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Title: The Declaration of Independence - An Address
Author: Warren, Winslow
Language: English
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                              AN ADDRESS

                            WINSLOW WARREN,

                            June 17, 1904.

                          BOSTON: JUNE, 1904.



It is a matter of regret to me that other engagements have compelled
my absence from your meetings the two years past, but your printed
proceedings upon those occasions were full of interest and contributed
material of importance to the student of Revolutionary literature.

The Treasurer’s Report shows that the financial condition of the
Association is good, although the erection of the new Lodge increases
the expenses in much the same proportion that it adds to the comfort of
visitors. The most pressing need of the Association is that of a larger
permanent fund to improve the grounds and keep the buildings in proper
and attractive condition.

During the year ten members of our Association have passed away, and
one of our Directors, Mr. Richard Devens. They were earnest, active
citizens, proud of their heritage, and in their respective fields of
work added to the well-being and moral strength of this community. We
shall miss them from our membership, but to those who take their places
we extend a cordial welcome, confident that the patriotic memories
clustering round the 17th of June will inspire them to follow closely
in the footsteps of their predecessors.

The year’s panorama has unfolded a varied picture, with incidents
both of encouragement and of warning. While it has not been a year of
marked prosperity, and while accidents by flood and fire have caused
terrible losses and suffering, our country has pursued a peaceful
and progressive course, and no complications of a dangerous nature
have actively threatened. The settlement by arbitration of the Alaskan
Question and the Venezuelan troubles is a matter for congratulation,
irrespective of the terms of settlement. The assurance of the building
of the Panama Canal is of the first importance, not only because it
closes a vexed question, but for its effect in changing and opening up
new avenues of trade and in knitting together different parts of this
Union of States. The final step in its accomplishment will probably
always be subject to criticism and discussion, but rightful authority
having settled the fact that the Canal is to be built, no one will
question its desirability and usefulness.

The most perplexing problems before the country are, as they have long
been, those connected with the continual strife between capital and
labor, and it is singular and not altogether encouraging that such
conditions should exist and seemingly grow worse in a country affording
boundless opportunity for both laboring man and capitalist and where
the chances for progress and improvement are so great. One would think
that here, if anywhere, justification was wanting for class feeling,
for jealousies, or for violent breach of the laws.

The constant succession of strikes retards progress, imperils business
interests, and brings suffering and disaster to those concerned and to
parties having no immediate connections with the strife. The growing
strength of the labor unions would not be a subject of regret was it
not too often accompanied by a dictatorial and narrow spirit infringing
upon the rights of the individual man and frequently leading to public
disorder and violation of law. As an educating force to its members the
Union is of value, and equally so as a protection for the just rights
of labor, but its members should never forget that the public peace
must be preserved at all hazards, that no grievances can be enforced
by violence, and that the rights of non-union men are just as sacred
and inviolate as those of men who band themselves together for a common
purpose. Liberty is a myth, and despotism usurps its place, unless the
individual man may use his own judgment and work where and when he
pleases for what he deems sufficient wage without violent interference
by others; he may be persuaded, he may be influenced, but no man or
body of men have the right to use force. Despotism is despotism,
whether under forms of labor unions or capitalistic combinations, and
a trust in labor may be just as oppressive and dangerous as a trust to
restrict production, affect prices, or for any other purpose, even more
so in its tendency to lead to open violence.

The great public having no connection with particular combinations must
always be considered, and it will not patiently submit to interruption
of public traffic or to the lessening of its comforts or conveniences
while jarring interests are settling their private quarrels. Public
legislation should be impartial in the sense that it should be directed
towards bettering conditions and repairing injustice to all classes of
people, but none should be enacted except with the understanding that
peace is always to be preserved and that the wrongs of special parties
shall not be redressed at the expense of the rights of the community as
a whole.

