Page images
PDF
EPUB

FISHER AMES 45

all these forbade an appeal to arms before we had tried the effect of negotiation. The honor of the United States was saved, not forfeited, by treating. The treaty itself, by its stipulations for the posts, for indemnity, and for a due observation of our neutral rights, has justly raised the character of the nation. Never did the name of America appear in Europe with more lustre than upon the event of ratifying this instrument. . What is patriotism 2 Is it a narrow affection for the spot where a man was born ? Are the very clods where we tread entitled to this ardent preference because they are greener 2 No, sir, this is not the character of the virtue, and it soars higher for its object. It is an extended self-love, mingling with all the enjoyments of life, and twisting itself with the minutest filaments of the heart. It is thus we obey the laws of society, because they are the laws of virtue. In their authority we see, not the array of force and terror, but the venerable image of our country's honor. Every good citizen makes that honor his own, and cherishes it not only as precious, but as sacred. He is willing to risk his life in its defence, and is conscious that he gains protection while he gives it. For what rights of a citizen will be deemed inviolable when a State renounces the principles that constitute their security ? Or if his life should not be invaded, what would its enjoyments be in a country odious in the eyes of strangers and dishonored in his own 2 Could he look with affection and veneration to such a country as his parent 2 The sense of having one would die with him ; he would blush for his patriotism, if he retained any, and justly, for it would be a vice. He would be a banished man in his native land. I see no exception to the respect that is paid among nations to the law of good faith. If there are cases in this enlightened period when it is violated, there are none when it is decried. It is the philosophy of politics, the religion of governments. It is observed by barbarians—a whiff of tobacco smoke, or a string of beads, gives not merely binding force, but sanctity to treaties. Even in Algiers a truce may be bought for money; but when ratified, even Algiers is too wise, or too just, to disown and annul its obligation. Thus we see neither the ignorance of savages, nor the principles of an association for piracy and rapine, permit a nation to despise its engagements. If, sir, there could be a resurrection from the foot of the gallows; if the victims of justice could live again, collect together and form a society, they would, however loath, soon find themselves obliged to make justice, that justice under which they fell, the fundamental law of their state. They would perceive it was their interest to make others respect, and they would, therefore, soon pay some respect themselves to the obligations of good faith.

46 FISHER AMES

It is painful, I hope it is superfluous, to make even the supposition that America should furnish the occasion of this opprobrium. No, let me not even imagine that a republican government, sprung, as our own is, from a people enlightened and uncorrupted, a government whose origin is right, and whose daily discipline is duty, can, upon solemn debate, make its option to be faithless—can dare to act what despots dare not avow. . Let us not hesitate, then, to agree to the appropriation to carry it into faithful execution. Thus we shall save the faith of our nation, secure its peace, and diffuse the spirit of confidence and enterprise that will augment its prosperity. The progress of wealth and improvement is wonderful, and, some will think, too rapid. The field for exertion is fruitful and vast, and, if peace and good government should be preserved, the acquisitions of our citizens are not so pleasing as the proofs of their industry as the instruments of their future success. The rewards of exertion go to augment its power. Profit is every hour becoming capital. The vast crop of our neutrality is all seed wheat, and is sown again to swell, almost beyond calculation, the future harvest of prosperity. And in this progress, what seems to be fiction is found to fall short of experience. I rose to speak under impressions that I would have resisted if I could. Those who see me will believe that the reduced state of my health has unfitted me, almost equally, for much exertion of body or mind. Unprepared for debate, by careful reflection in my retirement, or by long attention here, I thought the resolution I had taken to sit silent was imposed by necessity, and would cost me no effort to maintain. With a mind thus vacant of ideas, and sinking, as I really am, under a sense of weakness, I imagined the very desire of speaking was extinguished by the persuasion that I had nothing to say. Yet when I come to the moment of deciding the vote, I start back with dread from the edge of the pit into which we are plunging. In my view, even the minutes I have spent in expostulation have their value, because they protract the crisis, and the short period in which alone we may resolve to escape it. I have thus been led by my feelings to speak more at length than I had intended. Yet I have, perhaps, as little personal interest in the event as any one here. There is, I believe, no member who will not think his chance to be a witness of the consequences greater than mine. If, however, the vote should pass to reject, and a spirit should rise, as it will, with public disorders, to make confusion worse confounded, even I, slender and almost broken as my hold upon life is, may outlive the Government and Constitution of my country.

HENRY LEE (1756-1818)

LIGHT HORSE HARRY

HE name of Lee is of high distinction in American history, and T especially in the military annals of the United States. This applies almost wholly to a single family, of which Robert Eward Lee, the Confederate hero of the Civil War, is the most famous member. Two of his sons and one nephew became Generals in the Civil War, the latter, Fitzhugh Lee, becoming prominent both as a soldier and statesman. But we are here concerned with the first famous representative of the family, Henry Lee, the father of Robert Edward, and the “Light Horse Harry” of the Revolution, in which conflict he was the most dashing of cavalry commanders. We have in the record of this family a circumstance without parallel in our history, in the fact that one of the famous soldiers of the Revolution left a son who became one of the two great commanders in the Civil War, eighty years afterward.

