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THE TRIUMPHS OF THE REPUBLIC! by Hon. Theodore Bacon, New York 1876

RestoreTheConstitutionDotComTHE TRIUMPHS OF THE REPUBLIC! An Oration by Honorable Theodore Bacon, (1834-1900) of Rochester, New York. Delivered At The Centennial Celebration At Palmyra, New York, July 4th, 1876.

The occasion which we commemorate to-day, familiar as it is to us by its annual recurrence—fixed as it is in our national life—is in its very conception distinctive and American. It is not the birth-day of a reigning prince, however beloved; it is not the holiday of a patron saint, however revered; it is simply the the festival of our national existence. Unimaginative as we are, we have impersonated an idea—the idea of nationality; and the festival of that idea, instead of a man or a demi-god, we celebrate to-day.

And we do right to celebrate it. The fact of this national existence is a great fact. The act which first declared the nation’s right to exist was a great act—a brave act. If it was not indeed, as we have been ready enough to assert, a pivotal epoch in the world’s history, it was beyond question a decisive event in our own history. If it was not the birth-day of the nation— for the nation was born long before—it was the day the still growing youth became conscious of its young maturity, asserted its personality, and entered on equal terms into the community of nations. And whatever errors there may have been in our methods—whatever follies of mere deafening or nerve-distracting noise—whatever mad recklessness with deadly explosives, such as will make to-morrow’s newspapers like the returns of a great battle—whatever flatulence of vain glorious boasting from ten thousand platforms such as this—it is none the less a goodly and an honorable thing, that the one universal festival of this great nation should be the festival of its nationality alone. This, and this only, is the meaning of our being together to-day; that we are glad, and joyful, and grateful, that we are a nation; and that in unison with more than two-score millions of people, throughout the vast expanse of our imperial domains, we may give utterance to the joyful and thankful thought, “The Lord hath done great things for us, whereof we are glad.

It is well then, to celebrate and rejoice. The many reasons we have for joy and pride are familiar enough to you. If there were any danger of your forgetting them, they are recalled annually to your remembrance. by addresses such as you have honored me by calling on me to deliver here to-day. And in considering how I could best respond to your request, in the few moments which you can spare from your better occupation of the day, I have thought it superfluous to repeat to you those glories of which your minds are already so full, deeming it a better service to you, and worthier of the day, I suggest certain imitations upon national self-laudation.

Let me recount to you summarily, the familiar and ordinary grounds of our boasting on such days as this. Then go over them with me, one by one; consider them soberly; and see whether we are in any danger of exalting ourselves unduly by reason of them.

1. We conquered our independence.

2. We govern ourselves.

3. We have enormously multiplied our numbers, and extended our boundaries.

4. We have enormously increased our material wealth, and subdued the forces of nature.

5. Education and intelligence are in an unequaled degree diffused throughout our population.

6. To crown all, we have but just now subdued a gigantic rebellion, and in doing so have incidentally suppressed the great national shame of human slavery.

Consider them:

RevolutionaryWar1. We conquered our independence.

Beyond doubt, this was a grand thing to do, even in view of all the advantages that aided our fathers, and of all the difficulties that burdened their enemies. It was not, indeed, except in a certain limited and qualified sense, what it is commonly misnamed, a revolution. It was rather a movement of conservatism—of resistance to an innovating despotism, seeking to impose the bonds of distant authority on those who were free-born, and who had always governed themselves. This resistance to ministerial novelties was in the interest of all Englishmen, and, until this very day one hundred years ago, was in the name of King George himself, whom we still recognized as our rightful monarch, after more than a year of flagrant war against his troops. It was (do not forget) war of defence, against an invader from the paralyzing distance of 3,000 miles; yet that invader was the most powerful nation in Europe. It enlisted (remember) the active alliance of France, and stirred up Spain and Holland to separate wars against our enemy; yet even with these great helps, the persistency of the struggle, the hardships and discouragements through which it was maintained to its final success, were enough to justify the honor in which we hold the assertors of our national independence.

2. We govern ourselves.

We have inherited, it is true, by a descent through many generations, certain principles of government which recognize the people as the source of authority over the people. Yet not even the founders of this federal republic—far less ourselves, their century remote descendants, could claim the glory either of inventing these eternal principles or of first applying them in practice. Before Jefferson were Plato, and Milton, and Locke, and Rousseau. Before Philadelphia were Athens, and pre-Augustan Rome; Florence and Geneva; Ghent and Leydon; the Swiss Republics and the Commonwealth of England. Before the United States of America were the Achaean League, the Hanseatic League, and—closest pattern and exemplar—the United Provinces of the Low Countries. Beyond doubt, however, it is something to be glad of that our ancestors began the century which closes to-day, upon the solid foundations of a faith in the right of self-government, when so many other nations of the earth were to be compelled to labor and study toward the acceptance of that faith, or to legislate and fight and revolutionize toward the embodiment of it in institutions. But whether that prodigious advantage with which we began the century should be now the occasion of pride or of some different emotion, might depend on other questions: Whether, for example, that advantage has enabled us to maintain to this day the pre-eminence over other nations which it gave us a hundred years ago; whether, as they have advanced, we have only held our own, or gone backward; whether our ten talents, the magnificent capital with which we were entrusted, have been hid in a napkin and buried, while the one poor talent of another has been multiplied a hundred fold by diligence and skill. It is a great thing, no doubt, for a nation to govern itself, whether well or ill; but it is a thing to be proud of only when its self-government is capable and just. Let us look for a moment at the relative positions in this respect of our own and other nations a hundred years ago, and now.

