April 24-25, 1889
Mr. President, my first thought was to begin with an anecdote that has frequently sent a ripple of laughter through the house, and though we know in the vicissitudes of a man’s life, we have known sorrow and then joy lying close together, side by side, and we can not always know our feelings in regard to those.
I recollect the look of our comrade; there was scarcely, I think, a man amongst us a year ago at Toledo, whose promise of life seemed better than his—a good, strong, wholesome, honest, upright soldier. We hoped for him many years of happy life. He has gone to his reward, let us hope; that which all of us, death when it comes will find us fit to pass beyond, as we know our comrade and brother was. Our meeting in Dayton is, of course, an agreeable one, no meeting of good people in Dayton fails to be a success. Your good city has a name, a reputation. I remember it distinctly, my fist visit to it forty-seven years ago. It was then famous for friendliness to the stranger, it welcomed all who came for pleasure, for business or instruction, it had extended throughout the State of Ohio and beyond for intellect, for character, but above all, Dayton was the place for social comfort and happiness. It has maintained the reputation, I think, straight through these forty or fifty years. So, Mr. Commander, when we decided to go to Dayton for our annual meeting, our 23d annual meeting, we made no mistake; we are in the right place, we are where we belong. The men of Dayton, as a rule, I have no doubt, are glad to see us; we see our welcome in their faces, and the flags that adorn their houses in all their streets, and the ladies of Dayton, and the ladies of the Relief Corps, they welcome us. And the young Sons of Veterans and the company of young soldiers that have appeared in their drilling last night, the friends in fraternity, the Knights of Pythias, the Knights of St. George, that mingle with their pleasure instruction in military drill and military work. We are among the friends in the right place, we came at the right time. April is a patriotic month in the history of America. It is historic times; the Union began in April; this great government started in April, April 19th, 1775. When those squads of British soldiers went out from Boston to Lexington and attacked and were driven back by the shots that were heard all over the land, that was the beginning. Men left the plow in the furrow to go to Boston; the Declaration of Independence was set forth and in April, 1779, the government of the Republic was started, and we are to celebrate its centennial in New York next week. April then is one of the times that soldiers’ unions may meet, but the history does not end with the fathers. April began the war of the rebellion. Sumpter was fired and the call that brought you to the field came to you that Sunday night, dated the 15th out of respect for the day, and April four years later was the end of the Confederacy that reared its hydra-head to destroy that government of the fathers, whose beginning we celebrate next week in New York. April 19th, Lexington and Concord; April 19th marched the Massachusetts regiment through Baltimore. April 6th, 7th—these are men here who recollect those days, that Sunday at Shiloh; April is the month for anniversaries for us. It was on April 5th, 6th, and 7th that Sheridan, at Five Forks, on Lee’s left, was making a fight that led to Appomattox and the downfall of the rebellion on the 9th. I say that the mingling of these transactions touch all so much that the fountain of tears of sorrow and the fountain of joy are side by side. Thus, April 14th, the evening of the 14th of April, the American people were wild with joy over the news that the rebellion was gone, and ere many hours pass, all America, all the world was in tears, because the great leader in the strife, Lincoln, was murdered. The fountain of tears, indeed, did lie close to the fountain of joy. We meet here, then, in Dayton, the right place; here in Dayton at the right time. Why should not we have a good time? We promise them we will, surely as far as we can; we have met at the right place and for great enjoyment, there must be also the right people. Now, my comrades, aren’t we the right people? But it is not alone, we have met here for the first time as I recollect. Perhaps I am a little behind, but here are the Woman’s Relief Corps. The ladies are better to do those things than we are. There is a great deal in slang in this world; I am not addicted to slang, but there is now and then slang so apt that it hits the mark at the very center. How do you like Dayton as far as you have got. I put that question, not precisely that, but to illustrate. While in Minnesota, on one occasion, I took a walk, walking to another village, about five miles off, not only went on the ground of the prospect, but it was a good morning to walk for a healthy man. I was walking along rapidly, and, to my surprise, I heard behind me a man approaching, that was evidently walking one-third faster than I was. As he came near me I turned and saw it was a young fellow about eighteen years of age and that he was a Scandinavian. I began to enter into conversation with him, but as he had only been in the country about eight months I could not understand him and he could not understand me, but I learned that he was going to the mines below, and that he had only been in America six, eight or ten months. I said to him: “How do you like the United States,”. He did not quite understand me. Finally I put it to him quite slow and distinct and the purport of it seemed to dawn on him slowly, and he looked up in my face and, says he, “Bully.” How do you like Dayton as far as you have got?
