REUNION OF THE TWENTY-THIRD OHIO VOLUNTEER INFANTRY REGIMENT

 

September 17, 1879

Youngstown, OH

 

COMRADES AND FELLOW-CITIZENS:

 

After almost a year spent in Washington, engrossed in public affairs, it is a great pleasure to visit again my friends in Ohio, and especially to meet so many of my old comrades at this yearly reunion of the Twenty-Third Regiment. Since we last met at Willoughby, a year ago, there has been a vast improvement of the business condition of our country. Whatever differences of opinion may still be found among the people of this part of Ohio as to the importance of the resumption of specie payments, and as to the methods by which it has been accomplished, there is one kind of resumption which is very noticeable in Youngstown, and which is making rapid progress in the whole country, about which I imagine we are all heartily agreed. When I last visited this beautiful valley of the Mahoning, four years ago, the financial crisis, and the gloomy outlook for business and labor and capital, occupied the thoughts and depressed the spirits of the people wherever I met them, whether in public assemblies, at their places of business, or at their hospitable homes. Now, however, how great and how gratifying is the change! All around us here, and throughout the country generally, we see cheerful and hopeful indications of better times. Not only have specie payments been resumed, but business activity and profitable employment for capital and labor has grown also. The chief industry and interest of this valley – the great iron interest – already begins to share largely in the benefit of our improved condition, and I therefore congratulate all classes of citizens in this large assemblage on the present favorable business association, and on the bright and encouraging prospect which the future holds out.

 

There is a subject interesting to every citizen, and especially to those who served in the Union Army, in regard to which I wish to say a few words:

 

Since our last reunion, in several of the States and in Congress, events have occurred which have revived the discussion of the question as to the objects for which we fought in the great conflict from 1861 to 1865 and as to what was accomplished by the final triumph of the Union cause. The question is, what was settled by the war? What may those who fought for the Union claim, and what ought those who fought for secession, faithfully accept as to the legitimate results of the war?

 

An eminent citizen of our State, Mr. Groesbeck, said some years ago, that “war legislates.” He regarded the new constitutional amendments as part of the legislation for the Union, and said, with significant emphasis, “and they will stand.” The equal-rights amendments are the legislation for the war of the Union, and they ought to stand. Great wars always legislate. A little more than a hundred years ago, this land, where we now are, was claimed and held by France. General Wolfe, on the plains of Abraham, settled that claim, and the result was the transfer of the title and jurisdiction of this entire section of the country to England. For a few years its chief ruler was the English King. The Revolution followed, and the question of ownership was again the subject of war resolution, and it became a part of the United States, no longer under a monarchy, but under a free Republican Government.

 

I need not enter into any discussion of the causes of the causes of our civil war. We all know that the men who planned the destruction of the Union and the establishment of the Confederate States, based their attempt on a construction of the Constitution called the States-rights doctrine, and on the interest of the people of those States the extension and perpetuation of slavery. The doctrine of State rights was, that each State was sovereign and supreme, and might nullify the laws of the Union or secede from the Union at pleasure. They held that slavery was the natural and normal condition of the colored man, and that, therefore, slavery in this country should and could be the cornerstone of a free government.

 

No man has ever stated the issues of the civil war more fully, more clearly, and more accurately than Mr. Lincoln. In any inquiry as to what may be fairly included among the things settled by our victory, all just and patriotic minds turn instinctively to Mr. Lincoln. To him, more than to any other man, the cause of the Union and liberty is indebted for its final triumph. Besides, with all his wonderful sagacity, and wisdom, and logical faculty, dwelling intently, and anxiously, and prayerfully, during four years of awful trial and responsibility, on the questions which were continually arising to perplex and almost confound him, he at last became the very embodiment of the principles by which the countries and its liberties were saved. All good citizens may now well listen to and heed his words. None have more reason to do it with respect and confidence, and a genuine regard, than those whom he addressed in his first inaugural speech as “my dissatisfied fellow-countrymen.” The leader of the Union cause was so just and moderate, and patient and humane, that many supporters of the Union thought that he did not go far enough or fast enough, and assailed his opinions and his conduct; but now all men begin to see that the plain people, who at last came to love him, and to lean upon his wisdom and firmness with absolute trust, were altogether right, and in that deed and purpose he was earnestly devoted to the welfare of the whole country, and of all its inhabitants.

