SPEECH AT DAYTON
May 30, 1891
Comrades and fellow citizens: The new holiday in our country still holds its place in the first rank of the select and favorite days of the year. 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 first, Memorial Day as we call it now, reminds us in 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 annals of all mankind.
This day reminds us of the firms and perpetual Union of forty-four States, and of territories large enough for ten or twenty States more. It contains within its bounds the finest part of the best of all the continents. This Union so splendid, so powerful, so solid and enduring, has taken the place of a mere confederacy of States loosely held together by a bond that was aptly described as “a rope of sand.” This day reminds us also 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 and woman under the old flag may justly claim them as if they were a birthright. This day tells us that here is a country under such a fortunate sky 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 whom the beautiful ceremonies of Memorial Day are dedicated, was a cause divine in its motives and its purposes, and whose results are union, liberty, equality, good government and peace.
It is a new holiday. New Year’s Day and Christmas are as old as our civilization and religion. Thanksgiving Day, the fourth of July and the twenty-second of February are of the date of our existence as a country and as a nation. Our latest holiday – the sixth in the order of its beginning – Memorial Day – is the one day, the only day, set apart for meditation on the war for the Union, and on al l that belongs to it – its origin, its history, its ideas and lessons, its men and women, and its transcendent and tremendous results.
It is young, but it has passed its majority. It is more than twenty-one years of age. In 1868 the order of the Commander-in-Chief of the G.A.R., General Logan, was issued. It is worthy to be recalled on every return of this Memorial Day.
“We are organized,” says this first order, “for the purpose of strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the men who united to suppress the late rebellion.” What can aid more to assure this result than to cherish tenderly the memory of our heroic deed? Their solider lives were the reveilles [revel] of freedom to a race in chains, and their death the tattoo of the rebellion and tyranny in arms. We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and 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 reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no vandalism 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 them with the choicest flowers of spring; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from dishonor; let us renew our pledges to aid those whom they have eft among us, a sacred charge upon a Nation’s gratitude – the soldier’s and sailor’s widows and orphans.
It is the purpose to inaugurate this observance with the hope that it will be kept up from year to year while a single survivor of the wary remains in honor the memory of his departed comrades.
And we very confidently hope, 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 that its observance can not reach nor benefit the dead. But we understand also that whoever wisely remembers and honors those who in life were brave, faithful and devoted, brings benefits and blessings to the living. Indeed due regard to the memory of the dead and due regard for the welfare of the ling are linked together. They ca not be put asunder. Monuments, processions and garlands are idle and empty ceremonies if the country that was served and saved forgets or neglects the duty which Abraham Lincoln so eloquently and so solemnly enjoined upon his countrymen at Gettysburg: “To care for him that hath borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan.”
The appropriate topics for the day’s observance are for the most part very familiar. Newspapers, magazines and books in a measureless flood have spread before us the whole of the inspiring narrative of the great war – its origin, its motives, its history and its results. The most casual glance at this stream of patriotic intelligence amply explains and justifies the celebration of a day in honor of the brave men who perished in the mighty conflict.
The work they did and the results of that work, stated in the shortest and plainest way, answer every question touching the final judgement of impartial history on this the most tremendous transaction in the secular annuals of our race.
Their work was the overthrow of the rebellion and the salvation of the Union. To achieve this was a task of such magnitude and so difficult that almost the whole world except only liberty loving Americans – men both intelligent and honest – were found who earnestly warned their countrymen that coercion and a war of invasion could never restore the Union. “Let our wayward and erring sisters depart in peace,” was the voice of many an eloquent anti-slavery advocate, who never before had swerved from fidelity to freedom. They maintained that coercion was tantamount to invasion, and that invading armies could never conquer twelve millions of Americans defending their homes. Loyal Union men replied to this plausible statement: “The whole of the Confederacy – every State and every acre of every State – belongs to the Government of the United States by the Constitution of the fathers. Every army marching under the orders of the Government and under its flag will march in their own country and be engaged in the enforcement of its constitution and its laws.” This reply, in all its parts, was perfectly sound if considered merely as a legal declaration of the duty of patriotic and law-abiding citizens. In the constitutional sense, Lincoln and the loyal armies he led did not invade the confederacy. Every square mile in the seceding States belonged to the old flag which the Union armies carried. They were not, in law, invaders, but were in a very real sense the defenders of the Constitution and the flag.
