« ПредишнаНапред »
world with exactly the same equipment of mind or body, or character, or estate. Our fathers, so far as I have been able to find out, were men of immense practical good sense. They knew perfectly well the differences which necessarily exist among men, arising from the nature of things. They had no quarrel with the framework of society. Their quarrel was with the abuses of despotism, the inequalities arising, not from the nature of things, but from the maladministration of governments. It was against these that they uttered the challenge of divine justice, “All men are created equal” in their right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
But even in that narrower sense the Declaration of Independence has had a hard time of it from first to last. For nearly a century the institution of slavery put the Declaration to an open shame before the world. Mr. Jefferson, though himself a holder of slaves, understood this perfectly, for in his Notes on Virginia, speaking of slavery, he put on record his own conviction on the subject, without ambiguity and without reserve, in these words, as portentous to-day as they ever were before: “I tremble for the safety of my country when I remember that God is just and that his justice can not sleep forever." And Washington evidently had the same view of the matter, for if you will examine his last will ard testament hidden yonder in the Library of Congress exactly as he wrote it, you will see that, among the last acts of his life, he manumitted all his slaves, tenderly making provision for those who were too young to work and for the infirmities of those who were too old, and adding a pious expression of hope that the odious institution might speedily pass out of the life of the rising Republic. It was a blot upon the character of the whole country, made respectable by the laws of nearly every colony, North and South alike. It did speedily pass away from most of the States. The climate as well as the conscience of New England was against it, so that gradually its influence narrowed within the territory farther south, where for generations it remained, cursing the black man and the white man alike, and illustrating in the end the infinite judgment of God upon every form of injustice against the hands that are hardened by toil and the backs of men bent under the burdens of society. I know that while that conflict was in progress there were some who claimed that our fathers meant to say that liberty was suitable for white people only, but when Mr. Lincoln, in the great debates of 1858, drove Stephen A. Douglas from that position, he used only the legitimate weapons of history and reason.
I can not believe that our fathers, after they had been commissioned of heaven to write, in the face of the kingdoms and monarchies of this world, our manuscript of equal rights—I can not believe that they deliberately put out of their calculations any men or any race of men. To believe it would be to impeach not only the integrity of their minds, but the sincerity of their hearts. I refuse to do either. On the contrary, the longer I live the more perfect my conviction becomes that there is in this world, after all, only one question of politics, and that is the question of equal chances for men and women to win in the race of life. [Applause in the galleries.]
Questions of war and of diplomacy, of peace and education become significant only as they are bound up together with the rights and welfare of the weary and heavy-laden millions of the earth. Toward the consummation of popular freedom human society has steadily approached. That universal conclusion will surely be obtained. Kings and royal families can not stop the course of history. The end is inevitable, because it is right, that this world of ours, so long the theater of ambition and the prejudices of rank and caste, of race and creed; of blood and privilege and wealth, shall one day in the coming era throw off the tyranny of all these and in their place raise up unto honor the enduring aristocracy of upright manhood. [Applause in the galleries.]
That is the message which comes from one century across another to us and to our children; and long as this stately building stands here on the eminence which Washington chose for its foundations these favorite sons of colonial Maryland, his friends and counselors, whose statues we unveil to-day, shall repeat the message in the ears of all nations and of all ages. [Applause in the galleries.]
ADDRESS OF MR. DEPEW, OF NEW YORK. Mr. PRESIDENT: Materialism is ever crowding with increasing force upon sentiment. It is destructive of ideals. As wealth increases and competition grows and larger opportunities intensify the struggle for existence or for great accumulations, unselfish sentiment becomes more distant and difficult. The war of the Revolution was, in its best and highest sense, inspired by sentiment and for a principle. Actual oppression had not reached that acute form which had precipitated other revolts. As Burke said:
In other countries the people, more simple and of a less mercurial cast, judge of an ill principle in government only by an actual grievance; here they anticipate the evil and judge of the pressure of the grievance by the badness of the principle. They augur misgovernment at a distance, and snuff the approach of tyranny in every tainted breeze.
The Continental Congress differed from all other bodies which have overthrown and created governments. All of its members were men of substance, who had nothing to gain, beyond the establishment of those principles of government in which they believed, and everything to lose in the contest. CARROLL was the richest of the signers and the second richest man in the United Colonies. Washington was the wealthiest, his fortune being reckoned at $750,000, while CARROLL assessed himself at a half million dollars. Hancock was the wealthiest man in Massachusetts, Morris in New York, and in each delegation was some one similarly situated in his colony. It was mostly an American convention. Forty-nine of the signers were born in this country, two in England, two in Scotland, two in Ireland, and one in Wales. They were all thoroughly versed in the principles of English liberty and in the rights of British subjects. They knew what they were entitled to under the great Charter and the Bill of Rights. Their average age was 45 years. The oldest were Franklin and Hopkins, who were 70; and the youngest were Rutledge and Lynch, who were 27. Hancock was 40 and Jefferson 33 years.
The proportion of lawyers to the whole number was numerically less and the doctors were greater than in any subsequent Congress of the United States. Sixteen were lawyers, 9 merchants, 5 doctors, 5 planters, 3 farmers, and i clergyman. The other 17 were, like Franklin, men of letters and of science, who had made their mark in various careers. Eighteen were graduates of American universities, 3 of Cambridge, England, and i of Edinburgh University. Twenty-one were liberally educated in institutions of learning in this country and abroad and by private tutors and travel. Eleven were self-taught, but they were by no means the least learned of their associates. Roger Sherman, who began life as a shoemaker, was a man of such transcendent ability that he was regarded in the Convention as its ablest lawyer and possessing a judgment to which universal deference was paid. None of them had any title, nor were they statesmen, as that term was then understood. They were the products of a self-governing people, who had developed, in the course of a century and a quarter, a habit of independence.
The colonial forces had learned the art of war and been the most efficient soldiers of Great Britain in the struggle on this continent with France. The signers were not seeking fame by speeches which would command listening senates, for they sat with closed doors and without reporters. We know that the discussions were upon a lofty plane and carried on with universal ability and power. Jefferson bears witness that John Adams on the side of independence was a Colossus in debate. These fifty-six statesmen represented accurately the constituency which elected them. They voiced the sentiment of the vast majority of the American people. They were so conspicuous and influential that the British Government would gladly have rewarded them with the titles which are now so much coveted by the residents of the British colonies all over the world and granted to them as personal favor or distinction.