December 19, 1888
COMPANIONS: The Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States is writing the history and biography of the war for the Union on such a scale that they will soon fill many volumes. Its own story can easily be told within the limits of a few pages.
In the very hour of the rapture and ecstasy of our full and final triumph in the great conflict the cruel tidings came that seemed for a time to blast it all forever. What was victory without murdered Lincoln? Where was hope with Lincoln murdered? In the midst of the sadness and almost despair that settled down upon all minds and hearts and in that deep gloom-in that darkness that could indeed be felt-a little band of patriots of the war in the loyal city of Philadelphia recalled the example of the revolutionary fathers and imitated the action of Washington and his officers of the Centennial Army when they were about to bid each other farewell at the end of the long, hard contest of the war for Independence.
The founders of our order on that April day in 1865, as they took counsel together in that city where American independence was born, were happily enlightened by the record which the veterans of 1783 had left for their instruction and imitation. It was as if General Washington, and General Knox, and Baron Steuben and their immortal had been called to take part in the deliberations of the men whose privilege it had been to stand by their country’s cause in the divine war in which Lincoln had been their leader. The path traced by the footprints of the Revolutionary fathers was followed with unfaltering steps. The ancient and precious record relates that:
“The revolution having been accomplished the Society of the Cincinnati was instituted as a monument of the memorable occasion. Its purpose was to cherish and perpetuate the mutual feelings of patriotism, benevolence, and brotherly friendship created by a common experience of the hardships encountered in achieving the freedom of their country, and establishing its rank among the nations of the earth. The movement, though chiefly commemorative, was not unmixed with motives of prudence and policy; was in union with the spontaneous feeling of the army at the moment of its dissolution, and was conducted and controlled by men of tried virtue and wisdom. The guarantee of its character was that it received the sanction and was under the guidance of Washington.”
“Several of the distinguished officers of the war were men of cultivated minds, to whom the ancient classic history and literature were favorite reading; and they now adopted for their association the name and example of the Roman citizen soldier, who laid down in peace arms only assumed for public defense. It was Washington personified under the image of the Roman Cincinnatus!”
Wishing to impart to their beloved society an element of durability which otherwise could not belong to it, they provided that its regular membership should be inheritable and directly transferable, upon principles analogous to those of legal descent and limited to the eldest male posterity. Hamilton and other prominent and earnest advocates of the institution objected to this provision because it seemed to refer to mere birth what properly belonged to merit and because it was inconsistent with the genius of the society, and with true republican principles. There were for a time also hostility, angry discussion, and even unfriendly legislation in several of the States. But gradually it became clear that no rights were conferred nor sought by the society in derogation of the rights of other citizens- that the distinction was social and individual, and practically in no way distinguishable from that natural regard for ancestry, which, in the language of Mr. Webster, “elevates the character and improves the heart.” The Revolutionary sires who had fought through the seven long and anxious years of the war, about to return in poverty were sadly conscious of the great disadvantages in which they were to pass their declining years. Their neighbors who had not shared the dangers, hardships and sacrifices of the war, but who had saved and perhaps increased their estates, were able to leave to their children a competency for their support, and for their social consideration. Not so with the scarred veterans of the army of Washington. The only inheritance they could leave their children was the good name which accrues to him who risks all and devotes all to serve faithfully his county. Considerations like this gradually acquired their due weight in the judgment of the patriotic public, and long before the last Revolutionary veteran went to his reward the Society of the Cincinnati was regarded as an institution which worthily and honorably represented and preserved the heroic deeds of our country’s golden age.
The Society of the Cincinnati as described in this brief summary from authentic history, was the unquestioned prototype of the Military order of the Loyal Legion. No member or friend of the society would wish to change any of the leading facts connected with its origin and early history. The place, the time, the model chosen, and the sentiment which sought and found expression in its organization are all fitting and noble. What will be its future? What will be its influence upon its members and our countrymen, and especially upon the young who are growing up to take our place? It is not, and it will not be a political organization. We understand very well that free governments of necessity a government by means of political parties. We also understand perfectly that men who have stood by their convictions on the perilous edge of battle are not so likely to be neutrals in the political conflicts of their day.
