REUNION OF 23RD REGIMENT OF OHIO VOLUNTEER INFANTRY

 

September 1, 1880

Canton, Ohio

 

COMRADES AND FELLOW-CITIZENS:

 

At the Soldiers’ state Reunion in Columbus, last month, I made some remarks on the duty of the General Government to complete the work of reconstruction by affording aid, wherever it is needed, for the education of illiterate white and colored people in the late slaveholding states. I am firmly convinced that the subject of popular education deserves the earnest attention of people of the whole country, a view to wise and comprehensive action by the Government of the United States. This means at the command of the local and State authorities are in many cases wholly inadequate to deal with the question. The magnitude of the evil to be eradicated is not, I apprehend, generally and fully understood. Consider these facts:

 

1.  In the late slaveholding States, under the system of slavery, education was denied to the colored people, and the education of the non-slaveholding white people was greatly neglected. By reason of this state of things in 1870 more than four millions of people in the South, of school age and over that age, were unable to read and write, and more than three-quarters of a million of voters are too illiterate to prepare or even read their own ballots. This evil is not rapidly diminishing. By the latest available statistics it appears that in 1878 the total school population, white and colored, in the late slaveholding States was 5,187,584 and that only 2,710,096 were during that year enrolled in any school. This leaves 2,477,488 – almost two and a half millions – of the young who are growing up without the means of education. Citizenship and the right to vote with conferred upon the colored people by the Government and People of the United States. It is, therefore, the sacred duty, as it is the highest interest, of the United States to see that these new citizens and voters are fitted by education for the grave responsibility that has been cast upon them.

 

Dr. Ruffner, school superintendant of Virginia, in an argument that the General Government should aid the public schools of the South, says:

 

“I know not what is true of the Northern and Western States; but I can say for my State, and most of the Southern States, we are not able to educate our people in any tolerable sense. We are too poor to do it. A few years ago I showed this conclusively by statistics. … There has not been much increase  in financial ability by these States since that time; no increase on an average in my own State, so far as I can judge; and every well-informed man knows that, whatever be the wants of a State, her power of taxation has a limit.”

 

2. In the Territories of the United States it is estimated that there are over two hundred thousand Indians, almost all of whom are uncivilized. They have heretofore been hunters and warriors. But no one observes the rapid progress of railroads and settlements in the West can fail to see that game and fish, on which the Indians have hitherto subsisted, are about to disappear. The solution of the Indian question shall speedily be the extinction of the Indians or the absorption into American citizenship by means of the civilizing influences of education. With the disappearance of game there can no longer be Indian hunters or warriors.  The days of Indian wars are now drawing to a close. There will soon be no room for question as to the department to which the Indian shall belong. In a few years all must agree that he should belong, like every other citizen, only to himself. The time is not distant when he should be chiefly cared for by the civilizing department of the Government, the Bureau of Education.

 

3. The people of the Territory of New Mexico have never been provided for by the means of education. The number of people in that Territory in 1870, ten years old and upwards, who could not read and write, was 52,220. This is largely more than half of the population. The school population is now over 30,000, of whom only about one-sixth are enrolled in schools. It will not be questioned that the power of the General Government to “make all needful rules and regulations respecting the Territory belonging to the United States” is sufficient to illiterate citizens growing up in New Mexico and the other Territories of the United States.

 

4. The number of immigrants arriving in the United States is greater than ever before. It is not improbable, from present indications, that, from this source alone, there will be added, during the current decade, to the population of our country five millions of people. On one day last Spring there arrived in New York 4,907 immigrants-almost five thousand in a single day in that During the quarter ending the 30th of June last, the number of immigrants into the United States averaged eighty thousand a month, and during the four months ending the 31st of July last there were nearly three hundred thousand.

 

Happily for the United States, several of the large elements of this immigration very few people who are wholly uneducated. The Germans and the Scandinavians for the most part have been educated in the public schools of their native country. But it is probable that from one-fourth to one-third of the present total immigration into our country is from foreign nations where popular education is greatly neglected. It may reasonably be estimated that at least from twenty to twenty-five percent of the immigrants are illiterate. In the current decade we shall probably receive from abroad more than a million of people of school age and upwards who are unable to read or write any language; and of these, about a quarter of a million, in a few years, will share with us equally, man for man, the duties and responsibilities of the citizen and the vote.

