Fourth of July Oration at Milford (1827)
JULY 4TH, A.D. 1827,
REPUBLICAN CITZENS OF MILFORD,
THE NEIGHBOURING TOWNS.
UNIVERSALIST MEETING HOUSE,
IN SAID MILFORD.
BY REV. ADIN BALLOU.
TRUE AND GREENE, PRINTERS.
The Almighty Parent of the Universe hath preserved us to witness another anniversary of the eventful 4th of July, 1776.
During the past year, as heretofore, His guardianship and providence have overshadowed our nation, perpetuated Independence and Liberty, confirmed civil and religious freedom, continued in successful operation the constituted powers and authorities, secured to the people their natural and inalienable rights, and munificently diffused prosperity and happiness throughout the Union.
While, therefore, we have just reasons for the joyous congratulations, which we have assembled to interchange on this illustrious day, let not the searching eye of the great giver of every good and perfect gift behold one ungrateful soul among us; but from every heart, may He receive, as the author and preserver of our national and individual felicity, unreserved homage of gratitude and praise.
And since we have convened to commemorate one of the most remarkable events registered in the annals of human transactions, it may be expected that a brief view will be presented of the leading causes which produced, as also the most important consequences following, so distinguished an event. This indeed, appears in some degree necessary to the proper purpose of the present discourse; and I shall assume the labour, without promising much further entertainment or instruction, than all may derive from recollecting or reading the history of the American Revolution.
The thirteen original United States of America, previous to the Declaration of Independence, fifty-one years since, were so many distinct British Colonies, under the sovereignty, jurisdiction, and laws of Great Britain, and in full allegiance to the English Crown.
Their early history presents a picture full of dark and gloomy shades, with only here and there a ray of light to cheer the sad prospect. They were planted in a savage wilderness, dreary and inhospitable, and grew up struggling perpetually under a load of hardship, privation, and misery, scarcely paralleled in any former age of the world.
Though religious intolerance had banished a great portion of the people of these colonies from their native country, yet they cherished the remembrance of their origin, and regarded England as their home. They venerated the fountain whence they sprang, and entertained the warmest affection for their British brethren. With true loyalty, the colonies looked up to the king and Government of Great Britain, as dutiful and submissive children to a revered parent; though this parent was unnatural and churlish toward them, through every stage of their existence. He gave little and required much; was careless of their welfare, and careful only to render them subservient to his avarice and covetousness; laid many stumbling blocks in the way of their prosperity; exercised an overbearing policy towards them; and when with tears they besought him to redress their grievances, did many times answer, only by the imposition of new burdens. The people of the colonies had much to complain of in the treatment they received from the parent state; yet such was their loyalty and attachment, that they complained little, until they perceived in the British government a settled determination to abridge their dearest rights and liberties, inch by inch, till the whole should be annihilated, and themselves reduced to a state of degradation, wherein they and their posterity must forever remain, hewers of wood and drawers of water. Such a determination began to develope itself in the year 1764, when an act of Parliament was passed, (under the specious but false pretext of raising a revenue in America, for defraying the expenses of defending, protecting, and securing the same,) laying a duty on sugar, coffee, and indigo, &c. being the produce of a colony, not under the dominion of his majesty.
This act evidently recognized that right to tax the colonies without their consent, and was, therefore, deemed unjust and oppressive. It was an assumption of power, to which the British Government had never before pretended, during the one hundred and fifty years existence of the colonies. It had, indeed, always exercised over them a restrictive, monopolizing system of policy, by which, at last, according to Mr. Pitt's statement in Parliament, Great Britain received profits from the trade of the Colonies, amounting to two million pounds sterling per annum. But this was insufficient to satisfy the cravings of an infatuated Ministry, and a duped Monarch. It was too indirect a method of taxation; because it did not answer the purpose of making the people of the colonies sufficiently sensible of their dependence upon the mother country, and of that passive obedience and non-resistance which they owed to their sovereign and rulers across the ocean. These people, in the eyes of the British cabinet, were already allowed too much liberty and independence; were multiplying their numbers and increasing their strength to an extent dangerous to interests of those who were born to reign and rule; and if not soon taught the lessons of humility and submission, might one day demand to be represented in Parliament; and so, by degrees, rise to the first offices in the realm.
With the two-fold object, therefore, of increasing their revenue, and securing complete and perpetual ascendancy to themselves, heirs, and successors, they determined, now that the war with France had terminated, and the Canadas were their own, to cripple and smother the rising spirit of American Liberty; and thus render the colonies, in future, fit and passive instruments for English aggrandizement. Veiling their real purpose under the plausible disguise of promoting the union and permanency of the British empire, of obtaining a just remuneration for expenses incurred in defending and protecting the colonies, and above all establishing a fund sufficient to secure, perpetually, the future tranquility and prosperity of the same, they began its execution with the Revenue Act already mentioned; and finding that the colonies submitted to its operations with reluctance and disapprobation, were, at once, irritated and encouraged to persevere. Accordingly, the British Parliament, spurred on by the king and his ministers, who were impatient to secure their darling objects, the very next year, 1765, passed another Revenue Act, ordaining that instruments of writing, such as deeds, bonds, notes, &c. used in the colonies, should be null and void, unless executed on stamped paper; for which a duty should be paid to the crown. This was called the Stamp Act; and such it was in more than one respect; for it not only required the use of stamped paper, but the service of stamped slaves. The act itself was a gigantic thundering stamp on the soil of Freedom, which made the very stones cry out, and withal fully opened the eagle eyes of the Americans to the impending danger which threatened the murder of Liberty and the destruction of their most precious rights. Our fathers, with a constellation of master spirits at their head, such as Benjamin Franklin, Patrick Henry, Samuel Adams, John Hancock, and their associates, all whose names are dear to Americans and to Fame, now arose with jealous solicitude to remonstrate against this undeserved abuse, this unjust and cruel treatment of a people who had always been the most loyal subjects to the king of Great Britain within the bounds of his dominions. Looking through the smoke of his furnace, they saw the British Vulcan, with his one eyed journeymen forging the chains of servitude and slavery, with which the sons of Columbia and their generations were to be enthralled; and they resolved never to wear them; never to receive them upon their necks for a moment, even upon trial.
