THE NEW CENTURY AN ABSTRACT FROM BENJAMIN FRANKLIN THOMAS ADDRESS. DELIVERED AT THE CENTENNIAL CELEBRATION, MECHANICS HALL, WORCESTER, MASS., JULY 4th, 1876.
With what emotions, with what convictions, did we hail the dawning light of the new century! Were the wings of the morning those of the angel of death or of life, of despair or of hope? I answer for myself, of life and of hope; nay, more, of faith and of trust. We have causes for anxiety and watchfulness, none for despair. The evils of the times are not incurable, and the remedies, simple and efficient are in our hands.
Is there not, I am asked, wide-spread and growing corruption in the public service of States and nation? There is corruption, but not, I think, increasing—indeed we have reason to hope it is already checked in its progress; nor are the causes of the evil permanent in their nature, save that we always hold our “treasures in earthen vessels.”
We have passed through a period of expenditure almost without limit, and, therefore, of infinite temptations. Wars, it would seem, especially civil wars, loosen the moral ties of society. “The state of man suffers, then, the nature of an insurrection.” Civil convulsions always brings more or less bad men to the surface, and some are still afloat—men whose patriotism, not exhausted in contracts for effete muskets, spavined horses and rotten ships, are ready and waiting for like service. In the feverish delirious haste to get rich which a currency of indefinite expansion always excites, we find another cause; though this has disastrous results, more direct and palpable, in unsettling values and the foundations of public and private faith, trust and confidence.
The evils are curable, but not by noise of words, not by sonorous resolutions without meaning, or only the meaning the simple reader injects into them.
We may put an end to corruption by leading ourselves honest lives, by refusing to put any man into a public trust, no matter what his qualifications or past services, who is corrupt, or suffers himself to walk on the brink, or winks at those who are wading in; by using the old-fashioned prescriptions for rulers: “Men of truth, hating covetousness.” “Thou shalt take no gift.” “Ye shall not be afraid of the face of man.”
The evils of a vile currency can be remedied only by return to the path of the Constitution and of commercial integrity. The principles are simple and elementary. The “lawful money” of the United States is the coin of the United States, or foreign coin whose value has been regulated by Congress: that is the constitutional doctrine. Money is a thing of intrinsic value, and the standard and measure of value; that is the economical doctrine.
A promise to pay a dollar is not a dollar: that is the doctrine of morality and common sense. The difficulty with the legal tender law was and is that it sought to vitalize a falsehood, to make the shadow the substance, to sign the thing signified, the promise to pay, itself payment. Great as is the power of Congress, it cannot change the nature of things.
So long as the power is left, or assumed to be left, to make a promise to pay payment, there will be no permanent security.
One other cure of corruption is open to us,—the stamping out of the doctrine that public trusts are the spoils of partisan victory. The higher councils may perhaps be changed. An administration cannot be well conducted with a cabinet, or other officers in confidential relations, opposed to its policy; but no such reason for change applies to ninety-nine hundredths of the offices now exposed in the market as rewards for partisan service. Other than in these evils I fail to see proofs of the degeneracy of the times.
Whether the men and women of this generation had fallen from the standard of their fathers and mothers, we had satisfactory evidence in the late war, I care not to dwell upon its origin or to revive its memories. The seceding States reaped as they had sown; having sown to the wind, they reaped the whirlwind. Against what was to them the most beneficent of governments, known and felt only in its blessings, they waged, it seemed to us, causeless war, for their claim to extend slavery into the new States and Territories never had solid ground of law or policy or humanity to rest upon; they struck at the flag in which were enfolded our most precious hopes for ourselves and for mankind. They could not expect a great nation to be so false to duty as not to defend, at every cost, its integrity and life.
But while, as matter of good sense and logic, the question seemed to us so plain a one, that the Union meant nothing if a State might at its election withdraw from it; that under the Articles of Confederation the Union had been made perpetual; that the Constitution was adapted to form a more “perfect union than that of the Confederation, more comprehensive, direct, and efficient in power, and not less durable in time; that there was no word in it looking to separation; that it had careful provisions for its amendment, none for its abrogation; capacity for expansion, none for contraction; a door for new States to come in, none for old or new to go out; we should find that, after all, upon the question of legal construction, learned and philosophical statesmen had reached a different conclusion; we should find, also, what as students of human nature we should be surprised not to find, that the opinions of men on this question had, at different times and in different sections of the country, been more or less molded, biased and warped by the effects, or supposed effects, which the policy of the central power had on the material interests and institutions of the States. Each examination, not impairing the strength of our convictions, might chasten our pride.
But aside from the logic, men must be assumed to be honest, however misguided, who are ready to die for the faith that is in them.
But not dwelling upon causes, but comparing the conduct of the war with that of the Revolution, I do not hesitate to say that in the loyalty and devotion of the people to country; in the readiness to sacrifice property, health and life for her safety; in the temper and spirit in which the war was carried on; in the supply of resources to the army, men as well as money; in the blessed ministrations of women to the sick, wounded or dying soldier; in the courage and pluck evinced on both sides; in the magnanimity and forbearance of the victors, the history of the late war shows no touch of degeneracy, shows, indeed, a century of progress.
