C.N. Douglas, comp. Forty Thousand Quotations: Prose and Poetical. 1917.
From the year 1789 to the year 1860 no nation has ever known a more unbounded prosperity, a fuller space of happiness. In the short space of seventy years, within the turn of a single life, the nation, poor, weak and despised, raised itself to the pinnacle of power and of glory.
God endowed and set us for a sign to testify the worth of men and the hope there is for man. It is not our national prosperity, great as it is, that is the appropriate theme of our most joyful congratulations, but it is our success in demonstrating that men are equal as Gods children, which affords a prophecy of better things for the race.
The man, woman or child who hangs out an American flag or a piece of tricolor as a mark of appreciation of July the Fourth does a hundred times more than the noisiest citizen who explodes powder from sundown on the 3d to the morning of the 5th of July.
Our growth is wreathed and entwined with mans well-being and womans exaltation. It is a poem of happiness conferred, not of suffering endured. This alone makes our career a blessed one among all the people.
The Fourth of July marks an epoch in the worlds history. It marks the birth of a free nation, with all that impliesa nation in the existence of which the oppressed of all lands rejoice, and of which every true American is justly proud.
Tracing the progress of mankind in the ascending path of civilization, and moral and intellectual culture, our fathers found that the divine ordinance of government, in every stage of the ascent, was adjustable on principles of common reason to the actual condition of a people, and always had for its objects, in the benevolent councils of the divine wisdom, the happiness, the expansion, the security, the elevation of society, and the redemption of man. They sought in vain for any title of authority of man over man, except of superior capacity and higher morality.
We deplore the decadence of the old-fashioned celebration of the Fourth, with its reading of the Declaration of Independence, patriotic music, and stirring addresses, instinct with the true spirit of the day, Americanas they should bein every syllable, but having a new trend in the direction of sound, sensible consideration of the quality of good citizenship, its practical duties and their faithful performance.
Many of the features of Independence Day are harmless, enjoyable, inspiring. We would not lessen the sports, processions, excursions, outdoor and indoor entertainments. But the burning of powder, the Chinese firecrackers, the tin horns, and the ill manners that turn the day into a barbaric carnival are as great an enemy to patriotism as they are a libel on the good sense of the people.
Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty Powers!I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!
Resolved, That these united colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British crown; and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, dissolved.
If we wish to be free, if we mean to preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have been so long contending; if we mean not basely to abandon the noble struggle in which we have been so long engaged and which we have pledged ourselves never to abandon until the glorious object of our contest shall be obtained, we must fight; I repeat it, sir, we must fight! An appeal to arms, and to the God of Hosts, is all that is left us!
A century and more has passed, and as the foundations of this government are more firmly settled, as the great structure reared by the fathers now spans the continent from ocean to ocean, and has victoriously established its right to be, political liberty has ceased to be the mere dream of the enthusiast, and has become the every-day fact of the men of thought and action in the world. This was the first step; and we are here to glory in it, and to boast of those ancestors who suffered and toiled and fought to accomplish it.
Grand as have been the achievements of our forefathers under the blessings of Almighty God, there remains a great revolutionary work for us to do; not by dint of arms, not at the sacrifice of fortune, home and life, but with enlightened reason and a pure conscience; we want to do our duty everywhere, and especially at the ballot-box. We no longer want to countenance evil or legalize what will make us blush and cause a net to be spread before our brightest sons and fairest daughters.
Was it the discipline and skill of the Revolutionists which gave them success? That can hardly be the case as they were not well versed in the tactics of war. We believe that with their loyalty and faithful use of arms in self-defense, they also enjoyed the favor and help of the Almighty, to whom they had appealed for the rectitude or their intentions, and in their greatest extremities sought His aid. They recognized the fact that the powers that be are ordained of God.
We shall best honor these men and days of old by signing our own declaration of independence from all those elements of selfishness and sordidness that lead to indifference as to the countrys welfare and to an all-absorbing desire for mere personal ease or acquisition.
I could not omit to urge on every man to remember that self-government politically can only be successful if it be accompanied by self-government personally; that there must be government somewhere; and that, if the people are indeed to be sovereigns, they must exercise their sovereignty over themselves individually, as well as over themselves in the aggregateregulating their own lives, resisting their own temptations, subduing their own passions, and voluntarily imposing upon themselves some measure of that restraint and discipline which, under other systems, is supplied from the armories of arbitrary powerthe discipline of virtue in the place of the discipline of slavery.
