Page images

look upon this manifestation of human intellect as a stream which cleaves the landscape at our feet, but whose springs are only to be found in the dim and distant mountain heights. That current has flowed in unabated profusion through many tracts of history. Sometimes we see the foam and hear the thunder of the impetuous torrent in the indignant protestations of Demosthenes, when he points out to his laggard countrymen the threats and machinations of Philip. And again, upon the surface of the stream is mirrored the civilization of antique Rome, in the speeches of Cicero, but of Rome in her swift descent from republican liberty to Cæsarian absolutism.

But this river receives tributaries from every point of the compass, from the Congress of America, from the Parliament of England, from the blood-stained rostrum of the French convention, from the Cortes of Madrid, where the florid eloquence of Castelar pleads for the emancipation of the Porto Rican slaves. The mighty torrent widens its area as it echoes the voices of Chatham, Patrick Henry, and Daniel Webster. And to-day its current flows on still, less impetuously it may be, but with a calmness which is full of life and reality. The tones of our living orators are in harmony with the great ideals of the past, and the fountain of their inspiration, as they are prompted to speak of the great questions of the moment, is the same as that whose murmurs thrilled the contemporaries of Pericles, of Cicero, of Burke, of Mirabeau, of Webster, and of Abraham Lincoln.

And this leads us to point out the specific character of the present five volumes of “ Political Oratory.” In the previous volumes of “Modern Eloquence” room had been found for addresses whose main feature was speculative or literary. Even the lighter vein of eloquence is there exemplified in the genial and witty after-dinner speeches of such men as Clemens and Depew. The contents of these former volumes afford abundant evidence that amid the clash of politics and the absorbing pursuits of commercial life, leisure and cultivation still attract the most strenuous minds within the circle of a more placid atmosphere, where delicate fancy, historic allusion, and brilliant description might be permitted to form the staple of a public utterance, which thus takes the shape of a lucubration, intended neither to threaten, to challenge, nor to rebuke, but merely to delight and interest-often to elevate the mind of the auditors, by a succession of images lit up with moral enthusiasm, pathos, national sentiment, and the inspirations of an ideal life.

The compilation of the present five volumes of “Political Oratory” has a somewhat different object. The orations herein contained are practical and deal with actualities.

Here we see exhibited in the oration the springs and motives of the most stirring incidents in history.

We see to the heart of great events, because we see laid bare in eloquent utterances the hearts of those men who were the chief instigators and actors in the transaction of those events.

History is thus turned into a vivid drama of struggle and progress, alive with heroic figures, who speak the clear and deliberate logic of conviction, with the forecast of the statesman and the prescience of the seer, or shake the world like a storm or an earthquake, by their passionate expression of patriotism, love of liberty, or disinterested zeal for the emancipation of the downtrodden, for the diffusion of political privilege among the depressed and the degraded. In this survey we plainly discern the progress of historic evolution. We see upon what principles new nations may be built up and old nations renovated and restored. Not only is the power of speech, the application of language to its highest and widest purpose, exemplified in political orations, by which senates have been swayed, legislative assemblies directed, whole nations roused to enthusiasm for right and justice, or to fury against oppression, but we see how the general course of historic events is guided in ever-widening paths of liberty and enlightenment.

The ancient historians were well aware of this illuminative power of the oration, and it is in the many speeches which he introduces into his history that Thucydides has most plainly laid bare the policy of Athens and Lacedæmon. Thucydides was called by William Pitt the "statesman's handbook.” Picturesque, clear, and interesting as are the Greek historian's descriptions of sieges and battles by sea and land, we must read the orations which he puts into the mouth of men like Pericles, Alcibiades, and Cleon, before we can understand the passions that swayed the public assembly at Athens, and learn the underlying causes and motives of human events throughout all history.

The annals of our own country are unique in the completeness of what we may style their uninterrupted line of oratorical illustration. The United States fought their way to independence through the leadership of orators before they threw off the yoke of England at the point of the sword. The reign of great orators always precedes the reign of great soldiers. Since the time James Otis in colonial days denounced the iniquity of writs of assistance in words, at which, as John Adams says, “the child Independence was born,” up to the present moment, the history of our country has been written in the speeches of her orators, and only what the voice has sown has the sword reaped. In fact it is impossible to learn aright the course of events on this continent, from the Boston Massacre to the Declaration of Independence, from the inauguration of George Washington to the inauguration of Abraham Lincoln, and thence onward to the battles of Santiago and Manila, and the annexation of Hawaii, without studying the speeches of those who have been called to guide the country by their eloquent counsels.

