April 7, 1871
Mr. President: The subject which this committee has assigned to me is altogether too large for the few sentences which one may properly speak on such an occasion as this. I shall, therefore, attempt but little more than to name some of the leading topics suggested by the sentiment which has been read.
Our country already embraces within its limits the finest part of the best continent on the globe; and the rest of that continent and the islands of the adjacent seas are, likely to be annexed quite as rapidly as our Republic will be able, healthfully, to digest them.
Of our people, I quote from an old sermon, that “God seems to have sifted whole nations that He might send the choicest seeds over to the people the American wilderness. ”
We have a government founded on the consent of the governed, under which equality of civil and political, rights, and freedom of conscience, and of speech, and education, and “an unfettered start and a fair chance in the race of life” are within the reach of all. A government so strong and so respected that without a formidable navy or standing army to protect him, the humblest American citizen in foreign lands is as safe and as honored as the subject or citizen of any power on earth. It is, perhaps, the only great government in the world which has such resources at its command that it can pay off the largest debts it ever incurred in the life time of the generation which contracted them.
Consider the history of our country. It is the youngest of nations. We are just beginning to look forward to the celebration, five years hence, of the completion of the first century of its existence. This brief period, so crowded with interesting events, with great achievements in peace and war, and adorned with illustrious names in every honorable walk of life, has witnessed a progress in our country without a parallel in the annals of the race.
Add to these considerations the visions of greatness and prosperity which the future opens to America, and we shall begin to see by what titles our country claims from all of her children admiration, gratitude and loyal love.
Those who are accustomed to take gloomy views of every event and every prospect will perhaps remind us that all the parts of this picture have their dark side. That this extended and magnificent territory of ours must needs have rival interests hostile and dangerous to unity. That people differing in race, nationality, religion, language and traditions will, with difficulty, be fused into one harmonious nation. That written constitutions do not make a government unless their provisions are obeyed or enforced. As to our boasted history, they will point to pages darkened with grave crimes against the weaker races; and as to our future, they will tell us of the colossal fortunes which, under the sanction of law, are already consolidating in the hands of a few men “not always the best men” powers which threaten alike good government and our liberties.
In reply to these views, it can not be denied that in a wide domain like ours, inhabited by people not always harmonious, something more than written constitutions are required. A mere paper government is not enough. The law, if not voluntarily obeyed, must be firmly enforced. To accomplish this there must be wisdom, moderation, firmness, not only in those who administer the government, but in the people, who, at last, are the government.
The great task is to educate a whole people in these high virtues, to the end that may be equal to their opportunities and to the dangers that surround them. The chief instrumentalities in this education are the home, the school, the platform, the pulpit and the press, and all good men and women are the educators.
Doubt and difficulty and danger lend to every human enterprise its chief interest and charm. Every man who fought in the Army of the Tennessee at Shiloh, knows that the gloom and despondency in which the first day’s battle closed, gave an added glory to the victory of the second day. That the victory is always most highly prized which, after a long and desperate struggle, is snatched at last from the very jaws of disaster and defeat.
If, in the future of our country, trials and conflicts and calamities await her, it is but the common allotment of Providence to men. The brave and the good will here always find noble work and a worthy career, and will rejoice that they are permitted to live and act in such a country as the American Republic.