The first aggression had been warmly disapproved, but endured by the colonies for the sake of peace, and with the hope that it would never be repeated. But the second banished that hope, produced a ten-fold aggravation, and rendered peace more intolerable than war itself. Instead, therefore, of tame submission, an inflexible spirit of resistance took possession of American minds.
The Colonial Legislatures passed resolutions against the stamp act, declaring that the people had enjoyed the rights of being governed by their own assemblies in the article of taxes and internal police; that those rights had never been forfeited or yielded up, but constantly recognized by the king and the people of Britain; that the Colonial Legislatures, with his Majesty or substitutes, in their representative capacity had the only exclusive right to lay taxes and imposts upon the inhabitants; and that every attempt to vest such power in any other person or persons whatsoever, was illegal, unconstitutional, and unjust, and had a manifest tendency to destroy British, as well as American Liberty.
The general voice of the people of the colonies thus spake: England, we are not, as you pretend, indebted to your rulers or people for any favours, whatsoever -- you have already received more than you ever bestowed; we will not, therefore, endure your taxation without an equivalent. Give us a just and equal representation in Parliament, and we will pay our just proportion of the national expenses. But if you refuse us the right of representation, we shall refuse you the right of taxation over these colonies. We are willing to be the subjects of George the III; but will not be his slaves. We owe to ourselves and posterity the duty of repelling the arrogant and unjust right you have assumed, of taxing us without our consent; for if this principle be admitted, you may take from us, piece by piece, every thing we possess, even our very existence. Hitherto we have taxed ourselves; we will do it still -- be content with the gains you have received, and are constantly deriving from the colonies by your monopolies, and we will be content with the little you have left to our enjoyment. Such, in substance, was the language of the American people.
Massachusetts recommended a colonial congress to consult for the general safety, which having been well received by the sister colonies, twenty-eight members assembled in October, at New-York, where they solemnly remonstrated against the Stamp Act, and petitioned its repeal. They likewise made a declaration of rights, asserting taxation and representation to be inseparable. Such enthusiasm prevailed among the people, that in Boston and Portsmouth, the day on which the Stamp Act went into operation was ushered in by a funeral tolling of the bells. And at the latter place, funeral ceremonies were observed in the course of the day, in honour of Liberty; which word having been neatly inscribed in large letters on a coffin, was followed to the grave by a procession, during whose movement, minute guns were fired, and at the place of burial, an oration delivered in favour of the deceased. Similar transactions occurred in different parts of the country.
In some places, the vengeance of the people obliged the Stamp Officers to resign, or secret themselves. Stamps were not permitted to be landed, and in many places, business was transacted without them. Associations were formed by the merchants throughout the country, not to import goods until the odious act had been repealed. In fact such spirited, universal, and effectual opposition was made to the act, in the colonies, that the British government found itself under the necessity of forcing them to submit; or granting their petition for its repeal. Parliament convened January 7th, 1766, when the king, in his speech, mentioned the opposition of the colonies to the Stamp Act in terms of severe reprehension. The subject was of paramount interest, and its discussion exceedingly boisterous. Liberty and the colonies had numerous friends in both houses of Parliament, who made a firm and independent stand against ministerial oppression. At their head stood William Pitt, of imperishable memory; whose heart, head, and voice were devoted to the cause of freedom and justice.
This great and good man was then in the house of Commons, and on motion for an address to the king, was the first to give his sentiments on the state of affairs. He concluded with these words; "It is my opinion, that this kingdom has no right to lay a tax upon the colonies." A silent suspense of several minutes succeeded, when at length, Mr. Grenville rose to reply. He declared the tumult in America to border upon rebellion; insisted that Parliament had a constitutional right to tax the colonies; and inveighed bitterly against the ungrateful Americans.
Mr. Pitt instantly made a spirited reply. "We are told," said he, "America is obstinate -- America is in open rebellion. I rejoice, that America has resisted; three millions of people so dead to all the feelings of liberty, as voluntarily to submit to be slaves, would have been fit instruments to make slaves of all the rest." He closed his eloquent speech thus: "Upon the whole, I will beg leave to tell the house in few words, what is really my opinion. It is, that the Stamp Act be repealed absolutely, totally, and immediately."
The house of Commons, finally, on the 23d of February, decided a motion for repealing the act, in the affirmative, by a majority of one hundred and eight. The opposition was long and vehement in both houses, especially in the house of Lords; where the whole bench of Bishops, and some of the Dukes were for forcing the Americans into unconditional submission, with fire and sword. However, they at length concurred with the Commons by a majority of thirty-four; though not till they had added to the act of repeal another, worse in principle, if possible, than the act repealed. This act declared: "that Parliament have, and of right ought to have power to bind the colonies in all cases whatsoever."
The tempest now abated, and the storm was hushed; the British ministry were chagrined, the people of England pleased, the colonies satisfied, good feelings restored, and every branch of business resumed with double vigor. The Americans congratulated each other on the triumph of Liberty over tyranny, and seemed, notwithstanding the declaratory act of Parliament, to calculate on uninterrupted peace and prosperity. Delusive calculation! little did they imagine that the enemies of their freedom and prosperity had been driven into retreat, only to mature new schemes of hostility, and to rally again with three-fold strength. Yet such was the fact; they had retreated, but had not surrendered.
