passage meant to educate democracies and to counsel
cities generally, in which he warns us not to accept dis-
honest leaders. I will recite the lines myself, the reason,
I think, for our learning the maxims of the poets in boy-
hood being that we may use them as men :

" Oft hath the bad man been the city's bane;
Oft hath his sin brought to the sinless pain;
Oft hath all-seeing Heaven sore vexed the town
With dearth and death and brought the people down;
Cast down their walls and their most valiant slain,
And on the seas made all their navies vain."

Strip these lines of their poetic garb, look at them
closely, and I think you will say these are no mere verses
of Hesiod that they are a prophecy of the administration
of Demosthenes, for by the agency of that administration
our ships, our armies, our cities have been swept from the
earth. . . . " Oh, yes," it will be replied, " but then
he is a friend of the constitution." If, indeed, you have a
regard only to his delicacy you will be deceived as you were
before, but not if you look at his character and at the facts.
I will help you to estimate the characteristics which ought


to be found in a friend of the constitution ; in a sober-
minded citizen. I will oppose to them the character that
may be looked for in an unprincipled revolutionist. Then
you shall draw your comparison and consider on which part
he stands not in his language, remember, but in his life.
Now all, I think, will allow that these attributes should
belong to a friend of the constitution : First, that he should
be of free descent by both parents, so that the disadvantage
of birth may not embitter him against those laws which
preserve the democracy. Second, that he should be able
to show that some benefit has been done to the people by
his ancestors; or, at the worst, that there had been no
enmity between them which would prompt him to revenge
the misfortunes of his fathers on the state. Third, he
should be virtuous and temperate in his private life, so that
no profligate expense may lead him into taking bribes to
the hurt of the people. Next, he should be sagacious and
able to speak since our ideal is that the best course should
be chosen by the intelligence and then commended to his
hearers by the trained eloquence of the orator though, if
we cannot have both, sagacity must needs take rank before
eloquence. Lastly, he must have a stout heart, or he may
play the country false in the crisis of danger or of war. The
friend of oligarchy must be the opposite of all this. I need
not repeat the points. Now, consider: How does Demos-
thenes answer to these conditions?

[After accusing Demosthenes of being by parentage half a Scyth-
ian, Greek in nothing but language, the orator proceeds] :

In his private life, what is he? The tetrarch sank to
rise a pettifogger, a spendthrift, ruined by his own follies.
Then having got a bad name in his trade, too, by showing
his speeches to the other side, he bounded on the stage of
public life, where his profits out of the city were as enor-
mous as his savings were small. Now, however, the flood
of royal gold has floated his extravagance. But not even
this will suffice. No wealth could ever hold out long
against vice. In a word, he draws his livelihood not from
his own resources but from your dangers. What, however,
are his qualifications in respect to sagacity and to power of
speech? A clever speaker, an evil liver! And what is the


result to Athens? The speeches are fair; the deeds are
vile ! Then as to courage I have a word to say. If he
denied his cowardice or if you were not aware of it, the
topic might have called for discussion ; but since he himself
admits in the assemblies and you know it, it remains only
to remind you of the laws on the subject. Solon, our
ancient lawgiver, thought the coward should be liable to
the same penalties as the man who refuses to serve or who
has quitted his post. Cowardice, like other offenses, is

