March 17, 1886
MR. PRESIDENT, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN - The long and very interesting programme provided for our entertainment forbids the making of an elaborate speech. Many of us are Protestants-descended from those New England Puritans, who were the Protestants of the Protestants-Puritans, who of their faith became pilgrims and their pilgrimage sought and found homes in the wilderness of America. We are nonetheless happy, however, to greet our Catholic friends and to endorse without mental reservation what Father Hannin and his associates are doing, have done, and will continue to do for our American society. I am authorized to state their platform, their motto, and all of us agree with it heartily and fully. That motto is: “Religion, Education, Temperance, Industry.”
For every evil that now afflicts-for every peril that now afflicts our welfare and safety as a people, there is healing in these words.
Thirty years ago we were astonished and grieved to hear from high authority a prophecy of danger, which is to-day the darkest cloud in our sky. It was said of Macaulay, when he died in 1859, by Edward Everett, that he was “the most brilliant writer of our or of any age whose works for thirty years have been the wonder and delight of all who read the English language under the circuit of the sun.” Macaulay leaned toward liberal sentiments. But referring to America in a letter on Jefferson, written to Jefferson’s biographer, Mr. Randall, he said:
“Institutions purely Democratic must, sooner or later, destroy liberty or civilization, or both.” Said he:
“Either the poor will plunder the rich and society will perish, or order and prosperity will be saved by a strong military government and liberty will perish.”
These opinions of Macauley were heard by Americans with astonishment and with a lofty and almost scornful incredulity. But events with their swift and powerful march are bringing rapidly the Nation face to face with the question to which he referred It begins to attract, yes to command attention. Indeed, as Jefferson said of the slavery question it startles the lover of our free institutions “like a fire bell in the night.”
All must admit that in a country where most of the property is mainly held by a few men of great wealth and where the working men have very little education and almost no property that free institutions are simply impossible. The ideal community for a free government is one in where all are educated, in which all are or have been working men, and in which all are or can be owners of homes.
In America, as we approach this ideal condition the foundations of our institutions grow stronger. As we drift away from it they are more and more imperiled. As long as the working man can indulge a reasonable hope that by industry, temperance and frugality he can become the owner of a home, educate his children, and lay up a competency for his support in old age our country will continue to be the land of the free. Homes for all, and education for all, go together. People who cannot earn enough to be the owners of houses are doomed to ignorance. If ever our institutions, our laws and customs-our social system and civilization-give to those who earn their living by the labor of their hands no such hope, the end predicted by Macaulay is inevitable and near at hand. Whatever stands in the way of the workingman, who seeks by industry, temperance, and frugality, to secure a home for himself and his family, education for his children, and a support in his old age, stand in the way of the perpetuity of freedom in America. Your motto, “Religion, Education, Temperance, and Industry,” if adopted and acted on upon as a whole and in all its parts, will not merely postpone the evil day, but will keep it forever far from us. Its aim and its tendency are to secure to every human being an equal hope, an equal chance, and a fair start in the race of life.
This purpose has never yet been fully attained by any government on earth. Perhaps by the order of Providence it will never be accomplished in absolute perfection. But it may be hoped that under this motto of Father Hannin the ship will be always headed, and always more in the right direction.
Macaulay saw the great question of our time, and especially of our country, from the old world stand point. With him the object of desire was to protect property, heredity rank, and special privileges. In the new world, with Americans, with you, sir, the main object of desire is to secure all human beings their full and fair share of property, of education, of opportunity and of hope.
With all our hearts we wish you God speed in your good work.