Page images
PDF
EPUB

XXV

AT THE DEDICATION CEREMONIES OF THE

LOUISIANA PURCHASE EXPOSITION, ST.
LOUIS, MISSOURI, APRIL 30, 1903

Mr. President, ladies, and gentlemen :

At the outset of my address let me recall to the minds of my hearers that the soil upon which we stand, before it was ours, was successively the possession of two mighty empires, Spain and France, whose sons made a deathless record of heroism in the early annals of the New World. No history of the Western country can be written without paying heed to the wonderful part played therein in the early days by the soldiers, missionaries, explorers, and traders, who did their work for the honor of the proud banners of France and Castile. While the settlers of English-speaking stock, and those of Dutch, German, and Scandinavian origin who were associated with them, were still clinging close to the Eastern seaboard, the pioneers of Spain and of France had penetrated deep into the hitherto unknown wilderness of the West, and had wandered far and wide within the boundaries of what is now our mighty country. The very cities themselves - St. Louis, New Orleans, Santa Fé - bear witness by their titles to the nationalities of their found. ers. It was not until the Revolution had begun that the English-speaking settlers pushed west across the Alleghanies, and not until a century ago that they entered in to possess the land upon which we now stand. We have met here to-day to commemorate the hun.

dredth anniversary of the event which more than any other, after the foundation of the Government and always excepting its preservation, determined the character of our national life-determined that we should be a great expanding nation instead of relatively a small and stationary one.

Of course it was not with the Louisiana Purchase that our career of expansion began. In the middle of the Revolutionary War the Illinois region, including the present States of Illinois and Indiana, was added to our domain by force of arms, as a sequel to the adventurous expedition of George Rogers Clarke and his frontier riflemen. Later the treaties of Jay and Pinckney materially extended our real boundaries to the west. But none of these events was of so striking a character as to fix the popular imagination. The old thirteen colonies had always claimed that their rights stretched westward to the Mississippi, and vague and unreal though these claims were until made good by conquest, settlement, and diplomacy, they still served to give the impression that the earliest westward movements of our people were little more than the filling in of already existing national boundaries.

But there could be no illusion about the acquisition of the vast territory beyond the Mississippi, stretching westward to the Pacific, which in that day was known as Louisiana. This immense region was admittedly the territory of a foreign power, of a European kingdom. None of our people had ever laid claim to a foot of it. Its acquisition could in no sense be treated as rounding out any existing claims. When we acquired it we made evident once for all that consciously and of set purpose we had embarked on a career of expansion, that we had taken our place among those daring and hardy nations who risk much with the hope and desire of winning high position among the great powers of the earth. As is so often the case in nature, the law of development of a

living organism showed itself in its actual workings to be wiser than the wisdom of the wisest.

This work of expansion was by far the greatest work of our people during the years that intervened between the adoption of the Constitution and the outbreak of the Civil War. There were other questions of real moment and importance, and there were many which at the time seemed such to those engaged in answering them; but the greatest feat of our forefathers of those generations was the deed of the men who, with pack-train or wagontrain, on horseback, on foot, or by boat upon the waters, pushed the frontier ever westward across the continent.

Never before had the world seen the kind of national expansion which gave our people all that part of the American continent lying west of the thirteen original States; the greatest landmark in which was the Louisiana Purchase. Our triumph in this process of expansion was indissolubly bound up with the success of our peculiar kind of federal government; and this success has been so complete that because of its very completeness we now sometimes fail to appreciate not only the all-importance but the tremendous difficulty of the problem with which our nation was originally faced.

When our forefathers joined to call into being this nation, they undertook a task for which there was but little encouraging precedent. The development of civilization from the earliest period seemed to show the truth of two propositions: In the first place, it had always proved exceedingly difficult to secure both freedom and strength in any government; and in the second place, it had always proved well-nigh impossible for a nation to expand without either breaking up or becoming a centralized tyranny. With the success of our effort to combine a strong and efficient national union, able to put down disorder at home and to maintain our honor and interest abroad, I have not now to deal. This success was signal

and all-important, but it was by no means unprecedented in the same sense that our type of expansion was unprecedented. The history of Rome and of Greece illustrates very well the two types of expansion which had taken place in ancient time and which had been universally accepted as the only possible types up to the period when as a nation we ourselves began to take possession of this continent. The Grecian states performed remarkable feats of colonization, but each colony as soon as created became entirely independent of the mother state, and in after years was almost as apt to prove its enemy as its friend. Local self-government, local independence, was secured, but only by the absolute sacrifice of anything resembling national unity. In consequence, the Greek world, for all its wonderful brilliancy and the extraordinary artistic, literary, and philosophical development which has made all mankind its debtors for the ages, was yet wholly unable to withstand a formidable foreign foe, save spasmodically. As soon as powerful, permanent empires arose on its outskirts, the Greek states in the neighborhood of such empires fell under their sway. National power and greatness were completely sacrificed to local liberty.

With Rome the exact opposite occurred. The imperial city rose to absolute dominion over all the peoples of Italy and then expanded her rule over the entire civilized world by a process which kept the nation strong and united, but gave no room whatever for local liberty and self-government. All other cities and countries were subject to Rome. In consequence this great and masterful race of warriors, rulers, road-builders, and administrators stamped their indelible impress upon all the after-life of our race, and yet let an over-centralization eat out the vitals of their empire until it became an empty shell; so that when the barbarians came they destroyed only what had already become worthless to the world.

The underlying viciousness of each type of expansion

was plain enough and the remedy now seems simple enough. But when the fathers of the Republic first formulated the Constitution under which we live this remedy was untried and no one could foretell how it would work. They themselves began the experiment almost immediately by adding new States to the original thirteen. Excellent people in the East viewed this initial expansion of the country with great alarm. Exactly as during the colonial period many good people in the mother country thought it highly important that settlers should be kept out of the Ohio valley in the interest of the fur companies, so after we had become a nation many good people on the Atlantic coast felt grave apprehension lest they might somehow be hurt by the westward growth of the nation. These good people shook their heads over the formation of States in the fertile Ohio valley which now forms part of the heart of our nation; and they declared that the destruction of the Republic had been accomplished when through the Louisiana Purchase we acquired nearly half of what is now that same Republic's present territory. Nor was their feeling unnatural. Only the adventurous and the far-seeing can be expected heartily to welcome the process of expansion, for the nation that expands is a nation which is entering upon a great career, and with greatness there must of necessity come perils which daunt all save the most stout-hearted.

We expanded by carving the wilderness into Territories and out of these Territories building new States when once they had received as permanent settlers a sufficient number of our own people. Being a practical nation we have never tried to force on any section of our new territory an unsuitable form of government merely because it was suitable for another section under different conditions. Of the territory covered by the Louisiana Purchase a portion was given statehood within a few years.

« PreviousContinue »