 

Believing that Mr. Lincoln’s opinions are of higher authority on the questions of the war than those of any other public man on either side of the controversy, I desire to present them quite fully and in his own language.

 

In the third year of the way, and while its result was still undecided, Mr. Lincoln made his memorable address at the consecration of the Gettysburg National Cemetery, on the 19th of November, 1863. He was standing on the field of the greatest battle of the war. He was, no doubt, deeply impressed with the heavy responsibilities which he had borne so long. He spoke not as a partisan, bitter and narrow and sectional, but spoke in the broad spirit of a patriot, solicitous to say that which would be worthy to be pondered by all of his countrymen throughout all time. In his short speech of only two or three paragraphs he twice spoke of the objects of the war, one in its opening and again in its closing sentence. The words have been often quoted; but they cannot be too familiar. They bear clearly and forcibly on the question we have been considering.

 

“Four score and seven years ago,” said Mr. Lincoln, “our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.”

 

And again, in closing, he said: It is rather for us…that we here highly resolved that the dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation shall, under God, have a new birth of freedom; and that Government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

 

No statement of the true objects of the war more complete than this has ever been made. It includes them all – Nationality, Liberty, Equal Rights, and Self-Government. These are the principles for which the Union solider fought, and which it was his aim to maintain and to perpetuate.

 

If any one supposes that the construction of our National Constitution, which is known as the State-rights doctrine, is consistent with sound principles, let him consider a few paragraphs from Mr. Lincoln’s first message to Congress, at the extra session of 1861.

 

Speaking of what was called the right of peaceful secession – that is, secession in accordance with the National Constitution – he said:

 

“This sophism derives much, perhaps the whole, of its currency from the assumption that there is some more omnipotent and sacred supremacy pertaining to a State – to each State of our Federal Union. Our States have neither more nor less power than that reserved to them in the Union by the Constitution, no one of them ever having been a State out of the Union. The original ones passed into the Union even before they cast off their British colonial dependence, and the new ones each came into the Union directly from a condition of dependence, excepting Texas. And even Texas, in its temporary independence, was never designated a State. The new ones only took the designation of States on coming into the Union, while that name was first adopted by the old ones in and by the Declaration of Independence. Therein the ‘United Colonies’ were declared to be free and independent States; but, even then, the object plainly was not to declare their independence of one another, or of the Union, but directly the contrary, as their mutual pledge, and their mutual action, before, at the time, and afterwards, abundantly show. The express plighting of faith by each and all of the original thirteen, in the articles of Confederation, two years later, that the Union be perpetual, is most conclusive. Having never been States, either in substance or in name, outside of the Union, whence this magical omnipotence of ‘State-rights,’ asserting a claim of power to lawfully destroy the Union itself! Much is said about the ‘sovereignty’ of the States; but the word, even, is not in the National Constitution, nor, as is believed, in any of the State constitutions. What is a ‘sovereignty,’ in the political sense of the term? Would it be far wrong to define it, ‘a political community without a political superior?’ Tested by this, no one of our States, except Texas, ever was a sovereignty; and even Texas gave up the character on coming into the Union; by which act she acknowledged the Constitution of the United States, and the laws and treaties made by the United States in pursuance of the Constitution, to be, for her, the supreme law of the land. The States have their status IN the Union, and they have no other legal status. If they do this, they can only do so against law, and by revolution. The Union, and not themselves separately, procured their independence and their liberty. By conquest, or purchase, the Union gave each of them whatever independence and liberty it has. The Union is older than any of the States; and, in fact, it created them as States, Originally, some dependent colonies made the Union, and, in turn, the Union threw off their old dependence for them and made them States, such as they are. Not one of them had a State constitution independent of the Union. Of course, it is not forgotten that all new States framed their constitutions before they entered the Union; nevertheless, dependent upon, and preparatory to, coming into the Union.”

