« PreviousContinue »
298 - SERGEANT S. PRENTISS
ever, to take part in political movements, and became widely known as a most effective campaign speaker. In 1845 he removed from Vicksburg to New Orleans, in which city he died in 1851.
[One of Mr. Prentiss' best known orations is the address delivered before the New England Society of New Orleans, on December 22, 1845. His eulogy of the Pilgrims was a most effective bit of word painting, especially in his contrast of their character and aims with those of the Spanish adventurers of the Sonth.]
Two centuries and a quarter ago, a little tempest-tost, weatherbeaten bark, barely escaped from the jaws of the wild Atlantic, landed upon the bleakest shore of New England. From her deck disembarked a hundred and one care-worn exiles. To the casual observer no event could seem more insignificant. The contemptuous eye of the world scarcely deigned to notice it. Yet the famous vessel that bore Caesar and his fortunes, carried but an ignoble freight compared with that of the J/a/lower. Her little band of Pilgrims brought with them neither wealth nor power, but the principles of civil and religious freedom. They planted them, for the first time, in the Western Continent. They cherished, cultivated and developed them to a full and luxuriant maturity; and then furnished them to their posterity as the only sure and permanent foundations for a free government. Upon those foundations rests the fabric of our great Republic ; upon throse principles depends the career of human liberty. Little did the miserable pedant and bigot who then wielded the sceptre of Great Britain imagine that from this feeble settlement of persecuted and despised Puritans would arise a nation capable of coping with his own mighty empire in arts and arms. .
How proudly can we compare their conduct with that of the adventurers of other nations who preceded them. How did the Spaniard colonize 2 Let Mexico, Peru and Hispaniola answer. He followed in the train of the great Discoverer, like a devouring pestilence. His cry was gold gold !! gold !!! Never in the history of the world had the sacra /ames auri exhibited itself with such fearful intensity. His imagination maddened with visions of sudden and boundless wealth, clad in mail, he 1eaped upon the New World, an armed robber. In greedy haste he grasped the sparkling sand, then cast it down with curses, when he found the glittering grains were not of gold.
Pitiless as the blood-hound by his side, he plunged into the primeval forests, crossed rivers, lakes, and mountains, and penetrated to the very heart of the continent. No region, however rich in soil, delicious in climate, or luxuriant in production, could tempt his stay. In vain the
SERGEANT S. PRENTISS 299
soft breeze of the tropics, laden with aromatic fragrance, wooed him to rest; in vain the smiling valleys, covered with spontaneous fruits and flowers, invited him to peaceful quiet. His search was still for gold : the accursed hunger could not be appeased. The simple natives gazed upon him in superstitious wonder, and worshipped him as a god ; and he proved to them a god, but an infernal one—terrible, cruel and remorsless. With bloody hands he tore the ornaments from their persons, and the shrines from their altars: he tortured them to discover hidden treasure, and slew them that he might search, even in their wretched throats, for concealed gold. Well might the miserable Indians imagine that a race of evil deities had come among them, more bloody and relentless than those who presided over their own sanguinary rites. Now let us turn to the Pilgrims. They, too, were tempted ; and had they yielded to the temptation how different might have been the destinies of this continent—how different must have been our own | Previous to their undertaking, the Old World was filled with strange and wonderful accounts of the New. The unbounded wealth drawn by the Spaniards from Mexico and South America, seemed to afford rational support for the wildest assertions. Each succeeding adventurer, returning from his voyage, added to the Arabian tales a still more extravagant story. At length Sir Walter Raleigh, the most accomplished and distinguished of all those bold voyagers, announced to the world his discovery of the province of Guiana, and its magnificent capital, the far-famed city of El Dorado. We smile now at his account of the “great and golden city,” and “the mighty rich and beautiful empire.” We can hardly imagine that any one could have believed, for a moment, in their existence. At that day, however, the whole matter was received with the most implicit faith. Sir Walter professed to have explored the country, and thus glowingly describes it from his own observation : “I never saw a more beautiful country, nor more lively prospects; hills so raised here and there over the valleys—the river winding into divers branches—the plains adjoining, without bush or stubble—all fair green grass—the deer crossing in every path—the birds, towards the evening, singing on every tree with a thousand several tunes—the air fresh, with a gentle easterly wind; and every stone that we stopped to take up promised either gold or silver by its complexion. For health, good air, pleasure, and riches, I am resolved it cannot be equalled by any region either in the East or West.” The Pilgrims were urged, in leaving Holland, to seek this charming country, and plant their colony amid its Arcadian bowers. Well might the poor wanderers cast a longing glance towards its happy valleys, which
300 SERGEANT S. PRENTISS
seemed to invite to pious contemplation and peaceful labor. Well might the green grass, the pleasant groves, the tame deer, and the singing birds allure them to that smiling land beneath the equinoctial line. But while they doubted not the existence of this wondrous region, they resisted its tempting charms. They had resolved to vindicate, at the same time, their patriotism and their principles—to add dominion to their native land, and to demonstrate to the world the practicabilty of civil and religious liberty. After full discussion and mature deliberation, they determined that their great objects could be best accomplished by a settlement on some portion of the northern continent which would hold out no temptation to cupidity, no inducement to persecution. Putting aside, then, all considerations of wealth and ease, they addressed themselves with high resolution to the accomplishment of their noble purpose. In the language of the historian, “trusting to God and themselves,” they embarked upon their perilous enterprise.