GreatExperimentA century since, the idea of parliamentary or representative government, primitive as that idea had been in the earliest Teutonic communities, and embalmed as it might still be in the reveries of philosophers, had no living form outside of these colonies, and of that fatherland from which their institutions were derived, and with which they were at war. In Great Britain itself, a sodden conservatism, refusing to adapt institutions to changing circumstances, had suffered them to become distorted with inequalities; so that the House of Commons, while it still stood for the English People, and was already beginning to feel the strength which has now made it the supreme power in the nation, was so befouled with rotten boroughs and pocket boroughs, that ministers easily managed it with places, and pensions, and money. The whole continent of Western Europe was subjected to great or little autocrats, claiming to rule by divine right, uttering by decrees their sovereign wills for laws, despising even the pretense of asking the concurrence of the governed. In France, an absolute despot, a brilliant court, a gorgeous and vicious civilization of the few, were superposed upon a wretched, naked, underfed peasantry; tithe-oppressed, tax-ridden; crushed with feudal burdens upon the soil, or dragged from it to be slaughtered in foreign wars for matters they never heard of. Germany was either parceled out, like Italy, among countless princelings, maintaining every one his disproportionate army, and court, and harem, and squeezing out taxes and blood from his people utterly without responsibility; or was crushed beneath the iron despotism of the Great Frederick in the North, or of the less capable Empire in the South. To the East, the great plains of Russia were an unknown darkness, where a shameless fury maintained an Asiatic reign of force and terror. Here and there a philosophical recluse was evolving from his books and his invention, systems of government which denied and antagonized the claims of divine right on which every dynasty in Europe was founded; yet so remote from any practical application did these speculations seem that the most absolute monarchs took pride in sharing them and fostering them. There were, indeed, things called “republics;” there were the despotic aristocracies of Venice and Genoa; there were their High Mightinesses, the estates of the United Provinces; there were the confederated cantons of Switzerland, fenced in their mountain strongholds, but without influence upon European thoughts or institutions .

Over against that Europe of 1776, set the Europe of to-day. Nation after nation—call off their names: observe their systems of government, and say, when you have completed the tale, how many sovereigns there are who rest their title to supremacy upon divine right by inheritance; how many governments there are whose daily continuance—how many whose very birth and origin, are derived avowedly from no other source than “the consent of the governed.” There are indeed crowned heads to-day; heads wearing crowns which have descended by but two or three degrees from the most confident assertors of “the right divine of kings to govern wrong;“—right royal men and women—nay more, right manly men and right womanly women: yet of all these there is hardly one who pretends to be more than the mere executive of the national will, expressed through a representative legislature. The England which our fathers denounced as tyrant, and foe of freedom—let us not commit the anachronism of confounding her with the England of to-day. Ruled by a National Assembly chosen by a suffrage little short of universal, exercising final and absolute legislative authority with the merest advisory concurrence of an hereditary Senate; its executive body little more than a standing committee of the House of Commons, removable in an instant by a mere expression of the will of the House; and all under the nominal presidency of a quiet matron, to whom even the external ceremonies of her position are irksome; with a system of local and municipal administration, which, however its defects, may well invite our admiration and study; tho sturdiest proclaimer of the doctrines of our “Declaration” could hardly have figured to himself a future America which should more fully embody those doctrines than the realm of George the Third has come to embody them under his granddaughter. If we look across the channel, we find all Western Europe, from the Polar Sea to the Mediterranean, the undisputed domain of constitutional representative, elective government. It the name and state of King or Emperor are maintained, it is in effect but as a convenient instrument for the performance of necessary functions in the great, public organism, and with a tacit, or even an express acknowledgement on the part of the crown that” tho consent of the governed ” is the true source of its own authority. Over the feudal France which I have but just now pictured to you, has swept a flood which not only destroyed institutions, but extirpated their immemorial foundations; which not only leveled the hideous inequalities of medievalism, but leveled upward the Gallic mind itself; so that hardly less than the American citizen—far more than the British subject—is the Frenchman of to-day penetrated by the consciousness of the equal rights of all men before the law. His form of supreme administration may vary from time to time, in name, or even in substance; but for fifty years it has stood upon the basis of the public consent, or, when it has failed so to stand, has fallen. The France of Richelieu—the France of that Louis XIV who dared to say of the State, “It is I,” is the France whose latest king called himself no longer King of France, but King of the French; whose latest Emperor claimed no right to rule but from a popular election by universal suffrage—boasted of being “The Elect of seven millions“—and styled himself in the most solemn instruments, “By the Grace of God and the Will of the People, Emperor of the French;” and which now, dispensing with even the fiction of a Sovereign, administers its affairs with a prudence, wisdom and economy which have drawn the admiration of neighboring nations. In United Italy—in the two great empires which share between them Germany and Hungary—in the Scandinavian Kingdoms—and at last even in Spain, so long the distracted prey of hierarchy and absolutism, the autocracy of an hereditary monarch has given way to parliamentary government and ministerial responsibility. The successor of Catharine the Second, by conferring spontaneously upon the half-civilized subjects of his vast empire not only personal freedom, but such local autonomy as they are capable of, is educating them toward a higher participation in affairs. And now, most marvelous testimony to the prevalence of those opinions upon which our own institutions are based, the world has seen within a month, a new Sultan, a new chief of Islam, announced to Europe as succeeding to the chair and the sword of Mahomet, “by the unanimous will of the Turkish people!

Christian republicLet us be quite sure, my fellow-citizens, before we boast oarselves immeasurably above other nations by reason of the excellence of our political institutions, not only that they are better than all others in the world, but that we have done something in these hundred years towards making them better; or at least that we have not suffered ours to become debased and corrupt, while those of other nations have been growing better and purer. Is our law-making and our conduct of affairs —national, state, and local—abler and honester now than then? Is the ballot-box cleaner, and a surer reflection of the public mind upon public men and measures? Or are we still in some small degree hampered by the tricks of politicians, so that we find ourselves voting into offices men whom we despise—giving support to measures which we abominate? Has public opinion grown so in that sensitive honor “which feels a stain like a wound,” that it compels public men to be not only above reproach, but above suspicion? Or has it rather come to content itself with weighing evidence, and balancing probabilities, and continuing its favor to any against whom the proofs may fall short of absolute conviction of felony? Is the vast organization of our public business contrived and controlled, as it is in every other civilized country, and as in every successful private business it must be, for the sole end of doing that business efficiently and cheaply? Or has it become a vast system for the reward of party services by public moneys—a vast mechanism for the perpetuation of party power by suppressing the popular will—with the secondary purpose of doing the public work as well as may be consistent with the main design? Have we, through dullness or feebleness, suffered methods to become customary in our public service, which if, attempted in the British post-office or custom-house, would overthrow a ministry in a fortnight—if in the French, might bring on a revolution? My fellow-citizens, I offer you no answers to these questions. I only ask them; and leave unasked many others which these might suggest. But when we have found answers to our satisfaction, we shall know better how far to exalt ourselves above the other nations of the earth.

