October 14, 1892

Lake Mohonk, New York

 

CONFERENCE ON THE AMERICAN INDIANS

 

There is a certain difficulty in saying what one would wish to say in behalf of such resolutions, with the subject of them facing you. But my friend Mr. Dawes has been in public life long enough I suspect, not to be greatly disturbed by what may be said either in his praise or the reverse. Public men soon learn, if they are to sleep well nights and have steady nerves, to regard praise and blame as equally unworthy of special consideration by them. The man is happily constituted who is philosopher enough to listen to that which is flattering and that which is disparaging with substantially the same feelings.

 

My first acquaintance with my friend Senator Dawes was some twenty-five or thirty years ago, in the House of Representatives. He was then chairman of that very interesting committee to members of Congress, the Committee on Elections – the committee whose business it is to furnish to their party friends in the body the reasons for always supporting the claim of the man who belongs to their own party. The reports that came from that committee may be examined, and they will sustain fully this statement: that the law, precisely as it was, was given to us by Mr. Dawes on every question, let it hit where it might. Indeed, a leading partisan from my own State suggested to me once, “There is but one fault with our Massachusetts friend: he stands up so straight that practically he belongs to the other side.” He passed to the Senate, and there became what is described in the resolution which I am to second. How well it was said by Mr. Pierce, in his opening remarks, that there are certain classes of duty devolving upon all public officers, and especially upon Congress, which they cannot find time to consider! The budget of civil service reform, for instance, which he named; the Mormon question; -- there is a world of such questions, of great importance to the people of the United States, that you can hardly expect the average Congressman to give serious attention to. Therefore the interest and importance of just such assemblages as this, where those who are versed in these affairs shall discuss them freely and shall call them to the attention of the public. The example of Mr. Dawes upon this question, going into such an assembly as this, meeting its members regularly, giving them the advantage of his superior opportunities and experience, is an example well worthy of imitation. And I am glad to see here to-night, following that example, the Commissioner on Civil Service Reform, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, and perhaps, other public officers. The government of the United States, as has been well said to-night, is not a government of force. It is a government of opinion; and therefore every good citizen should give encouragement to any association, society, or conference that takes up some particular reform and makes it, year after year, their business to urge its adoption, not giving up, not failing in heart, but going on until it is embodied in legislation. This is what Mr. Dawes has been engaged in doing now for almost forty years. And therefore it is well that people who desire to encourage independence and good work in public life should regard with approval every just estimate of the character and services of such a man. It is, therefore, with very great pleasure that I second these resolutions.

I should stop here, but during my recent visit to New York, I met Bishop Whipple, who said to me how much he regretted that his duties in the Episcopal Convention prevented his attendance here. “But,” said he, “when a man is doing a good thing, I believe in giving him the credit of it; and I wish you would say, if you have the opportunity, that I appreciate fully and approve altogether the conduct and the work of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs.” We who here are supposed to be anxiously trying to help the down-trodden, oppressed, and feeble part of our population. What we succeed in doing will be a joy and a satisfaction to us every day of our lives. But, whether succeeding or failing, all who engage in helping up the brother who is down and oppressed do succeed in helping themselves. They are the happier and better for the work. This beloved poet of ours, the mild glow of whose descending orb is still in all our air, -- Mr. Whittier, -- says –

 

“We bring no costly holocaust,

We raise no sculptured stone:

He serves Christ best who loveth best

His brothers and our own.”