Ere the wounds of the colonies had been completely healed, they were opened afresh, and more deeply than ever. In 1767, Parliament passed a law imposing duties to be collected in the colonies on glass, paper, painters' colours and tea. At this act, and others equally arbitrary and unjust, the Americans took fresh alarm; the smothered flames of opposition rekindled; the importation of British goods by voluntary association ceased; and meetings were called to resolve, remonstrate and petition. But all this now availed nothing towards the redress of their grievances. Within two years, both houses of Parliament in their address to the king requested him to order the Governor of Massachusetts to take notice of such in his Province as might be guilty of treason, and send them to England for trial.
This unconstitutional and tyrannical measure was more abominable than any of which the Americans had before complained; and was like oil and spirits poured upon burning coals. The indignation of the people arose in one general and lofty flame, as it were, to the very clouds; and the British government, its agents and instruments, continued to feed this flame with fuel, from that time forward, so industriously and bountifully, that it blazed with increasing fervency till it had consumed, not only all the fuel, but exhausted the strength of the feeders.
Oppression and resistance were equally inflexible and persevering; and a series of events followed in rapid succession, the direct tendency of which was a bloody civil war. England would not relax; America would not yield. The colonial assemblies passed spirited resolutions in support of their rights; and the King's Governors dissolved them in an arbitrary manner. The Bostonians insulted the British soldiers; and they fired upon, killed and wounded several of the citizens. The British attempted to land and sell tea; but the Americans would neither purchase their tea, nor suffer it to be landed; and in Boston a mob entered the vessels and threw large quantities into the sea. Parliament revenged this insult by passing the Boston Port Bill. The colonies, in concert, retaliated by putting a further, and almost complete restriction upon commercial intercourse with the mother country, until their grievances should be redressed. They convened a Continental Congress, which being organized, agreed upon a declaration of rights; voted an address to the king, another to the people of Great Britain, and another to the Canadians; recommended a second Congress and dissolved itself. Though this Congress had only advisory power, the people and authorities approved its resolutions, and seconded its measures. At a meeting of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, resolutions were passed to raise, arm, and equip twelve thousand men, to act in any emergency; and to enlist one fourth of the militia as minute men; they also sent a request to Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island, to increase this army to twenty thousand.
Great Britain, on the other hand, unwearied by ill success in her colonial projects, prohibited the trade of the New England provinces, and forbade their fishing on the banks of Newfoundland; and soon after laid the same prohibitions on the Middle and Southern Colonies, excepting New York, Delaware, and North Carolina; which exception was an unsuccessful artifice to break the union of the Colonies. She also sent to America large recruits of military strength, both in troops and stores of provisions and ammunition, thereby evincing that she was determined to carry her point by force of arms, if the rebellious Americans refused submission, on the application of less severe chastisement.
A great and momentous crisis had now arrived: on both sides the bolts of vengeance were hot in the furnaces, ready to hiss in human blood. -- The hilt of the sword had been grasped, and its blade half drawn from the scabbard. -- The musket charged with death slept by night at the pillow of its master; and all the implements of destruction brightened for war.
On the 19th of April, 1775, the dreadful signal was given at Lexington by the British Maj. Pitcairn, commander of a detachment ordered out by the Royal Governor to destroy the military stores of the Americans at Concord. On his way passing through Lexington, he found about seventy of the militia on parade under arms. He immediately rode up to them exclaiming vehemently, "Disperse, disperse, you rebels; throw down your arms, and disperse." They were in no apparent haste to obey this order, upon which he discharged his pistol, and commanded his soldiers to fire. Here first, the blood of Freemen stained the ground in the great conflict of the revolution; nor did the bondmen of George III triumph in the affair of this day without the loss of blood and life, as well as the loss of honour. The die was thus cast, and the loud clarion of war sounded to arms. From Maine to Georgia, its thrilling voice was heard; when our fathers rose in their indignation, and appealing to Heaven for the justice of their cause, "determined to die or be free." Within a short time, an army of thirty thousand men assembled in the vicinity of Boston. Hostile preparations were every where making, and plans concerted for future operations against the enemy.
The second Continental Congress convened on the tenth of May, at Philadelphia. As the Colonies had now resolved on military opposition to Great Britain, it became necessary to appoint a Commander in Chief of the Army. George Washington, whose name alone is a sublime panegyric and eulogy to his honour and memory, then a member of that body from Virginia, was unanimously chosen to the responsible station. Having consented, though with great diffidence, to enter upon the arduous duty assigned him, he repaired immediately to Cambridge and assumed the command of the American Army. Already had the memorable battle of Bunker's Hill been fought, Charlestown laid in ashes, and the lamented Warren sacrificed in the defence of American Liberty; yet the army and citizens appeared elated with their fortune, and every pulse beat strong in the veins of a people, around whose very vitals the love of Liberty entwined its sacred cord. They received the Commander in chief with joyful acclamations, and as all sincerely loved him, so they cheerfully obeyed his orders. Washington devoted himself thenceforth, through every trying scene, to the salvation of his country, until at length he saw it happily accomplished.
Here I must forbear, leaving to your recollection many events recorded in the history of the Revolution, and proceed immediately to the point at which I have been aiming.
We have seen that Great Britain attempted to tax her American Colonies, probably not so much to increase her revenue, as to establish complete ascendancy and perpetual domination over the American people. On the other side, we have seen that these Colonies resisted this attempt, not so much to save their money as their liberties; which they thoroughly understood and valued above all price. England, as well as America, knew that justice required the consent of the people, (as truly English as those on the island itself,) to laws designed to take away their property for the nation's use; -- and, that if a little could be taken away without consent, by the same rule the whole might. Yet because she imagined she had the power, would neither give the right of Representation to the Colonies, nor surrender her pretended right to lay upon them taxes and imposts. We have traced the operations of the two contending parties, till they became involved in war.
