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Address At The Dedication Of The Washington Monumen

( Originally Published 1916 )


Delivered in the Hall of the House of Representatives, February 21, 1885

Mr. President of the United States, Senators, Representatives, Judges, Mr. Chairman, and My Countrymen:—Alone in its grandeur stands forth the character of Washington in history; alone like some peak that has no fellow in the mountain range of greatness.

" Washington," said Guizot, " Washington did the two greatest things which in politics it is permitted to man to attempt. He maintained by peace the independence of his country, which he had conquered by war. He founded a free government in the name of the principles of order and by re-establishing their sway." Washington did, indeed, do these things. But he did more. Out of disconnected fragments, he molded a whole, and made it a country. He achieved his country's independence by the sword. He maintained that independence by peace as by war. He finally established both his country and its freedom in an enduring frame of constitutional government, fashioned to make liberty and union one and inseparable. These four things together constitute the unexampled achievement of Washington.

The world has ratified the profound remark of Fisher Ames, that " he changed mankind's ideas of political greatness." It has approved the opinion of Edward Everett, that he was " the greatest of good men, and the best of great men." It has felt for him, with Erskine, " an awful reverence." It has attested the declaration of Brougham that he was the greatest man of his own or of any age." . .

Conquerors who have stretched your scepter over boundless territories; founders of empires who have held your dominions in the reign of law; reformers who have cried aloud in the wilderness of oppression; teachers who have striven to cast down false doctrines, heresy, and schism; statesmen whose brains have throbbed with mighty plans for the amelioration of human society; scar-crowned vikings of the sea, illustrious heroes of the land, who have borne the standards of siege and battle, come forth in bright array from your glorious fames, and would ye be measured by the measure of his stature? Behold you not in him a more illustrious and more venerable presence? States-man, soldier, patriot, sage, reformer of creeds; teacher of truth and justice, achiever and pre-server of liberty, the first of men, founder and saviour of his country, father of his people—this is he, solitary and unapproachable in his grandeur !

Oh, felicitous Providence that gave to America our Washington !

High soars into the sky today, higher than the pyramid or the dome of St. Paul's or St. Peter's—the loftiest and most imposing structure that man has ever reared—high soars into the sky to where —" Earth highest yearns to meet a star " the monument which " We the people of the United States " have uplifted to his memory. It is a fitting monument, more fitting than any statue. For his image could only display him in some one phase of his varied character. So art has fitly typified his exalted life in yon plain, lofty shaft. Such is his greatness, that only by a symbol could it be represented. As Justice must be blind in order to be whole in contemplation, so History must be silent that by this mighty sign she may disclose the amplitude of her story.

No sum could now be made of Washington's character that did not exhaust language of its tributes and repeat virtue by all her names. No sum could be made of his achievements that did not unfold the history of his country and its institutions —the history of his age and its progress—the history of man and his destiny to be free. But, whether character or achievement be regarded, the riches before us only expose the poverty of praise. So clear was he in his great office that no ideal of the leader or ruler can be formed that does not shrink by the side of the reality. And so has he impressed himself upon the minds of men, that no man can justly aspire to be the chief of a great, free people, who does not adopt his principles and emulate his example. We look with amazement on such eccentric characters as Alexander, Caesar, Cromwell, Frederick, and Napoleon, but when Washington's face rises before us, instinctively mankind exclaims : " This is the man for nations to trust and reverence, and for rulers to follow."

Drawing his sword from patriotic impulse, with-out ambition and without malice, he wielded it with-out vindictiveness, and sheathed it without reproach. All that humanity could conceive he did to sup-press the cruelties of war and soothe its sorrows. He never struck a coward's blow. To him age, in-fancy, and helplessness were ever sacred. He tolerated no extremity unless to curb the excesses of his enemy, and he never poisoned the sting of de-feat by the exultation of the conqueror.

Peace he welcomed as a heaven-sent herald of friendship; and no country has given him greater honor than that which he defeated; for England has been glad to claim him as the scion of her blood, and proud, like our sister American States, to divide with Virginia the honor of producing him.

Fascinated by the perfection of the man, we are loath to break the mirror of admiration into the fragments of analysis. But, lo! as we attempt it, every fragment becomes the miniature of such sublimity and beauty that the destructive hand can only multiply the forms of immortality.

Grand and manifold as were its phases, there is yet no difficulty in understanding the character of Washington. He was no Veiled Prophet. He never acted a part. Simple, natural, and unaffected, his life lies before us—a fair and open manuscript.

He disdained the arts which wrap power in mystery in order to magnify it. He practiced the profound diplomacy of truthful speech—the consummate tact of direct attention. Looking ever to the All-Wise Disposer of events, he relied on that Providence which helps men by giving them high hearts and hopes to help themselves with the means which their Creator has put at their service. There was no infirmity in his conduct over which charity must fling its veil; no taint of selfishness from which purity averts her gaze; no dark recess of intrigue that must be lit up with colored panegyric; no subterranean passage to be trod in trembling, lest there be stirred the ghost of a buried crime.