If its peculations and corruptions were more conspicuous, it was because of the vaster amounts expended, and the vastly greater opportunities and temptations to avarice and fraud. The recently published letters of Col. Pickering furnish additional evidence of the frauds and peculations in the supplies to the armies of the Revolution, and of the neglect of the states to provide food and clothing for the soldiers, when many of the people, for whose liberties they were struggling, were living in comparative ease and luxury. The world moves.
There is one criterion of which I cannot forbear to speak, the conduct of the soldiers of the late war upon the return of peace. How quietly and contentedly they came back from the excitements of the battle-field and camp to the quiet of home life, and to all the duties of citizenship; with a coat, perhaps, where one sleeve was useless, with a leg that had a crutch for a comrade, but with the heart always in the right place!
The burdens of the war are yet with us; the vast debt created these heavy taxes, consuming the very seed of future harvests; the vacant seats at the fireside. Fifteen years and half a generation of men have passed away since the conflict of opinion ripened into the conflict of arms. They have been years of terrible anxiety and of the sickness of hope deferred; yet if their record could be blotted from the book of life, if the grave could give up its noble dead, and all the waste spots, moral and material, resume the verdure of the spring-time, no one of us would return to the state of things in 1860, with the curse of slavery hanging over us and the fires of discord smouldering beneath us. The root of alienation, bitterness, and hate has been wrenched out, and henceforth union and peace are at least possible.
But there is left to us a great and solemn trust,—four millions of people, whose civil status has been fixed by the organic law, but whose education and training for the duties of citizenship and all the higher duties of life, at whatever cost, is demanded alike by humanity, our sense of justice, and our sense of safety.
We have no right, and no cause, to despair of the republic.
The elements of material prosperity are all with us; this magnificent country, resonant with the murmurs of two oceans, with every variety of soil climate, and production to satisfy the the tastes or wants of man; with its millions of acres of new lands beckoning for the plough and spade; with its mountains of coal and iron and copper, and its veins of silver and gold waiting like Encaladus to be delivered; its lakes, inland seas, its rivers the highways of nations. We have .bound its most distant parts together with bands of iron and steel; we send the lightnings over it “that they may go, and say unto us, Here we are.”
We have all the tools of the industries, and arts which the cunning brain of man has invented and his supple fingers learned to use, and abundant capital, the reserved fruits of labor, seeking a chance for planting and increase.
The means of intellectual growth are with us. We have in most of the States systems of education opening to every child the paths to knowledge and to goodness; destined, we hope, to be universal. He who in our day has learned to read in his mother-tongue may be said to have all knowledge for his empire.
And our laws, though by no means perfect, were never so wise, equal, and just as now, never so infused with the principles of natural justice and equity, nor their administration more intelligent, upright, less a respecter of persons, than today. Indeed, in no department of human thought and activity has there been in the last century more intelligent progress than in our jurisprudence.
Whatever may be said of creeds and formulas of faith, there never was so much practical Christianity as now; as to wealth, so large a sense of stewardship; as to labor, so high a recognition of its rights and dignity; into the wounds of suffering humanity never the pouring of so much oil and wine; never was man as man, or woman as woman, of such worth as today.
In spite of criticism we have yet the example and inspiration of that life in which the human and the divine were blended into one.
In spite of philosophy, God yet sits serenely on his throne, His watchful providence over us, His almighty arm beneath us and upholding us.
For an hundred years this nation, having in trust the largest hopes of freedom and humanity, has endured. There have been whirlwind and tempest, it has ridden through them, bending only, as Landor says, the oak bends before the passing wind, to rise again in its majesty and in its strength. It has come out of the fiery furnace of civil war, its seemingly mortal plague-spot cauterized and burnt out, leaving for us today a Republic capable of almost infinite expansion, in which central power may be reconciled with local independence, and the largest liberty with the firmest order.
Staunch, with every sail set, her flag with no star erased, this goodly Ship of State floats on the bosom of the new century.
In her we “have garnered up our hearts where we must either live or bear no life.”
And now, God of our fathers, what wait we for but thy blessing? Let thy breath fill her sails, thy presence be her sunshine. If darkness and the tempest come, give her, as of old, pilots that can weather the storm.
Isaiah 40:31 But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.
Ecclesiastes 1:9 The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun. ~ King SolomonSee also: Corruption In Politics and Society: Corrupters Of America! by John Hancock 1770 Political Evils and the Remedy for them by Noah Webster 1834 A REPUBLIC! A LIVING BREATHING CONSTITUTION DEFINED! by Alphonse De Lamartine 1790-1869 A PRAYER FOR THE NATION by Rev. William Bacon Stevens July 4, 1876 AMERICA! FAIREST OF FREEDOM’S DAUGHTERS by Jeremiah E. Rankin 1828-1903 NO SLAVE BENEATH THE FLAG by George Lansing Taylor 1835-1903 THE DUTY AND VALUE OF PATRIOTISM by John Ireland 1894 Founders & forefathers pledged their Sacred Honor, what did they mean? CHRISTIANITY AS A POLITICAL FORCE by Senator John A. Dix 1798-1879