Some of you will, perhaps, ask in amazement, Is a man
to be indicted for his temperament? He is. And why?
In order that every one of us, fearing the penalties of the
law more than the enemy, may be the better champion of
his country. Accordingly, the lawgiver excludes alike the
man who declines service, the coward, and the deserter of
his post, from the lustral limits in the market-place, and
suffers no such person to receive a wreath of honor or to
enter places of public worship. But you, Ctesiphon, ex-
hort us to set a crown on the head to which the laws refuse
it. You by your private edict call a forbidden guest into
the forefront of our solemn festival, and invite into the
temple of Dionysos that dastard by whom all temples have
been betrayed. . . . Remember then, Athenians,
that the city whose fate rests with you is no alien city, but
your own. Give the prizes of ambition by merit, not by
chance. Reserve your rewards for those whose manhood is
truer, whose characters are worthier. Look at each other
and judge not only with your ears but with your eyes who
of your number are likely to support Demosthenes. His
young companions in the chase or the gymnasium? No,
by the Olympian Zeus! He has not spent his life in hunt-
ing or in any healthful exercise, but in cultivating rhetoric
to be used against men of property. Think of his boastful-
ness when he claims by his embassy to have snatched
Byzantium out of the hands of Philip, to have thrown the
Acharnians into revolt, to have astonished the Thebans
with his harangue! He thinks that you have reached the
point of fatuity at which you can be made to believe even
this as if your citizen were the deity of persuasion instead
of a pettifogging mortal! And when, at the end of his


speech, he calls as his advocates those who shared his
bribes, imagine that you see upon this platform, where I
now speak before you, an array drawn up to confront their
profligacy the benefactors of Athens: Solon, who set in
order the Democracy by his glorious laws, the philosopher,
the good legislator, entreating you with the gravity which
so well became him never to set the rhetoric of Demos-
thenes above your oaths and above the laws; Aristides,
who assessed the tribute of the confederacy, and whose
daughters after his death were dowered by the state in-
dignant at the contumely threatened to justice and asking,
Are you not ashamed? When Arthmios of Zeleia brought
Persian gold to Greece and visited Athens, our fathers well-
nigh put him to death, though he was our public guest, and
proclaimed him expelled from Athens and from all territory
that the Athenians rule; while Demosthenes, who has not
brought us Persian gold, but has taken bribes for himself
and has kept them to this day, is about to receive a golden
wreath from you ! And Themistocles, and they who died
at Marathon and Plataea, aye, and the very graves of our
forefathers do you not think they will utter a voice of
lamentation, if he who covenants with barbarians to work
against Greece shall be crowned !



[Fisher Ames, an American statesman, was born in Massachusetts
in 1758. He completed a course at Harvard and opened a law office
in Boston. The National Constitution had just been proposed to the
states, and he advocated it in a vivid speech before the convention that
finally ratified it on behalf of his commonwealth. He allied himself
with the Federalists and was sent by them to Congress, where he stood
manfully by the Washington administration and became famous all
over the land as a maker of speeches. When Jay's treaty with Great
Britain met with universal denunciation, Ames spoke in its favor, the
result being to sweep the listening congressmen off their feet. One of
them begged that the whole subject be allowed to go over, because
Ames" oratory was too eloquent to leave them in a dispassionate frame
of mind. The New England orator stayed eight years in Congress,
and then retired because his health gave way. When Washington
died, the state legislature thought him the only fit man in Massa-
chusetts to deliver his eulogy. Ames was later chosen president of Har-
vard, but declined the honor. He died in 1808. The speech that fol-
lows, on the treaty between the United States and England, was made
in the House of Representatives in 1796.]

MR. CHAIRMAN: I entertain the hope, perhaps a
rash one, that my strength will hold me out to
speak a few minutes.

In my judgment, a right decision will depend more on
the temper and manner with which we may prevail upon
ourselves to contemplate the subject, than upon the devel-
opment of any profound political principles, or any remark-
able skill in the application of them. If we could succeed
to neutralize our inclinations, we should find less difficulty
than we have to apprehend in surmounting all our objec-

The suggestion a few days ago that the House mani-
fested symptoms of heat and irritation, was made and


retorted as if the charge ought to create surprise, and would
convey reproach. Let us be more just to ourselves and to
the occasion. Let us not affect to deny the existence and
the intrusion of some portion of prejudice and feeling into
the debate, when, from the very structure of our nature,
we ought to anticipate the circumstance as a probability,
and when we are admonished by the evidence of our senses
that it is the fact.

