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Other misfortunes may be borne, or their effects overcome. If disastrous war should sweep our commerce from the ocean, another generation may renew it; if it exhaust our treasury, future industry may replenish it; if it desolate and lay waste our fields, still, under a new cultivation, they will grow green again, and ripen to future harvests. It were but a trifle even if the walls of yonder Capitol were to crumble, if its lofty pillars should fall, and its gorgeous decorations be all covered by the dust of the valley. All these might be rebuilt. But who shall reconstruct the fabric of demolished government? Who shall rear again the well-proportioned columns of constitutional liberty? Who shall frame together the skilful architecture which unites national sovereignty with State rights, individual security, and public prosperity? No, Gentlemen, if these columns fall, they will not be raised again. Like the Coliseum and the Parthenon, they will be destined to a mournful, a melancholy immortality. Bitterer tears, however, will flow over them than were ever shed over the monuments of Roman or Grecian art; for they will be the remnants of a more glorious edifice than Greece or Rome ever saw,-the edifice of constitutional American liberty.
But let us hope for better things. Let us trust in that gracious Being who has hitherto held our country as in the hollow of His hand. Let us trust to the virtue and intelligence of the people, and to the efficacy of religious obligation. Let us trust to the influence of Washington's example. Let us hope that that fear of IIeaven which expels all other fear, and that regard to duty which transcends all other regard, may influence public men and private citizens, and lead our country still onward in her happy career. Full of these gratifying anticipations and hopes, let us look forward to the end of that century which is commenced. A hundred years hence, other disciples of Washington will celebrate his birth with no less of sincere admiration than we now commemorate it. When they shall meet, as we now meet, to do themselves and him the honour, so surely as they shall see the blue summits of his native mountains rise in the horizon; so surely as they shall behold the river on whose banks he lived, and on whose banks he rests, still flowing on toward the sea,-so surely may they see, as we now see, the flag of the Lnion floating on the top of the Capitol; and then, as now, may the Sun, in its course, visit no land more free, more happy, more lovely, than this our own country |
Gentlemen, I propose – “THE MEMORY OF GEORGE WASHINGTON.”
GENTLEMEN, you have personal recollections and associations, connected with the establishment and adoption of the Constitution, which are necessarily called up on an occasion like this. It is impossible to forget the prominent agency exercised by eminent citizens of your own, in regard to that great measure. Those great men are now recorded among the illustrious dead; but they have left names never to be forgotten, and never to be remembered without respect and veneration. Least of all can they be forgotten by you, when assembled here for the purpose of signifying your attachment to the Constitution, and your sense of its inestimable importance to the happiness of the people. .
I should do violence to my own feelings, Gentlemen,_I think I should offend yours, if I omitted respectful mention of distinguished names yet fresh in your recollections. How can I stand here, to speak of the Constitution of the United States, of the wisdom of its provisions, of the difficulties attending its adoption, of the evils from which it rescued the country, and of the prosperity and power to which it has raised it, and yet pay no tribute to those who were highly instrumental in accomplishing the work? While we are here to rejoice that it yet stands firm and strong, while we congratulate one another that we live under its benign influence, and cherish hopes of its long duration, we cannot forget who they were that, in the day of our national infancy, in the times of despondency and despair, mainly assisted to work out our deliverance. I should feel that I was unfaithful to the strong recollections which the occasion presses upon us, that I was not true to gratitude, not true to patriotism, not true to the living or the dead, not true to your feelings or my own, if I should forbear to make mention of ALEXANDER HAMILTON.
Coming from the military service of the country yet a youth, but with knowledge and maturity, even in civil affairs, far beyond his years, he made this city the place of his adoption ; and he gave the whole powers of his mind to the contemplation of the weak and distracted condition of the country. Daily increasing in acquaintance and considence with the people of New York, he saw, what they also saw, the absolute necessity of some closer bond of union for the States. This was the great object of his desire. He never appears to have lost sight of it, but was found in the lead whenever any thing was to be attempted