3. We have enormously multiplied our numbers, and extended our boundaries.

A more indisputable support for national pride may be found, perhaps in our unquestioned and enormous multiplication of numbers and expansion of territory.

These have certainly been marvelous: perhaps unparalleled. It is a great thing that four millions of human beings, occupying in 1776 a certain expanse of territory, should be succeeded in 1876 by forty millions, occupying ten times that expanse. But let us be quite sure how much the increase of numbers is a necessary result of natural laws of propagation, working unrestrained in a land of amazing productiveness, unscourged by famine or pestilence, and burdened by but one great war during three generations of men; how much to the prodigious importation of involuntary immigrants from Africa during the last century, and of voluntary colonists, induced by high rewards for labor and enterprise, during this; and how much to any special virtue in our ancestors or ourselves. Let us be sure what degree and quality of glory it may be which a nation lays claim to for the extension of boundaries by mere mercantile bargain and purchase, or by strong armed conquest from its weaker neighbors. Let us remember, withal, that great as has been our growth in population and extent over this vacant continent which offered such unlimited scope for enlargement, other nations have not stood still. A century ago there was a little sub-alpine monarchy of two or three million subjects, which within these twenty years has so expanded itself by honorable warfare and the voluntary accession of neighboring provinces, that it now comprehends all the twenty-five millions of the Italian people. A century ago there was a little Prussian monarchy of three or four million subjects, which, sparing to us meanwhile millions of its increasing numbers, has grown until it has become the vast and powerful German Empire of forty millions. And, while we take a just pride in the marvelous growth of New York and Philadelphia, and the meteoric rise of Chicago and St. Louis, it is well not to forget that within the same century London has added three millions to its numbers; Manchester, Birmingham, Sheffield, Glasgow, have sprung from insignificance into the second rank of cities; and that dull Prussian town, which, as the Great Frederick’s capital, boasted but 100,000 inhabitants, has become a vast metropolis of nearly a million people, doubling its numbers in the last quarter of that period. If our own increase of population has indeed surpassed these marvelous examples—if our territorial expansion has in fact been larger and swifter than that of the Russian Empire in Europe and Asia, or of the British Empire in India, America and Australia, then the more are we justified in that manner of pride which is natural to the youth grown to a healthy maturity of strength and stature.

4. We have enormously increased our material wealth, and subdued the forces of nature.

Thus also, if we have not greatly surpassed the rest of the world in our growth in material wealth, and in our subjugation of natural forces to human use, we may fairly claim at least to have kept in the van of progress. Yet here, too, while we have great and just cause for pride, let us not err by confounding the positive merits of our nation with the adventitious advantages which have stimulated or created its successes. It has been a different task, though perhaps not an easier one, to take from the fresh fields and virgin soil of this vast continent, fruitful in all that is most useful for human food and raiment, the wealth that has been the sure reward of steadfast industry—from the task of stimulating the productive powers of lands exhausted by thousands of years of crop bearing, up to that exquisite fertility that makes an English wheat-field an astonishment even to a Western New York farmer. It is indeed a singular fortune which ours has been that every decade of years has revealed beneath our feet some new surprise of mineral wealth; the iron everywhere; the anthracite of Pennsylvania; the copper of Lake Superior; the gold of California; the bituminous coal of the western coal fields; the petroleum which now illuminates the world; and finally, the silver which has deluged and deranged the trade of the Orient. Let us not be slow to remember that such natural advantages impose obligations, rather than justify pride in comparison with those old countries where nature has spoken long ago her last word of discovery, and where labor and science can but glean in the fields already harvested. And when we look with wonder upon the vast public works, not disproportionate to the vastness of our territory, which the last half-century especially has seen constructed, let us not forget that the industry and frugality which gathered the capital that built our railroad system—not all of which certainly, was American capital—the trained intellect of the engineers who designed and constructed its countless parts—are a greater honor to any people than 70,000 miles of track: that the patient ingenuity of Fitch and Fulton are more to be boasted of than the ownership of the steam navies of the world: the scientific culture and genius of Morse, than 200,000 miles of telegraphic wire.

ReligionRepublic5. Education and intelligence are in an unequaled degree diffused throughout our population.

If I have thought it needless to enlarge upon other subjects, familiar upon such occasions, for public congratulation, especially will it be superfluous to remind such an audience as this how broad and general is the diffusion of intelligence and education through large portions of our country. But let us not be so dazzled by the sunlight which irradiates us here in New York, as to forget the darkness of illiteracy which overwhelms vast regions of our common country; that if New York, and Massachusetts, and Ohio, offer to all their children opportunities of learning, there exists in many states a numerous peasantry, both white and black, of besotted ignorance, and struggling but feebly, almost without aid or opportunity, toward some small enlightenment. Let us not overlook the fact, in our complacency, that while we, in these favored communities, content ourselves with offering education to those whom we leave free to become sovereign citizens in abject ignorance, other nations have gone beyond us in enforcing universal education; in not only throwing open the feast of reason, but in going into the highways and hedges, and compelling them to come in.

6. To crown all, we have but just now subdued a gigantic rebellion, and in doing so have incidentally suppressed the great national shame of human slavery.

Coming to the last of the familiar sources of national pride which I have suggested, we may fairly say that the emotions with which a patriot looks back upon the conclusions of the period beginning in 1860 must be of a most varied and conflicting sort. The glory of successful war must be tempered by shame that red-handed rebellion should ever have raised its head in a constitutional nation. If it was not permitted to a Roman general, so it is not becoming to us, to triumph over conquered fellow-citizens. If we rejoice, as the whole world does rejoice, that the conflict which, for four years distracted us, ended in the restoration of four million slaves to the rights of free manhood, the remembrance that neither our national conscience nor our statesmanship had found a better way out of the bondage of Egypt than through a Red Sea of blood, may well qualify our reasonable pride; the question, how these millions and their masters are yet to be lifted up into fitness for their new sovereignty over themselves and over us, may well sober our exultation.