And yet there is a sense, and that a very important sense, in which the Union armies were invading armies. Considered purely in its military signification, the marching into the South of the Union armies was an invasion. They took upon themselves all the burden of difficulties which an invading army must face, and the armies of the rebellion had all of the advantages which belong to an army in its own country acting on the defensive.
This brings us to the first question to which I ask attention. The war for the Union: how did it come to be so great, so hard, so difficult, so long continued and so doubtful? There were many lions in the path to the final victory of the Union armies. These three I name: 1. The power of the confederacy – especially their almost impregnable advantage of standing on the defensive. 2. European aid, comfort, and support. 3. A divided North.
These obstacles to the preservation of the Union combined together, devolved upon Lincoln and the people who stood by him so great a burden of responsibility, a task so difficult, a duty so hard that it is not strange that he always spoke of it with a deeply reverent feeling, looking to heaven for that divine aid without which he solemnly declared in bidding farewell to his friends and neighbors in Springfield – “without which I cannot succeed and with which I cannot fail.” The historian George Rancroft in his great oration of Lincoln quotes for the speeches of the President elect as he traveled from his home in Illinois to the scene of his vast and matchless labor.
At the capitol of Ohio Lincoln said: “Without a name, without a reason why I should have a name, there has fallen upon me a task such as did not rest over upon the father of his country.”
At Albany before the legislature of New York, he said: “While I hold myself the humblest of all the individuals who have ever been elevated to the Presidency, I have a more difficult task to perform than any of them. I bring a true heart to the work. I must rely upon the people of the whole country for support, and with their sustaining aid, even I, humble as I am, can not fail to carry the ship of state safely through the storm.”
In the old Independence Hall of Philadelphia he said: “I have never had a feeling politically that did not spring from the sentiments of the Declaration of Independence, which gave liberty not only to the people of this country but to the world in all future time. If the country can not be saved without giving up that principle, I would rather be assassinated on the spot than surrender it.”
Mr. Lincoln was not mistaken. He did overstate, he could not exaggerate the gravity of the situation that confronted him. Deadly perils were assailing him and his country.
As to the number and extent of the dangers that imperiled the government and the Union nearly all the world not only agreed with him, but went far beyond him. In England our condition and our peril were perhaps better understood than in any other nation. The aristocracy – the governing class of Great Britain – could not repress their joy. “The British Secretary of State made haste to sound through the palaces of Europe that the great republic [cut off] more; that a headstone was all the remained due by the law o nations to “the late Union.”
A leading member of Parliament declared that “the attempt of the North to restore the Union by force was an immoral proceeding and was totally incapable of success;” that “the great powers of Europe would recognize the Southern Confederacy in less than six months,” and warming with his subject he proclaimed amidst the frantic cheers of the House of Commons the bursting of the bubble republic!”
So universal and strong was the conviction of the utter hopelessness of the Union cause that even Mr. Gladstone lost his head and anno9unced his conviction that “Jefferson Davis had established a new nation in America.”
A leader of the English press confidently assured its readers: “No amount of Federal force which can be brought into the field against the South on its own ground will stand a chance of success.”
The governments of Europe with possible two exceptions were against Lincoln and the Union. The South was confident, and was eager and ready for the conflict. How was it the North? As Mr. Lincoln entered upon his duty, the President who stepped out insisted that the “State Legislatures must repeal their unconstitutional and obnoxious enactments, or it would be impossible for any human power to save the Union.” I would not disturb the ashes which now cover the partisan tires which burned so fiercely in the awful days of 1861. It is enough to say that a powerful minority of the people of the North were misled by able, determine, eloquent and popular public men to oppose Mr. Lincoln and his measures from the beginning to the end of the great conflict.
