Some Early Independence Day Addresses
( Originally Published 1927 )
ADDRESS OF JOEL BARLOW (JULY 4, 1787)
(At Hartford, Conn.)
ON the anniversary of so great an event as the birth of the empire in which we live, none will question the propriety of passing a few moments in contemplating the various objects suggested to the mind by the important occasion ; and while the nourishment, the growth, and even the existence 0f our empire depend upon the united efforts of an extensive and divided people, the duties of this day ascend from amusement and congratulation to a serious patriotic employment.
We are assembled, not to boast, but to realize, not to inflate 0ur national vanity by a pompous relation of past achievements in the council or the field, but, from a modest retrospect 0f the truly dignified part already acted by 0ur countrymen, from an accurate view of our present situation, and from an anticipation of the scenes that remain to be unfolded, to discern and familiarize the duties that still await us as citizens, as soldiers, and as men.
Revolutions in other countries have been affected by accident. The faculties of human reason and the rights of human nature have been the sport of chance and the prey of ambition. When indignation has burst the bands of slavery, to the destruction of one tyrant, it was only to impose the manacles of another. This arose from the imperfection of that early stage of society, the foundations of empires being laid in ignorance, with a total inability of foreseeing the improvements of civilization, or 0f adapting government to a state of social refinement. On the western continent a new task, totally unknown t0 the legislators of other nations, was imposed upon the fathers of the American empire. Here was a people, lords of the soil on which they trod, commanding a prodigious length 0f coast, and an equal breadth of frontier, a people habituated to liberty, professing a mild and benevolent religion, and highly advanced in science and civilization. To conduct such a people in a revolution, the address must be made to reason, as well as the passions.
In what other age or nation has a people, at ease upon their own farms, secure and distant from the approach of fleets and armies, tide-waiters and stamp-masters, reasoned, before they had felt, and, from the dictates of duty and conscience, encountered dangers, distress, and poverty, for the sake of securing to posterity a government of independence and peace? Here was no Cromwell to inflame the people with bigotry and zeal; no Caesar to reward his followers with the spoils of vanquished foes; and no territory to be acquired by conquest. Ambition, superstition, and avarice, those universal torches of war, never illumined an American field of battle. But the permanent principles of sober policy spread through the colonies, roused the people to assert their rights, and conducted the revolution. Those principles were noble, as they were new and unprecedented in the history of human nations. The majority of a great people, on a subject which they understand, will never act wrong.
Our duty calls us to act worthy of the age and the country that gave us birth. Every possible encouragement for great and generous exertions is presented before us. The natural resources are inconceivably various and great. The enterprising genius of the people promises a most rapid improvement in all the arts that embellish human nature. The blessings of a rational government will invite emigrations from the rest of the world and fill the empire with the worthiest and happiest of mankind; while the example of political wisdom and sagacity, here to be displayed, will excite emulation through the kingdoms of the earth, and meliorate the condition of the human race.
ADDRESS OF JOHN QUINCY ADAMS (JULY 4, 1793)
Americans ! let us pause for a moment to consider the situation of our country at that eventful day when our national existence commenced. In the full possession and enjoyment 0f all those prerogatives for which you then dared to adventure upon " all the varieties of untried being," the calm and settled moderation of the mind is scarcely competent to conceive the tone of heroism to which the souls of free-men were exalted in that hour of perilous magnanimity.
Seventeen times has the sun, in the progress of his annual revolution, diffused his prolific radiance over . the plains of independent America. Millions of hearts, which then palpitated with the rapturous glow of patriotism, have already been translated to brighter worlds; to the abodes of more than mortal freedom.
Other millions have arisen, to receive from their parents and benefactors an inestimable recompense of their achievements.
A large proportion of the audience, whose benevolence is at this moment listening to the speaker of the day, like him, were at that period too little advanced beyond the threshold of life to partake of the divine enthusiasm which inspired the American bosom ; which prompted her voice to proclaim defiance to the thunders of Britain; which consecrated the banners of her armies ; and finally erected the holy temple of American Liberty over the tomb of departed tyranny.
It is from those who have already passed the meridian of life; it is from you, ye venerable assertors of the rights of mankind, that we are to be informed what were the feelings which swayed within your breasts and impelled you to action ; when, like the stripling of Israel, with scarcely a weapon to attack, and without a shield for your defense, you met and, undismayed, engaged with the gigantic greatness of the British power.
Untutored in the disgraceful science of human butchery; destitute of the fatal materials which the ingenuity of man has combined to sharpen the scythe of death; unsupported by the arm of any friendly alliance, and unfortified against the powerful assaults of an unrelenting enemy, you did not hesitate at that moment, when your coasts were infested by a formidable fleet, when your territories were invaded by a numerous and veteran army, to pronounce the sentence of eternal separation from Britain, and to throw the gauntlet at a power, the terror of whose recent triumphs was almost coextensive with the earth.
The interested and selfish propensities which, in times of prosperous tranquillity, have such powerful dominion over the heart, were all expelled, and in their stead the public virtues, the spirit of personal devotion to the common cause, a contempt of every danger, in comparison with the subserviency of the country, had assumed an unlimited control.
The passion for the public had absorbed all the rest, as the glorious luminary of heaven extinguishes, in a flood 0f refulgence, the twinkling splendor of every inferior planet. Those of you, my countrymen, who were actors in those interesting scenes will best know how feeble and impotent is the language of this description, to express the impassioned emotions of the soul with which you were then agitated.
Yet it were injustice to conclude from thence, or from the greater prevalence of private and personal motives in these days of calm serenity, that your sons have degenerated from the virtues of their fathers. Let it rather be a subject of pleasing reflection to you than the generous and disinterested energies which you were summoned to display, are permitted, by the bountiful indulgence of heaven, to remain latent in the bosoms of your children.
From the present prosperous appearance of our public affairs, we may admit a rational hope that our country will have no occasion to require of us those extraordinary and heroic exertions, which it was your fortune to exhibit.
But from the common versatility of all human des-tiny, should the prospect hereafter darken, and the clouds of public misfortune thicken to a tempest; should the voice of our country's calamity ever call us to her relief, we swear, by the precious memory of the sages who toiled and of the heroes who bled in her defense, that we will prove ourselves not unworthy of the prize which they so dearly purchased; that we will act as the faithful disciples of those who so magnanimously taught us the instructive lesson of republican virtue.
EXTRACT FROM ADDRESS OF JOHN LATHROP (JULY 4, 1796) (At Boston.)
In the war for independence America had but one object in view, for in independence are concentrated and condensed every blessing that makes life desirable, every right and privilege which can tend to the happiness, or secure the native dignity, of man. In the attainment of independence were all their passions, their desires, and their powers engaged. The intrepidity and magnanimity of their armies, the wisdom and inflexible firmness of their Congress, the ardency, of their patriotism, their unrepining patience when assailed by dangers and perplexed with aggravated misfortune, have long and deservedly employed the pen of panegyric and the tongue of oratory.
Through the whole Revolutionary conflict a consistency and systematic regularity were preserved, equally honorable as extraordinary. The unity of de-sign and classically correct arrangement 0f the series 0f incidents which completed the epic story of American independence, were so wonderful, so well wrought, that political Hypercriticism was abashed at the mighty production, and forced to join her sister, Envy, in applauding the glorious composition.
On the last page of Fate's eventful volume, with the raptured ken 0f prophecy, I behold Columbia's name recorded, her future. honors and happiness in-scribed. In the same important book, the approaching end of tyranny and the triumph of right and justice are written, in indelible characters. The struggle will soon be over ; the tottering thrones of despots will quickly fall, and bury their proud incumbents in their massy ruins.