Imágenes de páginas
[blocks in formation]




R 1937 L


[graphic][ocr errors][merged small]

HE historians of antiquity attached so much importance to the utterances

of the great men of whom they wrote, that they were fain to make such report as they could of the orations pronounced by these personages, on occasions of public interest. Where full knowledge in this regard was unattainable, the historians themselves, it is supposed,

composed such addresses as such men, under the given circumstances, would have been likely to make.

The orations of Demosthenes and Cicero have, indeed, been preserved for us in their entirety; and continue to this day to hold an important place in Greek and Latin classics. In addition to these, Thucydides, Livy, and Tacitus hand down to us many eloquent sentences; which may have been correctly, even if imperfectly, reported. Nothing, indeed, can bring the people of other times so much within the comprehension of later generations as can the record of what their eminent men were moved to say in the great crises of their public life. The Latin proverb tells us that: Verba volant. Litera scripta manet.But in the recorded orations, the flying word is made to remain, the fleeting impression reproduces itself; we live for the moment the life of days long vanished.

As Americans, we have especial occasion to feel an interest in the volume herewith presented. Eloquence does much to build up the life of free peoples. The words uttered by patriots in our early history were prophetic of the destiny of a Nation fated to play a new part in the great drama of the world's record. The indignant protest of James Otis against the Writs of Assistance, imposed upon the Colonies by the Mother Country; the burning words of Patrick Henry,

from which fugitive slaves in our own time have taken to themselves the sentence: “Give me liberty, or give me death!” the weighty utterances of

Samuel Adams, Alexander Hamilton, and Thomas Jefferson — do they not bring back to us the very walls within which the fateful pleadings were made? — the “Old Church” in Richmond where Patrick Henry stood, the State House of Boston, preserved from vandal destruction by the prayers of Massachusetts women; the beloved Hall given by Peter Faneuil, still standing, and still made to resound with the music of free speech; Independence Hall, in Philadelphia, where the charter of our new faith was signed and sealed; and many another locality, consecrated by heroic associations. And, far more precious than this dead architecture, is the living temple of our Statehood, the brave building of thought and of art which has been raised upon the foundation of our fathers, a fabric strong and beautiful. To the youth of our country we may well say of these old-time statements of Right and Duty:

Grapple them to thy heart with hooks of steel.”

But our volume passes from these legacies of the immortal past to the wonderful record of our own century, one in which the new theories were put upon trial. The maxims enunciated by the fathers, the rules laid down, were no doubt very high-sounding; but could a stable government be raised on such a plane, by such a system?

We soon see an old-world poison working into the wholesome veins of the new body-politic. Slavery, fastened upon us while we were yet in our cradle, became a source of irreconcilable differences. On the one hand, it was seen that no country could be called free in which man could buy and sell his brother man. On the other hand, it became evident that an irresponsible tyranny could not be permitted to overrun the domain pledged to the upholding oi free institutions. And in time the inevitable contest came; and in the end was settled for the ultimate advantage of both parties.

The present volume preserves for our instruction the arguments which make evident the steps of this progress; at first, so painful, in the end, so triumphant. The voices which awoke the echoes of our own halls of Congress with fiery threats, with prophetic admonitions, the mistaken pleading which urged on the war, and the counter pleading which kept in sight the true issue, yes, and the simple, wise eloquence of the Martyr President's parting address — all this is given to the public in the work now offered to it.

Among the treasures of this collection, I must not omit to mention Wendell Phillips's speech on the murder of Lovejoy, the memorable burst of eloquence which won for him the spurs of his early knighthood. Here we have Daniel Webster's reply to Hayne, in which he gives his interpretation of the scope and character of our Government — and, later on, Theodore Parker's trenchant analysis of Webster's public life. We are glad also to find Henry Ward Beecher's remarkable address given in Liverpool during our war, when the Mother Country looked coldly upon us, and the great audience scarcely accorded to the eminent orator a decent hearing. Among the earlier of the speeches here brought together, I am led to ponder the words of Samuel Adams, less familiar perhaps to some of us than others of his name: “Truth loves an appeal to the common sense of mankind.” . Our fathers threw off the yoke of Popery in religion; for you is reserved the honor of leveling the Popery of politics.” “This day (August 1, 1776) I trust the reign of political protestanism will commence."

The study of these historic documents is much needed in our day, when American men and women, with fair opportunities of culture and education, often show a lamentable ignorance of the history and original spirit of our Government. When I undertook to write an introduction to the present volume, and to review the matter therein contained, I had a very imperfect notion of its value. Since then, I have found in the perusal of these pages, much food for thought. As I read, the mighty issues of the century just passed rise up before me, the terrible problem whose solution could not be deferred, and cannot now be changed.

In the orations here presented I find that the walls of our National Capitol had resounded with many angry debates before the question of slavery so widely divided the North from the South. Civil liberty, philosophers agree, is not an original attribute of man's nature, but a result of wise and high dispositions. Such a result cannot be attained without the exhibition of many differences of opinion. The freedom of speech and of the press to which we were pledged from the start allowed these differences to encounter each other in broad daylight and upon a field of unusual extent. Fortunately they have proved themselves to be discords leading to solution, and as the processes of question, discussion, and final settlement have gone on, the general harmony has risen to a higher and fuller diapason.

From this fact of the past we may hopefully draw the happy inference that our differences, individual and national, will more and more tend to settle themselves by the scale of reason and that the better acquaintance with the principles essential to social and civil well-being will insure a growing interest in the prevalence and final establishment of those principles.

The America of to-day rushes panting in the pursuit, not of wealth only, but of the imperial power which wealth confers. The multi-millionaire has become the most popular ideal among us, the man who can most enrich himself at the expense of the community. Next to him in the popular idolatry, comes the man who can delude the multitude with specious arguments and phrases of high promise. In some parts of our country, evil passions raging in undisciplined minds arouse opposition to every just law. The victim of popular fury is led to the stake and burned there; while Judgment, in her calm temple, waits

« AnteriorContinuar »