As Mecca is to the Mohammedan and Jerusalem to the Christian, so we make our pilgrimage to-night to Plymouth Rock, hoping that as we lay our tribute upon that hill, we shall gird up our loins to meet the fortunes, the successes, the trials, and the duties that are before us.
It was reserved for the first settlers of New England to perform achievements equally arduous, to trample down obstructions equally formidable, to dispel dangers equally terrific, under the single inspiration of conscience.
No nation since the days of Israel was ever founded with so choice people, selected by the operation of so high and spiritual motives, as those whose vanguard was borne across the sea in the Mayflower. It was truly said of them that God sifted a whole nation that He might send choice grain into the wilderness.
American history has been too largely written from the English standpoint. Let us divide honors all around and give all of our forefathers their share. England was not the first to lead Europe. It was the Dutch republic that first led Europe.
They (the Pilgrims) believed in the existence of right and wrong, and in the infinite supremacy of righteousness. They believed in the intense reality of God and of the unseen and the spiritual; they held that these were the real, and that everything else was the shadow.
Poor, but independent, not frilled and powdered, but armed mightily with the sword of the Spirit, and with purpose of freedom pulsating at the very centers of their heartsthese were the men whom God had chosen for the settlement of this land. For a hundred years He had kept the new world waiting until they should be ready to possess it.
Guizot, when he was in exile, asked Mr. Lowell, when he was our minister in London, how long the American union would exist, and Lowell said to him: It will exist so long as the men of America hold to the fundamental principles of their fathers. Central in these fundamental principles is the determination of fathers and of children that in each day of life the world shall be a better world; that is, in each day of life a man shall live to the glory of God.
Why is it that the states lying side by side are not quarreling together as they always do in feudal institutions or in European history? The difference is that the feudal institutions die within fifteen minutes after the immigrant lands in America. The word feudal is a good one, because it describes the eternal war which exists between the men who are educated in that complicated social system of top, bottom, and middle. The feudal system perishes as soon as every man understands that he is his brothers keeper, and in the company of men who know that they live together for the greater glory of God.
The theocratic state which the Puritans founded in Massachusetts was not suited to our present civilization, with its representatives of all nations and creeds. But it contained the springs of life which purify our civilization and the seeds of that free government of which our liberty under law is the fairest fruit.
But the closer we study their lives, and the better we know their deeds, the more profound is our admiration and the greater our reverence for the Pilgrim fathers. Between the drafting of their immortal charter of liberty in the cabin of the Mayflower and the fruition of their principles in the power and majesty of the republic of the United States of to-day is but a span in the records of the world, and yet it is the most important and beneficent chapter in history. To be able to claim descent from them, either by birth or adoption, is to glory in kinship with Gods nobility.
France lost her Pilgrim element in the expulsion and massacre of the Huguenots, and her noblest political aspirations have lacked the moral strength that comes of a pure and vigorous religious faith. * * * But the men who came hither brought the fundamental conception of man restored as a child of God. Personality was their root idea, the personal soul linked to the personal God; and this was greater than king or parliament, this was greater than church or bishop, and no combination against this could ever crush it.
They believed, and truly, that the strength of Romanism in religion, as well as its despotism in politics, lay in the ignorance of the people; and they sought the freedom which is grander than they knew in the education of all the people, while they sought to inculcate a sense of supreme personal obligation to God. Hence came free churches and free schools, the essential elements of the free state. Hence the Puritan aristocracy, not of birth but of character, because the American republic, with vitality to assimilate the incoming multitudes of all nations.
The Pilgrims were right in affirming the paramount authority of the law of God. If they erred in seeking that authoritative law, and passed over the Sermon on the Mount for the stern Hebraisms of Moses; if they hesitated in view of the largeness of Christian liberty; if they seemed unwilling to accept the sweetness and light of the good tidingslet us not forget that it was the mistake of men who feared more than they dared to hope, whose estimate of the exceeding awfulness of sin caused them to dwell upon Gods vengeance rather than His compassion; and whose dread of evil was so great that, in shutting their hearts against it, they sometimes shut out the good.
The great west and the awakening south have felt the influence of the same sturdy endurance, enterprise, and resolute faith that drove the famous little company to brave the unknown dangers of a bleak and hostile country. Plymouth, historic and filled with interest as it is, does not, and cannot, hold the full story of the Pilgrims. That story is written in letters of light over the whole continent; all over the country, wherever they have gone, they have carried with them a respect for law, a reverence for God, education and freedom of worship, and a courage to uphold them, that has made this our great nation the land of the free and the home of the brave. May America, with her churches, her schools, her civil and religious liberty, her great past and her glorious future be truly and forever the land of the Pilgrims pride.
