William Roscoe Thayer.

Commemorative exercises in connection with the erection of a memorial tablet to George Sewall Boutwell in Groton cemetery May fifteenth, 1908; (Volume 1) online

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Commemorative Exercises

in connection with

The Erection of a Memorial Tablet


George Sewall Boutwell

In Groton Cemetery
May Fifteenth, 1908





BOSTON, 1908

Commemorative Exercises

in connection with

The Erection of a Memorial Tablet


George Sewail Boutwell

In Groton Cemetery
May Fifteenth, 1908





BOSTON, 190,8

The Memorial Tablet in the New Groton
Cemetery is inscribed :

In Memory of


Jan. 28, 1818
Feb. 27, 1905

Governor of Massachusetts

Representative and Senator of the United States
Secretary of the Treasury


Citizen, Patriot, Statesman

Consistent, Brave and Devoted Friend

of Human Liberty

The exercises began with laying of flowers upon the grave
by the George S. Boutwell Woman's Relief Corps, No. 49,
Auxiliary to the G. A. R., the George S. Boutwell Post, No. 48,
Department of Massachusetts, G. A. B., and the E. S. Clark Post,
No. 115, Department of Massachusetts, G. A. R. ; and the singing
of Sir Henry Wotton's "The Character of a Happy Life" by a
choir of boys from the Groton School.

Letters of sympathy and regret were received from the Presi-
dent of the United States, the Secretary of the Treasury, the
Speaker of the National House of Representatives, the Lieutenant
Governor — Acting Governor of Massachusetts, the President of
the State Senate; from ex-Gove^npr Brackett, ex-Governor Long,
Mr. Andrew Carnegie, Gen. W.'&. Bancroft and many others.

The poem was read by William Roscoe Thayer, Esq., and the
address delivered by the Hon. Winslow Warren as follows :


^5. C\-. y}-rua-rv\*


I marvel not that Youth,

Impassion'd for the Truth,
Cleaves but to her, as bridegroom to his bride;

Eecks neither praise nor blame,

Heeds not the lure of fame,
Knows that her smile were worth the world beside.

But when in Age I find

Young courage and young mind,
And eyes that see their morning vision clear,

Like him but lately dead,

Who after four-score led
Our battle-charge, I marvel and revere.

Thou gav'st him life, State,

Who wert assigned by Fate
The noblest task of all the modern years :

To clear a little space

Where conscience should have place
To worship God, and men with men be peers;

A clearing by the sea

Where none should crook the knee
To king or pope or other man-made lord;

A haunt where Peace might dwell

With folk who lov'd her well,
But still for Duty's sake would draw the sword.

Beloved State, and true!

Thy blessed gospel flew
Throughout the West and loos'd the Old World's chains;

Thy thoughts like lifeblood run

Thro' ev'ry loyal son
Who feels the stir of freedom in his veins.

He was thy son ! he heard
In youth thy puissant word

And prov'd the obligation of thy breed;
Obey'd thy civic call,
Eose high, nor fear'd to fall

Confessing thine instruction by his deed.

His laurel'd name shall stand

With theirs that sav'd the Land
When mad Rebellion shook our cornerstone;

His courage never quail'd,

His counsel never fail'd,
Till Discord ceas'd and Wrong was overthrown.

To shine in such a strife

Were crown enough for life;
The newer labors to new hands belong;

But when the younger brood

Set bad instead of good,
He rose, again a youth, and smote the wrong.

Tho' Prudence bade, "Beware !"
He answer'd straight, "I dare !"

And swept like retribution on the foes;
Put compromises by —
Half-truth is still half-lie —

Nor barter'd his convictions for repose.

He heard but to despise

The precepts worldly-wise
That check the vanward impulse of the soul —

The si}', corrosive doubts,

The cynic sneer that flouts
All virtue and denies the unseen goal.

Years never palsied him

With disillusions grim,
Xor taught the lie that numbers most avail;

He held that not to fight

For Freedom and for Right —
Our captains — is the coward's way to fail.

