Page images
PDF
EPUB

ter the then much dreaded perils of the Atlantic, and the still more formidable uncertainties of their projected settlement on the outer edge of the New World. Two centuries and a third have passed, the momentous ages of national infancy, childhood, and youth have been rapidly lived through, and six prosperous republics, parents of a still increasing family of States in the boundless West, have grown up in the wilderness. In the mean time, in this part of the continent, the native inhabitants have sunk far below the point of comparative weakness, down to the verge of annihilation ; and we have assembled now and here to celebrate the day on which this all-important change commenced.

I allude, Mr. President, to this revolution in the condition of our continent, and the races occupying it, not as introducing a narrative of familiar incidents or a train of commonplace reflections, but as pointing directly to the great problem which first presented itself on the discovery of America, and the agency of the Pilgrim Fathers in its solution, - an agency whose first public manifestation might be said to commence with the ever memorable embarkation at Delft Haven, to which I have just referred.

The discovery itself of the American continent may, I think, fairly be considered the most extraordinary event in the history of the world. In this, as in other cases, familiarity blunts the edge of our perceptions; but much as I have meditated, and often as I have treated this theme, its magnitude grows upon me with each successive contemplation. That a continent nearly as large as Europe and Africa united, spread out on both sides of the equator, lying between the western shores of Europe and Africa and the eastern shore of Asia, with groups of islands in either ocean, as it were stopping places on the march of discovery, — a continent not inhabited indeed by civilized races, but still occupied by one of the families of rational man;- that this great hemisphere, I say, should have lain undiscovered for five thousand years upon the bosom of the deep, - a mystery so vast, within so short a distance, and yet not found out,- is indeed a marvel. Mute nature, if I may so express myself, had made the discovery to the philosopher, for the preponderance of land in the eastern hemisphere demanded a counterpoise in the west. Dark-wooded trees, unknown to the European naturalist, had from age to age drifted over the sea and told of the tropical forests where they grew. Stupendous ocean currents, driven westward by the ever breathing trade-winds, had wheeled their mighty flexures along the American coast, and returned to Europe with tidings of the everlasting breakwater which had stopped their way. But the fulness of time had not yet come. Assyria and Egypt, and Tyre and Carthage, and Greece and Rome must flourish and fall, before the seals are broken. They must show what they can do for humanity before the veil which hides its last hope is lifted up. The ancient civilization must be weighed in a balance and found wanting. Yes, and more. Nature must unlock her rarest mysteries; the quivering steel must learn to tremble to the pole; the astrolabe must climb the arch of heaven, and bring down the sun to the horizon; science must demonstrate the sphericity of the earth, which the ancients suspected, but could not prove; the press must scatter the flying rear of mediæval darkness; the creative instincts of a new political, intellectual, and social life must begin to kindle into action; and then the Discoverer may go forth.

He does go forth; the discovery is made; the balance of the globe is redressed. A continent nearly equal in extent to one half the ancient hemisphere is brought to light. What momentous questions present themselves! Another world! Is it a twin sister of the ancient world ? It has mountains, and rivers, and lakes, and forests, but does it contain the homes of kindred man;- of cultivated races, who have pursued, independently of their eastern brethren, separate, perhaps higher paths of civilization? In a word, has the great cause of humanity made an immediate gain by the wonderful event which has added so much to the geography of the world as before known?

The first contact answered these questions in the negative. The native races, apparently incapable of assimilation, seemed doomed by a mysterious Providence to pass away. The

Spaniard came upon them, borne on winged monsters, as they thought, from beyond the sea; careering on strange quadrupeds, - horse and rider, as they supposed, forming but one animal; and he advanced under cover of that fearful ordnance, which they mistook for the three-bolted artillery of the skies. He came in all these terrors and he brought them death. Those that escaped have borrowed little from us but the poisonous cup, the loathsome malady, the murderous weapon. The skies are mild, the soil is fertile, there is every variety of climate, a boundless theatre for human enjoyment and action, but the appointed agent was not there. Over the greater part of the new-found continent, society, broken down by eternal wars between neighboring tribes, at once in its decrepitude and infancy, had not yet risen even to the pastoral stage. Nature, in fact, had not bestowed upon man the mute but faithful partners of his toil, — the horse, the ox, the sheep, and other still humbler associates, whose aid (did he but know it) lies at the basis of his civilization; who furnish so much of his food and clothing, meat, milk, eggs, wool, skins, and relieve his weary muscles of their heaviest burdens. In a word, there was no civilized population to stand up and enter into equal comparison and generous rivalry with Europe. The discoverer has come; but the settler, the colonist, the conqueror, alas that I must add! too often the oppressor and destroyer, are to follow in his train. By these various agencies, joyous and sorrowful, through these paths of triumph and woe, the culture of the Old World, in the lapse of successive generations, reformed of its abuses, enriched with new arts, animated by a higher spirit of humanity, transferred from the privileged few to the mass of the community, is to be reproduced and perfected in the West.