Now in the face of this emergency what were the means, what the preparations which Mr. Lincoln found with which to meet the most formidable rebellion against good government which the world ever saw? He found a skeleton army, a navy of old and worn-out ships scattered to the four winds, an empty treasury, a broken-down credit, and a revenue deficient even for the limited expenditure of a time of profound peace! But, on the other side, Mr. Lincoln saw much that inspired him with hope and with unfailing confidence. He had perfect faith in the perpetuity of the Union; he was in full sympathy with the people and trusted them with an absolute trust. Above all he believed that in the affairs of nations the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth, and that He would not permit government of the people, by the people and for the people to perish from the earth.
And then followed the great war. I need not give its incidents, its events, or its characters. They are known by heart by all this audience. At our campfires, in our newspapers, in the magazines, in the stream of books, we know it all. The death of the last of the great four of the leaders of the great war so recently has brought it all freshly to our minds. I pass it by.
But what at last makes a war in history great, important, memorable? There have been great wars, considered merely as wars, before the contest for the Union, but that which determines the ultimate judgement of the world about war, is the same that determines the judgement of men and women and of history and every human achievement and every human transaction. The question at last always is – and what came of it? What were the results? Did the country, did the world, did all mankind receive blessings from the great conflict, or was it a calamity? The great wars of Napoleon, what did they bring to Napoleon, what to France, and so I begin by asking this – where in all history can a war be found that accomplished so fully, so completely, so exactly all that that every man that engaged in it heartily desired and hoped to accomplish as did this war for the Union? From the war on the plains of Shinar until to-day, there has never been a war that accomplished so exactly what those who waged it wanted to accomplish so fully and completely as this one. What were we after? What did we think of? What did we hope for?
These four things: The Union, to save it; the national government, to assert and maintain its supremacy; slavery, to destroy it, the flag, to resent, to vindicate, to punish by defeat all who would tear it down. These are the four ideas, and when the war ended, what was the fact – the Union. They thought that the states could at will withdraw. That was succession. We maintained that the Union in the language of the Supreme Court was an indestructible union of indestructible States and when the war ended every man in the union of common intelligence in the north and south, and every man in Europe, of common sense knew that never again would a state in the union make war upon the United States. Their idea was that of general government was a creature of the state governments, that a state was greater than a nation, that part was larger than the whole, but when that war was ended it was settled and settled forever that every square mile of the United States belonged only to the flag, the stars and stripes, and that that government which they assailed was indeed the government of the nation, as much a nation as France or Germany or any other empire of kingdom on earth.
And Slavery – their idea was that slavery was a good thing, that capital ought to own labor, that that was the natural condition, that brains and capital went together and should own and take care of labor, that slavery was the divine origin and proved it by the scriptures of many a long and dull sermon. And when the war ended it was settled forever that never again in ant stature or constitution of the United States or any State or any civilized State anywhere on the globe would contain the false and fool fantasy that man can hold property in man.
And as to the fourth idea, their notion was that every State should have its own flag for their people to gaze at and love and admire and fight for. Thirty-four flags then were representing a separate army and a separate navy and separate interests of every sort, civil as well as military. To represent to have forty-four flags, as it is now, instead of one. One hundred flags in the future. But the Union army and Lincoln thought one flag was enough. Their rabble of flags would have represented miserable and petty States, always engaged in miserable and petty wars with each other. Our one flag, the old flag, the flag of Washington and Lincoln, and the fathers, represents a companionable republic whose people throughout its borders can be prosperous and happy to the end of time if they are wise and moderate, and so my friends, it comes to pass that in the times we think of then a Union, a National government supreme, and slavery and honor of the flag – every one of those issues were settled as we fought to settle them, and settle forever.