He was not overborne

By ridicule or scorn,
Nor daunted by the dangers of the time;

He even could resist

The friends whose love he missed,
The comrades of the causes of his prime.

To suffer and endure,

To keep the spirit pure —
The fortress and abode of holy Truth —

To serve eternal things,

Whate'er the issue brings,
This is not broken Age, but ageless Youth.


Address by the


But three short years ago all that was mortal of George S.
Boutwell was here laid peacefully to rest amid the surroundings
he loved so well, and now in this spring time of hope we gather as
relatives, friends and fellow townsmen to pay a simple, unostenta-
tious tribute of respect and affection to that able, conscientious
Christian soldier whose battle was always for the right as he saw it
and who ever gave of his utmost for the preservation and moral
benefit of his country. Favored beyond most men in the length of
his days he was also favored that to the very end he was able to
influence his countrymen by words of wisdom and counsel. No
pomp or ceremony, no pretentious marble would befit his simple
life — if honors came to him in double portion, they were only the
reward of faithful adherence to plain duty and of natural abilities
which he reinforced by constant and persistent labor. He loved
public station but not unless he had won it by his own merit and
for the purpose of effecting a public good.

Born of the old New England stock — he was himself a typical
New Englander — of the kind New England is most proud — a self-
made man who in the making had availed himself to the utmost of
his opportunities and who claimed by right of birth only the brains
that God had given him and the frame that shirked no bodily or
mental toil. In form and appearance and manner he reminded
you of the Puritan of the olden time but toned and modified and
humanized by the spirit of the age in which he lived. Although

a large portion of his life was spent in public office and in the
whirl of public affairs he loved nothing better than to lay them all
aside and enjoy the quiet life of a private citizen in this peaceful
town sure of the approbation of his fellow citizens and that confi-
dence and respect which came from the simplicity and modesty of
his habits, his sympathetic interest in all that concerned their wel-
fare, and the rectitude of his life.

I might well pause here, for I can pay no higher tribute and
nothing that I can say can add to the appreciation of Governor
Boutwell which you, his neighbors and friends, already have. The
highest proof of a man's sterling worth and character is always
found in the love and admiration of those who knew him best in
the humbler daily walks of life and who bear him in tender mem-
ory for what he was at home among them, rather than for the more
showy and brilliant qualities which distinguished him to the outer

I had known Governor Boutwell more or less all my life, in
polities or in business, and it does not in the least diminish my
high estimate of his character and attainments if I admit that I
often differed from him while acknowledging the purity of his
motives; the privilege of intimate acquaintance, however, came to
me late in his and my life, but it was when he had reached the
full fruition of a noble life — had satisfied a laudable ambition, had
left behind an honorable and distinguished career, and in his old
age had grasped the opportunity yet left to increase his country-
men's indebtedness to him by devoting all his remaining strength
and unimpaired intellect to rallying them to the defense of those
principles of constitutional liberty for which he had always fought.
His life was a singularly varied one and characteristic of our Amer-
ican civilization. He was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, Jan-
uary 28, 1818 — his parents were of what Lincoln happily termed
"the plain people" — honest, hard working, God-fearing people of
old English stock — moderate in circumstances, and whose whole
lives were a cheerful struggle against adverse conditions; but their

ideas of healthy moral and physical training of youth were fortu-
nately of the old-fashioned kind teaching industry, perseverance,
mental discipline and the highest regard for truth and principle.
The future statesman had few of the advantages of early educa-
tion, none but what the common schools afforded in the winter sea-
son, for in the summer his time was occupied in work upon his
father's farm. When he was of the age of thirteen he left school
to go into a store in Lunenberg, where his parents then resided, but
he was indefatigable in reading and studying evenings, and at
every leisure moment — in 1834 he taught school for a short time in
Shirley and then became a pupil himself at a small private school.
In 1835 he removed to Groton and became clerk in a store for the
sale of boots and shoes and later the manager and owner; but he
lost no opportunity of enriching his mind by the study of the best
ancient and modern writers — he learned the Hebrew alphabet, and
became familiar with the pure English of the Old Testament
prophets and the masterpieces of English oratory. To poetry he
was not much inclined although he read some of the older poets —
fiction he read not at all and science did not appeal to him.