I need not say to this company, assembled on the shore of the haven for which so many noble hearts on that terrible voyage throbbed with sickening expectancy, - that quiet haven where the Mayflower furled her tattered sails, – that a greater, a nobler work was never performed by man. Truly, the opus magnum, the great work of humanity. You bid me speak of that portion of it which devolved on the Pilgrims.

Would to heaven I could find words to do justice even to my own poor conceptions, and still more that I could find conceptions not far below the august reality! A mighty work of improvement, in which (not to speak of what has been done in other portions of the continent) the poor, solitary Mayflower, so to say, has multiplied herself into the thousand vessels that bear the flag of the Union to every sea; has scattered her progeny through the land, to the number of nearly a quarter of a million for every individual in that drooping company of one hundred; and in place of the simple compact which was signed in her cabin, to which you, sir, (Gov. ernor Clifford,) have just alluded, has exhibited to the admiration of mankind a constitution of republican government for all this growing family of prosperous States. But the work is in its infancy; my honored friend will indulge me in the bright vision of its certain progress. It must extend throughout the length and breadth of the land ; and what is not done directly by ourselves must be done by other governments and other races, by the light of our example. The work, the work must go on. It must reach at the North to the enchanted cave of the magnet, within never-melting barriers of Arctic ice; it must bow to the lord of day on the altar-peaks of Chimborazo; it must look up and worship the Southern Cross. From the easternmost cliff on the Atlantic, that blushes in the kindling dawn, to the last promontory on the Pacific, which catches the parting kiss of the setting sun, as he goes down to his pavilion of purple and gold, it must make the outgoings of the morning and evening to rejoice, in the gladsome light of morals, and letters, and arts. Emperors, and kings, and parliaments, — the oldest and the strongest governments in Europe, - must engage in this work in some part or other of the continent, but no part of it shall be so faithfully and successfully performed as that which was undertaken by the Pilgrim Fathers of New England, on the spot where we are now gathered.

Providence from the beginning strewed their path with salutary hardships. Formidable difficulties beset them from the first. Three years of weary negotiation had failed to procure

for these noble adventurers the express sanction of the British government; they scarcely obtained its reluctant and tacit permission to banish themselves to the ends of the earth; and their shattered private fortunes allowed but the meanest outfit. But on the 1st of August, 1620, under these poor auspices, they embarked, a handful of pilgrims, to lay upon this spot the foundation, not only of this our beloved New England, but of all that portion of United America which traces its descent to this venerated stock.

When we contrast the heart-stricken company which on that day wept and knelt on the quay at Delft Haven, till the impassive spectators, ignorant of the language in which their prayers were offered, and the deep fountains of grief from which their sorrows flowed, were yet fain to melt into sympathetic tears,—when we compare them with the busy, prosperous millions of our present New England, we seem to miss that due proportion between results and their causes which history delights to trace. But a deeper and more appreciative study reveals the secret.

There are two master ideas, greatest of the spiritual images enthroned in the mind of man, the only ideas, comparatively speaking, which deserve a name among men, springs of all the grand beneficent movements of modern times, by whose influence the settlement of New England may be rationally explained. You have anticipated me, descendants of the Pilgrims, these great ideas are GoD and LIBERTY. It was these that inspired our fathers; by these that their weakness was clothed with power, that their simplicity was transmuted to wisdom; by these that the great miracle of their enterprise was wrought.

I am aware that to ascribe such a result, even in part, to the influence of religion, will sound like weakness and superstition, in this material age; an age at once supremely sceptical and supremely credulous, which is ready to believe in every thing spiritual rather than God, and admits all marvels but the interposition of his providence; -- an age which supposes it a thing of every day's occurrence to evoke from their awful rest the spirits of the great and good, and believes that

« PreviousContinue »