And now, let us ask, who were those that in 1775 and 1776 were making war against Great Britain, levying armies, appointing Generals, and furnishing military magazines? They were people, or the delegates of people, not only under, but acknowledging themselves to be under full allegiance to King George III. What then but insurgents and rebels could they call themselves, or be called by others? What common centre and bond had they, as a people? None, but fear of common danger. What power had the Continental Congress? None, but that of advising and recommending measures; or, at most, making temporary regulations. Where was their treasury? No where but in the spontaneous liberality and zeal of the people of the several colonies. Who, then, either at home or abroad, could place certain reliance on the acts and doings of the Colonial assemblies, or on those of the continental Congress, in this state of things? They acknowledged the king and parliament of Great Britain, at least nominally, their supreme political head; yet they were in open hostility, resisting this authority; and this their acknowledged supreme head had denounced them as rebels and outlaws, entirely beyond protection -- and more than that, was sending against them a powerful army and navy, with even the merciless Indian Savages to butcher, burn, and devour without mercy. Great things had been, almost unanimously, undertaken in support of liberty by the American people, and still greater things were in contemplation; yet all was doing solely by spontaneous voluntary concord and union of strength. The eyes of all Europe were fixed in astonishment, and doubtful expectation of the issue. For what were they contending? What was their ultimate object? Was it merely to obtain redress for the wrongs they had suffered, and then to lay down their arms in quiet colonial dependence upon Great Britain, with loyal submission to the king? And thus turn the whole affair into a sort of tragical farce, to be acted over again and again, to all generations? No! Our fathers had began to look beyond mere redress of past and present grievances; they meant to provide effectually against English tyranny for the future, by taking upon themselves exclusively the charge of supreme and independent Government, erected on such principles as would secure their Liberties and happiness. They well knew that full Independence would cost no more than would the simple redress of their injuries, for a few uncertain years. Nothing but the victorious sword would compel England to do justice; and if she could be so far humbled, American Independence would as easily be obtained, as English Liberty. And if unfortunately America must fall in the contest, why might he not fall like the strong man, rather than a refractory boy, as a brave nation rather than a rebellious foreign dependency? Under such circumstances the grand point to be decided was, shall these colonies now united to the last resort, to resist British despotism by force and arms, remain any longer under allegiance to the king of Great Britain? No! unanimously exclaimed Justice, Wisdom, Reason, and Liberty; henceforth let them be Free and Independent States.
Amen, the eager voice of groaning millions cried,
So let them be, their Representatives replied.
On the fourth of July, 1776, the delegates of the thirteen United Colonies in General Congress assembled, formally published and declared, "that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown; and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved; and that as FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliance, establish commerce, and do all other acts and things which Independent States may of right do." Thus arrived the destined day of our country's emancipation from British bondage, the birth of our nation; and thus transpired the glorious and memorable event, in celebration of which we are now convened.
The declaration of Independence, which has been read before us on this occasion, and to which we have listened with renewed interest and admiration, must be pronounced one of the most important, grand, and dignified political documents ever published to the world. Its principles, subjects, purpose, and diction combine to give it a peerless ascendancy, and an imperishable celebrity in the esteem and remembrance of mankind. There we find the creed of Liberty, which asserts the sublime fundamental principles of freedom, "that all men are created equal, and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights: that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness: that to secure these, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." And "that, whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter, or to abolish it, and to institute a new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safely and happiness." There we find a comprehensive statement of the causes and reasons, which impelled our separation from the parent state. There we find in bold relief, and masterly detail, the wrongs suffered by our country. There we find the solemn declaration, which absolved our allegiance to the British crown, terminated our political connection with Great Britain, and gave us a rank among the nations of the earth. And there we find the devout appeal of virtuous patriots to Heaven for the justice of their cause, a testimony of their reliance on Divine Providence for support through the trying struggle, and their mutual pledge to each other of their lives, fortunes, and sacred honour.
Where now is that illustrious phalanx of patriots? Those devoted fathers of their country, who in the dark and dubious hour of our nations nativity subscribed their hands to this sacred instrument, where are they? How affecting is the sad reflection. -- CARROLL, alone remains yet lingering on the shores of time. JEFFERSON, whose great mind dictated, and whose hand penned it; ADAMS, whose heart approved, and whose eloquent tongue urged so persuasively its adoption, having lived fifty years, witnessing and enjoying the blessings of their country's Independence, (which they had so eminently and efficiently aided in declaring to the world,) were both summoned by their Creator, as if in fresh consecration of the day, to yield their breath and go the way of all the earth, on the 4th of July. While their fellow citizens and countrymen were celebrating the great national jubilee, they received their discharge from the endurance of earthly cares, infirmities and pains. This is the first anniversary of that remarkable event. FRANKLIN, SHERMAN, and LIVINGSTON, who were associated with JEFFERSON and ADAMS on the committee that reported in favour of the declaration; JOHN HANCOCK, who presided over those momentous deliberations, and whose hand first subscribed it; with SAMUEL ADAMS, his compatriot who was inferior to none in love and devotion to the cause of American liberty; yea, all but one solitary individual of that august body have fallen a prey to death. But the precious fruits of their united, as well as individual counsels and labours are enjoyed by their posterity; and we cannot but hope will remain and continue to be enjoyed through all generations to come, serving as constant mementos to their partakers, of the venerable and sage men whose exertions, under the blessing of God, procured them.
Having given a general and imperfect delineation of the leading causes of the Declaration of American Independence, I will, in a few words, present to view the most important consequences which have resulted therefrom.
