My Fellow Citizens, could there be anything more expressive and so eminently fitting than to see the people gathering together in their respective neighborhoods at the early dawn of the Centennial anniversary of our national independence? Does it not evince a profound reverence and love for the great fundamental principles that underlie the foundation of this free republic? Esteeming our inheritance as the richest that was ever bequeathed to mankind, we cannot but most tenderly and lovingly remember what heroism and extreme suffering those noble men and women of the revolutionary period were required to have and endure in nurturing that spirit of independence for which we as a nation are so characteristic and preeminently distinguished.
We might recall names, depict in stirring words the patriotic deeds, and portray in glowing pictures the spirit that animated them in making such a sacrifice upon their part, in behalf of that freedom, that was the precursor of such transcendent glory and renown to the remotest generations. But my friends, I am prescribed by the want of time from pursuing this most interesting course under present circumstances. Fully appreciating the noble work and unparalleled sacrifices of our illustrious sires of revolutionary fame, it will be no disparagement to say that others in later generations have also helped to mold our institutions and shape the policy of the government, and that we too have our part in this beneficent work commenced by the noble men of 1776.
It is well, my friends, to continue our accustomed Fourth of July celebration, and endeavor to increase, if possible, the public interest in that most sacred day. To feel otherwise than joyous upon such an occasion would not be in consonance with the inherent sentiment of the genius of the American people, who are so well-grounded and settled in the faith and spirit so eloquently set forth in the incomparable declaration of principles enunciated and proclaimed a century ago. The spirit of our devotion to the sacred principles of Constitutional Free Government does not grow cold and indifferent or less vivacious by the lapse of time, though it be a century, but is ever increasing by the development of the transcendent beauty, beneficent designs of the patriotic architects of our great inheritance.
We all know how our hearts glow with patriotic ardor at the bare mention of the day which marks our Nation’s birth—fathers and mothers teach their little ones to lisp and revere the day sacred to the American Independence, and the pallid cheek of age flushes with enthusiasm, and the dim eye kindles with patriotic fire, when memory brings the scenes of other days around them, and pass in review the hallowed names of our illustrious sires, who dedicated their lives and fortunes to secure, preserve and maintain the immortal principles of representative self-government, which had been enunciated by the protest of a gallant people determined to be free. My friends, the fourth day of July is and should always be a festal day which we as a nation might joyfully commemorate.
The custom of reading the Declaration of Independence ought to have real practical value, but it has become somewhat common-placed, and is regarded only as a primary lesson of constitutional government, having grown from infancy to maturity, does not lessen the value of keeping those essential principles ever fresh in our hearts and memories. I do not, however, propose to read that sound and practical lesson before breakfast, my friends, but there are times when it might be read with great profit.
A recurrence to first principles sometimes is most important, and cannot it be said with emphasis that of late years both government and people have drifted far away from the essential rudiments of republican education, and that a return to those elementary principles of constitutional government would have a very salutary effect upon the political tone of the republic. Political safety and happiness, my friends, depends largely upon a strict adhesion to the immortal principles of a free and independent government.
So resplendent and promising are our possessions and prospects, we must not permit human ambition and treacherous baseness to despoil our precious and dear-bought inheritance.
I am confident it is in keeping with this sound sentiment that we come here to welcome in this Centennial birthday of our nation, and to give some public expression to the ardor of our hearts and minds in relation to this interesting epoch in our national history.
It was this holy sentiment that developed into action the mighty energies of the men who secured the liberties we now so richly enjoy, and from which, by wise and ardent devotion, the glorious edifice upon which rest the pillars of the rights of self-government and the inestimable prerogative of freedom of conscience. Those noble men who came out of the Revolutionary struggle for Independence, with a holy love for freedom erected and dedicated this beautiful temple to liberty and free conscience, whose foundation is a mighty continent, the boundaries of which shall reach and extend from ocean to ocean.
American free institutions is this beautiful temple, and stands this day in all its majestic beauty, the pride of history, the joy and glory of mankind; tenderer and more devoted, higher and. holier than aught on earth save a mother’s love, is the almost divine sentiment which makes us love and cherish the land of our birth. And now at this auspicious time, at the very beginning of this, the second century of our political experience, let us, if we would have the same patriotic and fraternal feeling that distinguished the period of the event which we this day commemorate, draw nearer and nearer to a higher appreciation of the true principles of constitutional government . If the spirit of the nation be entirely directed towards wise ends and purposes, what an endless source of happiness would be felt throughout the wide extent of this great republic. The noble superstruction erected by the agonizing struggles of the Revolutionary sires, and baptized with their patriotic blood, can only be preserved and kept secure by pristine authority and respect for those immortal principles whereby every human being in the land, of every race and condition, may enjoy equal protection and privilege. In lieu of discord and distrust, we should have more fraternal feeling between all sections of the country, every element of disturbance should be removed, that all may share in an undimmed glory of American institutions. Ours should be a government that all can love and revere, from the pure motive of reverence and love.
