THE AMERICAN PATRIOT Class Day Oration By J. B. Chaddock Law, 1890
Love of country is characteristic of no clan, of no people. The Swede has the same reverence for his snow capped, pine ribbed, mountain home, that the Switzer has for the vine-clad steepes and classical chasms of his own sunny land. It would be hard to conceive of a man with a heart so cold and barren that the flame of patriotism could not be kindled on its altar. Love of country is inherent in man kind, and as the babe mourns for the mother it has lost, and from whose breast it has drawn the sustenance of life; so man bereft of country and home, mourns and mourns till death cuts the fetters and sends the spirit homo. In that love the Siberian exile forgets his wrongs and kneeling asks God that a brighter sun may shine on his native land. No matter what indignities he is made to suffer it is “hisown his native land” and the love born with his childhood and nurtured in his maturer years, outweighs the fetters that bind the flesh. If a nation would preserve its individuality its citizens must be patriotic. Not that blind devotion to country which is characteristic of some people, but devotion to a principle in which justice and humanity are blended. It was this devotion that enabled Rome to become the “Eternal City.” It made Switzerland a republic. It protected Holland against the sea and the forces of the enemy. To it Norway owes its independence and it has come to us in the privileges we enjoy under a free government. The story of [William] Tell may be a myth, a creation of the imagination. yet as an example, it has been productive of great good. When the cloud of oppression o’er shadowed our feeble colonists, from every hamlet came Tells innumerable. Patriots who looked beyond, who penetrated the veil that hid the future, saw rise above the wreckage of war an ideal nation. A nation in which man should be sovereign of his own thoughts and personal liberty paramount.
Among those who stood forth as the champions of national independence we find the name of [Patrick] Henry. As he rose in the house of Burgesses to defend the resolutions condemning the “stamp act,” I would liken him to Leonidas at Thermopylae, but Leonidas had followers. I would liken him to Horatius at the bridge, but Horatius had a friend on either hand, I would liken him to Napoleon at the bridge of Lodi, but the great general had an army at his back. Henry stood alone actuated only by such motives as bids the patriot stand in defense of his country, the father in defence of his home, the mother in defense of her offspring. With his eloquence he kindled the watch fires of the Revolution; with his logic he strengthened and sustained the cause, and though history may forget to do him honor, the name of Henry will endure for all time, for it is preserved in the hearts of a grateful people.
Jefferson too, the scholar, the states man. What a tower of strength in our darkened hour. The Magna Charta adopted at Runny mede in 1215 found its prototype in the Declaration of Independence as it came from the pen of Jefferson. It was not an experiment. It was not a fiction. It was a reality. It was the assertion of those rights with which it has pleased God to endow us, and for the protection and enjoyment of those rights the signers of that instrument mutually pledged each other “their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor.”
Read the history of the world. Search the archives of every civilized nation on the globe and find for me its equal. The signers of that instrument were patriots in the truest sense of the word. Men whose devotion was not to country alone but to principle as well. Minds that reached beyond the narrow confines of state bounderies. Men that expended their best energies in the founding of a nation that should embody in its fundamental principle that higher law.
It was such men as these that compelled the great [William Pitt; Earl of] Chatham to admit, that “for solidity of reasoning, force of sagacity, and wisdom of conclusion, under such complication of circumstances, no nation or body of men can stand in preference to the general congress at Philadelphia.” They were not theorists. They were not idealists. They were practical men. They assigned to every cause its effect. They established a constitutional form of government that has proved a marvel of perfection. Other nations stood aghast They looked upon it with distrust. They predicted the direst calamities, but in the end they have accepted it themselves.
Had I the time to review the lives of the patriots of 1776, I would not forget the patriot who donned his suit of home-spun, took from the wall of his cabin the old flint-lock, kissed his wife and family good-by, and was away to the defence of his country at Monmouth and Bunker Hill. I would not forget the patriot whom the wealth of a king could not corrupt. Neither would I forget the patriots who suffered all the horrors of war during that terrible winter at Valley Forge.
But I would pause here and pay tribute to one who was a stranger to our shores. He came not for conquest. He came not when victory was assured. He came not as an adventurer seeking self aggrandizement, for in his veins flowed the blood of Royalty. He came to succor and to aid. He left the vine-clad hills of sunny France and united his fortunes with ours. He shared the hardships of camp and field with our own [George] Washington and all honor to France for she gave us [Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de] Lafayette.
There is another, but how different. What a comparison. He was a native of our own land. Come with me into the historical grave-yard of the past and I will point out for you his last resting place. It is not here where monuments rise in commemoration of valiant deeds. Not here where its mounds are kept green with the praise of an admiring people. But to its most neglected corner where weeds grow thick and rank o’er its forgotten graves. Its paths are unkept. None walk here for it is ghostly ground. Stand aside while I part the weeds that hide this broken slab. Bend lower that you may read the name upon its base. It is— it is the name of Benedict Arnold. Arnold the patriot. Arnold the traitor. What paradox have we here? Patriot at Quebec and Saratoga. Patriot till the glitter of English gold corrupted the better man and left his name a blot upon the history of his country. Let him rest in peace. He will one day stand at the bar of justice, before a righteous judge. His life may be vindicated and it may not. Who shall say? Read what history you will, then read your own and in it you will find the ideal patriot. It will not be one who for the sake of conquest has sought to overthrow a republic. It will not be one who, to satiate his ambition revels in scenes of carnage. It will not be one who, disappointed in his aspirations, sells his country for a bit of gold. But it will be one who, like Nathan Hale, under all circumstances, ever kept before his mind the principles for which lie fought. One who would sacrifice all rather than betray the slightest trust. One who preferred death upon the scaffold with no friend near but his God and the consciousness of a duty done. In short it will be an American patriot. For such an one I would write his epitaph not upon granite, for it would crumble with age. Not upon marble, for the moss would hide it. Not in the archives of his country, for it might be lost. I would write it in the language, the poetry, the music of his people. I would write it on the hearts of his countrymen.
Source: The Michigan Argonaut, Volume 8