September 22, 1877
FELLOW-CITIZENS OF GEORGIA—My friends of Georgia, I regret that by reason of a slight cold, take a day or two ago in a rain storm in East Tennessee, my voice is not in a condition to be heard in the first few sentences of my address by any considerable portion of this vast audience, but if you will bear with me, I expect in a very few minutes I shall make myself heard. The day before yesterday at Chattanooga I was met by a committee of your citizens who desired and urged me to extend, with the party accompanying me, our trip to your beautiful and prosperous city. We were all very desirous to accept that invitation. We felt that, extended as it was, it was a very great honor to us individually; we felt that it would be a very great pleasure to meet you at your homes, but our arrangements had been made, and I supposed it was out of the question to extend our trip. Happily our railroad friends assured us that by riding all of last night, we should be able to visit Atlanta, and at once those who were the healthier and stronger of the party, urged by those of the other sex, consented to come, and, now we are here, I wish to say in a single sentence, We are glad to be here.
The very eloquent address to which we have listened, especially the very encouraging statements we heard from the Governor of Georgia, are hearty of themselves greeted, as they have been, and indorsed by applause and indorsed by this audience; so great a gratification that I would not, on any account, have missed the pleasure I have felt this morning. I suppose that here, as everywhere else, I am in the presence of men of both great political parties. I am speaking in the presence of citizens of both races. I am quite sure there are before me very many of the brave men who fought in the Confederate army and doubtless some of the men who fought in the Union army.
And here we are, Republicans, Democrats, colored people, white people, Confederate soldiers and Union soldiers, all of one mind and one heart today. And why should we not be? What is there to separate us longer? Without any fault of yours or any fault of mine, or of any one of this great audience, slavery existed in this country. It was in the Constitution of the country. The colored man was here, not by his own voluntary action. It was a misfortune of his fathers he was here, and I think it is safe to say it was by a crime of our fathers he was here. He was here, however, and we of the two sections differed about what should be done with him. As Mr. Lincoln told us in the war, there were prayers on both sides for him; both sides found Bible confirmation of their opinions, and both sides finally undertook to settle the question by that last final means of arbitration—force of arms. You here mainly joined the Confederate side, and fought bravely, and risked your lives heroically in behalf of your convictions, and can any true man anywhere fail to respect a man who risks his life for his convictions? And as I accord that respect to you and believe you to be equally liberal and generous and just, I feel as I stand before you as one who fought in the Union army for his own convictions, I am entitled to your respect.
Now that conflict is over, my friends, Governor Hampton repeated to you last night the way in which I have been in the habit of putting it since I came to the South. There were a larger proportion of trained soldiers in your army at first than in ours. In much larger proportion you were good marksmen and good horsemen, and that is two-thirds of a good soldier, but gradually we learned to ride too, and as some of you know, gradually learned to shoot. I happen to know how well you could shoot. Well, having learned how to ride and shoot, it was a case of fighting between Greek and Greek. When Greek meets Greek, you know what the conflict is, and more than that you know exactly how it will terminate. That party in that fight will always conquer that has the most Greeks. It is no discredit to you and no special credit to us that the war turned out as it did.
Now shall we quit fighting? I have been in the habit of telling an anecdote about General Scott and a statesman at Washington, in which the statesman said that as soon as the war was over, and the combatants had laid down their arms, we would have complete peace. “No,” said General Scott; “it will take several years, in which all the powers of the General Government will be employed in keeping the peace between the belligerent non-combatants.”
Now, I think we have gotten through with that and having peace between soldiers and non-combatants, that is an end of the war. Is there any reason, then, why we should not be at peace forevermore? We are embarked upon the same voyage, upon the same ship, under the same old flag. Good fortune or ill fortune affects you and your children as well as my people and my children.
Every interest you possess is to be promoted by peace. Here is this great city of Atlanta, gathering to itself from all parts of the country its wealth and business, by its railroads, and I say to you that every description of industry and legitimate business needs peace. That is what capital wants. Discord, discontent and dissatisfaction are enemies of these enterprises. Then all our interests are for peace. Are we not agreed about that?
What do we want for the future? I believe it is the duty of the General Government to regard equally the interests and rights of all sections of the country. I am glad that you agree with me about that. I believe, further, that it is the duty of Governments to regard alike and equally the rights and interests of all classes of citizens. That covers the whole matter. That wipes out in the future, in our politics, section lines forever. Let us wipe out in our politics color line forever, and let me say a word upon what has been done. I do not undertake to discuss or defend particular measures. I leave the people, with their knowledge of the facts, to examine and discuss and decide for themselves as to them. I only speak of general considerations and motives.
What troubles our people at the North—what has troubled them was, they feared that these colored people, who had been made free by the war, would not be safe in their rights and interests in the South unless it was by the interference of the General Government. Many good people had that idea. I had given that matter some consideration, and now my colored friends, who have thought, or who have been told that I was turning my back upon the men whom I fought for, now listen. After thinking it over, I believe your rights and interests would be safer if this great mass of intelligent white men were left alone by the General Government.
And now, my colored friends, let me say another thing. We have been trying it for these six months, and, in my opinion, for no six months since the war have there been so few outrages and invasions of your rights, or you so secure in your rights as in the last six months.
Then, my friends, we are all together upon one proposition. We believe—and in this all those who are here agree—in the Union of our fathers, in the flag of our fathers, the Constitution as it is, with all the amendments, and are prepared to see it fully and fairly obeyed and enforced.
Now, my friends, I see it stated occasionally that President Hayes has taken the course he has because he was compelled to. Now, I was compelled to it. I was compelled to it by my sense of duty under my oath of office. What was done by us was done not merely by force of special circumstances, but because we believed it just and right to do it. Now let us come together; let each man make up his mind to be a patriot in his own home and place. You may quarrel about tariff, get up sharp contests about currency, about the removal of the State Capitols, and where they shall go to; but upon the great question of the union of the States and the rights of all citizens, we shall agree forevermore.
I shall not forget this reception and this greeting. Every good purpose I have will be strengthened by what I have seen and heard today. I thank you for the help it will give me hereafter during my term of office. I bid you good morning.