It immediately removed the disabilities of the American people, as to their civil and political character. They were no longer the subjects of the British crown; no longer under allegiance to a foreign power; and of course, no longer rebels and insurgents, though bearing arms against Great Britain. Confidence in their own strength and resources was inspired, and a foundation laid for the respect and confidence of foreign people and nations. It held out a greater encouragement to the citizens and soldiers to persevere, by every effort in resisting the common enemy, inasmuch as they were now to contend, not merely for redress of wrongs, but for the glorious prize of absolute independence and freedom. It gave inducement to the friends of liberty and equal rights in other countries, to tender their services in the great and noble contest. Among these were the illustrious LA FAYETTE, and many distinguished Frenchmen, Germans, Poles, &c. whose names should be dear to Americans. It opened the way, and facilitated the constitution, organization and permanent establishment of government, legislation, and judicature, according to pure republican principles in the several States. It was followed by the regular formation and organization of the general or national government and under articles of confederation; by which a national treasury was instituted, national responsibility assumed for the payment of expenses incurred in the maintenance of the war, and national credit established at home and abroad. Thus necessary provision was made against depression of public and individual courage, under the various fluctuations of fortune to which the infant nation was liable. System, order, discipline, subordination, and energy were also thereby imparted to the army; and more efficient aid and encouragement rendered to the commander in chief, as well as to all the officers.
It aroused a spirit of enterprise among the people, and opened a vast field for individual and social exertion in every grade, calling, and profession of life. It furnished an asylum to the oppressed and unfortunate of all nations, who therefore began, and have continued to resort hither, where they have greatly assisted in peopling the western wilderness and enlarging the borders of civilization.
In short, every remarkable event and every prominent occurrence in the history of our nation, and many in the history of other nations, have been more or less the consequences of the Declaration of Independence. It stands principal and conspicuous in the great chain of events through the operation of which our nation has been elevated to its present exalted rank; and its highly favoured people placed in the happy enjoyment of their present liberties, rights and privileges.
We now look around and survey with joyful admiration the mighty tide of glory which, with constant augmentation, has spread its rolling flood over this portion of the American continent; but shall we forget the immense price, the incalculable toil, with which it was purchased and has been retained.
Amid what terrors and threatening dangers was the Declaration of our Independence presented to the world? The British lion stood half erect, with rage bristling his time honoured mane, and roaring upon his revolting subjects. His eyes shot lightning; his thundering voice shook the ground; his distending paws menaced death; and the breath of his mouth was a devouring flame to our towns and villages.
The blood thirsty dragons of the American wilderness had roused themselves from their places at the sound of his voice, and with resounding yells were descending upon the frontiers, to surfeit on the blood of innocent men, women, and children. The cringing spaniels of Canada were yelping submission from their kennels, and mingling in the dragon train. Yet amid all these terrors the Declaration was made, which announced to mankind, in language solid and majestic, the Independence of these United States; and their firm determination to hold the people of Great Britain, as they held the rest of the world, "enemies in war; in peace friends."
And how was it supported and maintained, against the efforts of the most powerful nation in the world, whose fleets blockaded our coast, whose well supplied and well disciplined armies trampled on our soil, whose savage allies broke from their native wilds and drenched our borders with blood, and whose Canadian slaves gloried in the destruction of their neighbours? Do not our nerves stiffen and vibrate, our veins swell with the crimson fluid flowing back enchilled upon the heart, while we revolve in our thoughts, the tremendous scenes of that unequal conflict. Where was the American navy? Growing among the trees of the forest. Where was the American army? Assembled together, half armed and clothed, from scattered cottages and newly cultivated fields; behind them all their dearest relatives, before them "death at the cannon's mouth." What had the national treasury, wherewith to equip, victual, clothe and pay those soldiers? Poor worthless continental money, and promises, but poorly verified to this day. What was many times their food? Meal and water, poor potatoes or a morsel of raw meat, and sometimes nothing but air. What sheltered them from the rain and cold? Sometimes a crazy hovel, a ragged tent, or a worn-out blanket; at others, only a few tattered clothes about their bodies. -- When service worn and sick, what were their medicines and attendants? Sometimes cold water and hope; sometimes neither. And did these patriotic sufferers persevere? did they, under every disadvantage hold out in defence of the great cause? yes! they braved every danger, surmounted every obstacle, endured every privation, withstood every fiery trial; and finally conquered the trained veterans of Britain, in spite of all their superiorities. Their successful feats at Saratoga, obtained for their country the approbation, friendship, and alliance of France; with whose aid they at last humbled the British Lion. With a just cause, native love of liberty, undaunted fortitude and courage, and with such leaders as the beloved WASHINGTON, GREEN, LA FAYETTE and their immortal associates, they were invincible and irresistible. A righteous and just GOD made them so. He stretched out his omnipotent hand, discomfited their enemies, and gave them a triumphant victory. After eight years of bloody and desolating war, the prize of Independence and liberty was attained. England, herself acknowledged it, and gladly concluded a treaty of peace with Independent America and its allies, in 1783. The Indians, however, remained hostile a long time after this period, during which hundreds of citizens and soldiers were butchered on the western frontiers, either in cold blood or in battle. But this waste of blood and treasure was, comparatively speaking, only a mite to that endured in the revolutionary struggle with Britain; and though a dreadful calamity in its own section of the country, was accounted, nationally, a slight and partial evil. Yet the infant nation, successful as it had been in achieving its liberty, and happy as it was in its deliverance from the horrors of a general and exterminating war, was nevertheless distressed with many great and alarming evils, To remedy these required all the wisdom, influence, and persevering exertions of the people, especially of those choice spirits whose counsels and valour had done so much during the revolution to entitle them to their country's gratitude and confidence.