Outside of our country it is not a cheering prospect that, despite
Hague Conferences and all efforts to promote peace between nations, the
opening years of this Twentieth Century witness a disastrous and bloody
war between great empires of the West and East, and upon questions that
seem to involve little else than extensions of territory at the expense
of other nations. However sympathies may be divided between the two
contending parties, we must all hope that the war may not be of long
duration, and that the awful waste, sacrifice, and slaughter may tend
to discourage such barbarous methods and to spread the principles of
peaceful arbitration.

The military spirit prevailing everywhere, even in our own country, and
the apotheosis of force, requiring such enormous military and naval
appropriations, give food for thought, and in this connection we may
well consider whether the alarming increase of crime, the lynchings at
the South and West, and the disregard of law in many high quarters,
are not the natural result of such a spirit. The Devil’s advocates
are uncommonly busy, and if Christian preachers believe in the Gospel
of Peace, they have a wide field for Christian work. He who talks of
war as anything but a curse to a nation and a crime against humanity
should remember these words of General Sherman, who knew what war was:
“I confess without shame that I am tired and sick of the war. Its
glory is all moonshine. Even success, the most brilliant, is over dead
and mangled bodies, the anguish and lamentation of distant families
appealing to me for missing sons, husbands, and fathers. It is only
those who have not heard a shot, nor heard the shrieks and groans of
the wounded and lacerated (friend or foe), that cry aloud for more
blood, more vengeance, more desolation.”

The Peace Conference, to be held in Boston in the Fall, is a hopeful
sign; for this Republic above all others should stand for peace,
and this Association and all patriotic societies which venerate
the Founders of this Republic and believe that the principles they
advocated lead to peace and amity between nations can contribute to the
hastening of the time when armaments shall be reduced and the reign of
peace in the world be brought nearer.

To that end, in the short space of time allotted me to-day, I desire
to call your attention to what our Fathers believed as illustrated by
their own words, and I turn back by way of text to the interview I once
before referred to, which our late member Judge Chamberlain narrated
that he had with Captain Preston, who fought at Lexington, and who,
when over ninety years of age, could recall no reason for going into
the fight other than that America had always governed herself and
always meant to.

We may seek for hidden causes of the Revolution――we may ascribe it
to this or that violation of rights or liberties, but reduced to its
ultimate the old soldier probably summed it up pretty much as it
presented itself to the ordinary mind at the time, and expressed in a
general way the feeling that actuated the masses of the revolutionists.
Few had the time, the power, or the desire to reason the matter out, or
to form definite ideas of what the trouble was or what they wanted.

We are all familiar with the stated causes for revolt, but they were
the excitement of the moment as compared with the pride of conscious
strength and the desire America had to be left alone to work out her
own problems.

The special grievances, the principles in dispute brought forth the
great leaders, but probably their minds were less influenced by them
than they imagined, and back of all was the feeling only partially
recognized that America was a nation and needed no instruction or
guidance from abroad. Of course they did not say that, they were honest
in the beginning in disclaiming any idea of independence; they did,
with rare exceptions, honestly look forward to a reconciliation with
the mother country; but all the while, though they did not see it then,
the terms of reconciliation formulated in their minds were impossible
of attainment in any other way than by independence.

It does not impugn their good faith or wisdom that like all great
leaders of revolutions they failed to estimate the force of the current
bearing them on; but it is plain to our eyes that a revolt in the name
of the King against the Parliament to establish rights that King and
Parliament alike desired to withhold was a fiction which in the nature
of things could only be temporary, and which the first clash of arms
was certain to dissipate into thin air. Events moved too fast for men’s
control, and independence came because no other result than that of
absolute submission was possible.

Consider for a moment how rapidly at last America drifted towards
revolution and separation, and how each step forward, as usual, lopped
off the hesitating and timid, and made it more and more difficult for
the bolder leaders to retrace their path.

In 1761 James Otis struck the keynote in his great argument against
the writs of assistance,――the general principles of independence
which operated later were then so clearly enunciated that the people
caught the breath of freedom, and the unrest and turmoil and frequent
outbreaks during the nine years following showed that the lesson could
not be unlearned.

