September 30, 1879
During the last two or three weeks General Sherman and myself have traveled over several of the States. Ah, friend, if I turn to you somebody on this side will say he can’t bear – and in our travels meeting great audiences like this, we have talked upon all the subjects which we supposed were appropriate for occasions like this, and these gentlemen with note book and pencil have followed us and have published what we said, and once in a while I can’t help thinking they have published what we didn’t say, until all that we could say and all that we are likely to say has been spread before our countrymen, and until we have thought it a dull sort of business to be repeating over and over again what every one understands quite well and perhaps better than we do.
There is, however, one part of it that is altogether agreeable. Something like this I once heard, that a man who should be able to go about among his countrymen and say to them that he was able to tell them how, without the expenditure of much pains or much labor, they could within half an hour make a thousand dollars, would be sure to have a large and interested audience. I can’t approach anything of that sort of course, and yet it is our happiness now to be able to speak to our countrymen on the better prospect of being able to make a thousand dollars, which is open today to every man having business enterprise and capacity to employ anything of the useful industry of life. For five or six years we have been passing through a period of unprecedented business depression, but at last we have reached a point when it is the general judgment of the best informed people, that the season of embarrassment and distress and bankruptcy has passed away, and we are again entering upon the threshold of good times.
Now this message – this statement which may be so confidently made, it is always agreeable to specify with some degree of detail of the facts upon which it is founded. In Illinois, especially, I may assume this large audience assembled here before me are mainly interested as farmers in the coming prosperity. And what are the new facts interesting to you especially upon which our statement is based?
A very intelligent gentleman, who has been spending one or two years in England gives this general explanation of the fact with which we are all familiar, that more than ever before the products raised by the farmers of Illinois find a ready market and may be profitably exported to the countries of the old world. We see in America that the railroad system tends to gather people more and more into the cities – into large towns. That same tendency is to be observed in England, in France, in Italy, in Germany and the other countries of Europe, until it has come to this point that so large have grown the cities in England and so many of them are there that it is no longer profitable for the English farmer to raise the staple products which are raised here in Illinois, but the more profitable articles of the garden, are what must now mainly occupy land in England, France, Germany and other countries in Europe; and, therefore, it is that more than ever before the staple means of living, bacon, beef, and so on, wheat, corn, flour, and all other descriptions of provisions raised in this country are going abroad and the result of that is most favorable to the condition of our whole country. The result is one which brings prosperity not to the farmer alone but to every class of our citizens. Within sixty days – and perhaps I am not quite up to the facts, for the facts are gaining upon us all the time, and the story which was a large one when I left Washington may be a rather small one today – but yet, I think I may say that within sixty days there has been brought to New York from the other side of the ocean not less than thirty-five tons of gold. Yes, gold is a good thing to have. Whereas, in all our previous history with which you and I are familiar we knew only that good was going that way, now we see it coming this way, and instead of the great production of the precious metals in our Western territories al flowing abroad, that which has previously gone abroad is beginning to come back to us; and so with our bonds and out interest bearing obligations – more and more the balance inclining in our favor. Whatever good there is in foreign trade it is coming, coming, coming, and whatever of disadvantage in foreign trade there has been it is going, going, going. This is the condition of things upon which I have the happiness to congratulate the farmers, the business people and all classes of citizens in Illinois and throughout the country.
I suspect, my friends, that Gov. Cullom and the gentlemen of this fair desired chiefly, when they invited me to visit their beautiful State, not that I should come to enable you to get acquainted with me, but that I should know how great you were, and having now seen enough of you for that purpose – I trust you will excuse me from continuing further in this discussion. Upon whatever branch of the subject I should touch the same description of facts would be found. I noticed at a distance as we came out from your city that you are largely engaged here in coal and iron works also. Now that description of enterprise depends perhaps more largely than any other upon simple labor – days’ labor. And to illustrate how all this is affecting not merely the farmer who owns the land, and the businessmen and the capitalist, but also how it is affecting the laborer, I will mention that in the city of Philadelphia alone I am assured by gentlemen well informed that more than 20, 000 laborers are now engaged at fair living wages – for now nobody is making great profits, but something is being made, and 20,000 laborers and more at living wages are now employed in Philadelphia who one year ago were out of employment and seeking it in vain. That is good, and because it is not merely Philadelphia, but it is in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, and all the great cities, and I doubt not you see it here also in Springfield.
And so, my friends, the good time coming, or the good time that has already come reaches those is whose behalf our sympathies should go out most heartily – not that I am here to array in any way one class of citizens against another, but in a discussion of this sort, so large and wide, it comes to just this, that the largest attention is due to that class containing the most human souls - the greatest number; and therefore, only, it is that I speak with a special emphasis in behalf of those who labor with their hands.
And now, my friends, having pretty nearly stopped once, I will see if I can’t entirely stop this time; and I have a feeling that a man can’t quite feel satisfied in the presence of a great audience like this, gathered from the people of Springfield and of Illinois, without at least a mention of the name of Abraham Lincoln. The great events of his life were connected with maintaining the authority of the Government of the United States, and in preserving the Union of these States against the assaults of those who would destroy both. With respect to the principles which underlie the Constitution of the Union and what are called State rights - any words that I may utter may perhaps find, in a great audience like this, many who will dissent from the views which are my views. But it is the great comfort of talking in the United States as I have found everywhere, and as I know I shall find in Illinois, that a man who honestly and sincerely declares his own opinion and expresses his own convictions in a manner respectful to whose who differ from him, will always find hospitable hearing. I noticed as I went up to your beautiful State House, two mottoes. The upper one read, “National Union,“ and under it could be read “State Sovereignty.” My Illinois friends, Mr. Lincoln said it is the mightiest message which a citizen ever delivered to an American Congress, the words State Sovereignty are not found in the Constitution of the United States. Said he, “That community alone is sovereign which has no political superior.” I know not what my friends thought who put up that motto; but it seems to me my business to say to you here that great as is Illinois and grand as she is, with so many elements of greatness and so many things to command our admiration, and affection – Illinois nevertheless has a superior, and that superior is the United States of America.
But without discussing this further, my friends, and now having done my duty in saying what I have – indicating that on every question connected with the great struggle which ended in the great civil war – on every such question in my judgment the highest authority is Abraham Lincoln, I bid you good morning.