 

JEFFERSON, with his almost marvelous sagacity and foresight, declared nearly a hundred years ago, that free schools were an essential part – one of the columns, as he expressed it – of the republican edifice, and that, “without instruction free to all, the sacred flame of liberty could not be kept burning in the hearts of Americans.”

 

MADISON said, almost sixty years ago, “A popular government, without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps to both.”

 

Already, in too many instances, elections have become the farce which MADISON predicted; and the tremendous tragedy which we saw when we were soldiers of the Union, and in which we bore a part, could never have occurred if in all sections of our country there had been universal suffrage based  on universal education. In our country, as everywhere else, it will be found that, in the long run, ignorant voters are powder and ball for the demagogues. The failure to support free schools in any part of our country tends to cheapen and degrade the right of suffrage, and will ultimately destroy its value in every part of the Republic.

 

The unwavering testimony of history is, that the nations which win the most renowned victories in peace and war are those which provide ample means for popular education. Without free schools, there is no such thing as affording to “every man an unfettered start and a fair chance in the race of life.” In the present condition of our country, universal education requires the aid of the General Government. The authority to grant such aid is established by a line of precedents, beginning from the origin of the Republic and running down through almost every administration to the present time. Let this aid be granted wherever it is essential to the enjoyment of free popular instruction.

 

In the language of MR. WEBSTER:

 

“The census of these States shows how great a proportion of the whole population occupies the classes between infancy and manhood. These are the wide fields, and here is the deep and quick soil for the seeds of knowledge and virtue; and this is the favored season-the very spring time for sowing them. Let them be disseminated without stint. Let them be scattered with a bountiful hand broadcast. Whatever the Government can fairly do for these objects, in my opinion, ought to be done.”

 

The distinguishing feature of Soldiers’ Reunions this year, is, that they are so largely meetings for mutual congregation and for rejoicing over the improved condition and prospects of the United States.

 

No man of well-balanced character can fail to be grateful for the blessings of this period of restored prosperity, who will even consider in the most casual and hasty way the familiar facts of our history during the last nineteen years. Let me spread before you a very few of the facts touching our financial affairs. The great event of the period I have named is the war for the Union.

 

In reply to a resolution of the Senate, the Secretary of the Treasury reported, in June last, a statement of the expenses of the Government on account of the war of the rebellion, from July 1, 1861, to June 30, 1879, inclusive. In that official report it is stated that the expenditures growing out of the war, after deducting all the expenses of the Government other than those for the war, have amounted to the sum of $6189,929,908.58.

 

This great amount has all been paid in the last nineteen years, except for the present amount of the national debt. Deducting the debt which still remains, from this statement of the cost of the war, and it appears that during the four years of the war, and in the fifteen years which have since elapsed, the United States has paid, in excess of all the ordinary and extraordinary expenses of the Government in time of peace, more than $4,275,000,000 on account of the war. This is an average of about $225,000,000 per year of war expenditures for the last nineteen years. These enormous payments were made chiefly during the war and in the years immediately following the war.

 

That and such vast expenditures by the Government should lead to an inflated currency, to extravagant living, and to reckless enterprises, and that these in turn should be followed by that tremendous event, a financial panic, and its attendant ruin and distress, were inevitable, and were a part of the price we paid for a restored Union, for a stable Government, and for human freedom.

 

On the 31st of August, 1865, the total debt resulting from the war was $2, 756, 431,571.43; the interest-bearing debt was $2,381,5420,294.96; and the annual interest-bearing charge was $159,977,697.87. Now, after exactly fifteen years have passed, the total debtless cash in the Treasury, is $1,900,000,000; the interest-bearing debt is $1,723,923,100; and the annual interest charge is $79,633,981. Fifteen years ago, the share of the National debt of each inhabitant of the United States was $78.25 and each person’s share of the interest charge was $4.29. Thousands were induced to believe that this was a debt that could never be paid, and that our National debt, like that of England, would be a perpetual burden upon ourselves and our posterity. Now, however, that debt has diminished to less than one-half for each inhabitant of what it was in 1865, and the interest charge, per capita, is scarcely more than one-third of what it was fifteen years ago.