If I have departed from the common usage of this occasion, in assuming that you know, quite as well as I do, the infinite causes that exist for pride, and joy, and common congratulation in being American citizens, I beg leave before I close to suggest one further reason for the emotions which are natural to all our hearts to-day. It has been common to us and to other nations, —to our friends alike and our detractors,—to speak of the institutions under which we live, as new, experimental, and of questionable permanency. Fellow-citizens, if we can learn nothing else from the comparative view of other nations to which I have been hastily recommending you, this fact at least presses itself home upon us: that of all the nations of the earth which are under the light of Christian and European civilization, the institutions of America are those which the vicissitudes of a century have left most unchanged; that, tested by the history of those hundred years, and by the experience of every such nation republican democracy, means permanency, not revolution; wise conservatism, not destruction; and that all other institutions are as unstable as water in comparison.

I believe that to-day this American “experiment” is the most ancient system in Christendom. Not a constitution in Europe but exists by grace of a revolution of far later date than the framing of our constitution, which stands now, immortal monument to the wisdom of its founders, almost unchanged from its pristine shape and substance. If the stable British monarchy seems to you an exception, reflect upon the silent revolution which in that time has annulled the power of the crown, and almost subverted its influence; remember the suppression of the Irish Parliament, the removal of the Catholic disabilities which for a century and a half had been a foundation stone of the constitution; remember the Reform Bill which prostrated the power of the aristocracy; the repeal of the Corn Laws, which reversed the economic policy of a thousand years; look at the audacious legislation which within two years has destroyed even the names of that judicial system which is identified with English monarchy—-at that which within a few weeks has dared to add a flimsy glitter to the immemorial title of the sovereign herself—and you may well be proud of the solidity and permanence of our institutions compared with the swift-dissolving forms of European systems.

We know, however, that institutions, even the best of them, cannot long exist without change. As in physical life, there must be either growth or decay; when growth has ceased, decay cannot long be postponed. How shall it be with those institutions which a noble ancestry has bequeathed to us, and in which we rejoice to-day? Let us not forget that the day is the beginning of a new century, as well, as the close of an old one. Not one of us is to see the close of the coming age, as none of us saw the opening of the last. And while it is given to none to discern the future, we know well that institutions, whether civil or social, cannot long continue better than the people who enjoy them. Be it ours, therefore, so far as lies in us, to perpetuate for our remote offspring the benefits which have come own from our ancestors. Let us cultivate in ourselves—let us teach to our children—those virtues which alone make our free institutions possible or desirable. Thus, and only thus, shall we make this day not merely the commemoration of departed glories, but the portal to that Golden Age which has been the dream of poets and the promise of prophets, and toward which, as we dare to hope, the event which we now celebrate has so mightily impelled mankind. Our eyes shall not behold it; but woe to us if we cease to hope for it and to labor towards it It may be hard—it is hard—for us, surrounded by the green graves and the desolated homes which within a dozen years a ghastly civil war has made in this religious and enlightened nation,— for us here, in the very presence of the tattered yet venerated symbols of that strife,(1) to believe that the day can ever shine upon the earth

When the war-drum throbs no longer, and the battle-fags are furled
In the parliament of man, the federation of the world:
When the common sense of most shall hold a fretful realm in awe,
And the kindly earth shall dumber, lapt in universal law.

The reign of ” Peace on Earth—Good Will towards Men”— the dominion of Reason and Justice over Force and Fraud—it may be far off, but it shall surely come.

Down the dark future, through long generations,
The sounds of strife grow fainter, and then cease;
And like a bell, in solemn, sweet vibrations,
I hear once more the voice of Christ say,” Peace!”
Peace! and no longer from its ‘brazen portals,
The blast of war’s great organ shakes the skies:
But, beautiful as songs of the immortals,
The holy melodies of Love arise.

Footnote(s): 1. The worn-out regimental colors of the 33d New York Volunteers, a regiment which went to the war from Wayne County, were carried in the procession and set up in front of the speaker’s stand.

See also: Resistance to Tyrants is Obedience to God
OUR NOBLE HERITAGE by Hon. George W. Curtis (1824 –1892)
THE POWER OF HISTORY by Horatio Seymour (1810–1886)
AMERICA OUR SUCCESS OUR FUTURE! by John P. Gulliver July 4th 1876 NYC
AMERICA! FAIREST OF FREEDOM’S DAUGHTERS by Jeremiah E. Rankin 1828-1903
Wide Spread And Growing Corruption In The Public Service Of The States And Nation
BENEFITS OF THE REPUBLICAN EXPERIMENT IN AMERICA by Thomas G. Alvord 1810- 1897
THE SOURCE AND SECURITY OF AMERICAN FREEDOM AND PROGRESS by Courtlandt Parker 1876

AMERICA OUR SUCCESS OUR FUTURE! by John P. Gulliver July 4th 1876 NYC

AFBetsyross1776America! Our Success-Our Future! An Oration By Rev. John P. Gulliver, D.D., Delivered At Binghampton, New York, July 4, 1876.

We celebrate to-day one hundred years of Democratic Government. We flatter ourselves, not without some show of reason, that our experiment has been, on the whole, a successful one.

See also: 
BENEFITS OF THE REPUBLICAN EXPERIMENT IN AMERICA by Thomas G. Alvord 1810- 1897
THE HAND OF GOD IN AMERICAN HISTORY by Rev Morgan Dix July 4th 1876 NYC
Constitution of the United States and it’s Governmental Operations (In Plain English)
THE POWER OF HISTORY by Horatio Seymour (1810–1886)
POLITICAL CONSTITUTIONS by Johannes Von Muller (1832)
OUR NOBLE HERITAGE by Hon. George W. Curtis (1824 –1892)

It is true that in other days “the name of commonwealth has past and gone,” over many “fractions of this groaning globe.” It is true that our Republic has only attained the slight venerableness of a single century. It is true that other democracies, far more ancient have at last “deigned to own a scepter and endure a purple robe.” Still we live, and we console ourselves with the thought that our one century has been equal in actual development to many centuries of Venice or Rome.