March 5, 1770, came the Boston Massacre on State Street, the first
conflict of the Revolution, in which the people were stricken down by
murderous bullets; December 16, 1773, the mob openly defied British
law by throwing the tea overboard in Boston Harbor; May, 1774, General
Gage arrived in Boston to assume the position of Royal Governor, and
was escorted from Long Wharf to the Town House in King, now State,
Street by the Boston Cadets, under the command of John Hancock,
probably the last act of loyalty to Great Britain by the Corps or
its officers; June 1, 1774, the Port of Boston was closed by Act of
Parliament; September, 1774, the Continental Congress or Conference of
States gathered at Philadelphia; October 5, 1774, the Massachusetts
House of Representatives met at Salem, summoned by Governor Gage, and
being notified that their meeting was revoked, immediately constituted
themselves a Provincial Congress, assumed administration, and passed
orders for putting the Province into a condition for defence,――the
winter passed in fruitless disputes with the Governor and Royal
officers, but the Congress was busy with active and positive work
nearly approaching rebellion; April 19, 1775, the natural result came
in the fight at Lexington and Concord, fairly opening the Revolution,
and followed by the gathering of a large army of half-armed troops
at Cambridge to besiege Boston, the Continental Congress finding a
commander for them in the person of George Washington; May 10, 1775,
Ticonderoga and Crown Point were taken by force; on June 17, 1775,
before Washington had reached the army, Bunker Hill was fought; March
17, 1776, Boston was evacuated by the British, the scene of action
was transferred to a larger field at New York, and then, July 4,
1776, came the time to write the Revolution into the Declaration of
Independence, so that the world might behold the new nation and find
also a government with a novelty, one that based itself upon certain
ideal truths, and thus differentiated the American Revolution from all
preceding revolutions.

However old the subject may be, and however hopeless the thought of
adding anything new to the discussion, it may still be interesting
to consider this extraordinary Declaration from a purely historical
standpoint, and to revive our recollections of its truths, as well
as to consider how far in reality they were intended to go. As no
political party has any proprietorship in those truths, and no
party has yet taken a position in opposition to them, we can freely
discuss them in the hope of clarifying our view of the deeper meaning
of the Revolution. Present conditions are not to be considered in
this discussion, we are now concerned only with the question of the
permanent or transitory nature of the document itself, and of its
effectiveness as a rule of national conduct.

Separating from the Declaration its catalogue of specific and temporary
reasons for revolt, its whole purport is to set forth――the natural
freedom and equality of all men before the law; the fundamental right
of those governed to pass upon the form of government they shall live
under, and to subvert it if not satisfactory; and the right of all
men to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,――this last phrase
seeming a broad generalization capable of wide interpretation.

No one of these doctrines was original with the signers, and the
Committee reporting the Declaration made no pretence to have originated
them. Every principle had been stated and advocated long before by
European philosophers and writers,――and the claim has been made that
the Declaration itself bore a strong resemblance to that of the United
Netherlands,――but it was the first practical application of such
principles to an actual system of popular government. The author of the
Declaration said in later years, “I did not consider it as any part of
my charge to invent new ideas altogether, and to offer no sentiment
which had ever been expressed before.”

It may properly be regarded, therefore, as a crystallization of old
theories, and as such its promulgation excited surprise in Europe,
mingled with a good deal of skepticism as to its being a working basis
for government or as to the possibility of adherence to it in practice.
This feeling was a natural one, for if its doctrines were true and
extended elsewhere the prospect was dark for theories of the divine
right of kings, of despotic power, or even of current monarchical
systems; and therein lies the very pith of the Declaration, and it
was no wonder that when the seeds sown here ripened a little later in
France and the bloody revolution there ended in a military despotism
the prophets of evil quickly seized upon the result as a practical test
and welcome proof of the absurdity of our position.

In the Orient it made no impression and in fact had no meaning, for
such theories were not within the Oriental conception; nor are they
now so far as they spell Republicanism.