The imaginative side of his nature was never greatly developed
and his oratorical style was modelled upon that of the English
prose writers of the 17th and 18th centuries — giving little play to
fancy and showing an utter disregard of rhetorical effect. His
range of reading as described by himself shows clearly the bent
of his mind as well as his intense studiousness — he writes that
between 1835 and 1841 he read the following books — and this was
a period when he was actively engaged in business and very busy in
current politics — Locke, Say's Political Economy, Smith's Wealth
of Nations, Plutarch, Josephus, Herodotus, Lingard, Hume, Smol-
lett, Cicero, Demosthenes, Homer, Pope, Byron, Shakespeare, Bos-
well's Johnson, Junius, The Tattler, The Rambler, The English
Eeviews, Text Books in French, Blair's Rhetoric, Blackstone, Story
on the Constitution, The Federalist and De Lohme on the British
Constitution. This is an imposing list, if a rather prosaic one, and


to many would seem a somewhat strange selection, yet it points very
clearly to the object he had in view, to fit himself to take part in
public life as well as to lay the foundation for the law — for during
all this time he was at work studying his profession, mostly evenings
after the day's labor was over, and he was also engaged to some extent
in its practice. It certainly furnishes a most suggestive lesson to any
who may think that success in life can be attained other than by
the hardest kind of work. He took quite an active interest in town
affairs and contributed articles on political topics to the press thus
attracting the notice and earning the good opinion of his fellow
citizens. In 1839 he was chosen upon the school committee of
Groton — in 1840 was an ardent champion of Van Buren in the
Presidential campaign, and in the same year ran for the Legislature
but without success. In 1841, however, he was elected by a major-
ity of one and between 1840 and 1850 was elected seven times
though it is interesting to note that he met with defeat on several
occasions because of his independent attitude on local questions.

He had attached himself to the Democratic party with whose
general views of a strict construction of the Constitution — regard
for the rights of the masses of the people, hard money and a low
tariff he was then in full accord — but he was frequently out of
harmony with the leaders and held pronounced anti-slavery views
which grew in force as his party became more and more under the
domination of the slave power.

After distinguished service in the Legislature and serving as
Secretary of the Board of Education, in 1851 he was elected Gov-
ernor of the State by a coalition of the Democrats and Free Soilers
and was re-elected in 1852. Though a Democratic Governor he
gave his party some anxiety by his independent course, gradually
lost sympathy with it and became in 1855 one of the organizers of
the new Eepublican party, with which he thenceforward acted so
long as he believed it to be true to the principles of liberty. In
1862 he was elected to Congress, having previously filled many
important national positions — in 1869 he became Secretary of the

Treasury under President Grant — in 1873 Senator from Massachu-
setts, and upon retiring in 1877, was appointed Commissioner to
revise the statutes of the United States and afterwards to many
important positions requiring legal knowledge and ability.

In this place I can thus only hastily sketch the course of his
life, the details must be for the historian, for his distinguished
services during the Civil War, through the reconstruction period,
and afterwards, form an important part of the history of his

It is enough for me to say that in all the positions to which he
was called, he served with great distinction, that he was clear in
thought, bold and determined in action — thoroughly open and above
board — never paltering with his own conscience and despising those
who set expediency or profit before right — yet charitable towards
honest opponents and with no malice towards those who saw not
the right from his point of view. He was a partisan in the best
sense of the word — he believed in political parties as necessary
though imperfect instruments to conduct the public business, but
he never could become a slave to party or set the party name above
the party principles.