3 From a speech made at a public dinner given to Webster in New York, on the 10th of March, 1831. See page 385, note 7.
for its accomplishment. One experiment after another, as is well known, was tried, and all failed. The States were urgently called on to confer such further powers on the old Congress as would enable it to redeem the public faith, or to adopt, themselves, some general and common principle of commercial regulation. But the States had not agreed, and were not likely to agree. In this posture of affairs, so full of public difficulty and public distress, commissioners from five or six of the States met, on the request of Virginia, at Annapolis, in September, 1786. The precise object of their appointment was to take into consideration the trade of the United States; to examine the relative situations and trade of the several States; and to consider how far a uniform system of commercial regulations was necessary to their common interest and permanent harmony. Mr. Hamilton was one of these commissioners; and I have understood, though I cannot assert the fact, that their IReport was drawn by him. His associate from this State was the venerable Judge Benson, who has lived long, and still lives, to see the happy results of the counsels which originated in this meeting. Of its members, he and Mr. Madison are, I believe, now the only survivors. These commissioners recommended, what took place the next year, a general Convention of all the States, to take into serious deliberation the condition of the country, and devise such provisions as should render the constitution of the federal government adequate to the exigencies of the Union. I need not remind you, that of this Convention Mr. Hamilton was an active and efficient member. The Constitution was framed, and submitted to the country. And then another great work was to be undertaken. The Constitution would naturally find, and did find, enemies and opposers. Objections to it were numerous, and powerful, and spirited. These were to be answered ; and they were effectually answered. The writers of the numbers of The Federalist, Mr. Hamilton, Mr. Madison, and Mr. Jay, so greatly distinguished themselves in their discussions of the Constitution, that those numbers are generally received as important commentaries on the text, and accurate expositions, in general, of its objects and purposes. Those papers were all written and published in this city. Mr. Hamilton was elected one of the distinguished delegation from the city, into the State Convention at Poughkeepsie, called to ratify the new Constitution. Its debates are published. Mr. Hamilton appears to have exerted, on this occasion, to the utmost, every power and faculty of his mind, The whole question was likely to depend on the decision of New York. He felt the full importance of the crisis; and the reports of his speeches, imperfect as they probably are, are yet lasting monuments to his genius and patriotism. He saw at last his hopes fulfilled; he saw the Constitution adopted, and the government under it established and organized. The discerning eye of Washington immediately called him to that post which was infinitely the most important in the administration of the new system. He was made Secretary of the Treasury; and how he fulfilled the duties of such a place, at such a time, the whole country perceived with delight, and the whole world saw with admiration. He smote the rock of the national resources, and abundant streams of revenue gushed forth. He touched the dead corpse of the Public Credit, and it sprang upon its feet. The fabled birth of Minerva from the brain of Jove was hardly more sudden or more perfect than the financial system of the United States, as it burst forth from the con: ceptions of ALEXANDER HAMILTON.
FIRST SETTLEMENT OF NEW ENGLAND.4
IT IS a noble faculty of our nature which enables us to connect our thoughts, our sympathies, and our happiness with what is distant in place or time ; and, looking before and after, to hold communication at Once with our ancestors and our posterity. Human and mortal though we are, we are nevertheless not mere insulated beings, without relation to the past or the future. Neither the point of time nor the spot of earth, in which we playsically live, bounds our rational and intellectual enjoyments. We live in the past by a knowledge of its history; and in the future by hope and anticipation. By ascending to an association with our ancestors; by contemplating
4. This and the three pieces which follow it are from a discourse delivered at Plymouth, on the 22d of December, 1820, the two hundredth anniversary of the landing of the Pilgrims. That discourse stands first, in the order of time, of Webster's great efforts in what may be called civic oratory, and is generally regarded, I believe, as the corner-stone of his fame as an orator. The discourse was not printed till about a year after the delivery. A copy of it having been mailed to Chancellor Rent, of New York, that eminent man acknowledged the receipt of it in a letter of thanks to Webster, from which I transcribe the following: “The reflections, the sentiments, the morals, the patriotism, the eloquence, the imagination of this admirable production are exactly what I anticipated; elevated, just, and true. I think it is also embellished by a style distinguished for purity, taste, and simplicity.” Ex-President John Adams, also, had the discourse read to him, and expressed his judgment of it thus: “If there be an American who can read it without tears, I am not that American. It enters more perfectly into the genuine spirit of New England than any production I ever read.” their example and studying their character; by partaking their sentiments and imbibing their spirit; by accompanying them in their toils, by sympathizing in their sufferings, and rejoicing in their successes and triumphs,- we seem to belong to their age, and to mingle our own existence with theirs. We become their contemporaries, live the lives which they lived, endure what they endured, and partake the rewards which they enjoyed. And in like manner, by running along the line of future time; by contemplating the probable fortunes of those who are coming after us; by attempting something which may promote their happiness, and leave some not dishonourable memorial of ourselves to their regard, when we shall sleep with the fathers, —we protract our own earthly being, and seem to crowd whatever is future, as well as the past, into the narrow compass of our earthly existence. As it is not a vain and false, but an exalted and religious imagination, which leads us to raise our thoughts from the orb which, amidst this universe of worlds, the Creator has given us to inhabit, and to send them, with something of the feeling which Nature prompts, and teaches to be proper among children of the same Eternal Parent, to the contemplation of the myriads of fellow-beings with which His goodness has peopled the infinite of space; so neither is it false or vain to consider ourselves as interested and connected with our whole race, through all time; allied to our ancestors; allied to our posterity; closely compacted on all sides; ourselves being but links in the great chain of being which begins with the origin of our race, runs onward through its successive generations, binding together the past, the present, and the future, and terminating at last, with the consummation of all things earthly, at the throne of God. There may be, and there often is, indeed, a regard for ancestry, which nourishes only a weak pride ; as there is also a care for posterity, which only disguises an habitual avarice, or hides the workings of a low and grovelling vanity. But there is also a moral and philosophical respect for our ancestors, which elevates the character and improves the heart. Next to the sense of religious duty and moral feeling, I hardly know what should bear with stronger obligation on a liberal and enlightened mind, than a consciousness of alliance with excellence which is departed. Poetry is found to have few stronger conceptions, by which it would affect or overwhelm the mind, than those in which it presents the moving and speaking image of the departed dead to the senses of the living. This belongs to poetry, only because it is congenial to our nature. Poetry is, in this respect, but the handmaid of true philosophy and morality: it deals with us as human beings,