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I believe no one, sir, who has attended this day's exercises, or is now present, will be disposed to concur in the opinion, which we sometimes hear expressed, that the interest of the Fourth of July is on the, wane;— that it is a worn-out, oldfashioned affair, which has ceased to have a significance for us. For my own part, I value it in no small degree, because it is, I will not say an old-fashioned,” but I will say an ancient and venerable institution ; because its annual celebration for seventy years has already nourished the patriotic feelings of more than two generations; and amidst the perilous convulsions of States abroad, and the rapid march of events at home, has left us one great theme on which political opinion is united; one happy day on which party strife is at rest.
I trust, sir, that the Fourth of July will ever continue to be celebrated as it has been to-day, understandingly as well as enthusiastically; because it furnishes at once the most instructive and glorious illustration of the union of the two great principles of STABILITY and PROGRESS, on which our independence was originally founded; on which our prosperity, at the present day, rests as upon its corner-stone; and by whose cordial alliance and joint-working alone, the great designs of Providence in reference to our beloved country can be fulfilled.
I am the more desirous, sir, of making this remark on the present occasion with some emphasis, because there is, on the part of many — perhaps of most-persons among us, a disposition to separate these two great principles, - to take up one to the neglect of the other, and consequently, in effect, to do violence to both. As in all party divisions, so in this; we throw ourselves passionately into the cause we have embraced, push its peculiar views beyond proper limits, overlook the reasonable qualifications, and forget that practical wisdom and plain common sense are generally found about half-way between the two extremes. Accordingly there are and always have been among us, as in all countries where thought and speech are free, men who give themselves up, heart and soul, to the reverence of the past; they can do justice to no wisdom but the wisdom of ages; and if an institution is not VOL. III.
time-honored, it is very apt, by them, not to be honored at all. They forget that the tall oak was once an acorn, and that the oldest things had a beginning. This class of men received a few years ago, in England, the designation of a conservatives," from their disposition to maintain things just as they are. Recently, in this country, they have been called by the rather unpromising name of “old fogies,” the origin and precise import of which are unknown to me.
Now, sir, these benighted individuals (strait-laced and stiffnecked as they are) err only in pushing a sound principle to extremes; in obeying one law of our social nature to the neglect of another, equally certain and important. Though the reverence of the past -adherence to what is established
— may be carried a great deal too far, it is not merely an innate feeling of the human heart, but a direct logical consequence of the physical and spiritual constitution which our Creator has given us. The sacred tie of family, which, reaching backward and forward, binds the generations of men together, and draws out the plaintive music of our being from the solemn alternation of cradle and grave, - the black and white keys of life's harpsichord; the magical power of language, which puts spirit in communion with spirit in distant periods and climes; the grand sympathies of country, which lead the Greeks of the present day to talk of “the victory which we gained over the barbarians at Marathon;" — the mystic tissue of race, woven far back in the dark chambers of the past, and which, after the vicissitudes and migrations of centuries, wraps up great nations in its broad mantle, - those significant expressions which carry volumes of meaning in a word, — Forefather, Parent, Child, Posterity, Native Land; - these all teach us not blindly to worship, but duly to honor the past; to study the lessons of experience; to scan the high counsels of man in his great associations, as those counsels have been developed in constitutions, in laws, in maxims, in traditions, in great undoubted principles of right and wrong, which have been sanctioned by the general consent of those who have gone before us; — thus tracing in human institutions some faint reflection of that Divine wisdom, which fash
ioned the leaf that unfolded itself six weeks ago in the forest, on the pattern of the leaf which was bathed in the dews of Paradise in the morning of creation.
These feelings, I say, sir, are just and natural. The principle which prompts them lies deep in our nature; it gives birth to the dearest charities of life, and it fortifies some of the sternest virtues. But these principles and feelings are not the whole of our nature. They are a portion only of those sentiments which belong to us as men, as patriots, and Christians. We do not err when, we cherish them, but when we cherish and act on them exclusively; forgetting that there is another class of feelings and principles — different, though not antagonistic – which form another side of our wonderfully complicated existence.
