Some time ago, while perusing through an antique mall, I happened upon a small volume titled Fourth of July Oration Thursday, July 4, 1907 by Rev. Edward A. Horton. This book was in pristine condition for something well over 100 years old. The title of the oration itself is Patriotism and the Republic and it was delivered in Boston in Faneuil Hall, on the one hundred and thirty-first anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.
One hundred and five years later, as we celebrate the 236 anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, I’d like to share some of Reverend Horton’s oration as they are certainly as relevant today as they were in 1907. I’ve edited out some portions for brevity, but the sentiment has been left intact:
My theme is “Patriotism and the Republic.”
There may be a more important topic for such a day and time as this, but I fail to find it; for I place this proposition first and fundamental to all I must say; That with an intelligent broad patriotism the citizen and the city, the State and Union cannot go astray.
Faithful is he who turns resolutely to the task, and flies not from the field. Were we born to live on others’ labors? Shall we show a pusillanimous spirit and confess there is no good in us? Praise be to those who keep their reverence for a noble past allied with vigilance and hope.
For the first lesson of patriotism is faith in the possibilities of human advance. Even the sacrifices of old times, offered in a narrow way, offered for God and country, were not without this faith. They were testimonies to an expectation, “far flung,” that mankind was marching on, and must save all its hard-won gains.
Another lesson learned, even from the imperfect examples of the past, is this: “Whatsoever strengthens our local attachments is favorable both to individual and national character.” So said Southey. He meant by these words that no one can be a world-lover who is not also a home-lover. What is more saddening than the saddening than the sight of an American who finds his chief occupation all his years in drifting over Europe, spending his unearned wealth on selfish ease, quick to criticise the United States, and without ties of loyalty to a native land? The noblest leaders in world plans have been those who had strong affection for their own countrymen. He who is superlatively high and proud as to ignore his origin and beginning is not likely to make a worthy citizen of any kind.
A twentieth century patriotism is large enough to include duty anywhere, and to claim lovers of humanity everywhere. It has no jealousy of honest sentiments, which, while local in origin, are roots that feed the great ideas our national life sets forth.
The patriotism I have in mind does not need war to prove its title and claim. I refuse to agree with a statement made centuries ago, and often quoted of late: “The most unfair peace is preferable to the justest war.” What does it clearly mean but this: That we should compromise, barter, surrender our principles, do anything, if need be, in order to escape war? No other interpretation is possible. It is very easy for men to indulge a sentiment like this whose security and peace have been obtained by sacrifices and death through others.
American patriotism pleads for peace, stands for peace, legislates for peace, and, when it is necessary, fights for peace. Foremost at the Hague Conference, it also safeguards the bitterly won results of progress by wise methods. Truly it has been said: “There are greater words than patriotism, and among them are civilization and humanity.
There are greater words than peace, and among them are justice and honor.” But my contention is that, as a working force in human affairs, patriotism brings results, and energizes the world to efforts that give reality to justice, honor, civilization, and emancipated humanity.
In this world of undeveloped life, half developed types, woe to the nation which drifts and does not steer. We are on a sea of storm-engendering possibilities; we are on the ocean of liberty, and hand is often raised against hand. The patriot wants nothing more than to be left alone; but if sorely pressed by foes, he is prepared to defend and preserve the rights of humanity.
That leads to another point. The question may be asked: “You evidently think, do you not, that America has a superior civilization, and so claims the right to impose it on other people?”
Half of the question may be answered, “Yes.” The final part, “No.” For one, I have no doubt of the beneficial, superior character of our principles over former experiments. If we have faith in a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, then our duty is plain, we must give to it our utmost ability and zeal.
This work of uplifting humanity is no half-hearted task. It requires all the affirmative force of every citizen. Most certainly I think our country embodies the essentials of a superior kind. To say that we have deficiencies is to state a fact applicable to human nature everywhere. If our constitutional privileges were granted to others as to us, do you doubt the great gain to the world?
Sneers are not arguments. Doubt never built up anything. As Americans, we proclaim to the world that which is good for the varied citizens composing this Republic must be good for others. We do not impose our blessings on any nation or island. But if Providence places a charge in our keeping we will not evade it, and we will try to do our duty.
“My Country, right or wrong; if right, to stand by her; if wrong, to make her right.” Is not that a lofty idea? Shame on those who sulk in their tents when public affairs go wrong. Such individuals are loyal and active in balmy days, that please their personal wishes, but cold and obstructive in times of perplexity.
This patriotism I am describing knows it must stand for somewhere and do something, and not forever find fault, saying: “This might have been so much better, what can you expect of the present age, it is so vulgar?”
Finely it has been said: “The first essential of an American must be an enthusiastic sympathy with the magnificent movements in his own country. Here are the vast movements of races to new homes; here is the upward movement of whole classes seeking better conditions of living; here are other mysterious, educational movements by which the mind of the masses takes in larger views.”
“To the mere doctrinaire, all these popular movements are but meaningless manifestations of the mob spirit. He is offended because people do not follow a neat and orderly moral programme.”
In this part of New England there is a large class of well-educated and well-meaning persons who have not developed beyond the stage of criticism. They can tell you how a thing ought not to be done, how this is wrong, and that is faulty, from paintings to patriotism, but as creators and helpers to actual results they are utterly valueless.