The general government, as existing under the articles of confederation, though it had answered many valuable ends during the war, was found on the arrival of peace, by a little experience, miserably defective and impotent, and altogether inadequate to the exigencies of the times. The national treasury was bankrupt for millions, and without any means of being otherwise; whilst the State Treasuries, from which the public debt was undertaken to be paid or otherwise satisfactorily discharged, were almost as poor. Public credit, which at first was thought respectable, languished and nearly ceased to exist. There was no other mode of replenishing the state treasuries, but that of internal and direct taxation which the people would not endure without disturbance, unless the emission of paper money might be considered such; but this, at best, could be only a temporary and wretched expedient. As to silver and gold in the hands of individuals, public credit could by no means reach it; and still further to embarrass the country, it soon went abroad to Europe and Asia, and returned in the form of luxuries. Finally, even the interest of the public debt could not be paid.
But the most lamentable and grievous calamity of those times, and what most wounded and still wounds the good feelings of every American patriot, was the non-payment of the army. Those brave defenders of their country, who had suffered more than human language can tell, or even human imagination paint, -- thousands of whose valiant comrades had fallen in battle, or perished with fatigue, wounds and disease in the camp -- or, worse still, had been starved, smothered, and poisoned to death in he prison ships, forts, and dungeons of the inhuman enemy, -- those unconquerable veterans who had marched and countermarched, leaving the ground stained with the blood and gore of their half-naked feet, -- covered with scars and wounds, had to be discharged without even soldiers' trifling pay. Poor and penniless, they had to wend their way to distant sections of the country, -- some, no doubt, to the welcome bosom of unbroken families -- some to the poor wreck of their relatives -- some in quest of employment at hard labour, wherever it might be found -- and others to their former habitations in the solitude of newly c1eared and half cultivated spots on the frontiers of their country; there, alas! to behold with weeping eyes and broken hearts the ashes of their dwellings, and among the wild grass and shrubs the bleaching bones of their butchered wives and children.
Heart-rending and mortifying as the non-payment of the army was to their generals, especially Washington, as it was to the fathers and rulers of the nation, nothing could be done to prevent it, under such miserable circumstances as the General and State governments were then in. Absolute, cruel necessity compelled government to disband the army without their pay, contrary to previous intention, and entirely against the ardent wishes of every patriot in the country, -- yet the sufferers endured this affliction with less murmuring and discontent than might have been expected. They had before conquered hardship and privation of every description -- they had conquered their enemies, -- but now they conquered themselves, their passions, and discontent. If before they had performed mighty feats in the day of battle, endured mighty perils in their camp, and on their marches to and fro through the country, -- they now excelled all; surmounted their laurel crowns, with a new and brighter wreath. And if, before, they had entitled themselves to the gratitude of their country, and the admiration of mankind -- they now excited still deeper gratitude, and still greater admiration.
We of the present generation behold the scattered remnant of those heroes, stooping with decrepit limbs and hoary hairs over the grave into which the last of their number will soon descend. We must lament, that after all, they have received the reward of their toils, rather in the happy consciousness of having been the instruments, under the divine blessing, of saving their countrymen from slavery, and procuring for them the happiness prosperity and glory which they now enjoy, than in any pecuniary equivalent rendered them by Government.
If, therefore, we realize the value of their services, and have any gratitude towards them for immense good received and enjoyed through their labours, let us evince it by treating them at all times and on all occasions with reverential respect, affection, and kindness. In doing otherwise we shall brand ourselves with the infamy of ingratitude, and draw down upon our heads the just chastisement of Heaven. In a very short time, it will be out of our power to shew them any token of gratitude, or to administer any relief to their wants -- they will go to their brethren, and sleep with their fathers. Let us then be emulous to excel each other in rendering to the few survivors, all that may sweeten their bitter cup of age, infirmity, affliction and death. But to return:
It was almost certain that Independent America, in the sad and calamitous condition of which I have spoken, must fall into anarchy and distraction, unless a remedy should soon be found and applied to the reigning political disorders. Happily, such a remedy was found in the federal Constitution of government; which was framed by that august convention of the States, holden at Philadelphia, in the summer of 1787; over which Washington presided. This matchless piece of political mechanism, having been completed by the great geniuses employed in its construction, was presented to Congress, on the 17th of September; and by Congress to the several States soon after; by whom, after tedious discussions of its merits, it was finally approved and ratified. In 1789, it went into successful operation under the presidency of the father and saviour of his country; who having been called to the arduous and responsible duties of Chief Magistrate, by the unanimous suffrages of his fellow freemen, devoted himself with unwearied zeal, and perseverance, to the great work of organizing, establishing, and administering the new modeled government. Every branch and department was soon set in motion with happy success. Legislative, Executive, and Judicial business began, and continued to employ all the wisdom, and talent of the several public servants. Thus the resuscitation of the young Nation from its weak and languid state was completely effected, in a shorter time than its most sanguine friends had expected. A sufficient and permanent revenue was provided, by means of impost and tonnage duties, -- the public debt taken off the several states, and its discharge guaranteed by the national government, -- public credit completely restored, and new life, animation, and enterprise diffused through the whole community.
The intrinsic excellence, just adaptation, and real practical efficiency of the government founded on the federal constitution, have been amply demonstrated by the trying experience of thirty-eight years. During that space of time it has encountered innumerable potent trials, -- arising from popular prejudice, treasonable plots and insurrections, violent fermentations of party spirit, ambitious strife for individual and party ascendancy, foreign spies and emissaries sent to sow discord, domestic faction, hostile aggressions of France, violation of neutral rights by the European belligerent powers, a second war with Great Britain, repeated wars with the piratical states of Barbary, Indian tribes, &c.; all which it has overcome. Through every change of administration, under every trying vicissitude, and notwithstanding the commotions of the world, which overturned several of the long established governments of Europe; this has steadily advanced our national prosperity and happiness till they have reached a height, the most exalted and enviable enjoyed by any state, kingdom, or empire on earth.