Dr. Edward Everett Hale recently sent a letter to an United States
Senator, which well represents how such doctrines impress the Oriental
mind, and is worth quoting as follows:

    “When Commodore Perry opened the ports of Japan the Japanese
    Government had in prison a young fellow from Washington
    Territory who had been shipwrecked on their coast,――he was in
    prison only because he was a foreigner. They cross-examined him
    and asked him what officer in our government held higher rank
    than the men they knew. He said the officers of the Navy had
    to obey the Secretary of the Navy, and that he was under the
    President. They asked him who was greater than the President.
    This boy said that ‘the people is greater than the Presidency,’
    and in giving the account of this afterward he said, ‘of this
    they could make nothing.’”

In other words, “a government of the people for the people and by the
people” was not within their purview.

When the Declaration was signed and issued to the country as a platform
for a new nation, it can hardly be doubted that its doctrines were
believed by its authors, and by those who accepted it, to be applicable
to every people and to all times,――notwithstanding the recognized fact
that unfortunate conditions here regarding African slavery revealed an
apparent inconsistency.

How far the words of the Declaration applied to negro slaves will
always be disputed, but that Jefferson intended no exception is to
be gathered from his oft-quoted expressions, and from the fact that
in the original draft the British Government were severely condemned
for establishing slavery here and not repressing the slave trade. The
historian Bancroft expressed in his history the Jeffersonian view,
saying, “The heart of Thomas Jefferson in writing the Declaration, and
of Congress in adopting it, beat for all humanity; the assertion of
right was made for all mankind and all coming generations, without any
exception whatever, for the proposition which admits of exceptions can
never be self-evident.”

It should be added that at that time, North and South, it was the
opinion that slavery would soon disappear, and it was only unforeseen
inventions which changed the situation. But taking whatever view we
please of the intention of the makers in this regard, there can be no
question that the Declaration announced important and high ideals for
the future. Jefferson emphasized this when he said, “It is indeed an
animating thought that while we are securing the rights of ourselves
and our posterity we are pointing out the way to struggling nations
who wish like us to emerge from their tyrannies also,” and again,
“Every man and every body of men on earth possesses the right of self
government. They receive it with their being from the hand of nature.”
And so Charles Sumner later said, “The words that governments derive
their just powers from the consent of the governed are sacred words,
full of life-giving energy. Not simply national independence was
here proclaimed, but also the primal rights of all mankind.” Abraham
Lincoln said, “In these early days the Declaration of Independence was
held sacred by all and thought to include all;” and again, “If that
Declaration is not the truth, let us get the Statute book in which
we find it and tear it out.” These statements have been echoed and
re-echoed by all our great statesmen, from Washington and Adams and
Jefferson to Webster, Sumner, and Lincoln; they have even been asserted
more than once in political platforms of great parties, and wherever
the voice of dissent was feebly raised and doubters found, it was until
recent times invariably among the apologists for slavery, or among
those who feared interference with it, never by the men whom we of the
present day look upon as leaders, or whose interpretation we would ever
have been willing to follow.

No one assumes that the Signers foresaw all the temptations and
difficulties likely to arise as the nation grew stronger,――that was
as impossible as for their wildest dreams to compass its marvellous
growth; but they knew full well that the doctrines they asserted would
have to meet severe tests and their sublime confidence in the virtue
and constancy of the people is the more manifest that they were willing
to take the risk of future conditions. If they were wrong in those
doctrines, how can we avoid the conclusion that they have been given
greater credit for wisdom and foresight than they were justly entitled
to, or that the wisdom of all our great statesmen is impugned, who for
so many years have asserted and boasted of the truths set forth.

What the Revolutionary statesmen urged upon the people as fundamental
truths were endorsed as such for more than a century, yet if they were
mere phrases or visionary theories, the eloquence and statesmanship of
all the great statesmen before our day or in our day, until within a
few years, goes for nought.

