May 30, 1889

Sandusky, Ohio

 

DECORATION DAY

 

COMRADES AND FELLOW CITIZENS: The new holiday of Our Country still holds its place in the front rank of a few select and favorite days of the year. Nay, it is plainly rising-still rising in popular appreciation and regard. This is easily understood. It needs little explanation. Decoration Day as it was called at the first – Memorial Day as they call it now, reminds us of the tenderest and most pathetic way of events interesting, inspiring and great, not merely in the history of America, but which are of unsurpassed importance in the minds of all mankind.

 

This day reminds us of the perpetual Union of forty-two states. This Union so solid and enduring has taken a piece of a mere Confederacy, loosely held together that was significantly described as “a rope of sand.” This day reminds us of a land of liberty equal rights and law; not yet enjoyed, it is true, in absolute perfection everywhere, but the right to these blessings is so established that every man under the old flag, may justly claim them as a birthright.

 

This day tells us that here is a country under such fortunate stars that as long as its people are guided by virtue and wisdom it will be the home of unbroken and perpetual peace.

 

This day proclaims in language plain, simple, and truthful that the cause in which the brave men fought and perished to who the beautiful ceremonies of this occasion are dedicated, was a cause Divine in its motive and its purposes and whose results are union, liberty, law, equity and peace.

 

It is a new holiday-New Years Day and Christmas are as old as civilization and religion; Thanksgiving Day, the Fourth of July and the 22nd of February are of the date of our existence as a country and  people; our latest holiday-the sixth in the order of its beginning-Memorial Day-is the one day-the only day set apart for the contemplation of the war for the Union and all that belongs to it, its origin, its history, its lessons, its men and women, and its transcendental and tremendous results.

 

The day is growing, but it has reached its majority. It is 21 years ago to-day, in 1868, that the order of the Commander-in-Chief of the G.A.R. Gen. Logan, was issued and it is worthy to be recalled on every return of Memorial Day; “We are organized,” says this first order, “for the purpose of preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together then men who united to suppress the rebellion.”

 

What can aid more to assure this result than to cherish tenderly the memory of our heroic dead? Their soldiers lives were revile of freedom to a race in chains and their deaths the tattoo of rebellion and tyranny in arms. We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth taste of the nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders.

 

Let pleasant paths invite the coming of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no vandalism or avarice or neglect, no ravages of time testify to the present or coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.

 

Let us then at the time appointed gather around their sacred remains and garland the mounds above with the choicest flowers of spring; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from dishonor; let us renew our pledge to aid those whom they left among us; a sacred charge upon a nation’s gratitude-the soldiers’ and sailors’ widow and orphan. It is the purpose to originate this observance with the hope that it will be kept up from year while a single survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades.”

 

And we may confidently add that while patriotism holds its place in the American heart; while the Republic lasts, and the old flag is dearly loved, the celebration of this day will not fail.

 

We understand very well its observance cannot reach or benefit the dead. But we understand also that whoever wisely remembers and honors those in life who were brave, faithful and devoted, brings benefits and blessings to the living. Indeed due regard for the memory of the dead and due regard for the welfare of the living who have served and saved their country, are linked together. They cannot be put asunder. Monuments, processions, and garlands are idle and empty ceremonies if the country which was served and saved, forgets or neglects the duty which Abraham Lincoln eloquently and so solemnly enjoined upon his countrymen at Gettysburg, “To care for him that borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan.”

 

The nation cannot in full measure do honor to its dead soldiers and deny or neglect full justice to its living soldiers. The time has plainly come when justice to its defenders will require the country to expend much larger sums out of the National Treasury than have heretofore been appropriated for the support of the men who saved the nation on the field of battle. The sacred obligation of the Union Soldiers must not, cannot be forgotten nor neglected especially by those who enjoy the comforts and independence of a prosperity which has come to them by the services and sacrifices of the men who stood by the Republic when its life was imperiled. Some say that such an occasion like this is not proper to discuss the pension policy, but I say that at all gatherings of soldiers, it is proper to speak of it and what should be done in their behalf, and it is often neglected when the sense of propriety prevents;

 

When the war ended, the obligations of the nation were chiefly to two classes:

 

1.      To those who risked their money,

2.      To those who risked their lives

 

Passing on to the history of the resumption of special payment and payment of the war debt principal and interest to the second obligation-to the soldiers, the speaker continued: Those who were obligated to risk their lives are now becoming infirm-verging out from 50 to 60 years of age.

 

What was promised by the Country-not to forget or allow the defenders to suffer-let it be fulfilled. How were the soldier paid? In paper worth at various times from 35 to 65 cents on the dollar, yet there was no grumbling, for it was the best that the country could do.

 

Let our burdens be one hundred millions more per year. We can pay it. We have paid in 25 years $1,500,000,000 principal, $2,400,000,000 interest and $1,000,000,000, and still we are growing rich faster than any nation. On the heels of our wealth we can pay larger amounts. Twenty-five years ago with our wealth of $16,000,000,000 and we had a debt nearly one third as large. Now we have $66,000,000,000 and our debt a mere flea bite. Then we had a population of nearly 39,000,000, now 65,000,000 and in 25 years from now we will have 100,000,000. We have paid our creditors in cash and now cannot we pay our obligation to the soldiers.

 

I may have spoken on this subject too long, but people do not understand it. We have the greatest and best army in the world. We pay for war while fighting and when over our men pass into the ranks of labor.

 

Germany and England pays its officers and nearly all the great estates came into the family as pay for service in battle, while what is paid to our army is paid to those who fight the battles, and not those who look on.

 

But I have spoken on this subject long enough. You have here in Sandusky a Home established by Ohio, and whatever paid by the city or county or State is a debt of the Nation and ought to come out of the Treasury of the United States, and they will pay it back if you insist upon it.

 

Ideas rule the world. It goes without saying that the ideas we fought for are the principles without regard to the sect or party of our choice which we still 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 power and sovereignty, in the fullest possible sense a Nation and the permanent allegiance of the citizens is that only to the Nation,

 

The contention of our adversaries was that slavery was national, perpetual, and of Divine origin. Our faith is that no State and no Constitution can make valid “the false and fatal philosophy that man can hold property in man.”

 

By reason of the peculiar institution in the slave-holding States education was within the reach of only 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. Our faith in 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 at all 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 of 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. We have faith in all our hearts and in all minds in American women. They lend to every cherished scene in life its chief grace and ornament and charm. We owe to them the best refuge and blessing the earth affords. To them we owe the art of making homes. Their tact and wisdom as teachers and their virtues make the happiness of the American home. When the great trial came, the calamity was to be met and sacrifices made. Mr. Lincoln could say, looking, as he said he was, in skill in paying compliments to women, “if all that has been said by orators and peers since the creation of the world in praise of women were applied to the women of America, it would not do them justice for their conduct during this war.”

 

God bless the women of America!

 

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-two now- 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!” Our faith is the reverse of all of 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. Only 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 we would teach to our children, and children’s children to the end of the chapter.

 

In conclusion, we have the consolation to know that all of our loved comrades who died in the war are to have their names forever on the same shining roll with the noblest character, the soundest head and the largest heart that ever passed from battle to immortal fame. His name should stand at the head of every roll of honor which will be read in all our broad land to-day.

 

He was indeed the type and embodiment of the “plain people” of our country, of the rank and file of the army, of the heroic dead of the battle field, of the hospital, of the prison pen, -in a word of all the martys of the war- from Ohio, from Erie County, from your loved circle and from mine. I quote from George Alfred Townsend:

 

(Townsend’s poem is not printed here.)

 

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