August 30, 1888
The impossibility of my talking from recollections on themes of to-day compel me, if I talk at all, to speak of that which all who read of early times are perhaps as well informed as I am myself. It is a year, we all understand, peculiarly the historical year in Ohio and throughout the Northwest; and from the beginning of this year to the end a large part of the attention of the people is to be given to the centennial celebrations, it being a hundred years since the settlement of Ohio and the Northwest Territory began. It is an interesting part of history, and certainly we are to be congratulated as a people that in the public press, in the school, and also in the pulpit, proper attention has been given to the earlier history of Ohio and the early history of the Northwest. It has been a favorite topic with me—a topic in this way: That while I would give no less attention than is now given to history in our public schools, to the history of Palestine and Judea and Jewish history, that while I would give no less attention to Grecian and Roman history than is now give, I know I would insist upon it that our boys and girls should be made to understand the value and interest there is in American history. Now therefore I feel that we are to be congratulated this year, so much has been done in this direction; and certainly no place on the glove has a history more worth y of attention than the history of this commonwealth of Ohio, than the history of the Northwest Territory.
It was my privilege early in the year to be at Marietta, Ohio, to attend the celebration of the one hundredth anniversary celebration of the first settlement of that town—of the first permanent settlement of the Northwest Territory. On that [illegible] heard so much, that I could fatigue this audience no doubt with many hours talk upon that subject. The first thing strikes one in taking an informal glance, is that in the history of all the first settlements in the world never has there been one so fortunate in all its leading circumstances as that settlement in the Northwest Territory at Marietta. Let us consider in the first place the extent of this territory first settled by civilized man one hundred years ago: We begin at Lake Erie where the line of Pennsylvania and the line of Ohio come together, and pass down the line until it strikes the Ohio river; following the Ohio river in a southwesterly direction until it strikes the Mississippi, then up the left bank of the Mississippi clear on to its first springs, where the father of waters begins; then due north through the woods to the British line; back by way of the lakes to the border line of Pennsylvania, and you have included a territory containing more that is necessary, more that is advantageous for civilized man than any other equal extent of territory on the globe. It is the center of the best part of the best continent.
So it began. Now who settled it? When we consider the beginning of a people, we naturally wish to know the character, the previous history, of the men and women who founded it, and where from the beginning of time has there been such a people as settled Marietta. In 1775 two hundred and fifty and upwards of the commissioned officers of the Revolutionary war, from Massachusetts, took measures by which an agreement was made that the almost worthless certificates for pay due them should be exchanged for land in the Northwest Territory. And so, without giving a history of this transaction, forty-eight of the commissioned officers with their wives and children and what was necessary to make a new settlement there at Marietta.
For eighty years, as I have been in the habit of saying they had a schoolmaster, one of the best schoolmasters the country ever possessed—they were the pupils of George Washington, figuratively speaking. All know what it means to live under the mesmeric influence of a brave commander through the years of war. The good name, the good reputation, whatever is true in the men, the patriotism and the wisdom are partly due to the man at the head of the army. They look at him with admiration, they look to him for orders, and with strict attention mark his manner, and finally enter his own character. We could generally tell, during the four years of the war we passed through, who men were by the way they behaved. Those were Gen. Thomas’s men, because they acted like Gen. Thomas; those were Gen. Sheridan’s, because they acted like Gen. Sheridan; and the same of Gen. Crook’s men, they were like Gen. Crook. Among those who settled at Marietta were Generals Rufus Putnam, Benjamin Tupper, Samuel H. Parsons and other distinguished officers who were with the great commander during the war of the Revolution. Is it strange then that we think of the people who settled at Marietta as the best people? They were like their leader, George Washington. One of the facts I love to refer to is, that Ohio does not pretend to have had much to do with the Revolutionary war. When at Marietta I walked with Senator Hoar of Massachusetts through the cemetery, and there we found the graves of over forty Revolutionary officers. We may say Ohio was not a party to that strife, but if there is one spot in the Union where traitors and murderers were not planted, and where not a single grave of soldier or officer of the Revolutionary war has not been marked, that is where the first settlement of Ohio began. Our friends may tell of the privations and sufferings of the earlier times, and compare them with the prestige, and the power and glory of today. Need any wonder that from the planting of such seed such a tree has sprung up?
Last year Judge Finefrock gave us an interesting chapter on the organic law of the ordinance of 1787. It contained a list of what I call the jewels of that wonderful instrument. First, it provided for complete religious freedom in this new land, so that a man might worship his God according to the dictates of his own conscience. It provides that the land was to be divided among all the children alike and equally. In the old world no such things was known; the land was kept in great masses and handed down from generation to generation to the eldest son—a condition that divided the people into two classes, the aristocracy and the common laborers. All in this country have a fair start, and an equal chance to rise in life.
One of the particular points in the charter of the Northwest Territory was that it should belong forever to the United States. It was enacted in the organic law, as the corner stone, that the Union is perpetual. And when the question came up as to whether that Union should be maintained or not, the Northwest took no insignificant part in the great conflict. What would have been the chances for saving the Union if the Northwest Territory hadn’t had a hand in it? What would have been the chances for saving the Union even if the Northwest had been neutral in the question? And so it turned out that from the three States of the Northwest Territory came the power that maintained the Union in the hour when it was most imperiled. Suppose we were to strike out the names of Grant, Sherman, Sheridan, and Rosecranz, strike out Ohio, and the captain of the host, Abraham Lincoln, and your history is not worth reading, or writing.
Another of the jewels of the Ordinance of 1787, and we can give many, was that upon this soil there shall never be the pollution of the footsteps of a slave. It is one of the saddest facts on record that the Southern States, that fought so grandly through the Revolution, States whose soil was fattened by the best blood of the Revolution, should afterwards be watered by the tears of their slaves. We have reason to rejoice, my friends, that this country where our lot is cast is free from any such pollution as this.
Naturally any talk of its progress, or its greatness, its wealth, its power, its prestige; its products, its natural gas, and all the advantages of this broad land, would seem like boasting and bragging. But, my friends, I feel glad; I want to say to you first, if I say nothing more, it is my supreme pleasure to bring up these facts that go to show how charitable and great and prosperous our country has been under the Constitution our fathers gave us.
Somehow today I recall an old anecdote which I might properly enough repeat: If we had anybody in the Revolutionary days who before and afterwards was unequalled for wisdom, sagacity and shrewdness and attracted the attention of all Europe, that man was Benjamin Franklin, a laborer and an American. Standing in the presence of kinds and aristocrats, courted and sought after by all England and France, he was everywhere recognized not merely as an equal but as their superior. He was once at a dinner table in London; there was a learned representative of England, and a learned representative of France who was a count, and he a plain American. The time came when toasts were to be given. The Englishman arose and gave the toast, “England, the sun; the sun that gives warmth and light and prosperity to the whole globe,” of course it was drank with the necessary enthusiasm. The Frenchman was then called upon, he was a little outwitted but said: “Nothing quite equals the sun but I give the toast, France, the moon, which gives light and comfort and good cheer when the sun has gone to sleep.” And now came Franklin’s turn. Said he: “America produced and gave to the world a George Washington, the Joshua of the world, who commanded the sun and the moon to stand stil and they obeyed him.”