There is one habit in patriotism that has troubled many serious-minded citizens, and that is the use of the American flag, and the popular language concerning it. Some of these objectors deplore what they call the idolatry of a piece of bunting, and what they consider a misdirection of sentiment. They hear too much about “following the flag” or “honoring the flag”; all this is dangerous in their eyes, and childish also.
Let us allow for absurd and foolish talk about the flag; but what is the beauty and power of the idea? Just this – that human nature demands some symbolism, some outward token of its feeling and thoughts. When a man has reduced his patriotism so low that he scorns symbols for it, and condemns all demonstrations of its joy, and discusses the whole thing as a matter of political economy, you have found a specimen of hot-house citizenship, showy, but lacking hardy qualities.
Who of sound heart is not affected by the sight of the little fluttering flags placed on the grassy mounds each Memorial Day? Who of sterling loyalty fails to respond, even to tears, as he beholds, after long absence, the Stars and Stripes floating from masthead or steeple? It has passed through battle storms, and waved over scenes of peace; it has been the mantle of honor for the last rites over the loyal, lowly and great; emblematic as it is of our country’s struggles and hopes, it should be more and more displayed, and more and more received with uncovered heads as it passes through our streets.
May it become a sign of such righteous and deserving power that when it floats over any foreign spot, or wraps any persecuted citizens, the lands of no nation, for the time being, shall dare to tear aside its protecting folds!
An ex-President of the United States said of Thomas F. Bayard: “Under the guidance of uncontaminated patriotism he reached the highest plane of political usefulness and party service. The youth of our land should learn from the record of this useful life that duty to God, to country, and to ‘clear belief strengthened into a conviction’ is the best recipe for happiness.” May we not add to these words, — and the best recipe for noble service to country and mankind? What does leadership mean in a country like ours? What do people expect and need? A leader must lead. No shuffling or evasion, no time-serving, no turning to the past in a weak effort of imitation. An American leader of to-day must have the courage of his convictions; he must expect to make enemies; his credentials are sincerity of motives and energy of aim.
“National enthusiasm is the great nursery of genius.” Yes! Genius of all kinds springs from the national life of a country when it is stirred and lifted to inspirational heights; when great issues agitate the homes of the land, and ideals break forth in all their glory. Then, heroes appear from the by-lanes of daily life; then, wisdom is found in high places; then humanity recovers faith in God and in its own God-given powers.
I should ask you to behold how life-giving and renewing the spirit of patriotism is. And why? Because it creates interest in life, and leads one out of himself.
Old age is not in years, but in the withering of feelings. A patriot never grows old, because his feelings are kept vigorous by interest in public matters; he is in touch with his fellow men. A branch cut off from the tree dies. An individual losing his sympathy with affairs outside his limited circle grows smaller and smaller until he becomes a mere cricket chirping the coming of winter.
American patriotism assimilates motives that have their origin in religion, morality, and philosophy. Like some rare product of the crucible, it is a wonderful combination. Philosophy alone cannot take its place; ethics fail as a substitute; religion, though mighty, is not enough.
Listen to Archbishop Ireland’s word, that eminent patriot: “The human race pays homage to patriotism because of its supreme value. The value of patriotism to a people is above gold and precious stones, above commerce and industry, above citadels and warships. Patriotism is a vital spark of national honor; it is the fount of the nation’s prosperity, the shield of the nation’s safety. Take patriotism away, the nation’s soul has fled, bloom and beauty have vanished from the nation’s countenance.”
The patriotic idea is service. Service may be here or there, at home or abroad, in high or low positions; but one spirit pervades the citizens of the United States, and wherever they are each cries with pride: “I too am an American.”
What, then, may we claim for “American Patriotism”? To what great ends does its power and inspiration tend?
It stands for the best things so far known to the world. And what are the “best things”? Most certainly those conditions of life which foster high achievements and spur to grander heights. It was Phillips Brooks who summed up the watchwords of our early people. They are four: 1. Religious liberty, or the right to worship according to the dictates of our individual consciences. 2. Popular government, or the right of the people to govern themselves. 3. Popular education, or the open door of enlightenment to the poorest and richest alike. 4. Trusteeship of the world, especially of the land and country in which we live. These are the best things in all life’s prizes, and for them the patriot gives his earnest pledge.
And lastly, it is to be hoped and believed that we have the ability to correct our errors; not only that, but the willingness and the power to advance our ideals. If not, then we fail, and shamefully fail.
Far be the day when this observance loses its respect and value. Let our children gather to see the uplifted standards of a great people. Errors are best overcome by setting forth the truth. Our faults as a people, cannot be cured by scolding and censoriousness. The pupils of our public schools need models, examples, inspirations, by which the higher rule of life is shown supreme.
In such a spirit I have spoken, not to extenuate the wrongs that exist in our land, but to point out the better way. Hear the great words that sound above is, and call to the rising generation:
Opportunity at the top. Opportunity for men and faithful work. Opportunity to the humblest boy or girl, through the gateway of our free institutions.
Brotherhood that shall shape labor and capital into harmony. Brotherhood, real and true and sincere, the only ground and bond of a Republic.
And Service in myriad channels. Service to our city, our nation, our fellow men. Yes! These words are growing realities, — opportunity, brotherhood, service. Into them all, and into innumerable other great ideas, world-shaping and commanding. Patriotism pours its life, its inspiration, to the making of an American citizen.