His study and practice of the law was too desultory and inter-
mittent to allow of his attaining the high position at the bar to
which his abilities entitled him. He never studied law as a sci-
ence nor wooed that jealous mistress with the assiduity that success
demanded, yet he tried numerous cases with skill and ability,
and in the conspicuous and important legal appointments under
Government showed a broad grasp of legal principles and a wide
knowledge of precedents which if used upon a broader field would
undoubtedly have gained for him high honors in the legal pro-
fession. During his political career moral questions largely over-
shadowed all others and while he had positive views upon purely
political subjects, or when Secretary of the Treasury had to deal
with broad financial matters — his great field was the moral one
which involved slavery, and the efforts for reconstruction after the


war. He deprecated war but was a vigorous and constant up-
holder of the civil war which meant to him the destruction of
African slavery which he thoroughly detested, and so far as in him
lay he proposed to remove that awful stigma upon America's fair
name before final peace was made. The cost of its removal was as
nothing to him as compared with the curse of its existence. He
knew not the meaning of compromise upon such a subject — he
fought with all his energy and drove his shafts straight to
the mark, never pausing to see whether his doctrines or acts
won popular favor, so sure was he that they were right. To many
his views at times seemed extreme, but they were the result
of careful thought with a single eye to the real benefit of his coun-
try. His faith in the glorious destiny of America was supreme
though it was not a blind optimism which saw no perils in the path,
but an unconquerable belief in the wisdom and permanency of re-
publican institutions.

He stood with Lincoln and Sumner and Andrew and other
great statesmen, through the war and after the war, in their de-
termination that this country should be placed upon a sound
moral as well as political basis. He shared all their views of con-
stitutional liberty and all their faith in the rights of men of what-
ever color — he felt with them that no man was great enough or good
enough to own his fellow man — that every people must be left to
determine its own form of government — that the best government
of a people by an alien nation was worse than the worst government
of a people by themselves — that the Declaration of Independence
was no generality but contained imperishable truths not to be
set aside when circumstances rendered it inconvenient for us to ad-
here to them : — it was not to be expected therefore that in hid later
years he could reverse these opinions of his life and he did not. He
could never join the ranks of those who fancied a distinction be-
tween Americans holding slaves and an American Eepublic holding
subjects — he had read in the history of the American Eevolution
that taxation without representation was tyranny and he believed


it to be tyranny just as much under an American President as
under England's George the Third, and worse, from the fact that
George the Third had never proclaimed any doctrine to the con-

The claim that the Philippine Islands were committed to our care
by Divine Providence when he had seen them unlawfully bought
from Spain and then filched away from the natives in bloody strife
after they had been misled by our promises or actions — he utterly
rejected as false and hypocritical. In these views he stood with
many of the greatest and wisest living Americans, Republicans and
Democrats — but he never stopped to count the number or the weight
of his supporters or opponents, he only recognized that principles
for which he had fought all his life were at stake and his duty be-
came clear. Party dictation or expediency he threw to the winds —
denunciations or caustic criticisms were as nothing to him — with
infinite regret he severed his long-cherished connection with the Re-
publican party and with the old fire undiminished devoted his re-
maining years to the upholding of the same doctrines of human
liberty for which he had given his earlier ones. He was of the
stuff of which martyrs are made and might have exclaimed with
Martin Luther — "Here I stand ! — I can do no otherwise. God help
me !"

Men may disagree with him — may be more willing than he to
cut loose the Ship of State from its ancient firm moorings — but no
lover of his country, no believer in high ideals, can withhold from
Governor Boutwell admiration for his courage, his consistency, his
devotion to his own conceptions of truth, and his fearless energy,
when his age had fairly entitled him to repose, in giving himself
to the cause of human liberty.

I have dwelt upon the characteristics of the man rather than
upon the details of his career — the emphasis upon his later years
is only that they were the ripened fruit of his whole previous
life. They illustrate the man of action and of thought — a New
England conscience as rugged as her native hills, an indomitable


will and courage, a high sense of duty and great abilities brought
to the welfare of his country.

I have heard greater orators than Governor Boutwell, more pro-
found scholars and thinkers, but no one who carried with him a
deeper impression of intellectual honesty and clear conviction than
he did.