But while the Jews repudiated the giving of their religion to the nations, the Puritans have been and continue to be foremost in giving their gospel to mankind. They sought to serve God with all their hearts, and they believed that in making a nation He could use as freemen only those who sought to serve Him both in their spirit and in their way. But when they could no longer carry out their plan for a nation, they set themselves to maintain in the nation they had planted the ethical impulse which brought them to these shores and controlled their lives.
The revolutions of time furnish no previous example of a nation shooting up to maturity and expanding into greatness with the rapidity which has characterized the growth of the American people. In the luxuriance of youth, and in the vigor of manhood, it is pleasing and instructive to look backwards upon the helpless days of infancy; but in the continual and essential changes of a growing subject the transactions of that early period would soon be obliterated from the memory but for some periodical call of attention, to aid the silent records of the historian. Such celebrations arouse and gratify the kindliest emotions of the bosom. They are faithful pledges of the respect we bear to the memory of our ancestors and of the tenderness with which we cherish the rising generation. They introduce the sages and heroes of ages past to the notice and emulation of succeeding times; they are at once testimonials of our gratitude, and schools of virtue to our children.
Shall we be ashamed because our ancestors were trading colonists; because they bought and sold and exchanged the products of the new world for the riches of the old? Nay, rather let us have a care that they have no cause to be ashamed of us. Let us see to it that amid the broadening of our enterprises and the increase of our wealth, we do not lose those principles of uprightness and strict justice and old-fashioned honor which made the merchants of New York and New England respected and renowned. Above all, let us remember with pride and loyalty that we are Americans.
Thou who didst steer the little Mayflower to her desired haven, bring America to port! Grant that upon this gathering of the people our dear flag may shine with the light of an evangel, pure as the sweet influences of the Pleiades and firm as the bands of Orion. Thou who dost guide Arcturus, grant that those stars may glow in the coronet of Christ. In the enthusiasm of loyalty to God and serried against the evils and forebodings of the time we will march in the footsteps of a believing ancestry. Let every flagstaff, and belfry, every throbbing dome and thundering cannon, every eloquent orator and voice of multitudes, every prayer of gratitude and every tear of joy, carry the name that is above every name and swear it with a mighty oath: This God is our God, as He was our fathers God, and He shall be ours forever and forever.
Give a thing time; if it can succeed it is a right thing. Look now at American Saxondom; and at that little fact of the sailing of the Mayflower two hundred years ago * * * ! Were we of open sense as the Greeks were, we had found a poem here; one of natures own poems, such as she writes in broad facts over great continents. For it was properly the beginning of America. There were straggling settlers in America before, some material as if a body was there; but the soul of it was first this. * * * They thought the earth would yield them food, if they tilled honestly; the everlasting heaven would stretch there, too, overhead; they should be left in peace to prepare for eternity by living well in this world of time, worshiping in what they thought the true, not the idolatrous, way. * * * Hah! these men. I think, had a work! The weak thing, weaker than a child, becomes strong in one day, if it be a true thing. Puritanism was only despicable, laughable then, but nobody can manage to laugh at it now.
Not satisfied with great principles, they were avaricious of great achievements. They subdued forests, organized emigration, marched westward under the star of empire. They achieved Louisburg and Concord and Lexington, and Paul Reveres ride and the Charter Oak and Bennington and Gaspee Point, and Harvard and Yale and Bowdoin and Dartmouth. They preserved the union, annihilated slavery, crushed repudiation, made the promises of the nation equal to gold. They have spoken the word of protest and pleading in behalf of the Chinaman and the Indian and the African, in behalf of a reformed civil service, and of honest elections. And where has there been a battle for God and humanity that they and their sons have not been in it?
With our sympathy for the wrongdoer we need the old Puritan and Quaker hatred of wrongdoing; with our just tolerance of men and opinions a righteous abhorrence of sin. * * * The true life of a nation, is in its personal morality, and no excellence of constitution and laws can avail much if the people lack purity and integrity. Culture, art, refinement, care for our own comfort and that of others are well, but truth, honor, reverence, and fidelity to duty are indispensable. * * * It is well for us if we have learned to listen to the sweet persuasion of the Beatitudes, but there are crises in all lives which require also the emphatic Thou shalt not of the decalogue which the founders wrote on the gateposts of their commonwealth. * * * The great struggle through which we have passed (the Civil war) has taught us how much we owe to the men and women of the Plymouth colonythe noblest ancestry that ever a people looked back to with love and reverence.