 

Such being the favorable state of our debt, let us for a moment examine the condition of our resources.

 

The imports and exports for the last thirty years have been as follows:

In the twenty-five years next prior to five years ago, the excess or imports over exports-the balance of trade against us-was $1,500,000,000, and the average annual excess of imports was more than $60,000,000. In that period of a quarter of a century there were only three years in which the exports exceeded the imports, and in those three years the average annual excess of imports was only about $9,000,000. Compare this condition of trade with the last five years, during which the excess of exports over imports-the balance of trade in our favor- has been as follows:

 

(No tables used in this speech are going to be reprinted here due to issues concerning format.)

 

Total in five years, $924,179,828, or a yearly average balance of trade in our favor of $185,000,000.

 

In a period of thirty years prior to 1880, there has been only one year in which we received into the country more of the precious metals than we sent out of the country. That year was an exceptional year – at the beginning of the war. In 1861 our import of gold and silver exceeded the exports $16,548,531.  In all other years, except the last, our exports of the precious metals have exceeded our imports, per year, from four millions to ninety millions of dollars, and we have averaged at least forty millions a year. In 1880, the last fiscal year, the exports of gold and silver exceeded the imports $75,891,391-a gain from abroad of the precious metals of the previous year of $80,592,832 and a gain over the average yearly balance of thirty years past of $115,000,000. This gain, in the precious metals alone, of over $75,000,000, in the first year after the resumption of specie payments, in the face of confident predictions that the resumption would result in a ruinous contraction of the currency, may well encourage those who wish to take the remaining steps necessary to reach a perfectly sound and healthy condition of the currency,

 

Whatever introduces into our financial system the elements of steadiness, certainty, and unquestioned good faith, have always been found to increase the facility with which legitimate business can procure the capital it needs. Plausible predictions of contraction and distress are always in such cases falsified by the results. Without further allusions to the mooted question of finance to be hereafter settled, let us pass to other evidences of the increasing prosperity of our country.

 

Our foreign commerce has increased in the last thirty years as follows:

 

The value of imports and exports in the year ending June 30, 1880 was greater than the preceding year by the sum of about $347,000,000-an increase of 30 per cent-and is larger than any previous year in our history.

 

The enormous gain in the tonnage of American and foreign vessels entered at sea ports of the United States, is shown by the following:

 

This remarkable increase has been caused by the shipment to foreign countries of an unprecedented amount of the bulky products of American farms.

 

It will be gratifying to the friends of American agriculture to notice the vast increase in the import of farm products during the last few years:

 

In these articles the increase of experts is about 240 per cent in seven years, and 27 percent since the last year.

 

The amount of these three items of farm products exported this year, viz., $430,962,197, exceeds the total exports of all articles from the United States in any year prior to 1871/

 

The failures in the panic of 1873 have ranged from more than five thousand to ten thousand per year. The average number has been about eight thousand a year. The amount of liabilities has averaged about $200,000,000 per year.

 

In the first six months of this year there were only 2,497 failures, and the liabilities were only $32,888,763. The failures are rather more than one-half in number, and the liabilities are less than one-third in amount, as compared with the five years next after the panic. It is the opinion of competent judges that the number of failures which may occur, and the amount of liabilities in proportion to the amount of business done, and the number of enterprises which are undertaken, is less than ever before in this country. Never could the man engaged in legitimate business or industry reckon more confidently upon remunerable remuneration for his labor and capital than at the present time.

 

The people of foreign nations understand this almost as well as we understand it ourselves. From all parts of Europe, people are coming to America-people not less thrift nor less intelligent than those they leave behind-to share with us the abounding prosperity which we now enjoy. They come here to better their condition, because we are prosperous, because we are at peace at home and abroad, and because they hope here to find civil and religious liberty guaranteed by a stable government of a united people. These advantages, which so strongly attract immigration, are the truths for which we fought in the war for the Union. Let us resolve to do all we can, in our respective places in life, sacredly to guard them, not only for ourselves and our prosperity; but for all mankind.

 

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