It would be a broad, but scarcely inaccurate generalization to state that such a collection as “Political Oratory'' contains a history of liberty, or political freedom and independence. Prominent in this collection must stand forth the figure of Demosthenes, "the old man eloquent," who spoke for the liberties of Greece. To see how living is the influence of his orations we must remember that Brougham recommends all oratorical students to translate and retranslate the Greek speeches uttered against Philip; and, indeed, Brougham, in his greatest forensic effort, the defense of Queen Caroline, went to Demosthenes for his peroration, which is merely an imitation of the closing sentences in the Oration on the Crown." The advice of Brougham is echoed by Senator Hoar in his scholarly introduction to our first volume. In the historical analysis which follows, it will be seen that liberty in some shape or other is the staple subject of European as well as American oratory. During the palmy days of British oratory, the liberty of the press, the liberty of the slave, religious liberty, and the independence of Ireland, were subjects that inspired the eloquence of the foremost statesmen and agitators—viz., Curran, Wilberforce, O'Connell, Peel, and Grattan. Even in the British Parliament the voices of Burke and Chatham were raised to defend the liberties of colonial America. The frenzy of the French Revolution was roused by a spirit of vengeance for liberties long violated, as well as by a passionate desire for constructive measures calculated insure to the people their natural rights. This frenzy is reflected in the utterances of iconoclasts like Marat, Danton, and Robespierre; while Mirabeau, the only constructive statesman of the revolutionary group, advocated the establishment of such a constitution as would set the individual liberty of every Frenchman on a permanent basis.

The constitutional history of the United States, from James Otis to Henry Ward Beecher, as represented by their speeches in our collection, is plainly the history of American liberty as safeguarded by American nationalism. This period culminated with Lincoln's abolition proclamation, and its indorsement by the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which came into effect in 1865. With the close of the war we see the establishment of the principle that every American citizen is first a citizen of the United States, and then a citizen of the state in which he resides; i.e., that the United States is a nation, national citizenship takes the precedence of state citizenship, and state sovereignty is implicitly declared contrary to the Constitution by the Fourteenth Amendment.

This outlines the battle-field of American oratory for more than a century, i.e., between the years 1761 and 1865. A careful study of the speeches in our collection will show this. The foundation of the republic was laid in the work of five great men, all represented by their speeches in the present work—viz., George Washington, the Sword of the Revolutionaries, and not only the Sword, but the Father of his Country, in wise counsel and example; James Madison, the principal framer of the Constitution; Alexander Hamilton, the author of the “ Federalist," whọ "touched the dead corpse of public credit, and it sprang upon its feet"; Thomas Jefferson, who taught what democracy meant, and swept away the last vestige that remained from the class and official convention of monarchical Europe; and Chief Justice John Marshall, whose profound and judicious interpretation of the Constitution multiplied tenfold the force and expansiveness of that inimitable document.

During the middle period of American history the two burning questions were state sovereignty and slavery, and the anti-Federalist side of the discussion is well illustrated by John C. Calhoun's last speech. But as champion for the Union, that irresistible opponent of nullification, Daniel Webster, one of the greatest of English-speaking orators, ascended the tribune and answered Hayne, in a speech which has ever since been the watchword of American constitutionalism. This middle period of American oratory, which may be said to end with the election of Garfield, is notable for the national importance of the questions which became subjects of public discussion and debate, and the corresponding oratorical power of those engaged in the struggle-Webster, Calhoun, Thomas H. Benton, William Pinckney, Wendell Phillips, and John Quincy Adams. The last of the great orators of this time was Abraham Lincoln, whose mastery of the English language as a vehicle of sound statesmanship and inspiring counsel equaled that of the best among his contemporaries, and even predecessors.

The immense strides made in advancement by the American republic since the Civil War result from the country's release from those deep-seated and rankling differences which had rendered the war as inevitable as it was necessary, and up to the nomination of Abraham Lincoln had been obstacles and entanglements in the way of national development.

Since 1865, and the subsequent reconstruction period, an era of commercial preeminence has set in, and the orators of the United States have been chiefly occupied in questions connected with the country's wealth and material prosperity, with the tariff and the currency. This is illustrated by the orations in our collection. Bimetalism finds an advocate in D. B. Hill, and free silver is championed in the speeches of Richard P. Bland; while Bourke Cockran,

« PreviousContinue »