The union of the States under the federal government has been, and is, indeed, what Washington in his solemn valedictory address denominated it: "The main pillar in the edifice of our real independence; the support of our tranquility at home; our peace abroad, of our safety, of our prosperity, of that very liberty which we so highly prize." Let us, therefore, give earnest heed to the advice of the same great High Priest of American Liberty: and "cherish a cordial, habitual, and immoveable attachment to it; accustoming ourselves to think and speak of it, as of the palladium of our political safety and prosperity; watching for its preservation, with jealous anxiety, and discountenancing whatever may suggest even a suspicion that it can, in any event, be abandoned."
It can scarcely be doubted that by our federal and state constitutions of government, both and all of which are based on the same fundamental principles of republican liberty, the true and legitimate end of government is substantially effected. That end is, the well-being and happiness of the governed; and, certainly, the enlightened people of this country, (to whose genius and condition their peculiar form of government is so fitly adapted,) find by joyful experience that it secures to them their natural and unalienable rights, every species of rightful liberty, and a measure of happiness enjoyed by no other community of people on the face of the habitable earth.
Such, indeed, is the spirit of our civil and political institutions, that if faithfully adhered to and maintained, they can never fail to yield and secure the most ample enjoyment of civil and religious freedom. Is it not, then, at once the duty and interest of the people of these United States to maintain and preserve these excellent institutions, to keep every part of the national and state governments in its proper place; and the whole unabused and unsubverted? It surely is; -- for upon their wisdom and virtue every thing depends, which in a civil and political sense they hold dear. Immediately, their rulers are responsible for the safe keeping of these things; but as the people make their rulers servants, and not Lords, it ultimately depends upon themselves, whether they will hold unimpaired the precious inheritance which has come into their possession; or basely permit it to run to decay and ruin.
But from what source, it may be asked, is danger to he apprehended. It is to be apprehended from more than one source, as we or our posterity may sorrowfully experience at one time or another. The despots, monarchists, and aristocrats of the eastern hemisphere are, naturally, our inveterate enemies; as they are the enemies of genuine liberty and equal rights. They would crush us in a moment, had they the power and opportunity. At present, they do not possess such power; they never may; and if they should, they would not be the most dangerous enemies by whom our liberties are likely to be jeopardized. Should they all combine to work the overthrow of our national independence, freedom, and happiness, by sending against us hostile fleets to hem in our shores and burn our flourishing commercial towns and cities, and many hundred thousands of their murderous slaves in desolating armies to drench our country with the blood of its inhabitants; still, less dreadful would they be, than secret enemies among ourselves. For, under such calamities another WASHINGTON would rise to save his country, to face the embattled storm, and with cool dignity command the proud billows of desolation to stay themselves within prescribed bounds. Another GREEN would stand at his right hand, and at his left, another LA FAYETTE. Another constellation of patriot warriours and counsellors, luminous, perhaps, as that which presided in the days of the revolution, might shine upon our liberties amid the surrounding gloom to preserve and sustain them. Such land and naval HEROES as met the tug of war with Britain, in the last contest, and made their country proud by their valourous deeds to claim them as her sons, would not be wanting to serve the cause of freedom. JACKSON, or another such as he, would hedge out the invading foe, greedy as that foe might be for booty and beauty, and with a brave and valiant few, pour showers of death among their haughty ranks too dreadful to be faced, too hot to be endured, from which their half slaughtered columns would recoil upon the terrour smitten rear to seek a safe retreat beyond the mortal field. Nor would brave soldiers, such as fought at Bunker's Hill, at Saratoga, at Brandywine, at Eutaw Springs, at Yorktown, at New-Orleans, or on the Canadian frontiers, be wanting to fill the ranks of leaders such as we have mentioned. I read in the very countenances of the few gallant looking men, who in martial style have honoured this occasion with their presence, and us, their fellow citizens with their company at this celebration, the courage, fortitude and bravery, with which they and thousands like them would rush indignant and irresistible upon an invading army of slaves. Victory, I have but little doubt, would stand on the side of freedom and justice; whilst on the other defeat would crawl, and blasting ill success wither the hopes and power of tyrants on these shores; and quickly banish every foreign enemy to their own polluted continent.
Not, therefore, external hostility, however dreadful, need shake us with alarm for the safety of our institutions. But secret hostility to them, and to the great principles on which they are founded, we have every reason to fear from among ourselves -- from among those that now eat the delicious fruits of our civil and political Eden. Need I tell you that the heart of man is deceitful above all things; so that we scarcely know ourselves, and much less others. Need I tell you that the children of the best, most prudent, industrious and virtuous parents, are sometimes idle, vicious, and profligate PRODIGALS. Need I tell you that the most rich, pleasant, fruitful and well fenced garden produces weeds spontaneously; and that without continual care and watchful nurture, they soon overtop the choicest plants, poison the most valuable herbs, and ruin the whole collection of rare and precious vegetables within the enclosure. Or need I tell you that where the most beauteous lilies rear their fragrant heads, the deadly nightshade, too, may grow, and poisonous serpents crawl unseen among the grass. All this, say you, we know. THEN may not the best form of government be abused? the best institutions subverted? the best principles choked and strangled by luxury, pride, and factious ambition? May not our pleasant Eden produce, spontaneously, the noxious weeds of aristocracy, monarchy, and despotism, which if allowed through negligence to grow, will ultimately exterminate all that is valuable and precious. Though we are the children of a generation of patriots; may we not possibly become the enemies of our country and its liberties; or slothfully vicious, may we not allow our inheritance to be wasted, or our birthright exchanged for a mess of pottage. If in truth many and most of us are hearty in the love of civil and religious liberty -- real friends and supporters of our institutions; may not deadly enemies to them walk among us unnoticed; nay, claim a share of our political confidence. And if we know not ourselves, much less others, ought we not to search our hearts and try the pretensions of others with rigid and persevering scrutiny, that we may know in whom we believe, in whom we trust; and whom, above all, we are placing in offices of responsibility, profit and honour.