It is true we have had our enemies, foreign and domestic, and we may have them again. But in two wars, one of them of vast proportions, we have not only gained victory, but increased strength, while in the war of 1812, we certainly lost nothing. We have now convinced the world, what our best friends in Europe have seriously doubted, that a democracy is capable of being converted, in a day, into a military despotism, as effective for all warlike purposes, as the citizen-soldiery of Germany or the soldier-tenantry of Russia. A government, however loose it may seem to the eye of a monarchist, which out of a nation of civilians, can summon more than a million of men into the field at one time, which can create a navy at call, and in so doing, can revolutionize the whole system of maritime and defensive warfare, which can originate amidst the confusion of a struggle for national existence, such improvements in firearms as to make obsolete the arsenals of the civilized world, and, in four years can terminate in complete success, a struggle whose dimensions parallel the Napoleonic wars of Europe—a democracy capable of such a military metamorphosis, is at least not to be despised as an unwieldy and ungovernable mob.

It is true that our own body politic has not been at any time in a state of perfect health. As a democracy, it has had its diseases, some hereditary and chronic and some the result of temporary indiscretions and excesses. We began our republican organization with a large infusion of the ideas of class-aristocracy from the Northern Colonies, with all the institutions and social usages of a race aristocracy at the South, and with the crude, wild doctrines of French Red Republicanism strangely mingled with both. Our history during the century has been almost exclusively the record of the throes of the Republic under the antagonism of these morbid agents. The extraordinary force of vitality which our democracy has developed in eliminating these internal tendencies to disease and dissolution, is not the least among the occasions of our solemn exultation today. Our remedies have, some of them, been constitutional and gentle; others of them, heroic and painful. But they certainly have been efficacious. We have diseases still. But just at this moment they are of the prurient, disgusting sort, mortifying and annoying enough, but only skin deep.

PrecedentSurely a nation that found means to eradicate the slow consumption of social aristocracy, to quell the fiery fever of a brigand communism, and to cut out the cancer of slavery, will contrive some method of exterminating the insect parasites that are now burrowing over our whole civil service. If the heart of the Republic is sound, we need not greatly fear for its cuticle. Only, fellow-citizens, let us be prompt in our treatment, for the disease is contagious, and it is very irritating!

Besides the ills we have or have had, there maybe latent tendencies to disease and decay, that we know not of. But we will borrow no trouble to-day. We will hope that the same constitutional vigor, and the same skill of treatment which have served us so well in the past, will, by God’s blessing, prove sufficient for our future needs. Only let us draw largely upon the sources of national nourishment—let us keep in vigorous exercise all our organic functions; let us become a manly nation, instinct in every part with the highest attributes of national life; then we may defy the inroads of disease; then the whole body, fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, shall grow into a perfect state—a state which God shall honor and man shall fear. We rejoice in the health of the Nation on its hundredth birthday!

It is also true, to change our figure, that there has been not a little occasion for anxiety concerning the frame-work of our Ship of State. The model of a ship and the adjustment of its various parts to each other, the balance between its breadth of beam and its length of spars, tho ratio to be observed between steadiness and crankness, the precise point where the “clump” may blend into the “clipper,” is a great nautical problem. The blending of all our local sovereignties, from the school district and the town meeting, through the counties and the states, into one national sovereignty, while yet each retains its distinct and characteristic autonomy, I have often compared, in my own mind, to that admirable and exquisitely beautiful adjustment, which, before the prosaic age of steam, gave us the many-winged birds of the ocean—the swift eagles of commerce—skimming every sea, and nestling in every harbor. You have seen them, with their pyramid of sails, rising with geometrical exactness from main to royal, swelling in rounding lines from the foremost jib to the outmost point of the studding-sail boom, and retreating again, pear-shaped, to the stern, each holding to its full capacity the forceful breeze, all drawing in harmony, and yet each hanging by its own spar, and each under the instant control of the master on the deck. Behold, I have said, the Ship of a Republican State! What absolute independence of parts! What perfect harmony of all! What defined distinction of function! What complete unity of action! What an unrestricted individual freedom! What a steady contribution of all to the general result! and as the graceful hull, courteously bending in response to the multifarious impulse, has ploughed proudly through the waters, the exclamation has risen to my lips, “Liberty and Union; now and forever; one and inseparable!

But the actual existence of this exact balance between the National and local Governments, was not always as well established as it is to-day. At the very outset the Southern States, from the fear that the National Government would forbid a protective tariff, denied the supremacy of the National over the State Government, except during the consent of the latter.

In the later days of Calhoun, by one of the strangest transmutations ever known in politics, the same doctrine was maintained,by the same States.for the purpose of resisting a protective tariff. Throttled by the strong hand of Andrew Jackson, at that time, the monster drew back into his den, only to appear under the feeble administration of Buchanan as the champion of slavery. The doctrine that the National Government may be left at any moment, a floating hulk without canvas, rigging or rudder, the statesmanship which would launch a nation into the great ocean of human affairs, under the command of some two score of independent local governments, may now be laid away in our cabinets of moral monstrosities, as a fossil of the past. De Tocqueville, the philosopher of Democracy, prophesied forty years ago, in this wise: “It appears to me unquestionable, that if any portion of the Union seriously desired to separate itself from the other States, they would not be able, nor indeed would they attempt to prevent it, and that the present Union will last only as long as the States which compose it choose to remain members of the confederation.” That this sagacious and most friendly writer on American institutions has in this case proved to be a false prophet, is not the least among our many causes for congratulation to-day.

AmericanFlagAndCrossA century of rapid movement and of revolution; a century which has changed the political condition of nearly every nation on the face of the earth; a century during which we have twice met the whole power of the British Empire in arms, and once sustained the shock of assault from the combined power of slavery at home and in Europe; a century during which we have eliminated from the body politic the most insidious and dangerous diseases; a century during which we have determined questions concerning the relations and functions of our concentric cluster of independent democracies of the most radical and vital nature; a century during which our population has grown from three millions to fifty millions, our area of territory extended from one million to four millions of square miles, our manufactures advanced from twenty millions to forty-two hundred millions, our agriculture, mining and commerce increased in a ratio which sets all figures at defiance; a century which has raised us from insignificance, to a position as the fifth of the great empires of the world; a century which in educational and religions progress has more than kept pace with our material advancement, giving us a proportion of church members to the whole population four times greater than it was at the close of the Revolution, and a much larger increase in the ratio of liberally educated and well-educated persons; such a century we celebrate to-day. Who shall say that we do not well to rejoice. Who can fail to exclaim with devout and fervent gratification, What hath God wrought?