This is the side to which an opposite class in the community devotes itself exclusively. They are “the men of progress," or, as they sometimes call themselves, in imitation of similar designations in most countries of Europe, “ Young America.” Either from natural ardor of temperament, or the # fervid spirit of youth, or impatience caused by constant meditation on the abuses which accumulate in most human concerns in the lapse of time, they get to think that every thing, which has existed for a considerable time, is an abuse; that, consequently, to change is, as a matter of course, to reform; - to innovate, of necessity, an improvement. They do not consider that if this notion is carried too far it becomes suicidal; it condemns their own measures, and justifies the next generation in sweeping away their work, as remorselessly as they are disposed to sweep away the work of their predecessors.
Now here again, sir, the error is one of exaggeration only. Young America is a very honest fellow; he means well, but like other young folks he is sometimes a little too much in a hurry. He needs the curb occasionally, as we old ones, perhaps, still more frequently need the spur. There is a principle of progress in the human mind, in all the works of men's hands, in all associations and communities, from the village club to the empire that embraces a quarter of the human
race, in all political institutions, in art, literature, and science, and most especially in all new countries, where it must, from the nature of the case, be the leading and governing principle. Who can compare the modern world, its condition, its arts, its institutions, with the ancient world, and doubt) this: the daily newspaper, smoking every morning from a hundred presses, with a strip of hieroglyphics on the side of an obelisk, perplexing the world with its dubious import, and even that interpreted within the last thirty years; - the ocean steamer with the row galley, creeping timidly round the shore; - the railways in the United States alone, without mentioning those of Europe, with those famous Roman paved roads, the Appian and Flaminian way, to which the orator alluded, which our railroads exceed tenfold in extent, to say nothing of their superiority in every other respect, as a means of communication ; – the printing-press driven by steam, with the scribe's toilsome pen;— the electric telegraph, with the mailcoach, the post-horse, the pedestrian courier; — and above all, a representative republican confederacy, extending over a continent, with a feudal despotism building a palace on the necks of a people, or a stormy Grecian democracy, subsisting its citizens by public largesses, deeming all labor servile, ostracizing its good men, insulting and oppressing its allies, and rending its own vitals, within the circuit of the city walls to which it was confined, — who, I say, can make this comparison, and doubt that the principle of progress is as deeply seated in our nature as the principle of conservatism, and that true practical wisdom and high national policy reside in the due mixture and joint action of the two?
Now, sir, this was the wisdom of the men of 76. This is the lesson of the Fourth of July; this is the oracle which speaks to us from the shrines of this consecrated hall. If we study the writings of the men of that day, we find that they treated the cause of civil liberty not only as one of justice and right, of sentiment and feeling, but also as one of history and tradition, of charters and laws. They not only looked to the future, but they explored the past. They built wisely and skilfully, in such sort that after-times might extend the
stately front of the temple of freedom, and enlarge its spacious courts, and pile its stories, arch above arch, gallery above gallery, to the heavens; but they dug the foundation deep down to the eternal rock; the town, the school, the militia, the church;— those were the four corner-stones on which they reared the edifice.
If we look only at one part of their work, if we see them poring over musty parchments by the midnight lamp, citing the year-books against writs of assistance, disputing themselves hoarse about this phrase in the charter of Charles the First, and that section in a statute of Edward the Third, we should be disposed to class them with the most bigoted conservatives that ever threw a drag chain round the limbs of a young and ardent people. But, gracious heavens, look at them again, when the trumpet sounds the hour of resistance; survey the other aspect of their work. See these undaunted patriots in their obscure caucus gatherings, in their town meetings, in their provincial assemblies, in their continental congress, breathing defiance to the British parliament and the British throne. March with their raw militia to the conflict with the trained veterans of the seven years' war. Witness them, a group of colonies extemporized into a confederacy, entering with a calm self-possession into alliance with the oldest monarchy in Europe; and occupying as they did a narrow belt of territory along the coast, thinly peopled, partially cleared, hemmed in by the native savage, by the Alleghanies, by the Ohio, and the lakes, behold them, dilating with the grandeur of the position, radiant in the prospective glories of their career, casting abroad the germs of future independent States, destined, at no distant day, not merely to cover the face of the thirteen British colonies, but to spread over the territories of France and Spain on this continent, over Florida and Louisiana, over New Mexico and California, beyond the Mississippi, beyond the Rocky Mountains, to unite the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans, the arctic and the torrid zones, in one great network of confederate republican government: contemplate this, and you will acknowledge the