 

Unquestionably, the States have the powers and rights reserved to them in and by the National Constitution, and upon this point, in another part of this great message, Mr. Lincoln says:

 

“This relative matter of National power and State-rights, as a principle, is no other than the principle of generality and locality. Whatever concerns the whole should be confided to the whole-to the General Government; while whatever concerns only the State should be left exclusively to the State. This is all there is of the general principle about it.”

 

Mr. Lincoln held that the United States is a nation, and that its Government possesses ample power under the Constitution to maintain its authority and enforce its laws in every part of its territory. The denial of this principal by those who asserted the doctrine of State-rights and who rightly claimed that it was inconsistent with State sovereignty, made up an issue over which arose one of the leading controversies which lead to the civil war. The result of the war decided that controversy in favor of nationality and in favor of the supremacy of the National Government.

 

On the question of human rights Mr. Lincoln was equally explicit, and often declared that it was involved in the conflict, and to be decided by the result. In his matchless message, already quoted, he says:

 

“Our adversaries have adopted some declarations of independence, in which, unlike the good old one, penned by Jefferson, they omit the words ‘all men are created equal.’ Why? They have adopted a temporary national constitution, in the preamble of which, unlike our good old one, signed by Washington, they omit, ‘We the people,’ and substitute ‘We, the deputies of the sovereign and independent States.’ Why? Why this deliberate pressing out of view the rights of men, and the authority of the people? This is essentially a People’s contest. On the side of the Union, it is a struggle for maintaining in the world that form and substance of government whose leading object is to elevate the condition of men; to lift artificial weights from all shoulders, to clear the paths of laudable pursuit to all; to afford all an unfettered start, and a fair chance in the race of life. Yielding to partial and temporary departures, from necessity, this is the leading object of the Government for whose existence we contend. I am most happy to believe the plain people understand and appreciate this.”

 

On the subject of suffrage, Mr. Lincoln’s guiding principle was that “no man is good enough to govern another man without that other man’s consent.”

 

Thus we have from the lips and pen of Mr. Lincoln-the great leader and representative of the Union cause-in the most solemn and authentic form, a complete statement of the issues of the war. He held that the Union is perpetual; that its Government is National and supreme; and that all its inhabitants should be free, and be accorded equal civil and political rights.

 

These are the great fundamental principles, affirmed on the one side, and denied on the other, upon which the appeal was made to the God of battles. I do not undertake to review, the debate as to the nature and powers of the Government of the Union, and as to the doctrine of State-rights, which began with the foundation of our institutions, and which was continued until it was hushed by the clash of arms. It is enough for my present purpose to say that, as a matter of history, all of the political parties of the past, when charged with the responsibility of the direction of the Government, have maintained in their practical administration of it, precisely the same principles that were held by President Lincoln. The principles to the powers of the National Government, which were acted upon by Washington and Jackson, and which are sustained by the decisions of Chief Justice Marshall, and by which Lincoln and the Union crushed the rebellion and rescued the Republic, are among the legitimate and irreversible results of the war which ought not to be questioned.

