June 24, 1876
Mr. Mayor, Fellow-Citizens, Friends, and Neighbors and All:
I need not attempt to express the emotions I feel at the reception which the people of Fremont and this country have given me tonight. Under any circumstances, an assemblage of this sort at my home to welcome me would touch me, would excite the warmest of emotions of gratitude; but what gives to this its distinctive character is the fact that those who are prominent in welcoming me home, I know, in the past, have not voted with me or for me, and they do not intend in the future to vote with me or for me. It is simply that, coming to my home, they rejoice that Ohio, that Sandusky county, that the town of Fremont has received at that National Convention high honor, and I thank you, Democrats, fellow-citizens, Independents, and Republicans, for this spontaneous and enthusiastic reception.
I trust that in the course of events the time will never come that you will have cause to regret what you do tonight. It is a very great responsibility that has been placed upon me – to be a representative of a party embracing twenty millions of people – a responsibility which I know I am not equal to. I understand very well that it was not by reason of ability or talents that I was chosen. But that which does rejoice me is that here, where I have been known from my childhood, there are those that come and rejoice at the result.
I trust, my friends, that as I run along in this desultory way – for you well know that since I learned that I was to be here tonight, the multitude of letters, and visits, and telegrams requiring attention have given me no time to prepare for a reception like this – you must, therefore, put up with hastily-formed sentences, very unfitly representing the sentiments appropriate to the occasion. Let me, if I may do it without too much egotism; recur to the history of my connection with Fremont. Forty-two years ago my uncle, Sardis Birchard, brought me to this place, and I rejoice, my friends, in the good taste and good feeling which have placed his portrait here tonight. He, having adopted me as his child, brought me to Fremont. I recollect well the appearance of the then Lower Sandusky, consisting of a few wooden buildings scattered along the river, with little paint on them, and these trees none of them grown, the old fort still having some of its earthworks remaining, so that it could be easily traced. A pleasant village this was for a boy to enjoy himself in. There was the fishing on the river, shooting water-fowls above the dam, at the islands and the lake. Perhaps no boy ever enjoyed his departure from home better than I did when I first came to Fremont.
But now see what this town is, -how it has grown. It has not increased to a first-class city, but it has become a pleasant home, so pleasant, so thriving that I rejoice to think that whatever may be the result next fall it will be pleasant to return to it when the contest is over. If defeated, I shall return to you oftener than if I go to the White House. If I go there I shall look forward with pleasure to the time when I shall be permitted to return you, to be a neighbor with you again. And really we have cause to be satisfied with our home and the interests which the future has in store for us here. Larger cities always have strife and rivalry, from which we are free, and yet we are well situated between two commercial centers, the Eastern and Western, between which is the great highway of the world, and we cannot but partake of their prosperity. Over the railroad passing through this place, or near it, will pass for all time to come the travel and trade of New York and San Francisco, of London and Pekin. Every town along this route partakes of the prosperity of this highway. Upper Sandusky, on the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne and Chicago Railroad, and Tiffin, that thriving and beautiful city through which passes the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, south of us, while along the lake shore passes the great northern division of the Lake Shore Road, making this route, as it were, the great artery of the world’s travel, and we can abide with the prosperity that is to come in the future. Those of our friends who travel in Europe return sometimes dissatisfied, because there is a rawness in this country not seen in England and the older countries of Europe. But then the greatest happiness, as all of us know, in preparing a garden or a home is to see the improvements growing up under our hands. This is what we enjoy; and the change in Fremont from the time I first knew it till today gives me very great pleasure.
There is another change which gives rise to mournful reflections. When I came here in the year 1834, I became acquainted with honored citizens who are no longer living. There was, Mr. Mayor, your father, Rudolphus Dickinson, Thomas L. Hawkins, Judge Olmsted, Judge Howland, and, among others, that marvel of business energy, George Grant; and I might go on giving name after name. But it is true that of all those I remember seeing on that first visit, not one is with us tonight. All who came with me, my uncle, my mother, and my sister, are gone. But this is the order of Providence. Events follow upon one another as wave follows wave upon the ocean. It is for each man to do what he can to make others happy. This is the prayer and this is the duty of life. Let us, my friends, in every position, undertake to perform this duty. For one, I have no reliance except that which Abraham Lincoln had when, on leaving Springfield, he said to his friends: “I go to Washington to assume a responsibility greater than that which has been devolved upon any one since the first president, and I beg you, my friends and neighbors, to pray that I may have that Divine assistance, without which I cannot succeed, and with which I cannot fail.” In that spirit I ask you to deal with me. If it shall be the will of the people that this nomination shall be ratified, I know I shall have your good wishes and your prayers. If, on the other hand, it shall be the will of the people that another shall assume these great responsibilities, let us see to it that we who shall oppose him give him a fair trial.
My friends, I thank you for the interest you have taken in this reception, and that you have laid aside partisan feeling. There has been too much bitterness on such occasions in our land. Let us see to it that abuse and vituperation of the candidate that shall be named at St. Louis do not proceed from our lips. Let us, in this centennial year, as we enter upon this second century of our existence, set an example of what a free and intelligent people can do. There is gathered at Philadelphia an assemblage representing nearly all the Nations of the world, with their arts and manufactures. We have invited competition, and they have come to compete with us, and with each other. We find that America stands well with the works of the world, as there exhibited. Let us show, in electing a chief magistrate of the Nation – the officer that is to be the first of forty or forty-five millions – let us show all those who visit us how the American people can conduct themselves through a canvass of this kind. If it shall be in the spirit in which we have met tonight, if it shall be that justness and fairness shall be in all the discussions, it will commend free institutions to the world in a way which they have never been commended before.
Well, friends, I am detaining you too long. Therefore I close what I have to say be expressing the feelings of gratitude entertained by myself and family for the kindness and regard shown us by the people of Fremont.
About the middle of the war, General Sherman lost a boy, named after himself, aged about thirteen years. He supposed that he belonged to the Thirteenth Infantry, and when they went out to drill and dress parade, he dressed in the dress of a sergeant and marched with them. But he sickened and died. The regiment gathered about him, for he was to them a comrade – dear as the child is loved by men who are torn away from the associations of home. General Sherman, the great soldier, was touched by it. He said it would be idle for him to try to express the gratitude which he felt; but he said they held the key to the affections of himself and family, and if any of them should ever be in need, if they would mention that they belonged to the Thirteenth Infantry at the time his boy died, they would divide with him the last blanket, and last morsel of food. It is in this spirit that I wish to express my thanks to the people of Fremont for the welcome they have given me. I bid you, my friends, good night.