September 1, 1887
GEN. R. B. HAYES: With individuals there is a period of action and a period of recollection or reminiscences; and so with communities and nations; there is a period of performance of great duties and then comes the historical period when we gather up what has been done by our fathers, what has been done in the past in our country, our state, our community, and we talk about it.
We began our society some years ago as a pioneer society; more recently in talking about it we have heard remarks in this style: “Why, the pioneer day is past--the pioneer day was the day of the Indian, of the dangerous wild animal, of the tomahawk and the scalping knife--that day is past, and there cannot be a new crop of pioneers--the old ones have passed away.” But our Brother Cronenwett, the German pioneer of Woodville Township, has, by his reminisces, answered all that. There were hardships since the days of the Indians, The people he described as coming from Germany suffered as really and perhaps as much as the pioneers of the earlier day. The idea is that sufferings and privations and hardships are all relative. How is it with the present? Why, we cannot now have the same hardships, but there is another life with its peculiar trials. I doubt not that in the progress of the world, that the men who shall live in the ease and luxury that the inventions of the next 50 years shall bring, will look back on our time and wonder how we ever got along. We already begin to see that there was hardship even in the best of life between 50 and 70, between 70 and 80. I am facing now a large number of house-keepers. How they have worried with the ashes and the coal pipe and the wood-pile and the dirt that they get scattered all over the house; but now we come in with natural gas and we are always clean, and there need be no more house cleaning. We do not need to commence house cleaning in the top of the house, as in the past, and as they do in the cold regions, upsetting everything down to the cellar, making life a torment to the husband and sons, and by the time they get down to the bottom beginning again at the top. We are getting out of that as we get into this delightful luxury, gas, that is making house-keeping so easy and comfortable.
There is always the old settler. And suppose he has not passed through any great hardships yet he has lived an honorable and good life in the community, and had reached the age of 70, 80, or 90, our society should honor him for that.
The historical period is worth having: it is worth the while to gather up history. The busy world has not time to do it. We in Ohio think that we are about as near to perfection as in the order of Providence human beings can be. Ohio is great, but you have done nothing for her history. You have written no books. Judge Lang has written a history of Seneca County, and there is nothing better than that in the State.
The present is a very interesting period of time. We are just about a 100 years old. Brother Finefrock was giving us an account of 1787. It was 100 years ago the 13th day of July last when that ordinance was adopted. There is to be a great centennial celebration of the formation of the Constitution in a week from now, the 17th of September, when the constitutional convention adjourned. We shall have pictures of the men at that time. At the close of the convention, after they had voted in favor of the constitution, Benjamin Franklin said: “There is a sun represented at the back of the chair in which George Washington sits. I have been watching that sun these many days and weeks and I felt anxious about it. I wondered whether that sun was setting or rising – but now with every state voting for that constitution the sun has risen and I am happy.” Scenes like that will be represented.
The great centennial of our State is soon coming, 1888, the 7th of next April. Our schools are to take part in the celebration. It will teach our young folks a little of our nation’s history. They have long been taught the history, the Greeks and the Romans. Someone was telling me the other day of a place where public walks were decorated with images and pillars, reminding you of Greek and Roman history. I am glad we will have walks somewhere that will teach us something about American history.
I heard a lady with whom I am well acquainted say that she heard Chaplain McCabe give a talk about Libby Prison and she asked her boys in Sunday school what Libby Prison was and not one of them could give an intelligent account of it. Four of the boys had fathers in the army and the boys could not tell what regiment their fathers were in. There should be more American Education. There is no history that compares with it in real interest and value to us. It is not merely what we are now but what we are to become. We are to-day the one nation towards whom all eyes are directed. Should not we know in detail and accurately every step in that pathway which has led to our present greatness? We can brag about America. It is a subject which I have spoken of and bragged about a good deal. I remember General Kilpatrick made a speech--he was a rattling speaker, about as he was a leader in a cavalry charge--said he, “I shall talk of the scenes that I myself have witnessed and taken part in. Some said “Kil is bragging” And there were some of us that did the same. Suppose there were, I have this to say about it: If there is anything that does a man good it is to do a good thing, and if there is anything better it is to brag about it.
My friends, that is in part what we are to do. Is it boasting? Now there is Father Cronenwett, six feet four -- and if he is well unwound it would be six feet six. What did he come to America for? Why didn’t he go to France, or Russia? They hold their heads up. It was just because America is what America is. You can say of it what never before could be said of any other country on the globe. We need not speak our own judgments, we will appeal to our rivals to Germany, England, Ireland, France, or any other civilized nation in Europe, and take our place on the ascending scale according to their own decision. What is their decision? I do not care for their historians, essayists or Members of Parliament--actions speak louder than words. When a good man in Germany or Great Britain wants, for a good reason, to change the place of his abode, where does he go? There is but one nation he thinks of going to, and that is America. That is not all. In every civilization there is an abundance of people not leaving but who would like to leave it. Are there any good people living in America wanting to leave by running to Germany or Russia. We hear of fellows skipping to Canada but they are not good citizens. The truth is that there is one nation on the Globe to which people want to go, and there is one nation from which good people never go. There is one flag floating in the winds of heaven under which every good citizen who changes his place of residence likes to live and that is our Starry Banner, the Stars and Stripes. There is one flag floating in the winds of heaven from which people never willingly go. If you hear of anyone going back to his old home in England, Ireland, or Germany to enjoy himself you will find without exception that when he comes back he will say that the happiest moment in his journey was when he came home to America. Then let us pioneers and citizens have it understood that whatever history of other nations shall be left out in our schools our own shall be thoroughly understood.
Well, I think the time has come to stop—My first and last thing here, as elsewhere, has been education: that is my hobby. When I talk to soldiers I get on that hobby. I have a new story now, however -- most stories come so often that when the speaker begins you know how it is coming out. There was in a growing city an interest taken in what is called the art of painting. And it was understood that an artist was to come there, and a man wanted to have a tavern sign painted--a painting, not a mere name. The artist got a big canvas as large as that bookcase and painted a great big red lion. The tavern keeper would have preferred an eagle but it was a pretty lion and he accepted it. Some lady hearing about this got him to decorate her house with paintings. She just turned him loose in the house to paint as he chose, and when the lady came to examine his work she found on the mantelpiece a large red lion and in another room there was a small spot over a wash basin where he had painted a small red lion, and in every room there was a red lion—a small one or a large one. On inquiry she found that the fellow could not paint anything but a lion, and could not paint any other color but red.