What Does The Future Promise? But we should make an unworthy use of this great occasion should we confine ourselves to a mere childish exultation over accomplished facts. A great future is extending out before us. What does this experiment prove, and how much does it promise? It is a time for study and thought. This centennial year, with its accomplished past just rolling out of view, with its present exciting and absorbing duty in the election of a chief magistrate, with an immediate future promising an unexampled reaction of prosperity, should be a year in which men should make great progress in the science of society and government.

We must not fail therefore to note and to admit freely, that our experiment has been in some respects an indecisive one. It does not prove that a Democratic form of government is necessarily and everywhere the best form. We are isolated from all the leading powers of the world by the intervention of great oceans. We entered upon an unoccupied continent. The rivalries of mankind, and their strifes have been adjusted upon other fields. While Russia, our comrade and contemporary in national growth, has been advancing upon the line of effete human civilizations, we have assailed only the forces of the wilderness. She has fought with men, we with nature. She has conquered by the sword; we by the plowshare. She has flourished by diplomacy; we by enterprise. She is a consolidated military despotism; we an extended Democratic Republic. Yet a philosophical statesmanship has often declared that we are approaching the same goal of empire and power. The comparison is full of interest and challenges our closest scrutiny. Russia, primarily the soldier, never out of uniform, her villages but military camps, her cities vast garrisons, her railroads and chausses only lines of army communication, is yet an inventing, manufacturing, agricultural and emphatically a commercial nation. America, primarily a land of peace and thrift, has been transformed in a day, into one vast battle field, and its rustic as well as its civic population have left the shop and furrow at night to appear in the morning assembled in armies of Titanic size, armed with the weapons of the Titans, while the thunder of their encounter has shaken the astonished world. Russia has exalted autocracy and punished democracy as a crime against God and man. America has proclaimed universal liberty and held the despot to be the enemy of the human race. Yet within the shell of imperial absolution, Russia holds to-day, as its inheritance from the depths of a Slavic antiquity, a communal organization which is almost a facsimile of a New England township; while America, beneath its outward freedom of thought, speech and act, covers a force of public opinion, both national and local, which few men have the courage to defy, and still fewer the strength to resist.

Under these curiously opposite conditions is the problem of the State being wrought out, for the Golden Age which is to come. From these diametrically opposite stand points, are the two most youthful nations of mankind advancing to the possession of the Earth.

freedomThe Democratic idea and the Democratic ideal. Such a comparison between two opposite civilizations serves to show us that democracy, as a form of government may or may not contain the elements of  freedom and the assurance of stability. In other words, the democratic idea, as men have conceived it and embodied it in governments, may or may not accord with the democratic ideal as it is enunciated in the royal law of Christ, and as it will one day be seen, embodied in the governments of men. Democracies may hide within themselves the seeds of despotism. Autocracies may nourish the germs of liberty. A democracy, which is administered in the interests of individuals, or of a party, or one in which the majority deprive the minority of freedom of speech and act, through the action of law or the terrorism of public opinion, is essentially despotic. There is despotism enough exercised within the Republic to-day, which if it had occurred in a monarchy would have cost a king his throne, and perhaps his life. On the other hand absolutionism may be so administered that the highest good of every subject shall be sought, and all his rights secured, according to the law. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart and thy neighbor as thyself.

There is then a political democracy, and there is a moral democracy. The slow and reluctant translation of the abstract ideal into the actual idea, and its expression in governmental institutions, is of surpassing interest and importance.

The Question of the Day. It is this history which concerns us on this centennial anniversary. The inquiries which are being discussed to-day from ten thousand rostrums, and which are pressing upon the thoughts of millions of men are these and such as these.

What is democracy, as distinct alike from the mob and the despot? What is liberty, as limited by law, and contrasted with license?

What progress had been made up to the fourth of July, 1776, in translating this ideal democracy into the thoughts and institutions of men?

What did the assembly over which John Hancock presided, on that memorable morning, achieve for this great thought of the ages?

How has this imperial gem, inherited from our fathers—the Koh-i-noor of our political treasures—been cared for by us?

US flag and bible crossOur first answer to these questionings is a radical and sweeping answer.

We assert that this perfect ideal of liberty, this basal principle of a Democratic State, this Minerva embodying all temporal good for man, sprang full armed and perfect from Christianity.

In the image of God made He man, male and female created He them,” was the first announcement of this seed principle of political and social happiness. While the rights and needs of the sexes vary, as do those of all individual men and of all classes of men, the image of God gives a grandeur of dignity and consequence to every human being, be his descent, or rank, or abilities what they may. While the king inscribes upon the seal of his authority, “By the grace of God, a monarch over men,” while the magistrate, the parent, the master, the wife, the husband, and child, may each claim a special divine statute as the basis of his rights; the man, as a man, wears the very signet of Jehovah. Like the incarnate Son, he has “on his vesture and on his thigh ” a name written: A King among kings is he, a Lord among lords.

The inference is direct and clear. A man despised, is God blasphemed. A man enslaved, is the glory of God changed into a thing of wood, or stone, or into a beast, or creeping thing. A man wronged, is God insulted. To hold a man in ignorance, is the crime of not retaining God in the knowledge. “Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, my brethren, ye did it not to me,” is the malediction, written by an invisible hand upon all the banners of war, and over the bloodred skies of every battle-field of history. This is the answer to the question, “Whence comes wars and fightings among yon?” The Nemesis of the nations has been no other than the loving Father of all, avenging his outraged children who have cried day and night unto him. “I tell you that he will avenge them speedily” is the interpretation given by the Son of God himself to the dispensations of war, and agonies, and, blood, which has been to wondering philanthropists only a mystery of iniquity, from the first murder to the last battle. To the ideal humanity, to the man stamped with the divine image, God declares, “The nation and the kingdom that will not serve Thee shall perish; yea it shall be utterly wasted;” and in that word is the whole philosophy of the civil state. The state that God perpetuates and blesses is not the state that merely worships God, but it is the state that also honors the image of God in man. Devotion without humanity may be found in every idol temple and Mohammedan mosque on earth. But devotion without humanity never exalted a nation or saved a single human being. The hell of perished nations, like the hell of lost souls, is crowded with the peoples who have cried “Lord, Lord,” who have even prophesied in his name, and reared their temples like the trees of the forest, and sent up their orisons like the sons of the forest birds; but because a man was ahungered and they gave him no land, because a man thirsted and they gave him no springs of water, because man was a stranger and they made him a slave, because a man was naked and they kept back his wages by fraud, because a man was sick and they left him, as the North American savage leaves his worn out father, to perish by the roadside, because a man was in prison and they visited him only to add scorn to his sorrow, for these things, and such as these, the sentence has gone out against the nations—among them, some of the grandest and greatest, ” Depart from me, ye cursed!”