But our organization stands on a sentiment that can easily bear the severest possible strain due to sectarian or partisan feelings. The Loyal Legion is essentially the organic expression of our comradeship in a sacred war. Our honored companion is so largely at this time and in this place in all our thoughts, in his terse and emphatic way gave the whole pith of the question. Said General Harrison “politics cannot break the bond of comradeship. In this the General made no mistake. You, my companions, do not think as I do on the political issue of the hour. You are confident that I am wrong. But I match your confidence. I know that I am right and that you are wrong. This difference between us does not even dim the brightness of the links that unite us. They were welded when we stood together as comrades on holy ground, fighting for eternal right. Where is holy ground? If anywhere it is where man freely dies for his fellow man. That sublime privilege was the crown of Lincoln’s fame. And we of the Loyal Legion and our comrades of the Grand Army can reverently thank God that we were permitted to stand by Lincoln in the deadly crisis of our Nation’s history.
I repeat the question, what shall be the teaching which the Loyal Legion will give to the companions of the order, to their countymen and to posterity? Ideas rule the world. It goes without saying that the ideas we fought for are the principles of the Loyal Legion. Those ideas without regard to the sect or party of our choice we hold to. All legitimate results and fair deductions from these principles we will also ever cherish.
The Union of the fathers was imperiled by secession. Our faith is that the American Republic, in the language of the Supreme Court, “is an indestructible Union of indestructible States.”
The General Government was threatened by the doctrine that the allegiance of the citizen was due only to his State. Our faith is that the citizen’s allegiance is to the United States, and that United States is in authority, and duty, in the fullest possible sense, a Nation.
The contention of our adversaries was that slavery was National, perpetual, and of Divine origin. Our faith is that no statue and no constitution can make valid “the false and fatal phantasy that man can hold property in man.”
By reason of the peculiar institution in the slave-holding States education was within the reach of the few who were rich. But for the white man who was poor it was not provided, and for the colored man it was not simply denied, but by solemn enactments was made a crime. The faith of the Loyal Legion is that the universal suffrage is essential to liberty, and that there can be no fitting exercise and no full enjoyment of the right of suffrage without universal education.
The corner-stone of the slave-holding system was the impious dogma that “might makes right.” But the trail of that serpent is over all human society, and is found where the footprint of a slave was never seen. The weaker nations around us with which we deal; the Indians: the children of misfortune, of poverty, of evil habits and of crime, who are all at our doors- the faith that we learned in the school of war with respect to them all, is that they are the offspring of our common father, and that social distinction wealth, learning and other advantages outside of character were of little avail in that bloody trial and that everything there deferred to manhood. Therefore we would incalculate sympathy with manhood and respect for manhood whenever it is found.
Above all, our faith is in America. We believe in the study of America, of the history, of its geography, and in the lives of its men and of its women. We believe in American principles, in American music, and songs and tunes. We have no quarrel with Europe, or with any foreign people. But we prefer that their notions, their follies, their vices, and their perils should remain on the other side of the Atlantic. We have enough vices, follies and perils of our own. We import from Europe altogether too many.
We believe in the American home and in the character and in the virtue of the American women which make American homes happy.
Finally, one of the mistakes of the rebellion was unduly to exult what they called “Sovereign States.” They thought each State should have its own flag for its people to gaze upon and to admire and love. They would have had thirty-four flags in 1861 -forty-four very soon- and at no distant day a hundred. Each would represent a separate government, a separate army, and a separate navy and all of them would wave helplessly and miserably over “States discordant, dissevered, belligerent!” The faith of the Loyal Legion is the reverse of all this. We believe that the whole of the American Republic - every State and every acre in every State, belongs to one flag, “the old flag”- the stars and stripes- the flag of Washington and of Lincoln-the flag of the United States.
Their rabble of flags would have represented never-ending petty wars between the inhabitants of petty States. Our one flag represents a people great, prosperous and happy, whose heritage will be as long as they are guided by wisdom and justice, the enjoyment of unbroken prosperity harmony and perpetual peace throughout a Continental Republic.
These, companions and friends, are some of the lessons which the society of the Loyal Legion would teach to our children, and our children’s children to the end of the chapter.