We want a patriotism, my friends, that will knit together all the people in one loving brotherhood, that shall have no limit other than the wide domain over which the nation’s flag so proudly floats. It is the sentiment thus acting upon free institutions, and again reacting through them upon the people that constitute their public spirit and political genius. My fellow-citizens, are we not confronted at this very moment with a crisis freighted with great responsibility, and what shall be the result, if we fail to improve the opportunity and rise to the full measure of these responsibilities? The public mind and morals of the nation has become sordid and reckless, the innocent and confiding people, nauseated and disgusted, until at last the moral goodness of the masses have become alarmed in the interest of republican institutions and of a pure government.
This land of religious, civil and political freedom can only be preserved by a strict adherence to the sacred principles enunciated in the Declaration of Independence. To me the most hopeful sign of the times is the evident desire in the public mind to purify the political atmosphere, and to eradicate all taint of corruption that now pervades it, and get back to the better principles of the early days of the Republic. Corruption has grown stronger and stronger, until it has permeated every avenue of public and private life, resulting chiefly from the apathy and indifference of the people in choosing their representative men.
If we would have a pure National, State or Municipal government, we must insist upon putting into places of honor and responsibility, none other than men of recognized probity and integrity. In no other way may you expect to see disseminated throughout the land those broad, deep, and lofty sentiments, whereby the moral sense of the Republic may be restored. We must ignore to a great extent this party fealty, that is the barrier to a full and faithful expression of the better judgment. If we would strictly adhere to the inflexible rule laid down by the early Fathers, in the choosing of our public servants, we should soon realize a change for the better. Is he honest? is he competent? was their test.
All the vague and unmeaning promises and political platforms avail nothing for good, but only serve the purposes for which they are intended—namely, to mystify and delude the honest public sentiment. It is in the strength and moral goodness of the people that we can look with confidence for the regenerating and revivifying power whereby the national Constitution may be restored to pristine soundness. My hope for the prosperity and perpetuity of this nation is anchored upon this strong tower of strength. The platform of an intelligent mind, and an honest heart that can rise above all political chicanery, is of infinite more value than aught else beside.
I speak plainly, my friends, because of the magnitude of our responsibilities. Each generation has its part to perform in the extension and promotion of the free institutions of this great republic. It is true the foundation laid by the skillful hands of the early Fathers is broad, deep and strong, and cemented with patriotic blood. But it is for each generation in its turn to contribute its best material, that they may add beauty to beauty and strength to strength, until its magnetic proportions and resplendent glory shall reach out and over all the countless ages to come.
With all the grievous mistakes of the past century (and there have been many), it is a source of pride and satisfaction to every lover of his country to witness the unparalleled progress made in science, literature and mechanic arts; and when coupled with the wonderful agricultural and mining products of the republic, we can have some faint idea and appreciate the immeasurable stores of wealth that is yet to flow into our already well filled cup. O, my friends, America’s free institutions and her rich agricultural soil and mineral wealth is without a counterpart. It is only in yonder Exposition building where the products of the soil and the skillful industry of all nations are brought into comparison, that any delicate idea can be found of the mighty power that is felt, and what a transcendent hale of glory encircles the very name of American institutions. The effulgent rays of freedom’s light are penetrating far and wide into the heretofore dark and misty minds of other nations, yet unblessed with free institutions and political privileges as we are. I pray we may now, at the beginning of this the second century, take a long step forward in the true path of progress, which must necessarily connect us with all advanced ideas that tend to the further development of knowledge, that leads to the discovery of all truth.
I extend my hearty centennial congratulations, and invite you to join me in one more thought that is suggestive of my own feelings upon this interesting occasion which I have embodied in the following words:
Unfold the nation’s flag, fling its folds to the breeze,
Let it float o’er these hills, as well as the seas;
Let the old and the young unitedly stand
To defend and protect the flag of the land.
Lift it up. wave it high, ’tis as bright as of old,
Not a stain on its parity, not a blot on its fold;
Lift it up, ’tis the old banner of red, white and blue,
‘Tis the sunburst resplendent, far flashing its hue.
Look aloft look aloft, lo! the sunbeams coming down
Are its folds not emblazoned with deeds of renown,
Through triumph and victory for one hundred long years;
Beautiful banner, baptized with blood and with tears.
Behold, behold, the clouds passing by,
Are we not reminded how time has to die;
Let we then, while we can, render homage and love
To the flag of the nation and the God that’s above.