A True Democracy. What then is a true Democracy? It is the Government which honors man as man. It is the Government which protects all his God-given rights—the right to do right, as God may teach him, the right to do good, as God may give him opportunity, the right to be good, as God may give him grace, and the right to be happy, as God may bestow the means of happiness.

It is a Government which avenges all his wrongs—the wrong oft attempted of forcing him into sin; the wrong of forbidding him to do good in the name of Christ; the wrong of leading him, in self-defence, into all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor; the wrong of robbing him of his Heavenly Father’s gifts and excluding him from the Heavenly Father’s home.

It is the Government which provides for the development of all his faculties, which educates him, not merely so that he may be a money maker, a wages earner, but to be as much of a man as God-like a man as he is able and willing to become.

It is the Government which recognizes and honors all his capacities for happiness in every feasible way, making this earth beautiful for him, filling his cup with innocent pleasures, uncontaminated by vileness and sin.

It is the Government which writes on all its banners, which engraves on its seal of State, which re-enacts in the legislative hall and administers in the court of justice, the great law of human weal. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and thy neighbor as thyself.

And “Liberty,” what is that? It is full encouragement, both by negative permission and positive aid, to do that which is God-like, and it is equally the utmost possible restraint upon whatever is degrading and evil. Any other liberty is the liberty given to a child to burn itself in the fire. It is the license which is the worst form of cruelty and slavery.

1God’s plan in history. This is the work of God in history. Toward such a democracy has all the discipline of the race been tending. De Tocqueville says, “The development of equality of conditions, is a providential fact, and it possesses all the characteristics of a Divine decree. My book (Democracy in America) he adds, has been written under the impression of a kind of religious dread, in contemplation of so irresistible a revolution. To attempt to check democracy would be to resist the will of God.

Steadily, though often slowly, has the race been led on to this grand consummation. This is the meeting of war, and conquest and revolution. The progress of democracy has in it the might of omnipotence. The gravitation of matter which directs rivers in their courses, is a feeble agent, compared with the gravitation of love, which directs all the streams of human society toward the great ocean of universal order and purity and joy.

The history of the gradual introduction of this conception of government into men’s minds and of its consolidation into actual institutions must be followed by the careful student in the quiet of private investigation.

Suffice it here to say that the first governments of which we have any knowledge, were constructed for protection and restraint. They took a defensive attitude against evil rather than a positive position in the promotion of good. This defensive and aggressive idea has followed government in the family and in the State, and very largely in the church down to our day. Its gradual elimination and the substitution of the Christian thought, that evil should be prevented rather than punished, that men need to be encouraged to be good, rather than be restrained from becoming bad, has proved to be one of the most difficult lessons which the race has had to learn.

Primitive Government. We know little of society before the flood. It was probably, however, a grand experiment of the power of mere law and authority in conflict with evil The chief impression which survived the deluge seems to have been that the wickedness of man was great on earth. The history of liberty through these decades of centuries which followed seems to be the record of a series of struggles to relax the unjust and cruel rigor with which this system of resistance to evil was pursued. In these struggles the subject was in a state of chronic rebellion against the sovereign, the plebeian against the patrician. Each dynasty and each class, as it gained power, used it for itself. Little by little humanity asserted its rights. The introduction of the Mosaic code was an immense advance which we now fail fully to appreciate. Its democratic features were in fact the chief study of the founders of this Republic in political science.

FlagsBibleThe American Republic. The institutions under which we are now living were slowly elaborated, in the devout study of the word of God, long before the separation from the mother country occurred. The Church of Christ, as founded by the Apostles, was strongly democratic, and the whole spirit of its administration tended powerfully to a revolution in civil government. Its doctrines all went to exalt the responsibility and dignity of the individual soul. Their religion gradually undermined, in the case of our fathers, their preconceived ideas of social order and civil government . When the new circumstances of their colonial condition compelled them to act on new lines. They found their convictions antagonism with their prejudices. It is said that the compact of the Mayflower seemed almost the result of an accident. The ideas of the colonists were strongly aristocratic and inclined them to put the whole power into the hands of a few. But the men of muscle saw that now they were of as much consequence as the men of brains and of culture and gentle birth. They firmly put in their claims and the leaders, considering the demand, saw that it was just. Set the spirit of the infant colonies was-strongly aristocratic. In manners this was seen much more plainly than in laws. The story of the punctilious etiquette which was observed in the court (as it was called) of Washington, the seating of the New England congregations according to social rank, and numerous quaint and almost ludicrous customs of the same sort show sufficiently the spirit of the age.

But all this was a matter chiefly of taste and decorum. Deep in their hearts these men loved their fellowmen. For humanity and for God, they were ready at any moment to lay down their lives. Their churches were the real morn of the State. These were formed upon the strictest model of the pattern given in the New Testament. They were local democracies of which the motto was “One is your master, and all ye are brethren.” Even churches formed upon the pattern of European usage, caught the same spirit, and became fountains of a real, if not of a nominal democracy.

It was this tendency to a sort of aristocracy, which was the conservative element in the formation of the government. This made us a constitutional Republic instead of a Greek or Polish Democracy. This was the Federalism of the early days, in which the Puritan of New England found himself in hearty sympathy with the Episcopalian of Virginia, and the Presbyterian of New York. This whole party was violently assaulted by the men, whose conception of democracy was that of a government in which every man should have equal authority, instead of one in which every man should be equally protected and cared for. The Republican party (as the ultra Democrats of that day termed themselves,) were bent simply on power for the masses. The Federalists were enlisted, with all their heart and soul, in the effort to secure order, justice, virtue and happiness for the masses.