Now, what is the grand Army for; it is particularly these enjoyments. Aren’t you glad you were a soldier? It almost appears to a man that with these extra things that Brother Brown talks about and we ought to have, we are pretty well paid after all. I had intended last year when we met, before we met again, I would give an old-fashioned newspaper talk on the question of what is due to the American volunteer soldier who served through the war of the rebellion. I thought of writing it out. That laugh don’t come in at the right place. May be when I have delivered it you may not want it. I am talking of writing now and the words are being taken down, I rather think the newspaper reporters like to put in a word now and then, and you have no idea how it helps a fellow along in doubtful sentences. So I ask, what makes America, what is to make America in the future, a great power; the great military power of the world; that in the time of peace you are to prepare for war. Prepare, how? Why, the European plan is great fortifications, very expensive. A great navy and very expensive one. A Great standing army, a very expensive one. A military chest, with an accumulation of guns and money, this is the old European idea, but there goes with it this further idea that the government owns the soldiers, hence the army of hire, that is the old idea that has come down to us from the past ages and has never found favor in America; that is not the American idea with such an army as we have got. Fortifications are never in the right place, you know, when it comes to war. You understand it. It is the people of America that form the government and they make its strength. I heard some one state to-day that the Emperor of Germany was told that we had eight millions of soldiers; when asked how it was that we could keep such a standing army, he was told that every man in the government was able and capable of bearing arms. In this army of ours, instead of costing money, earns money, so that we have both the strength in numbers of men and in money, which are the sinew of war. No Nation has increased in wealth as rapidly as America has since the war of the rebellion. They talk about the impossibility of ever paying the debts of the war due to the soldier. My friends, the increase in value in America, in the value of American property, by reason of the crushing out of the rebellion is so great that one-tenth of one per cent, will pay a larger per centage of that debt than has ever been asked by any comrade in the Grand Army, that I have heard of. If the strength of the army is men, we have them; if it is money, we have that. More than that, the strength of an army is in the intelligence of the men. In the long line of history, it is the greatest intelligence of the men. In the long line of history, it is the greatest intelligence and the greatest in numbers that has been the power in war. Now, my friends, I am detaining you longer than I ought; I wish to put to those of you who are in prosperous circumstances, the great trouble in all this business is, that the men in prosperous life, working with their hands or brains, and able to take care of themselves, should take care of those who are not able to take care of themselves, and should insist upon the government aiding them.
Commander and comrades, on behalf of Post No. 58 I desire to second the nomination of Comrade L.H. Williams. When I say to you that he enlisted in 1862, but a mere boy, and that he followed General Grant through his Mississippi campaign to the surrender of Vicksburg; when I say to you that he marched with Sherman from Atlanta to the sea, and all this time that he was a private soldier in the ranks, I know I speak a common sentiment and can touch elbows with every comrade on the floor. One year ago you placed the authority of this Department in the hands of a private, and if you commit its care another year to a private soldier, Comrade L.H. Williams, he will keep it where the private soldier has placed it.
Commander and comrades, the great trouble we have been laboring under all these years is, that we have been divided ourselves in every Encampment, and that is the reason we have never got anything. Last year at the National Encampment this whole matter was discussed with the National Encampment as a unit voted, and it took a position exactly in line that we present by the resolutions here today. Now, let us have a pension committee appointed and see what it can do, if it can do anything, then let us take up the matter again and act united; but it seems to me that this is not the time to stand upon the question of splitting hairs. I am in favor of these resolutions.
Commander and comrades, I desire to offer a resolution affecting the salaries of some of the officers. Be it:
Resolved, The former action of this Encampment, fixing the salary of the Assistant Adjutant-General at eighteen hundred dollars, be rescinded and such salary for the ensuing year be fixed at the sum of fifteen hundred dollars.
Commander and comrades, I desire to say this to the comrades, the money that is raised to pay this salary comes in small amounts from here and there, from comrades that can scarcely bear the burden. Now, I say to you, there is no position to be filled that can not be filled by a prudent man for fifteen hundred dollars. I know it is not much to assist in the payment of salaries, but it is considerable from the small pittance that the Government grants you as a pension. In addition to this I do believe that for the coming year the salary of fifteen hundred dollars is high enough. The great question with me is, is it not too high? How many comrades upon this floor, taking the bare representatives, that earn fifteen hundred dollars? How many earn five hundred, of those comrades whom we are representing today. A great many of them don’t know where their bread is to come from to-morrow. I do think that for the sum of fifteen hundred dollars, when the sum of sixty dollars a month is allowed by the Council for a stenographer to the Department Commander, that it takes a great deal of work off the Assistant Adjutant-General. Now the work to be performed by the Assistant Adjutant-General is but little more than merely clerical work. Now, those men who have gone through commercial colleges, how many of them through the State of Ohio earn fifteen hundred dollars a year? How many are worth it? I am not here to disparage the labors of Comrade Holbrook. You must remember in the years gone by we had a National Encampment. It necessarily threw upon the Department of Ohio an increased amount of labor to be performed by the Adjutant-General, and in my judgment the services for the coming year will be much less. Now, I do insist if we are here to represent the comrades at home, you know that when in the Post room, if there is any one who presents the name of some poor comrade to you for assistance you give him five or ten dollars from your Post treasury, and you know you do all for him you can; yet year after year there is a levy upon you to pay this eighteen hundred dollars, and I for one am opposed to it. I asked that the Department of Ohio in this Encampment say fifteen hundred dollars a year is enough.