And what more shall we say? Why results? It results determine the greatness of human achievements, what result was ever like this? No catalogue had ever been made, no list to-day even can be made up of the blessing brought to our country and to mankind by the victory of the Union armies. With every revolving year the vista, as we look down, is longer and wider with the number of things good and things glorious in private life and in public life and in the life of the whole world every achieved. Why, think of thie [the] – greater blessings were conferred upon the vanquished than any other war in all history conferred upon the victors. It set them free – white-men as well as black.
What is it that makes u to-day so proud of our country, so content? Compare our condition and the judgement and the feeling towards us all over the world with what it was prior to the war for the Union. How prestige, opportunity, safety, peace, all belong to us and our heritage and the heritage of our children because of that victory. What is power? What is national power? It consists of these things – population, wealth, knowledge and achievement; men, money and education, and success in war. All of Europe understand us now. They did not before. They understand that numbers of soldiers, and we have from 8,000,000 to 10,000,000 now, make power, that money makes power. The wealthiest nation on earth to-day, and growing wealthy faster than any other nation on earth to-day. Her revenues so big that the task of our statesmen is how to dispose of the surplus, and its statesmen are not busy trying how to prevent a deficiency. This is understood abroad, and so we have the prestige, and the American who travels, as my friend the General (Gen. Wood) did to Egypt and along that canal, whoever he meets now he does not need to hang his head. We belong to a country that has on its spurs. Education – I said knowledge is power as well as money. Before the rebellion there was a third of our country in which no education by law was provided by anybody. The rich could send their songs to northern colleges and to Europe; but for the poor education was not provide, and for the color man it was a crime so that it is not travesty on truth to call out that famous indictment to Virginia against Nancy Jane; that having no fear of God and death before her eyes and against the peace and dignity of the State of Virginia has taught A. B. and C. D. two colored children to read the Bible. In every State, be it said to their credit, in every State school education is already, according to law, in some degree provided for black and white. Not moving as fast as many would wish – it is going, it is established. It is on the statue books. It appears that the 65,000,000 people are all educated, and the educated soldier, as a power, what is true? In all the world’s history the most civilized nation conquered. The best educated nation conquered. I have often said that when Germany met France the school master of Germany conquered the armies of the French, and so it is always, and here is the largest number of educated people on the globe. But more than that, no soldier, whatever many have been his feelings as to cause, as to conduct, as to things dreadful, of all the erring sisters, ever questions that they had men of military genius and had soldiers of courage, endurance and dash. It would have been a good thing to have had them on our side sometimes and now when the war is over what we think of it, whatever there is to go into history in behalf of Lee or of Stonewall Jackson or of the legions that they led, tending to show their capacity and manhood, remember that by the victory of Appomattox it all belongs to us to-day and in any war with Europe or with anybody it is solid, marching under the flag with us. A victory with great results was that victory of ours and so we may go on through the whole chapter. How handsomely it pays to have every son and daughter of the republic believing in the destiny of our country. They with their little state flats, what destiny was before them, believing, maintaining and asserting slavery of divine origin, coming on down, down and down and now all joining with us as we face the north star going upward and upward in the presence of all the earth, and [cut off].
I must not, the hour is late, go on. There is no end to this subject. As I said, the revolving years of the next century, wise and moderate, will bring to us with each year new facts and new occasions to rejoice, that we, as individuals under the providence of God, were permitted to stand shoulder to shoulder for four years doing the Lord’s work. I do not know that that impression can in any way be deepened, but let me give you what two wise men said on the subject that are worth listening to. One an American and one Englishman. The American was Bishop Simpson at the grave of Lincoln after that remarkable funeral, when Lincoln for fifteen hundred miles was carried, a funeral procession of millions from Washington to his home in Springfield. Said Bishop Simpson: “There are no moments which involve in themselves opportunities. There are instances which seem to contain germs which develop and bloom forever. Such a moment came in the tide of time to our land when a question was to be settled which had the power of affecting all the earth. The contest was for human freedom, not for the Union simply, but to decide whether the people, this people as a people in their entire majesty were destine to be a government or whether they were to be subject to tyrants or autocrats, or to class rule of any kind. This is a great question we have been fighting about and the decision of the contest will affect the ages to come.
