PRESIDENTIAL MIDWESTERN TOUR, TOOTLE’S OPERA HOUSE
IN ST JOSEPH, MISSOURI
September 29, 1879
Ladies and gentlemen:--We have just arrived in your city and are honored guests. I regret that my time will not permit me to remain with you longer. I had not intended making any extra remarks to you, knowing that we should remain but for a short time, but seeing you so comfortably seated, I am tempted, perhaps more than I otherwise would be, to talk to an audience upon the present condition of the country. Everywhere in Kansas—and I doubt not in St. Joseph it is the same—I find that the general prospects are reviving. There is a better employment for capital; there is better employment for labor, and there is a better opportunity for business, energy and enterprise than at any previous time within the last five or six years. Indeed, we seem to be as a people upon the threshold of better times. Whatever in the past may have divided us as a people, or may have divided classes of people, seems to be in a fair way to be almost forgotten in the general prosperity into which we are entering.
The position of the city of St. Joseph is somewhat noticeable in connection with the past difficulties of the country; it occupies a position further north than any other equally important town in any of the old slaveholding States. I think, perhaps, you are as far north as Philadelphia or very nearly so, or as Columbus, Ohio, or Indianapolis. Perhaps there is no other city in the former slaveholding States as far north as you.
SLAVERY AND RECONSTRUCTION
Again you are on the border of that remarkable State which we have just left—a State where the anti-slavery sentiment was more pervading and more decided, perhaps I may say more aggressive, than almost any other State in the Union, and so when the great struggle, the civil war, came you were in a condition to know all about it. Whatever of evil there was connected with the old condition of things, you could not but understand it when the time came. When that civil war was over, and these measures called, the reconstruction measures were adopted, and the seceding States again entered Congress with their Senators and Representatives, and when the constitutional amendments were adopted—embodying, as I believe, freely the just results of the war—you were in a condition to see fully whatever difficulties and embarrassments belonged to that condition. Now it seems to me, and I think I am not mistaken, that in those measures there were two leading ideas, which at that period when reconstruction had got to the extent of again admitting the seceded States, if generally accepted throughout our country, if generally adopted as a rule of action for the general government and for the State governments, would go far toward establishing a complete and permanent pacification throughout our country. One concerns the relations of the States to the general government, and the other is concerning the rights of citizens under the recent constitutional amendments. My first idea is that equal and exact justice should be extended to all sections and to all States—that under a coming government equal rights and privileges of equal justice and equal benefits and blessings should be enjoyed by all States and all sections—and that the general government should deal upon the same principles by the same methods with Texas and Kansa and with Missouri and Georgia. Now, that principle, agreed to and established and acted upon, would be so far so well. What is the second! It is like unto the first, that in this country hereafter as all its inhabitants have become citizens, invested by the constitution with equal rights; that all governments, State and national, should treat all citizens as entitled to the same equal and exact justice—and by the same methods. Let all citizens be dealt with by State governments and the State governments by the national government according to the laws throughout, and with these two things we shall enter upon a career of prosperity and harmony such as this country has never known before.
FORCE OF PUBLIC OPINTION
I have spoken, my friends, of the national government and of the State governments. I must go one step further. All government in this free country is at last a government of public opinion; public opinion is the back of the national government. It is the back of the State governments. It is public opinion that rules in this Republic of the United States. When therefore I come into an assemblage of my fellow citizens to talk about the duty of the government, I reach back beyond the government. The individual who is Governor or who is President today passes away, but the people and the popular judgment, and their ruling opinion will last through generations and ages. Now as to popular opinion, let it be sound on theses two great leading ideas and principles; let every man feel that he can form a part of that popular sentiment and opinion; that he is responsible for what he can do to direct aright the general condition conduct of the country as to the right of States and to the rights of citizens. The misfortune of the olden time was that there were in this county two popular opinions, there was the popular opinion of the slaveholding States, and there was the popular opinion of the free States. Now let us strive to be equal to our opportunities, and the new and improved condition of our country. Let it be understood hereafter that in all things there is but one popular opinion in our country, and that opinion is to decide every important event. Having said this much, I would finally appeal to a maxim of the old native American party, to which I did not belong for a settlement of this whole question. I did not happen to agree entirely with that old party in reference to naturalization, but it did have at its basis one sentiment with which I am in complete and entire accord. It is the sentiment of that party as expressed in the motto: “The Union, the Constitution, and the enforcement of the laws. That governs the whole business of today. Let the popular sentiment sustain that old principle, and with a favorable condition of pecuniary and business affairs, we shall enter upon an era of prosperity which will be the envy of the civilized world.