Republican and Federalist. The contest was intense and bitter beyond any party strife of which we have any recent experience. The Republicans saw in the Federalists a reproduction of their oppressors in Europe. The Federalists saw in their opponents, the devils incarnate, who had just then closed the reign of terror in France. Both were wrong, so wrong that only this tremendous antagonism could have restrained either from making a wreck, of the new ship of state. The result was, that a substantial triumph was with the Federalists, who really created the Constitution, while the seeming victory was with the Republicans, who after the administrations of Washington and Adams gained undisputed possession of the Government. Thenceforward it became an offense akin to treason to question tho perfection of the Constitution, while it was little short of a personal insult for a politician to charge his opponent with having been a Federalist.

It was the fashion fifty years ago to speak of this Constitution as almost a miracle of human wisdom. Of late there seems to be a disposition to regard it a very common place affair. The estimate of fifty years ago is much more nearly correct. It was a miracle not only of human wisdom, but of Divine teaching. It was the fruit of centuries of the teaching and training of mankind. It was the product of no one mind or class of minds. It was the result of Providential circumstances quite as much as of human thought. It was the work of many centuries and of many men. It was the work of God as well as of men. It was the practical embodiment of the great law of love, in the civil state. It was by far the best translation the world had ever seen, or has seen as yet, the great ideal of democracy —the Utopia of Christianity—into actual institutions and practicable government.

The next great advance of democracy in this country is seen in the overthrow of the institution of slavery. If I pass by this whole history with a mere mention here, you will understand that it is because of the familiarity of the subject to the men of our day, and not because it was not a most extraordinary, a most instructive, a most important victory for the rights, both of master and slave, and for the weal and progress of mankind.

Now we stand on the mount of vision. The past extends back, reaching into the farthest depths of history, studded more and more thickly as we approach our modern era, with the monuments of victory for justice, law and freedom. It is a magnificent and an inspiring spectacle. It is well that we celebrate this anniversary of freedom, as John Adams predicted we should do, “with thanksgiving, with festivity, with bonfires and illuminations.

patriotismThe Present Duty.
But we should be unworthy sons of heroic sires, if we did not look about us, in the surroundings of the present, and inquire if there is not something to be done, as well as something to be enjoyed.

Men and brethren, I do but follow the example of the men of a hundred years ago, when I bid you pause in the midst of your rejoicings to-day; when I ask you to consider whether an instant and a deadly peril be not concealed, like a worm in the rose, beneath the fair blossoming of this hour; when I ask you if it is not certain that, unless there be radical, sweeping, uncompromising reform in the administration of our Government, if it is not certain that we are celebrating the first and the last centennial of the American democracy. Such, fellow-citizens, is my profound conviction, and out of the abundance of my heart I speak to you to-day.

The time was, in the days of Washington and the elder Adams, and the same continued to be substantially true to the close of the administration of the younger Adams, that an officer of the Government, employed in its administration, who should actively engage in its construction, through the elections, would have been regarded as guilty of an impropriety—a misdemeanor, a dishonorable unworthy act, similar to that judge in our day who should appear as an advocate or a client in a court over which he presides. Even at so late a date as the impeachment and trial of Andrew Johnson, it was charged as a crime that he had given civil appointments for the purpose of strengthening his own political position.

We look back to the otherwise creditable administration of Andrew Jackson, and find the first open and acknowledged departure from this principle. Adams had refused a re-election on terms which he regarded subsersive of the government. Jackson seems to have yielded with reluctance to a demand which the rapacity of many of his supporters forced upon him with a fury which marked a complete revolution in public feeling. To the horror of all right minded men of all parties, Mr. Marcy, of New York, on the occasion of the nomination of Martin Van Buren as minister to England, declared in his place in the Senate, the revolutionary doctrine, “We practice as we preach. To the victors belong the spoils” The horror of the opposing party and of all good citizens, gradually changed to acquiescence, and on all sides the principle was accepted as a practical necessity.

The heroic struggle with slavery, which lifted the nation to a moral elevation, of the grandest sublimity for the moment, checked this downfall in the lowest slums of knavery and peculation. But with the close of the war came a temptation and an opportunity such as never had been dreamed of, and with them an entire absence both of moral principle and of legal restraint to meet the evil.

How we stand to-day, how humiliated before our own consciences and before mankind, I need not pain you by describing. You know it all, and you feel it deeply.

Now what is to be done? What have I to do, and what have you to do?

The two great parties have so far recognized the evil and the danger, that they have both nominated men who are representatives of honesty and reform.

But neither of them has laid down any principles of reform. It is not their place to do it. Parties can represent and give voice to the principles of the people. But they cannot create them. It is for the pulpit, the press, the school, the private citizen, to solve the problem, and to hand over its execution to the politicians.

What, then, is the solution of this perplexing problem? I hesitate not for an answer. Go back to the ancient traditions of the Republic! Make it a disgrace, and as far as possible a legal misdemeanor, for any officer engaged in administering the Government to interfere with an election. Forbid the legislative and judicial departments to have any voice whatever in the appointment of an officer of the Executive Department, except in a few cases of confirmation by the Senate, acting in its executive capacity.

Make it a high crime and misdemeanor for any executive officer to remove a subordinate, except for cause. Let a man’s politics have nothing to do with the giving or retaining of office. Make it a State’s prison offense for a legislator to engage in any legislation in which his own interests are directly or indirectly concerned.

9781587366543The time is propitious for such a reform. The people are ripe for it. All the indications are that within ten years they will have it. For this let us all labor, Republicans and Democrats alike. We are just entering on a Presidential canvass, under candidates against whom not a word of reproach can be breathed. Let us thank God for so much to-day. It is likely to be a respectable canvass, in which foul-mouthed abuse will be little used.

Let this Centennial year be distinguished for a victory over the most dangerous, but most contemptible foe that ever menaced the Republic. Let the watchword of the next three months be—Honesty! Truth! Patriotism! Down with party machines and machinists! Up with the reign of purity, honor and integrity!

Thus shall the victory of this one hundredth year be worthy of the companionship of the victories, of the birthday of the Republic.

Thus shall the men of this generation stand proudly by the side of the men of 1776 and the men of 1865.

Thus shall the Republic, established by the wisdom and sacrifices of the one, and saved by the heroism and blood of the other, be handed down to our children, to be incorporated with the great empire of liberty and love, which is at last to fill the whole earth.