How can we make professions for ourselves, and offer
exhortations to the House, that no influence should be felt
but that of duty, and no guide respected but that of the
understanding, while the peal to rally every passion of man
is continually ringing in our ears?

Our understandings have been addressed, it is true, and
with ability and effect ; but, I demand, has any corner of
the heart been left unexplored? It has been ransacked to
find auxiliary arguments, and, when that attempt failed, to
awaken the sensibilities that would require none. Every
prejudice and feeling has been summoned to listen to some
peculiar style of address; and yet we seem to believe, and
to consider a doubt as an affront, that we are strangers to
any influence but that of unbiased reason.

It would be strange that a subject which has roused in
turn all the passions of the country, should be discussed
without the interference of any of our own. We are men,
and therefore not exempt from those passions : as citizens
and representatives we feel the interests that must excite
them. The hazard of great interests cannot fail to agitate
strong passions. We are not disinterested; it is impossible
we should be dispassionate. The warmth of such feelings
may becloud the judgment, and, for a time, pervert the
understanding. But the public sensibility, and our own,
has sharpened the spirit of inquiry, and given an animation
to the debate. The public attention has been quickened to
mark the progress of the discussion, and its judgment, often
hasty and erroneous on first impressions, has become solid
and enlightened at last. Our result will, I hope, on that
account, be the safer and more mature, as well as more
accordant with that of the nation. The only constant
agents in political affairs are the passions of men. Shall
we complain of our nature shall we say that man ought to


have been made otherwise? It is right already, because
He, from whom we derive our nature, ordained it so; and
because thus made and thus acting, the cause of truth and
the public good is the more surely promoted.

But an attempt has been made to produce an influence
of a nature more stubborn, and more unfriendly to truth.
It is very unfairly pretended that the constitutional right
of this House is at stake, and to be asserted and preserved
only by a vote in the negative. We hear it said that this
is a struggle for liberty, a manly resistance against the
design to nullify this assembly, and to make it a cipher in
the government: that the President and Senate, the numer-
ous meetings in the cities, and the influence of the general
alarm of the country, are the agents and instruments of a
scheme of coercion and terror, to force the treaty down our
throats, though we loathe it, and in spite of the clearest
convictions of duty and conscience.

It is necessary to pause here and inquire whether sug-
gestions of this kind be not unfair in their very texture and
fabric, and pernicious in all their influences. They oppose
an obstacle in the path of inquiry, not simply discouraging,
but absolutely insurmountable. They will not yield to
argument; for as they were not reasoned up, they cannot
be reasoned down. They are higher than a Chinese wall in
truth's way, and built of materials that are indestructible.
While this remains, it is vain to argue; it is vain to say to
this mountain, Be thou cast into the sea. For, I ask of the
men of knowledge of the world, whether they would not
hold him for a blockhead that should hope to prevail in an
argument whose scope and object is to mortify the self-
love of the expected proselyte? I ask further, when such
attempts have been made, have they not failed of success?
The indignant heart repels a conviction that is believed to
debase it.

The self-love of an individual is not warmer in its sense,
nor more constant in its action, than what is called in
French, r esprit de corps, or the self-love of an assembly;
that jealous affection which a body of men is always found
to bear toward its own prerogatives and power. I will not
condemn this passion. Why should we urge an unmeaning
censure, or yield to groundless fears that truth and duty


will be abandoned, because men in a public assembly are
still men, and feel that esprit de corps which is one of the
laws of their nature? Still less should we despond or com-
plain, if we reflect that this very spirit is a guardian instinct,
that watches over the life of this assembly. It cherishes
the principle of self-preservation, and without its existence,
and its existence with all the strength we see it possess, the
privileges of the representatives of the people, and medi-

Online LibraryThomas B. (Thomas Brackett) ReedModern eloquence; (Volume 11) → online text (page 6 of 43)