INSTALLATION OF OFFICERS FOR THE INDEPENDENT ORDER OF ODD FELLOWS
January 18, 1887
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN: At this late hour I must not attempt a full discussion of any of the topics suggested by a meeting in the interest of Odd Fellowship. Gen [Ralph P.] Buckland in his remarks this afternoon hit the nail on the head when he spoke of the social influence of Odd Fellowship, and of kindred organizations.
As communities grow older there is a steadily increasing tendency in society to divide into sets, which divisions crystallize and become permanent. These divisions have their origin in occupations, in politics, in religious denominations, in conditions of life, and in other circumstances. The beneficial societies, commonly known as secret societies (in fact, they are secret chiefly in name, and secret only to guard against imposture) these societies gather under the same friendly roof in close intimacy persons differing widely in occupation, politics, religion, and conditions of life and fuse them easily and naturally into complete harmony and cordial friendship. I cannot dwell upon this. But in our American Society it is no small benefit. It cultivates that brotherhood on the basis of a common humanity which is the foundation of free institutions.
There is another distinguishing merit of these societies. You will observe that in what I am saying I do not claim any special pre-eminence for Odd Fellowship. I suppose that other similar organizations, from the oldest which counts its life by centuries to the youngest created last year, have in greater or less degree the same claim to respectful consideration.
The danger that threatens free institutions in our day is twofold. On one margin is a reckless disregard of the obligations of law – a lack of due respect for orderly government – all which means anarchy. On the other margin, popular rights are imperiled by the greed of power and gain which looks to the building up of a caste as real as the hereditary and legalized aristocracy of the old world, which means despotism. Now the claim that my fairly be made for Odd Fellowship and for similar societies is that they afford for large numbers of man, and for women too, in all parts of our country, schools for practical education in self-government. A lodge of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows is in miniature[sic] a republic with a republican government in full operation. The vital lesson of free institutions is nowhere else so well taught and to such vast numbers of citizens. That lesson is the sacredness of the laws which we ourselves have made. That lesson stands “four square” in the path of our deadly enemy, anarchy.
Again, these societies train members in the essential principles of real Democracy. The accidents of birth, education, wealth, social condition, go for nothing here as against equal human rights. One of the main questions always is, “Do you know of a sick brother or a brother in distress?” The resulting duty when that question is asked it is taught, follows as surely as the night follows the day. This education stands with a fact of flint against that despotism of caste, which would place wealth, privilege, and monopoly above the rights of man.
I forbear to press further these serious topics upon the attention of an audience many of whose thoughts are on the departing railway trains. I hope you will all have a safe and agreeable journeys to your homes, and that you will carry with you pleasant recollections of your visit to your brethren in Fremont.