 

Touching the remaining important issue settled by the war, the public avowals of opinion are almost all in favor of the faithful acceptance of the new constitutional amendments. On this subject the speeches of public men and the creeds and platforms of the leading political parties have been explicit. In 1872, all parties in their respective National Conventions adopted resolutions recognizing the equality of all men before the law, and pledging themselves, in the words of the Democratic National Convention, “to maintain emancipation and enfranchisement, and to oppose the reopening of the questions settled by the recent amendments to the Constitution.” In 1876, the great political parties again, in the language of the St. Louis National Convention, affirmed their “devotion to the Constitution of the United States, with its amendments universally accepted as a final settlement of the controversies that engendered the civil war.” Notwithstanding these declarations, we are compelled to take notice that, while very few citizens anywhere would wish to re-establish slavery if they could, and no one would again attempt to break up the Union by secession, there still remains in some communities a dangerous practical denial to the colored citizens of the political rights which are guaranteed to them by the Constitution as it now is. In the crisis of the war Mr. Lincoln appealed to the colored people to take up arms. About two hundred thousand responded to the call, enlisted in the Union armies, and fought for the Union cause under the Union flag. Equality of rights for the colored people, from that time, thus became one of the essential issues of the war. General Sherman said, “when the fight is over, the hand that drops the musket cannot be denied the ballot.” Jefferson said long before, “the man who fights for his country is entitled to vote.” When, with the help of the colored men, the victory was gained, the Fifteenth Amendment followed naturally as one of its legitimate results. No man can truthfully claim that he faithfully accepts the true settlements of the war, who sees with indifference the Fifteenth Amendment practically nullified.

 

No one can overstate the evils which the country must suffer if lawless and violent opposition to the enjoyment of constitutional rights is allowed to be permanently successful. The lawlessness which to-day assails the rights of the colored people will find other victims to-morrow. This question belongs to no race, to no party, and to no section. It is a question in which the whole country is deeply interested. Patriotism, justice, humanity, and our material interests, all plead on the right side of this question, The colored people are the laborers who produce the cotton which, going abroad to the markets of the world, gives us that favorable balance of trade which is doing so much for the revival of all business. The whole fabric of society rests upon labor. If free laborers suffer from oppression and injustice, they will either become discontented or turbulent, destroyers of property, and not producers of property, or they will abandon the communities which deprive them of their inalienable rights. In either case, social order and the peaceful industries on which prosperity depends are imperiled and perhaps sacrificed. It will not do to say that this is an affair which belongs solely to the distant States of the South. The whole country must suffer if this question is not speedily settled, and settled rightly. Where the two races are numerous, prosperity can only exist by the united and harmonious effort of both the white people and the colored people. The only solution for the peace and progress in such communities are equal and exact to both races. Consider the present situation: Whatever complaints may have been heard during the process of reconstruction, candid men must admit that all sections and all States are now equally regarded, and share alike the rights, the privileges, and the benefits of the common Government. All that is needed for the permanent pacification of the country is, the cordial cooperation of well-disposed citizens to secure the faithful observance of the equal rights amendments of the Constitution.

 

Happily, in the very communities where lawlessness has been most general and most successful, there are editors of newspapers and other influential citizens who speak out and denounce these crimes against free government. It is plain that a solid public opinion is forming where it is most needed. No community can afford to allow any of its citizens to be oppressed – to lose their rights. To be indifferent on the subject is to disregard interest and duty. The Union citizens and soldiers can do much to remove the evils we are considering. Let it be understood that no man in any party will be sustained unless he can undertake to carry out in good faith the pledges made in all our platforms in regard to the rights of colored citizens; unless he will support laws providing the means to punish crimes against them; and unless he will oppose the admission of any man to either House of Congress whose seat has been obtained by the violation of the Fifteenth Amendment. Its free exercise is the vital air of Republican institutions.

 

To establish now the State-rights doctrine of the supremacy of the States, and an oligarchy of race, is deliberately to throw away an essential part of the fruits of Union victory. The settlements of the war in favor of equal rights and the supremacy of the laws of the Union are just and wise, and necessary. Let them not be surrendered. Let them be faithfully selected and firmly enforced, Let them stand, and, with the advancing tide of business prosperity, we may confidently hope, by the blessing of Divine Providence, that we shall soon enter upon an era of prosperity and progress such as has been rarely  enjoyed by any people.

 

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