« PreviousContinue »
wigwams lay buried in the snows of that ever-to-be-remembered winter, but the smoke of savage fires, and the roof that sheltered savage life, afforded no hospitality to them. Years passed onthe wilderness is subdued—the bleak coast, where the sea-gull hovered in loneliness, is whitened by the sails of a thousand ships~ the barren hills of New England are changed into fertile fields. But beyond this, to the westward, was one vast wilderness, “one boundless contiguity of shade." Nature, in all her rugged wildness and beauty was there, but the music of her winds, moaning through the tall forest trees, and the thunder of her booming cataracts were unheard by the ear of civilized man. Her treasures of mineral wealth, no diviner's rod had yet discovered, ; her exhaustless granite lay piled up the mountain sides, as now; her rivers flowed in the same channels, they have deepened for centuries, and with the same grandeur plowed their way to the ocean; her immense inland seas spread their mirrored surface to the bright sunshine, or tossed their waves to the stormy winds and tempests; her cataracts, which now attract the admiring gaze of travelers from every distant land, raised their eternal anthem, filling the poor Indian, as he drew near with mysterious awe, lifting his thoughts up from nature to nature's God, whose glory appeared in the gorgeous rainbow which overarched the stream, whose voice was heard in the loud thunder of the falling waters, and whose resistless power was symbolized in the rushing flood, and in the hushed billows of the dark abyss. Where now wave the golden harvest-fields awaiting the sickle of the reaper, or rise the beautiful village and the crowded city, resonant with the cheerful hum of business, there stood in thick array and silent grandeur the mountain pine and the tall oaks of the forest, and there trod, in his native pride and freedom, like a lord of creation, the dusky warrior, the stoic of the wood, the man without a tear.
Our far-reaching rivers, which once were navigated only by the wild man in his bark canoe, now bear upon their bosoms floating palaces, which move like a thing of life, interchanging the intelligence and the commerce of nations.
Our western forests and prairies, but a few years since traversed only by the buffalo, the deer and the wild panther, flying before the deadly arrow of the red man, are now brought under a vigorous culture; the voice of melody and of praise has succeeded to the startling battle-cry of savage men. Surely the wilderness has been converted into a fruitful field, and the desert has been made to rejoice and “ blossom as the rose."
"Look now abroad-another race has filled
Their virgin waters."
canals and railroads, bringing the most distant points of our country into almost immediate contact; annihilating time and space; removing local prejudices and dissensions, linking different and distant parts of this Union into one grand and glorious confede. racy.
Our city, which a hundred years since numbered a population only of a few thousand, now contains its hundreds of thousands, and is rapidly taking a stand among the first cities on the globe. Our fortifications, which once excited the scorn and ridicule of our enemies, have more than once humbled the scoffer, and now bid defiance to the world. Our arıy, in case of invasion or ex. traordinary emergency, though called from the work-shop and the harvest-field, are bold, formidable, and have been always victorious. “ A little one has indeed become a thousand, and a small one a strong nation." Within comparatively a short period, these changes and many
been wrought, showing that we have been borne as on eagles' wings, so rapid and unparalleled has been our progress. Subjects of contrast, of admiring, astonishing contrast multiply as the mind adverts to the past and contemplates the present, causing us to live, as it were, in some fairy region, and to be the subjects of some magic agency, rather than among practical realities, the results of the ingenuity, the industry, the indomitable perseverance of man, guided however by Him, without whose blessing the wisest instrumentalities fail of success. In such a review and comparison of the past with the present, do we find no occasion for gratitude to Him, who has emphatically been the God and the guardian of this nation, who has borne us as on ea. gles' wings ? Surely, in such a review, we must be assured that,
"Ours is a land, of every land the pride
Of Heaven, o'er all the world beside." II. Let us, in the second place, contrast the past and present aspects of our country in a political point of view. We need not detail the circumstances of cruelty and oppression, which compelled the Puritans of England, and the Huguenots of France, to seek a refuge and a home on this Western continent. Brave, heroic, and strong in faith, committing themselves to the protection of Divine Providence, they came to lay the foundations of a new and mighty empire. In all their ways, they acknowledged God and recognized the rights of man. Religious freedom, or the right to worship God according to the dictates of an enlightened conscience, was their great and sacred motto. Religion, untram. melled by law, uncoerced by government, was the religion which they sought and were determined to enjoy. It was their high purpose to govern men by the fear of the Lord ; 10 exhibit the precepts, apply the motives, and realize the dispositions which the Word of God inculcates and his Spirit inspires—to imbue their children, their families, and their civil polity with the wisdom which cometh from above. They had no projects of human device, no theories of untried efficacy. They hung all their hopes of civil and religious prosperity upon the Word of God and the power of his Spirit. Nor was theirs the presumptuous hope of grace without works. It was by training men for self-government; it was by the diffusion of light and the spread of truth, by intellectual culture and moral influence, that they expected to enjoy and perpetuate civil liberty.