There was something in his very manner when he rose to speak,
which insensibly attracted the attention of his audience and gave
the impression that here was a man who had something to say
worth listening to. This effect was enhanced by a slow, earnest ut-
terance which grew in intensity and vigor when he desired to em-
phasize any part of his speech, the tones of his voice manifesting the
depth of his belief and gaining the sympathy and interest of his
hearers. He never sought their applause but appealed with start-
ling directness to their reason and conscience, seeming almost im-
patient of manifestations of approval as though they interrupted
the current of his thoughts and impaired the force of his words.
He indulged in no glowing periods, rarely showed a tendency to hu-
mor, although he was by no means without it; but in sarcasm he
was severe and trenchant, yet however pointed it never stooped to
insinuation or to unfair personal attack.

His language was unaffectedly simple and Ms thoughts were ex-
pressed in logical form and so clearly and cogently that they
seldom failed to reach the understanding by their apparent frank-
ness. He could hardly be said to have had the graces of oratory
and he had none of the arts of finished speakers, yet his power
over his audiences was very great and his mastery of Anglo Saxon
speech gave him a success which more eminent orators might well
have envied.

Those who seek the lesson of his life as a guide to their own
careers may well find it in his self reliance, his utter faithfulness —
his untieing labor — his integrity of character and the openness and
clearness of his utterances.

Of course he erred at times, all men of positive convictions ever


will, and no one would have been quicker to admit it than he —
in fact, with his pleasant smile and that quiet humor which was
so subtle that only those who knew him best appreciated its force,
I think he would have charged himself with more mistakes than
he really made, for conceit or boastfulness were no part of his
nature — but whatever mistakes were his, they were always those of
honest judgment and they changed not at all the grand record of
his upright life.

It is a common remark that a statesman is but a politician passed
away, and there is truth in it, provided the politician in his life
has been honest with the people, honest with himself, independent
and fearless in his convictions and has brought great abilities to
the defense of what he thought was right. Measured by such
standards many of our politicians may be hopeless of the award of
statesmanship hereafter, but not so with Governor Boutwell; he
measured up to the highest standards during his life and Ins
lamented death full of years and honors, could add nothing to and
detract nothing from a fame already secure.

I need not speak here of the beauty and simplicity of his home
life — y OU? his neighbors and friends, recognize in him the devoted
husband, the fond and loving father, and the exemplary fellow cit-
izen, interested in local affairs and always ready to give of his
advice and co-operation to aid every good movement.

Among you he dwelt for over fifty years and, although his public
cares and duties compelled long absences, his heart ever turned
back to the rolling hills and shady trees of his Groton home where
undisturbed he could enjoy his leisure with his family and friends
and forget all anxieties and troubles among the books which were
the familiar and constant companions of his youth and the solace
of his old age.

Over his grave we have placed our estimate of the man — no
fulsome or elaborate eulogy — but the few simple, plain words which
embody his career — words which to all who read will show that
here lies buried one of nature's noblemen — one who recognized no


superior and no inferior — one who walked among us in unaffected
simplicity as a modest unassuming gentleman — yet one who brought
great honor to the Nation, the State and the Town in which he
lived, by a long life of honorable and consistent devotion to duty —
illustrating the enduring nature of a successful career achieved by
faithful endeavor and giving to those that come after him an
inspiring example of the opportunities which this country affords to
those who have the ability, the courage and the will to profit by
the privileges of republican institutions.

The Rev. Endicott Peabodv pronounced a benediction.


JUN 8 1908

For once we have listened to a funeral oration that had measure.
Emerson ranks it among the highest attributes of style, of conduct, of
the gentleman or the lady, to "have measure." "Shrillness has been
known," he goes on to say, "to put whole drawing rooms to flight."
But tho measure in this funeral eulogy was not one imposed by any
considerations of literary style or personal conduct. It was the habit
of the well-trained New England public conscience, inherited through
long descent; and it was most befitting for the occasion of the placing
of the marble headstone on the grave of this particular "grand old
man." Governor Boutwell. It may have been felt, too, that the grave-
stone's plainness is severe in the extreme. But after the start given
by the first glance at its uncompromising, sharp-edged whiteness, and


Online LibraryWilliam Roscoe ThayerCommemorative exercises in connection with the erection of a memorial tablet to George Sewall Boutwell in Groton cemetery May fifteenth, 1908; (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 2)