Rufus Choate, to be sure, in the stress of a political campaign urging
the claims to the Presidency of James Buchanan, termed the Declaration
“glittering and sounding generalities of natural right;” but this
was looked upon as exuberant rhetoric, and the expression was never
taken seriously by the country, nor accepted as a matured opinion in
contravention of the main doctrines of the Declaration.

More recently men of standing and character have apparently adopted and
even extended Choate’s theory,――it has been maintained that governments
rest upon the consent of _some_ of the governed, and this is true and
not apart from the Declaration if it means that governments rest upon
the will of the majority, for that carries with it the right of all
to be heard,――but it is absolutely foreign to the Declaration if by
“some of the governed” is intended only the more enlightened part of
the people,――that is, the minority,――for then it upholds a theory
differing not at all from that of an oligarchy, or even a despotism,
and does not represent popular government as we have understood it.

It has been said also that the Declaration applied only to civilized
peoples, intelligent enough to maintain Republican government, or
to those of sufficient capacity to govern themselves and to better
themselves by such self-government, or even farther, that the
Declaration is untrue as a general proposition and only applied to the
existing situation in America in 1776.

No such qualifying phrases can be found in the Declaration itself, and
if such were in the minds of the statesmen of the day it is passing
strange that men who had the power to express themselves in so lucid
and straightforward a way never hinted then or thereafter at any such

It certainly was not the view of the Continental Congress when at the
end of the war it said, “Let it be remembered that it has ever been the
pride and boast of America that the rights for which she contended were
the rights of human nature,” and the historic glory of the American
Revolution is immensely lessened if we accept the Declaration with
qualifications, for on such a theory nothing was established by that
war except the ability of the Revolutionists, with the aid of France,
to bring the rebellion to a successful conclusion, and to establish
here a Republic, the Declaration becoming to the rest of the world of
academic interest only as a skilfully worded statement of provincial
grievances. We all must desire to ascertain if possible whether those
who hold the theories I have stated are correct, and whether our
predecessors have been cherishing illusory and transitory principles or
eternal truths, for if the former are right our compass now points in a
new direction, and we may as well change our course to correspond, even
though we reach the well-worn track that European nations have been
following since we originally steered away from them.

There is a prevalent belief, and with some it accounts for the novelty
of recent views, that the Declaration prescribed a Republican form of
government as essential for every people, but such is not the fact, as
is evident from these words in the document:

“Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends
(referring to the rights and liberties of the people), it is the
right of the people to alter and abolish it, and to constitute a new
government, laying its foundations on such principles and _organizing
its powers in such form_ as to them shall seem most likely to effect
their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that
long-established governments should not be changed for light and
transient causes.”

Washington expressed this in brief and cogent form as follows: “Every
nation has a right to establish that form of government under which it
conceives it may live most happy.”

The equality before the law asserted in the Declaration never implied
equality of intelligence or opportunity, nor did it necessarily
imply universal suffrage as a fixed principle. Between 1776, when
the Declaration was issued, and 1789, the time of the adoption of
the Constitution, there were in the thirteen States various forms
of government, and none of them with universal suffrage. A free
people may see fit to restrict or enlarge their own rights; they
may confer extreme power upon appointed rulers, or retain all
power to themselves,――whichever course is pursued, if it be the
people’s unrestricted action, it is in no way inconsistent with the
Declaration. Of course this excludes absolutely and forever any idea
of a controlling influence by an outside power, or that there can be
any such thing as self-government, unless a people are left free to
determine for themselves the form and methods of their own government.
To those who wrote the Declaration self-government and independence
were interconvertible terms, and the burden is upon those who would
now distinguish them to invent new definitions. The Declaration did not
proclaim that every people in the world were fitted for a Republican
form of government,――that form was unquestionably the ideal of the
fathers, but the essence of the document was that each nation must
determine for itself what form it preferred, and so long as the people
were freely consulted, and reserved the right to change when their
interests were not properly served, the principles were not infringed
upon. This was to be entirely independent of the form adopted; it might
be a limited monarchy like England, an armed Republic like France,
a Greek, Roman, or South American Republic, a military dictatorship
like Mexico, or even a popular despotism like the early days of the
Napoleonic empires. The modern idea that fitness was to be determined
by some foreign superior nation had not been thought of in 1776.