Impartial Nature teaches all her sons.” But just as they were beginning to taste the sweets of religious freedom, a threatning storm-cloud appeared. The political horizon became dark, and a heavy thunder-bolt seemed ready to fall upon their cherished and early hopes. But they were neither intimidated nor disheartened. They had been trained to meet disaster and trial. They had been educated in a school well calculated to develop the heroic, the lofty, the unbending in man. The King of England determined that the colonies should share the pecuniary burdens accumulated by the wars prosecuted during the reign of his predecessors. They resisted on the ground that the mother country had no right to tax them without their consent. They had come to this country without asking the protection of the British crown. No armed soldiery had been soli- . cited, or sent to guard thern from the attacks of savage foe. They had fought their own battles; hewed down their own forests, planted their institutions, and were struggling on to greatness, without the aid or co-operation of England. They were willing to contribute a reasonable share of means for the relief of the burdens of the mother country, but they insisted on doing it by a vote of their own legislative assemblies, in which they were fairly represented, and they appealed to the justice of the King and his Cabinet to listen to and grant their request. Their appeal was answered only by indignity, and by an oppressive enforcement of the obnoxious enactments. The tax, in itself
, was not great, but it was the principle which they were determined to resist. And they did resist by the force of arms, until British pride was humbled, and our independence recognized, and we took a stand, as a free people, among the nations of the earth. The prominent actors in that drama were high-minded, moral, and religious men, governed by the purest patriotism and love of liberty, whose principles were admired, even by those who condemned and opposed their acts. Seldom, if ever, has the world seen an assemblage of precisely such men. They were statesmen, as if by intuition, with minds of the highest order-intelligent, sagacious, determined in purpose, cool in action, eminently wise in counsel, brave, skillful, and undaunted in the field. It would seem as if God had raised them up purposely for the exigency, and endowed them with high qualifications for the difficult and momentous work they achieved. They were borne through the stormy scenes of the revolution, as on the wing of Divine Providence, and the same wing brooded over their counsels, when they devised and adopted our national Constitution, an honor to their intellects and the charter of our freedom. It is republican and democratic. It recognizes the rights of the people ; the right to choose their own rulers and make their own laws—the right to be heard, through their representatives, in the halls of legislation—the right to petition for a redress of grievances—the right to read their Bibles, without the restrictions of Priest or Pontiff--and the right to adopt any form of ecclesiastical government which they deem most in accordance with the Scriptures. According to our representative and republican form of government, the rulers are not the arbitrary oppressors, but the obedient servants of the people, and directly responsible to their constituents. Amid the excite. ment and frenzy of political debate, there is one voice to which they must listen the voice of the people. This is the grand tribunal of our country.
Our laws are our own, and they can be altered or amended to suit the will of the people. And they are designed not to favor the few at the expense of the many. No man, be his condition what it may, can be touched in his person, his property, or his reputation, without the right to challenge the assailant and refer the issue to a process of law. No man can be punished as a criminal, until fairly tried and convicted by a jury of his country. Such is our system of free government-the best and cheapest in the world, supported by the people without feeling the pecuniary pressure. It is also safe and practicable. We are now in the 75th
year of our national independence, and we are still borne on eagles' wings. We are not going to decay. We may have sectional jealousies, and strong conflicts of interest and opinion, but the wings of our eagle will soar aloft to a calmer region amid the plaudits of the people. They love their country, her constitution and her laws, and are ready to forego any local advantage for the sake of preserving the Union. And as for foreign interposition, we have passed beyond the peradventure of peril or defeat. Let any five of the strong monarchies of Europe combine to subvert the liberties of this country, and attach us to some foreign crown, and you would see the spectacle of a people coming up to the work, shoulder to shoulder, absolutely wild under the power of national enthusiasm, ready to steep the soil with their blood, and make the whole heavens ring with the thunder of arms.
The experiment would involve a development of our character never to be forgotten in the annals of the human race, that, in its grandeur and awfulness, would seem fresh after the lapse of a thousand years. This people love their government, love their free institutions; it is a broad, deep, intelligent love. Set this people down in the heart of Russia, and the old monarch would tremble upon his throne. The very Cossacks and serfs of the soil would burn with the inspiration of freemen. The spirit of liberty, kindled in
this country, has already gone across tne waters. It has entered France. Italy, and Hungary; it beats in the bosom of millions, and though the bolt of every chain has again been driven, yet the despots of Europe can no more hold the heaving mass, than the chains of Xerxes could hold the Hellespont, vexed with storms. Floods have been poured upon the rising fame, but they can no more extinguish it, than they can extinguish the fires of Ætna. Still it burns, and still the mountain heaves and murmurs, and soon it will explode with voices, and thunderings, and earthquakes. Then will the trumpet of jubilee sound, and earth's oppressed millions will leap from the dust and shake off their chains, thrilled with ecstacies and ideas of freedom! The world is hastening to such a destiny, and our land is cheering the nations on in their struggle for universal emancipation. There is but one voice that adds discord to the music of our applause, and that is the voice of three millions of human beings, in the very heart of this country, crying aloud for freedom!
III. Let us, in the third place, contrast the past and present aspects of our country in an educational point of view. I design to use the term education in a very generic sense, implying the progress and improvement made in the sciences and arts for the past hundred years. New and important discoveries have been made in astronomy, enlarging our conceptions of the heavenly bodies, filling our minds with sublimer views of the Divine Being in natural philosophy, developing its latent principles for the comfort and convenience of man-in botany, giving every flower and shrub a meaning and a voice-in geology, bringing its every newly discovered fact and feature to harmonize with revealed truth-in electricity, that mysterious agent, which seemed to bid defiance to all power, save the infinite and the boundless. What a wonderful triumph of art is that invention, which carries thought along the regions of the atmosphere with the rapidity of lightning, and with all the accuracy of typography! It seems more like a dream of romance than sober reality. We can scarcely realize that our country has become, as it were, one great speaking gallery, where a whisper is heard from one extremity of the land to the other, almost as soon as uttered. The application of steam to mechanical and commercial purposes, is comparatively a recent discovery, and yet who is not amazed at the perfection it has already reached? Rivers are navigated against wind and current--the ocean bridged-mines explored—the most massive machinery moved-manual labor and the labor of beasts of burden, to a great extent, superseded by this wonder-working agent, now under the control and made to facilitate the movements, add to the convenience, and give success to the enterprises of man. In all the higher branches of education, progress has distinguished the past; and in common school education, how amazing has been the change! One hundred years ago, how limited were the facilities for learning and improvement! The common school system, which is now the ornament and glory of our country, had