April 25, 1888
Comrades and Friends:--Commander Putnam, in his address this morning, suggested a duty as belonging to the Grand Army of the Republic, which, if time permitted and the occasion was suitable, it would be a pleasure for me to follow clear to the end of the argument and the facts. The suggestion was that the duty, the great duty, incumbent upon the Grand Army of the Republic, more today than ever before, is to see that that which Lincoln, in the last paragraph of his last address to the American people, proclaimed to be in his opinion the great thing that remained to be done, should be done: “To bind up the nation’s wounds, and to care for him that hath borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan.” The five minutes that you allow me will enable me merely to suggest one or two points that ought to be carried, as I think, to the heart, and to the intellect of every man and woman in America.
We are in the 28th year since the war for the Union began. We see more than ever before the necessity now “to care for him that hath borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan.” The other day in Marietta, in conversation with a gentleman well known to the country when named—one worthy to be the representative of Massachusetts in the Senate, and to occupy a place once filled by men like Webster, and Sumner—Senator Geo. Hoar, said the State of Massachusetts alone has, by its own Legislature, contributed $20,000,000 since the war to the support of needy soldiers and their families. That State, wherein the town meeting, in the general court, in the press, and everywhere, an intelligent people is especially anxious to see that no cent is taken from the tax-payer, except to be employed in some worthy public purpose; “and yet,” said he, “no word of complaint has ever come to the Legislature of Massachusetts as to the payment of that $20,000,000.” The same general fact is true of Illinois, of Ohio, of Indiana.
But this is but half the fact. Several hundred millions of dollars have been thus paid by the loyal States, to do what? To perform the duty incumbent upon the nation. The Ladies’ Relief Corps, how glad we are to meet them here tonight; they who land the chief ornament and grace to every pleasant scene of life; are here to tell us of their work, and what they have expended for the relief of the soldier, his widow and his orphan, every dollar of which ought to have been paid out of the treasury of the United States. And our Commander to-day gave us an account of the amount that we in Ohio spent. In the United States we hear what the Grand Army has expended through the past year. Every cent of it ought to have been paid out of the treasury of the United States. We ought to educate the public sentiment of this country. Let me read to you was Mr. Lincoln says, not in his last message, but in the message of 1863. And now listen and hear from him, the wise and the good man:
“Of all the saints, who ascended fame’s ladder so high,
From the round at the top he stepped to the sky.”
Says he in that message of the 8th of December, 1863, while the war was still going on:
“Hence our chief care must be directed to the army and navy, who have thus far borne their harder part so nobly and well; and it may be esteemed fortunate that, in giving the greatest efficiency to these indispensable arms, we do also recognize the gallant men, from commander to sentinel, who compose them, and to whom, more than to others, the world must stand indebted for the home of freedom disenthralled, regenerated, enlarged and perpetuated.”
That is the work you were engaged in from ‘61 to ‘65, and that is the work that you successfully accomplished. Shame on the American citizen who shall point any needy soldier who fought in that war, to the miserable road that leads to the poorhouse. Let us indeed educate public sentiment so that everywhere throughout this land the public opinion will be that too much cannot be done for the men that saved liberty to the country and the world.
Why, my friends, we constantly hear that what has been done for the Union soldier is beyond, far beyond that which any nation in the world before ever did for its soldiers. Let me enter a solemn protest here. No example from Europe applies to free America on that question. No precedents from countries ruled by despotic, aristocratic governments apply for one instant to this country, where, under the Declaration of Independence, where, under the constitution of the United States, where, under the Sermon on the Mount, every man stands equal before the law, as he does before God, with every other man. The armies of Europe, sir, they are made up of men, not who volunteered to leave happy homes, homes of plenty; they are made up of men driven by force into the army. They make it a career. They may remain there forever, or as long as they can serve, and then they are in some way provided for. No measure from England, Germany, or Russia, is the measure of what is due to the American citizen soldier who volunteered to save his country.
They also point us to the legislation that there was in behalf of the soldiers of the Revolutionary War. Is there anything in those measures examples for rich America to-day? What did we do for the soldiers of the Revolutionary War? Why, within three weeks I received from North Carolina, for a descendant of an old Revolutionary War soldier, a pile of papers that had been repudiated by the Government of the United States—the old continental money that was paid to his father for services in making our country a free country. As all of us know, by reason of extreme poverty the wolf was at every man’s door when the Revolutionary War closed. The nation was in no condition to perform the duty that is incumbent on this rich, happy nation, as it is to-day. They are a precedent neither; and as I have said, European precedents are no precedents for the duty that is owing to these men. But I must not detain you. I just want to say to you, compare with anything that an European army ever did the results of the war in which you were engaged.
The grandest speech ever made on the American continent was by Daniel Webster in the great debate on secession and nullification, in 1830. Every school boy almost knows the closing words of that magnificent speech; but has it ever occurred to you that when Webster says—
“When my eyes shall be turned to behold, for the last time, the sun in heaven, may I not see him shining on the broken and dishonored fragments of a once glorious union; on states dissevered, discordant, belligerent; on a land rent with civil feuds or drenched it may be in fraternal blood—”
It was a prayer. And it was an aspiration; it was a hope of Webster’s that he might not suffer the shame and disgrace. How is it to-day? That which was then only the hope of the great statesman is a reality for all of us to-day, and is achieved by your victory in the war. You sir, and you, and every one of us, can turn these words from a prayer into an assertion of a fact. And therefore I say to you—so we can all say, each one for himself: “When my eyes shall be turned to behold for the last time, the sun shining in heaven, I shall not see him shining on the broken and dismembered fragments of a once glorious nation. I shall not see upon that flag any such miserable sentiments as this: Liberty first and Union afterwards; but I shall see written all over, in letters of living light, on all its ample folds, as they float over the sea and over the land, and in every wind under the whole heavens, those other words, dear to every American heart, Liberty and Union now and forever, one and inseparable!”