Take a concrete case like the England of to-day, excluding, of course,
her colonies――her ideals may not be the same as ours, but it would be
a hazardous statement to make that the rights of the people as set
forth in our Declaration are not preserved in England in their full
significance quite as well as in our own boss-ridden states and cities.
England has a monarchy in form, but a people’s monarchy, and subject
to the people’s will, and it may well be questioned whether the people
there do not express their will with quite as much facility as here. In
many places in this country we have a practical and vulgar despotism
under the forms of a Republic,――the people can and do assert themselves
when thoroughly aroused, but they are long suffering, and only when the
bossism becomes too flagrant and offensive can they be led to enforce
that equality before the law and to exhibit that latent power which is
necessary to prove that genuine Republicanism still exists.

In dealing with our Indian tribes the government has proceeded upon the
theory that they were nations, they have not been taxed, and although
our treatment of them has not been creditable, our theories have been
consistent; still, I have no idea that the framers of the Declaration
believed that these tribes, or Oriental nations, or any semi-civilized
peoples were fitted for a Republic, or that for them such a form would
be wise or safe; but they did not lose sight of it as the ultimate
for every people, and believed that it could only be attained by
every people working out their own salvation and by that governmental
evolution which through struggle and hardship alone leads to a higher
and more stable form. Secretary Hay once incisively expressed it thus:
“No people are fit for anything else than self-government,” and it
was an eminent Frenchman who truly said, “You cannot have a Republic
without Republicans.”

Given the capacity to form _some_ government and you have all the
conditions necessary for improvement, and in the Providence of God a
people can better be trusted to improve itself than it can to gain in
self-government under the subjection of others.

Applying these principles as our fathers stated them, and as they
applied them, unless in the case of slavery, and remembering that their
sin in that case, however, much forced by their situation, was atoned
for from 1861 to 1865 in blood and treasure, the problems relating to
inferior races become greatly simplified, for the “white man’s burden”
ceases to be war and subjection and becomes a Christian principle in
recognizing as the sole right of the stronger his duty to assist and
encourage the weaker in the struggle to preserve such government as
suits him best and for which he deems himself best fitted.

Abandoning the principles of the Declaration, the white man’s burden
means to the black or yellow man political slavery and wrong.

Even the Anglo-Saxon, with all his success in many respects, as
a colonist, has utterly failed to lead an inferior race up to
self-government――he may have carried with him some material advantages,
but his assumed and vaunted burden cannot be separated from his love of
power and soaring ambition.

His dominating superiority makes him a hard master of another race, and
he fails utterly in sympathetic appreciation of racial differences and

No one can dispute his marvellous capacity, the forcefulness of his
dealings, and in many cases his patient, earnest attempt to better
the conditions of those whom he rules; but he never has accepted nor
understood the peculiar natures of his subjects nor enlisted their
sympathies or affections. Without intending to be cruel, his cool
assumption of the power to remake people and force them into his own
mould has led him into errors which have caused great hardship and have
ended in estrangement and hatred.

Neither material prosperity nor orderly government wins the hearts or
permanently changes the habits of peoples whose traditions have been
interfered with and whose imaginative and fickle natures have not been
taken into account. A foreign government remains forever foreign to a
people whose love has not been gained, and who are made to feel that
they are inferior and never to be on terms of full equality with their

No more conspicuous instance can be found than in the condition of
India after a century and a half of English rule, much of it by
excellent men of great capacity and strength, and of honest intention.
It began with the rule of the sword, and to-day it is nothing else,――it
has not led the people towards self-government, nor has it succeeded
in inspiring confidence and affection,――stripped of the thin veneer of
civilization which has been spread over the land, the conqueror and
the conquered still face each other as ever alien and hostile races,
the conquered hating their masters, and sullenly biding their time for
revolt, and the conqueror holding them down by force and fear only. The
gulf between the races is as broad as ever, and everything indicates
that a withdrawal of British power would be followed by a temporary
return to much the former conditions of semi-barbarism, until something
better was evolved by struggle and experience, aided now by the bright
example of a neighboring power.