Without Virginia, as we must all acknowledgewithout her Patrick Henry among the people, her Lees and Jefferson in the forum, and her Washington in the fieldI will not say that the cause of American liberty and American independence must have been ultimately defeatedno, no, there was no ultimate defeat for that cause in the decrees of the Most High; but it must have been delayed, postponed, perplexed, and to many eyes and hearts rendered seemingly hopeless.
The hand that wrote the Declaration of Independence has long ago palsied in death. For more than sixty years Charles Carroll, the last member of that immortal company who appended their names to that famous document, has been slumbering in his grave, but the Declaration is yet a living fact, and to-day the instrument has as much force and meaning as it had one hundred and years ago.
Standing, as we do to-day, upon the eminence of more than a centurys growth, we can look back the way we have come and see more plainly than it ever appeared before that on the little hill just out of Boston the battle of the 17th of June, 1775, changed, indeed, the front of the universe and set liberty so far in advance of tyranny that liberty will never be overtaken again. Children born in America since that day are heirs to all which that victory portended, and the further up the slope of centuries we go the richer will be our inheritance if we are wise and patriotic enough to appreciate, guard and defend the heritage that our fathers won and handed down.
The dignity of the act is the deliberate, circumspect, open, and serene performance by these men in the clear light of day, and by a concurrent purpose, of a civic duty, which embraced the greatest hazards to themselves and to all the people from whom they held this deputed discretion, but which, to their sober judgments, promised benefits to that people and their posterity, from generation to generation, exceeding these hazards and commensurate with its own fitness.
The bravest and best men of all times have perished in the struggles against tyranny and despotism, and free government has never secured even a feeble existence save at a most fearful cost. The experiment of republican government in our own country is similar to that of all others. Here, however, liberty has won her grandest triumphs. Here freedom is enthroned securely and is the unchallenged boon of every inhabitant. But we contemplate the cost of the victory with mournful and pitying hearts. To secure it the patriots of the Revolution died; to secure it the hosts who fell in the struggle against the Rebellion were sacrificed.
These are reasons why the most should be made of our national festivals in the direct line of keeping alive our national principles, and it is a happy circumstance that our public schools have become awake to the fact, and are making the exercises of the day before each national holiday point especially to that day. It is a happy circumstance, too, that many of our country towns are going back to the good old way of celebrating the Glorious Fourth: the parade and the reading of the Declaration of Independence and the oration by some genius, local or imported. Even the spread-eagleism which generally characterizes such effusions is not without its value in rekindling the fire of patriotism, which is apt to be pretty deeply buried under the ashes of commonplace self-seeking.
In what region of the earth ever so remote from us, in what corner of creation ever so far out of the range of our communication, does not some burden lightened, some bond loosened, some yoke lifted, some labor better remunerated, some new hope for despairing hearts, some new light or new liberty for the benighted or the oppressed, bear witness this day, and trace itself, directly or indirectly, back to the impulse given to the world by the successful establishment and operation of free institutions on this American continent?
We wish that whoever in all coming time shall turn his eye hither, may behold that the place is not undistinguished where the first great battle of the Revolution was fought. We wish that this structure may proclaim the magnitude and importance of that event, to every class, in every age. We wish that infancy may learn the purpose of its erection from maternal lips, and that weary and withered age may behold it, and be solaced by the recollections it suggests. We wish that labor may look up here, and be proud, in the midst of its toil. We wish that, in those days of disaster, which, as they come on all nations, must be expected to come on us also, desponding patriotism may turn its eyes hitherward, and be assured that the foundations of our national power still stand strong. We wish that this column, rising toward heaven among the pointed spires of so many temples dedicated to God, may contribute also to produce in all minds a pious feeling of dependence and gratitude. We wish, finally, that the last object on the sight of him who leaves his native shore, and the first to gladden his who revisits it, may be something which shall remind him of the liberty and the glory of his country. Let it rise till it meets the sun in his coming; let the earliest light of the morning gild it, and parting day linger and play on its summit.