As I said before, I shall not accompany them on their adventurous voyage. On the 22d day of December, 1620, according to our present computation, their footsteps pressed the famous rock which has ever since remained sacred to their venerated memory. Poets, painters, and orators have tasked their powers to do justice to this great scene. Indeed, it is full of moral grandeur; nothing can be more beautiful, more pathetic, or more sublime. Behold the Pilgrims, as they stood on that cold December day—stern men, gentle women, and feeble children—all uniting in singing a hymn of cheerful thanksgiving to the good God, who had conducted them safely across the mighty deep, and permitted them to land upon that sterile shore. See how their upturned faces glow with a pious confidence, which the sharp winter winds cannot chill, nor the gloomy forest shadows darken :
“Not as the conqueror comes,
They, the true-hearted came ;
Not with the roll of the stirring drum,
Nor as the flying come,
“They shook the depths of the desert gloom
With their hymns of lofty cheer.”
Noble and pious band your holy confidence was not in vain; your “hymns of lofty cheer” find echo still in the hearts of grateful millions. Your descendants, when pressed by adversity, or when addressing themselves to some high action, turn to the “Landing of the Pilgrims,” and find heart for any fate—strength for any enterprise.
WENDELL PHILLIPS (1811-1884)
SLAVERY'S RELENTLESS FOE
44 OU are looking for a man who is all art and thunder. Lo! a quiet man glides upon the platform and begins talking in a simple, easy, conversational way. Presently he makes you smile at some happy turn, then he startles you by a rapier-like thrust, then electrifies you by a grand outburst of feeling. You listen, believe and applaud. And that is Wendell Phillips. That also is oratory— to produce the greatest effect by the simplest means.”
We cannot better present Wendell Phillips in his role as an orator, than by this quotation from one of his admirers. As an uncompromising foe to human slavery, he was one of the group of which Parker and Garrison were other conspicuous members. The assault by a Boston mob, led by gentlemen, on William Lloyd Garrison, in which the latter barely escaped with life, made Phillips an abolitionist. He took his stand publicly in a memorable speech at Faneuil Hall in 1837, which Dr. Channing designated as “morally sublime.” So bitter did Phillips become in his hatred of the slavery system, that he refused to practice law under a Constitution which recognized it, and was ready to welcome a dissolution of the Union as an effectual method of freeing the slaves. He was president of the Anti-Slavery Society till its dissolution in 1870, and was also a warm advocate of woman suffrage, prohibition, prison reform, and greenback currency, on all of which he made eloquent speeches.
JOHN BROWN AND LIBERTY
[The growing sentiment in the North in favor of the abolition of slavery, rapid as it was, moved too slowly for the impatient spirit of Wendell Phillips, and when John Brown made his memorable assault on Harper's Ferry, in a hopelessly futile attempt to promote an insurrection of the slaves, Phillips regarded him as one of the
302 WENDELL PHILLIPS
great heroes of humanity, and could scarcely find words strong enough to express his appreciation of the old man’s effort. In November, 1859, while Brown lay under sentence of death, his defender eulogized him in the following exaggerated but vigorous style, in an address at Plymouth Church, Brooklyn. It is an excellent example of his oratory.]
There are two kinds of defeat. Whether in chains or in laurels, Liberty knows nothing but victories. Bunker Hill, soldiers call a defeat But Liberty dates from it, though Warren lay dead on the field. Men say the attempt did not succeed. No man can command success. Whether it was well planned, and deserved to succeed, we shall be able to decide when Brown is free to tell us all he knows. Suppose he did fail, he has done a great deal still. Why, this is a decent country to live in now. Actually, in this Sodom of ours, seventeen men have been found ready to die for an idea. God be thanked for John Brown, that he has discovered or created them. I should feel some pride if I were in Europe now in confessing that I was an American. We have redeemed the long infamy of twenty years of subservience. But look back a bit. Is there anything new about this 2 Nothing at all. It is the natural result of anti-slavery teaching. For one, I accept it; I expected it. I cannot say that I prayed for it ; I cannot say that I hoped for it; but at the same time no sane man has looked upon this matter for twenty years and supposed that we could go through this great moral convulsion, the great classes of society clashing and jostling against each other like frigates in a storm, and that there would not be such scenes as these.
Why in 1835 it was the other way. Then it was my bull that gored your ox. Their ideas came in conflict, and men of violence, and men who had not made up their minds to wait for the slow conversion of conscience, men who trusted in their own right hands, men who believed in Bowie knives—why such sacked the city of Philadelphia, such made New York to be governed by a mob ; Boston saw its mayor suppliant and kneeling to the chief of broadcloth in broad daylight. It was all on that side. The natural result, the first result of this starting of ideas, is like people who get half-awaked and use the first weapons that appear to them. The first developing and unfolding of national life were the mobs of 1835. People said it served us right; we had no right to the luxury of speaking our own minds; it was too expensive : these lavish, luxurious persons walking about here and actually saying what they think ' Why it was like speaking aloud in the midst of avalanches. To say “Liberty” in a loud tone, the Constitution of 1789 might come down—it would not do. But now things have changed. We have been talking thirty years. Twenty years we have talked everywhere, under all circumstances; we