Laugh at their whims and rigid tenets as we may, they have left us a heritage unequaled in the story of the world. Theirs was a mighty struggle for all that may ennoble man or make him better than his fathers were. The hopes and fears of all the ages centered in that shaky ship bound westward on an unknown and tempestuous sea. The spirit of the free was with that little bark, as each day gave its light, the God of the heroic and the true its pilot, when the night came down on the sea. A wild and stormy ride from shore to shore; a fierce and bitter strife with fire and flood, savage and element, their daily portion as they sail and when they rested on the rocky shore they called at last their home. What wonder that they cradled there at once the offspring of their love and the freedom of their kind; what wonder that from their sturdy loins sprang forth a race of giants, fit warriors for the rights of generations yet to be; what wonder that sires and sons have laughed to scorn the fear of tempest or of tyrant in service of their faith through all the years.
Hollands place in history is not fixed by its institutional greatness, but rather by the diffusiveness of the ideas, the spirit, which constitutes its real life. Its part in the making of America is not seen in the separate institutions, civil, educational, religious, which it transplanted, but in the spirit of its scattered people losing everything like organic union, but thereby carrying into every community and every school and every church the influence of a high ideal of character, a strong sense of human brotherhood, a spirit of conciliation and kindness which is to make it the destiny of Holland to live a still larger life in the America which is to be the strong and helpful neighbor to all the world, hastening the time when all the sons of men shall be the sons of God, and He who went about doing good shall be in truth the king of a regenerated humanity, and the whole earth one great neighborhood, where the need of each will be the care of all.
But though your forefathers may not have been much, if any, better than yourselves, let us extol them for the fact that they started this country in the right direction. They laid the foundation for American manhood. The foundation must be more solid and firm and unyielding than any other part of the structure. On that Puritanic foundation we can safely build all nationalities. Let us remember that the coming American is to be an admixture of all foreign bloods. In about twenty-five or fifty years the model American will step forth. He will have the strong brain of the German, the polished manners of the French, the artistic taste of the Italian, the stanch heart of the English, the steadfast piety of the Scotch, the lightning wit of the Irish, and when he steps forth, bone, muscle, nerve, brain entwined with the fibers of all the nationalities, the nations will break out in the cry: Behold the American! Columbus discovered only the shell of this country. Agassiz came and discovered fossiliferous America. Silliman came and discovered geological America. Audubon came and discovered bird America. Longfellow came and discovered poetic America; and there are a half-dozen other Americas yet to be discovered.
A hardy race, worthy to set the pattern of civilization and liberty to the mighty people who to-night affectionately called them fathers in blood, in liberty, love and truth. All that nations can owe to founders; all that children can owe to parents; all that truth and self-denial can owe to their especial champions, is laid upon the altar of their memory to-night. Peace to their sacred ashes, those Pilgrim Fathers of our life. Their sacrifices were many and their joys were few. Yet somewhere in the land where faith meets its reward; somewhere in the heaven of the good and pure; somewhere within those temples of magnificent justice where is given alike reward for good and punishment for evil done on earth; somewhere beyond the reach of human toil or strife, those Pilgrim ancestors shall be given meed well-fitted to their high deservings; and
Till the sun grows cold and the stars are old,
And the leaves of the judgment book unfold,
no man among their sons shall feel within his veins the bounding of their consecrating blood without thanks for every drop that links him to their heroic lives.
Our fathers brought with them from England two priceless possessionsthe common law and King James Biblethe former a vital organism, not of symmetrical form and graceful outline, but full of the vigorous sap of liberty and drawing its growth from the soil of the popular heart; the latter, apart from its transcendent claims as the revelation of God to man, in a purely intellectual aspect the most precious treasure that any modern nation enjoys. preserving as it does our noble language at its best point of growthjust between antique ruggedness and modern refinementembalming immortal truths in words simple, strong, and sweet, that charm the child at the mothers knee, that nerve and calm the soldier in the dread half hour before the shock of battle, that comfort and sustain the soul that is entering upon the valley of the shadow of death. * * * The progress of our country is not traced by the camp, the café, the theater, and the prison, but by the meeting house, the school house, the court house, and the ballot boxall the legitimate fruits of the Bible and the common law.