General Lee, a native of Virginia, was made a captain of cavalry early in the war for independence. His exploits were numerous and brilliant, especially in 1780 and 1781, when he commanded a cavalry corps under General Greene in the Carolinas. Of his later career it must suffice to say that he was Governor of Virginia in 1794, and that he served several terms in Congress, where the soldier showed that he had gifts of oratory also. In the latter field he was selected by Congress to pronounce the funeral oration upon Washington, whom he designated by the famous aphorism, “First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his country-men.”

THE FATHER OF HIS COUNTRY [George Washington ended his life on the 14th of December, 1799, almost at the close of a century in which he had few rivals in military ability, and none in wise and self-sacrificing patriotism and unselfish devotion to the best interests of his country.

48 HENRY LEE

There are many, alike in America and Europe, who regard Washington as preeminently the greatest man of that century. Such was the sentiment of the people who, on learning of his death, in ourned him as if they had lost not only the “Father of his country,” but the immediate father of each of them as well. One of his warmest friends and ablest companions in arms, Henry Lee, was chosen by Congress to voice its sense of the country's loss. We give below Lee's eloquent tribute to his great commander's memory, spoken at the German Lutheran Church, Philadelphia, on the 26th of December, 1799.]

In obedience to your will I rise your humble organ, with the hope of executing a part of the system of public mourning which you have been pleased to adopt, commemorative of the death of the most illustrious and most beloved personage this country has ever produced ; and which, while it transmits to posterity your sense of the awful event, faintly represents your knowledge of the consummate excellence you so cordially honor.

Desperate, indeed, is any attempt on earth to meet correspondently this dispensation of Heaven; for, while with pious resignation we submit to the will of an all-gracious Providence, we can never cease lamenting, in our finite view of Omnipotent wisdom, the heartrending privation for which our nation weeps. When the civilized world shakes to its centre; when every moment gives birth to strange and momentous changes; when our peaceful quarter of the globe, exempt as it happily has been from any share in the slaughter of the human race, may yet be compelled to abandon her pacific,” policy, and to risk the doleful casualties of war; what limit is there to the extent of our loss 2 None within the reach of my words to express; none which your feelings will not disavow.

The founder of our federate republic—our bulwark in war, our guide in peace—is no more O that this were but questionable ! Hope, the comforter of the wretched, would pour into our agonizing hearts its balmy dew. But, alas ! there is no hope for us; our Washington is removed for ever ! Possessing the stoutest frame and purest mind, he had passed nearly to his sixty-eighth year, in the enjoyment of high health, when, habituated by his care of us to neglect himself, a slight cold, disregarded, became inconvenient on Friday, oppressive on Saturday, and, defying every medical interposition, before the morning of Sunday put an end to the best of men. An end did I say ?—his fame survives | bounded only by the limits of the earth, and by the extent of the human mind. He survives in our hearts, in the growing knowledge of our children, in the affection of the good throughout the world : and when our monuments shall be done away; when nations now existing shall be no more; when even our young and far-spreading empire shall have perished, still will our HENRY LEE 49

* The speaker here refers to the disturbed condition of Europe at that period, and especially to the imminent peril of war with France, due to French interference with American commerce.

Washington's glory unfaded shine, and die not, until love of virtue cease on earth, or earth itself sinks into chaos. How, my fellow citizens, shall I single to your grateful hearts his pre-eminent worth 2 Where shall I begin in opening to your view a character throughout sublime 2 Shall I speak of his warlike achievements, all springing from obedience to his country's will—all directed to his country’s good? Will you go with me to the banks of the Monongahela, to see your youthful Washington, supporting, in the dismal hour of Indian victory, the ill-fated Braddock, and saving, by his judgment and by his valor, the remains of a defeated army, pressed by the conquering savage foe; or, when oppressed America, nobly resolving to risk her all in defence of her violated rights, he was elevated by the unanimous voice of Congress to the command of her armies? Will you follow him to the high grounds of Boston, where, to an undisciplined, courageous, and virtuous yeomanry, his presence gave the stability of system, and infused the invincibility of love of country; or shall I carry you to the painful scenes of Long Island, York Island and New Jersey, when, combating superior and gallant armies, aided by powerful fleets, and led by chiefs high in the roll of fame, he stood, the bulwark of our safety, undismayed by disaster, unchanged by change of fortune 2 Or will you view him in the precarious fields of Trenton, where deep gloom, unnerving every arm, reigned triumphant through our thinned, worn down, unaided ranks; himself unmoved 2 Dreadful was the night. It was about this time of winter, the storm raged, the Delaware rolling furiously with floating ice, forbade the approach of man. Washington, self-collected, viewed the tremendous scene; his country called ; unappalled by surrounding dangers, he passed to the hostile shore; he fought; he conquered. The morning sun cheered the American world. Our country rose on the event; and her dauntless chief, pursuing his blow, completed, in the lawns of Princeton, what his vast soul had conceived on the shores of the Delaware. [The orator recites, in similar eulogistic words, his hero's remaining services in the war and continues as follows:] Were I to stop here, the picture would be incomplete, and the task imposed unfinished. Great as was our Washington in war, and as much as did that greatness contribute to produce the American Republic, it is not in war alone his pre-eminence stands conspicuous. His various talents, combining all the capacities of a statesmen with those of a soldier, fitted him alike to guide the councils and the armies of our nation. Scarcely had he rested from his martial toils, while his invaluable parental advice was still sounding in our ears, when he, who had been our shield, our sword, was called forth to act a less splendid, but more important part.

« PreviousContinue »