A true son of nature was George Washington—of nature in her brightest intelligence and noblest mold; and the difficulty, if such there be, in comprehending him, is only that of reviewing from a single standpoint the vast procession of those civil and military achievements which filled nearly half a century of his life, and in realizing the magnitude of those qualities which were requisite to their performance-the difficulty of fashioning in our minds a pedestal broad enough to bear the towering figure, whose greatness is diminished by nothing but the perfection of its proportions. If his exterior—in calm, grave, and resolute repose—ever impressed the casual observer as austere and cold, it was only because he did not reflect that no great heart like his could have lived unbroken unless bound by iron nerves in an iron frame. The Commander of Armies, the Chief of a People, the Hope of Nations could not wear his heart upon his sleeve; and yet his sternest will could not conceal its high and warm pulsations. Under the enemy's guns at Boston he did not forget to instruct his agent to ad-minister generously of charity to his needy neighbors at home. The sufferings of women and children thrown adrift by war, and of his bleeding comrades, pierced his soul. And the moist eye and trembling voice with which he bade farewell to his veterans bespoke the underlying tenderness of his nature, even as the storm-wind makes music in its undertones.

Disinterested patriot, he would receive no pay for his military services. Refusing gifts, he was glad to guide the benefaction of a grateful State to educate the children of his fallen braves in the institution at Lexington which yet bears his name. Without any of the blemishes that mark the tyrant, he appealed so loftily to the virtuous elements in man, that he almost created the qualities which his country needed to exercise; and yet he was so magnanimous and forbearing to the weaknesses of others, that he often obliterated the vices of which he feared the consequences. But his virtue was more than this. It was of that daring, intrepid kind that, seizing principle with a giant's grasp, assumes responsibility at any hazard, suffers sacrifice without pretense of martyrdom, bears calumny without reply, imposes superior will and under-standing on all around it, capitulates to no unworthy triumph, but must carry all things at the point of clear and blameless conscience. Scorning all manner of meanness and cowardice, his bursts of wrath at their exhibition heighten our admiration for the noble passions which were kindled by the aspirations and exigencies of virtue.

Invested with the powers of a Dictator, the country bestowing them felt no distrust of his integrity; he, receiving them, gave assurance that, as the sword was the last support of Liberty, so it should be the first thing laid aside when Liberty was won. And keeping the faith in all things, he left mankind bewildered with the splendid problem whether to admire him most for what he was or what he would not be. Over and above all his virtues was the matchless manhood of personal honor to which Confidence gave in safety the key of every treasure on which Temptation dared not smile, on which Suspicion never cast a frown. And why prolong the catalogue? " If you are presented with medals of Caesar, of Trajan, or Alexander, on examining their features you are still led to ask what was their stature and the forms of their persons; but if you discover in a heap of ruins the head or the limb of an antique Apollo, be not curious about the other parts, but rest assured that they were all con-formable to those of a god."

" Rome to America " is the eloquent inscription on one stone of your colossal shaft—taken from the ancient Temple of Peace that once stood hard by the Palace of the Caesars. Uprisen from the sea of Revolution, fabricated from the ruins of bartered bastiles, and dismantled palaces of unrighteous, unhallowed power, stood forth now the Re-public of republics, the Nation of nations, the Constitution of constitutions, to which all lands and times and tongues had contributed of their wisdom, and the priestess of Liberty was in her holy temple.

When Marathon had been fought and Greece kept free, each of the victorious generals voted himself to be first in honor, but all agreed that Miltiades was second. When the most memorable struggle for the rights of human nature of which time holds record was thus happily concluded in the muniment of their preservation, whoever else was second, unanimous acclaim declared that Washington was first. Nor in that struggle alone does he stand foremost. In the name of the people of the United States, their President, their Senators, their Representatives, and their Judges do crown today with the grandest crown that veneration has ever lifted to the brow of Glory, him whom Virginia gave to America, whom America had given to the world and to the ages, and whom mankind with universal suffrage has proclaimed the foremost of the founders of empire in the first degree of greatness; whom Liberty herself has anointed as the first citizen in the great Republic of Humanity.

Encompassed by the inviolate seas, stands to-day the American Republic, which he founded—a freer Greater Britain—uplifted above the powers and principalities of the earth, even as his monument is uplifted over roof and dome and spire of the multitudinous city.

Long live the Republic of Washington ! Respected by mankind, beloved of all its sons, long may it be the asylum of the poor and oppressed of all lands and religions—long may it be the citadel of that Liberty which writes beneath the eagle's folded wings, " We will sell to no man, we will deny to no man, right and justice."

Long live the United States of America ! Filled with the free, magnanimous spirit, crowned by the wisdom, blessed by the moderation, hovered over by the angel of Washington's example, may they be ever worthy in all things to be defended by the blood of the brave, who know the rights of man and shrink not from their assertion; may they be each a column, and all together, under the Constitution, a perpetual Temple of Peace, unshadowed by a Caesar's palace, at whose altar may freely commune all who seek the union of liberty and brotherhood.

Long live our country ! Oh, long through the undying ages may it stand far removed in fact as in space from the Old World's feuds and follies; alone in its grandeur and its glory, itself the immortal monument of him whom Providence commissioned to teach man the power of truth and to prove to the nations that their redeemer liveth.

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