Egypt, which on the surface shows good results, has done little but
exchange a Turkish for an English ruler, so far a gain, for it has been
followed by an apparent advance in material prosperity and a lightening
of the burdens, but it is not easy to ascertain how far the prosperity
has really benefited the people; and remembering that Egypt was once
the centre of advanced civilization, it is by no means proved that as
a free people they would not have been further on the road towards a
hopeful self-government.

If we look to the Dutch colonies in Asia, we find at best a condition
of peonage and political servitude and a war that has had little
cessation in fifty years. There again it is force and fear and not
self-government. In German, French, or Russian colonies no one seeks
for self-government, and the hopelessness of their situation is that
neither fraternization with the people exists nor improvement of
conditions by emigration from the ruling countries.

To point the contrast, and to evidence the truth of the principles
of the Declaration, we may well consider the rising empire of Japan,
inhabited by a people differing but little from the neighboring races,
a century ago not far removed from barbarism, pagan in religion, though
tolerant, Asiatic in habits and thought, self-governed and independent
because it has been left to work out its own problems, yet now by
its own energy advancing towards civilization and Christianity, and
rapidly becoming a great power in the East. No stronger exemplification
can be found of the principle that a people is better fitted for
self-government than any other, and that its own experience and efforts
offer better tutelage than the wisest and most beneficent rule of
foreign masters.

The plans of statesmen, the ambition of nations may come into conflict
with the doctrines of the Declaration, but they are of no concern as
compared with the truth or falsity of the principles it contains. If
it is not to be followed as a standard of governmental ethics, and
is a visionary statement of unpractical theories, we seem somehow to
have lost our bearings, and to have parted with our guiding lights.
No true American, whatever his party allegiance, can avoid or lightly
treat these important questions, nor can the right solution come from
a consultation of his interests or prejudices, nor from any source
other than the experience of the years since 1776, and a careful
consideration of the wisdom or folly of the teachings of those who
have made this country what it is. No day can better emphasize these
thoughts than this anniversary, and if in avoiding anything of a
partisan nature I have willingly laid myself open to the charge of
triteness, let us remember that the trite things of this world are
often of the most importance, and the more familiar they are, the more
apt they are to be disregarded or forgotten. They cannot be foreign to
the purposes of this meeting, for although the original parchment of
the Declaration at Washington has faded out, the principles of this
most important and startling of State Papers will always be living
light, and if the day should ever come when it would be unbecoming
to discuss them here, one of the great purposes of this Association
would have been lost, and the nature of our people and our theory of
government changed.

When Daniel Webster with his masterly eloquence evolved from his
imagination the great speech of John Adams upon the Declaration, he
could have had in his mind no qualifying phrases, no doubts as to
the eternal truths which were proclaimed, and no question but that
independence was the ideal for and the right of every nation of the
earth; otherwise his words failed to ring true, and he never could have
closed with such statements as these:

    “_Read this Declaration at the head of the army, every sword
    will be drawn from its scabbard and the solemn vow uttered
    to maintain it or perish on the bed of honor. Publish it
    from the pulpit, religion will approve it and the love of
    religious liberty will cling round it, resolved to stand with
    it or fall with it; send it to the public halls,――proclaim
    it there,――let them hear it who first heard the roar of the
    enemy’s cannon,――let them see it who saw their brothers and
    their sons fall on the field of Bunker Hill and in the streets
    of Lexington and Concord, and the very walls will cry out in
    its support._”

 Transcriber’s Notes:

 ――Text in italics is enclosed by underscores (_italics_).

 ――Obvious spelling inaccuracies were silently corrected.

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