“If we are successful, republics will spread in spite of all the monarchies on this earth.” Why, when we were, as the English secretary said, “in our last agony,” the emperor of the French thought it a good occasion to change the direction of public sentiment in the world and to establish here in America an empire, the empire of Mexico, and Maximilian was sent there with the dignity of an emperor and the French power to sustains him, and when our victory came, it is said that Napoleon was very anxious in those days, and well he might be. The emperor dies as a criminal in the country to which he came to govern.
Again there was one other Emperor in America, in South America, a very good Emperor, Dom Pedro had been emperor many years, but Bishop Simpson is right – the Republican idea spreads and one day Dom Pedro had been to worship, as was his custom in the morning, to mass. As he came out a note was handed to him that he had better hurry into town, into his city, and castle, and what had come? And when he got in he was handed a note by some respectable citizen saying to him that the best thing he could do was to leave Brazil for twenty-four hours for they had established a republic and he answered with the statement which was impressive, that he should leave at the first opportunity and leave with the best wishes that he and his family had for Brazil, and he left, and that is the end of kings and empires on the American continent. Would it have happened if we had failed? Our victory made all America forever a country in which kings and emperors cannot live. Nay, more, Napoleon III., who sent the Emperor over here, where is he and his empire? They have had a Republican Government in France longer than they have had any government in a century, so Republican was, I state as Bishop Simpson tells us.
But let us hear from another man, an Englishman, and let us do justice to the Englishman. I said that the governing class, the secretary of State, members of Parliament and the aristocracy were against us in England, but it is true and the intelligent middle classes and laboring men of England, that they were on our side, and the very men who by reason of the cotton being cut off from them, which they were in the habit of getting from the south, were suffering almost to starvation, wished and hoped always that we should succeed and regarded Lincoln as their savior as well as ours, and the man who represented them in Parliament from the beginning to the end in conflict with the most eloquent voice in all England. Never ceased to talk as a wise and good man, ought to talk in the presence of an emergency like this. Said John Bright in Parliament: “The leaders of this revolt propose this monstrous crime in every State and territory, forty times that of England, the blight and curse of slavery shall be forever perpetuated. I cannot believe, for my part that such a fate will befall that fair land, stricken as it is now with the ravages of war. I cannot believe that civilization in its journey with the sun, will sink into unending night, in order to gratify the ambition of the leaders of the revolt who seek to wage their slaughter to a throne, “and shut the gates of mercy on mankind.” I have another and a far brighter vision before my gaze. It may be a vision, but I will cherish it. I see one vast confederation of States stretching from the unfrozen North in one unbroken link to the glowing South, and from the savage billows of the Atlantic westward to the calmer waters of the Pacific, and I see one people and one language and one law and one faith, and all over that wide continent the home of freedom and of refuge for the oppressed of every race and of every cline.” That sublime vision that John Bright saw, the Union soldiers under Lincoln invading the south, made a transcendent and radiant reality forever and forever.
I, for one, thank God reverently that I was permitted, through the conflict, to touch elbows and march shoulder to shoulder with the brave comrades now before me from the beginning to the end. Whatever may be the vicissitudes of life that shall happen to you or to me, good or evil, this consolation remains, that during four years at least we served the Lord. That feeling will be with us through life. It will be with us at its close. It will be with us in that scene of inconceivable sublimity beyond for our consolation and support.
Whenever I speak of my comrades and fellow citizens, one of the purposes that I hope to accomplish or to aid is this. I know very well that it must happen that the men who fought during those years, many of them lost every opportunity in the affairs of life at the age when habits are formed, when business and occupations are learned, given to our country, leaves us as we return, many of us with our chances largely diminished, but we do have and I do with to leave the feeling with all who hear me: we do have the consolation of knowing that we were part in that great transaction, which to the end of time will be hailed by all who learn of it as the most extraordinary blessing ever conferred upon mankind except only those which are connected with the blessing of the religion of Christ our Lord.
Oh, I would like to speak all night, but I have spoken enough.