As a nation, we are now in great prosperity; and therefore, in imminent danger from sources of which we have little suspicion. Amid the apparent calm, unseen and unsuspected, a tempest may be engendering which will overwhelm our happy institutions and our most sacred liberties. Let us then bethink ourselves -- rise upon our watch towers -- and endeavour to catch the first glimpse of danger, that, if possible, we may either avert it, or at least be prepared to withstand the shock.
In these times, sound usurps the place of sense; shadow the place of substance; high pretension the place of unassuming worth; flattery the place of wholesome friendly reproof; -- and a mean thirst for mushroom popularity the place of love for solid and lasting fame. Honourable and virtuous men, in politics and religion, whose only fault is too much honesty in avowing their opinions, and their only crime too much independence to become the tools of HIERARCHAL domination and OLIGARCHAL ambition, are crowned with thorns, treated as culprits, and stigmatized with every reproachful epithet, by the minions of Herod and Pilate made friends. Therefore, let every friend of liberty and equality, -- every believer in the creed that asserts man equal by creation, equally entitled to respect, so far as he demeans himself well, -- equally entitled to security and protection in his political and religious faith and practice, so far as he is a good citizen, -- and equally entitled to confidence and honour, as well as happiness, according to his capacity and ability, be careful not to be defrauded of his birthright, nor seduced from his integrity by hypocritical pretenders and cunning selfish deceivers.
There is a spirit of despotism abroad in this land, which is constantly assuming different shapes and colours and thereby more easily diffusing its secret and deadly influence into many unsuspecting minds. This spirit has already a vast number of dupes, and many willing devotees, none of whom ought to be trusted with public office; nor allowed to move on in their career without just and pungent rebuke. They are scattered through every city and town -- may be found in every political party -- in every religious sect -- in every profession, in every rank, sex, class, and condition of life. "By their fruits, ye shall know them; for men do not gather grapes of thorns, nor figs of thistles."
They love power and will obtain it, if they can; no matter how! Whenever they can aggrandize themselves, they will abuse power, they care not how much! They will sell themselves, or buy others, just as the state of the public market offers encouragement. They are slaves to flattery, popularity or money; and tyrants to their dependents. They are proud and vain of their persons, or accomplishments, or learning, or wealth, or pedigree, or relations, or of their religious sect, or some superficial thing or other; and cannot deign to treat others with the respect they require others to shew them. They will cringe with absolute servility to those they deem their superiors; but over-bear and trample down those they regard as their inferiors. Equals they never have. They are unjust to all who rank among their opponents, whose reputation, however good and pure, they scruple not to vilify and scandalize; nor are they true to their own partizans and friends, whom they will desert or consume, as best answers their purpose. They will shout among the multitude for liberty, while in their hearts the foulest treason lurks. They cry aloud for justice upon their enemies, but excuse the crimes of themselves and their friends, to whom they think neither the laws of God or man ought to be severe. Brave and barbarous are they when they have the advantage; but prodigious cowards in an equal fight. They are enemies to free inquiry, as they are to sterling virtue, honesty, integrity, and wisdom. If in the minority in politics or religion, they are exceedingly liberal -- great advocates for union peace and friendship, asking, begging like slaves for power; but let them have the power, place them in the majority, and they evince at once a disposition for exclusion and persecution, which if it could have ample scope, not NERO himself would be their match. -- In short they require what they will not give -- ask what they will not return -- and act, in the main, as if all mankind owe them homage. Such characters are utterly unfit to be trusted with power and authority under a free government; for they will secretly sap the very foundations of our fair fabric, before we are aware of it. Their enmity is better than their friendship; for though their real principle is to command, or if they cannot command to sink the ship; yet it will float much longer in spite of their enmity, than it would if they were at helm. To keep this spirit of Despotism under subjection, and to prevent the influence of its dupes and votaries, let us be watchful and vigilant to place men in office who are tried friends of our institutions, and practical disciples of the true principles of liberty and equal rights. That we may always have a full complement of such men, let us be careful for the education of the rising generation, to give them opportunity and means for acquiring every branch of useful knowledge. Above all let us early instill into their minds the genuine knowledge and love of liberty -- veneration for our institutions -- respect for each other, and each other's natural rights -- hearty attachment to virtue, honesty, and unwavering integrity -- the beauty, propriety, and necessity of doing unto others as they would that others should do unto them; -- and finally, profound hatred of slavery, vice, tyranny, oppression, and persecution. By so doing we shall raise up a generation who will neither oppress, nor suffer oppression; -- who will neither injure others, nor allow others to injure them with impunity, -- and who will be worthy, in every respect, to receive, hold, and enjoy the rich and glorious inheritance now in our possession.
Finally, fellow citizens, our duty is plain, important, and solemn. If we realize the value of that civil and religious liberty in which we are so happy; if we have any just sense of the manifold untiring exertions in war and in peace, which gave us the patrimony we now hold: if we have any gratitude to our maker, veneration for our fathers, or any good determination to adhere to their principles, imitate their example, or shew ourselves worthy the trust they have reposed in us; if we have any desire to appear on the page of history, bright for immortal fame: if we have any regard to the welfare of ourselves, mankind, and posterity, we are solemnly conjured, by all that can interest rational man, to maintain and preserve unsullied our free republican institutions as they now appear before us in the Federal and the State Constitutions. And may ALMIGHTY GOD, great ARBITER of nations, succeed our humble efforts, and perpetuate these, our civil and political institutions, unabused and unsubverted, till all human governments shall be no more.