04 July 2011

Independence Day Oration

[by John Phoenix, 1865]

Brother soldiers and fellow citizens:—I feel honored by the call that I have received and accepted to deliver on this great occasion, the glorious anniversary of our nation’s independence, the customary oration. … It is the Fourth of July. This morning, at half-past two o’clock, every inhabitant of this great, free, and enlightened republic, amounting in number to several millions, was awakened from a sleep by the discharge of cannon, the explosion of fire-crackers, and the continued and reiterated shouts of little boys, and children of larger growth. From that time until four o’clock sleep has been rendered impossible, and every inhabitant of this republic has had an opportunity to reflect with gratitude and thankfulness on the wisdom of our progenitors, and the greatness of our institutions; until at that hour the bells of every church, meeting-house, factory, steam-boat, and boarding-house throughout the land, beginning to pour forth a merry and universal peal, joining in the glad anthem of our nation's independence, every citizen has got up, put on his pantaloons, taken a cock-tail, and commenced the celebration of the day in good earnest.

Throughout our whole vast extent of country, from Hancock Barracks, Houlton, Maine, where they pry the sun up in the morning, to Fort Yuma on the Colorado River, where the thermometer stands at 212° in the shade, and the hens lay hard hard-boiled eggs, this day will be a day of hilarity, of frolicking and rejoicing. Processions will be formed, churches will be thronged, orations will be delivered, (many of them, possibly, of a superior character to this of mine,) the gallant militia, that right arm of our national defence, will pervade the streets in astounding uniforms, whereof it may be said that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Small boys will fire pistols and burn their fingers; large boys will fire cannon and blow off their arms; men will guzzle inebriating liquors, and become much intoxicated thereby; and a mighty shout will go up from the land, which, if the wind happens to be in the right direction, will cause the Emperor Alexander to tremble in his boots, and the young Napoleon to howl in his silver cradle. For on this day the great American eagle flaps her wings, and soars aloft, until it makes your eyes sore to look at her, and looking down upon her myriads of free and enlightened children, with flaming eye, she screams, “E Pluribus Unum”, which may be freely interpreted, “Aint I some?” and myriads of freemen answer back with joyous shout: “You are punkins!”

Emigration from Great Britain and other countries then commenced, and continued to a tremendous extent, and all our fore-fathers, and eight grandfathers, came over and settled in the land.
They planted corn and built houses, they killed the Indians, hung the Quakers and Baptists, burned the witches alive, and were very happy and comfortable indeed. So matters went on very happily, the colonies thus formed owing allegiance to the government of Great Britain until the latter part of the eighteenth century, when a slight change took place in their arrangements. The king of Great Britain, a Dutchman of the name of George Guelph, No. 3, having arrived at that stage of life when Dutchmen generally, if at all inclined that way, naturally begin to give way to ill-temper and obstinacy, became of a sudden exceedingly overbearing and ill-disposed toward the colonies. He had offenders sent to England to be tried; he was down on a bank and a protective tariff, and began to be considered little better than an abolitionist. He also put in effect an ordinance called the Stamp Act, which prevented applause in places of public amusement, prevented the protection of cattle against flies, and interfered with the manufacture of butter; and he finally capped the climax of his audacious impositions by placing such a tremendous duty on tea, that our female ancestors could not afford to drink that exhilarating beverage. Our ancestors were patient and long-suffering, but they could not stand every thing.

By this time it suddenly occurred to some of the smartest of our respectable ancestors that it was a good long way to the little island of England, that there was a good many people in the provinces, and that perhaps they were quite as able to govern themselves as George Guelph No. 3 was to govern them. They accordingly appointed delegates from the various Provinces or States, who, meeting together in Philadelphia on the fourth day of July, 1776, decided to trouble the King of England no longer, and gave to the world that glorious Declaration of Independence, to the support of which they pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor. This was the birth-day of Freedom—the birth-day of the United States, now eighty years of age; and as there are few of us but feel some inclination to celebrate our own birth-day, there can be little wonder that we celebrate the birth-day of our country in so joyous, earnest, and enthusiastic a manner.

Love of country is strongly impressed on every mind; but, as Americans, we should and in fact do have this feeling more strongly developed than any other citizens of the world. For our country is a free country; its institutions are wise and liberal, and our advantages as its natives are greater than those of other citizens. …Upon the whole, I believe that a man has quite as much chance for a life of happiness if born under the glorious stars and stripes as if he happened to be born anywhere else, and perhaps a little more. We elect our own rulers, and make our own laws, and if they don’t turn out well, it’s very easy at the next election to make others in their place. … I do not wish to flatter this audience; I do not intend to be thought particularly complimentary; but I do assure you, that there is not a man present who, if he had votes enough, might not be elected president of the United States. And this important fact is the result not so much of any particular merit or virtue on your part, as of the nature of our glorious, liberal, republican institutions.

In this great and desirable country, any man may become rich, provided he will make money; and man may be well educated, if he will learn, and has money to pay for his board and schooling; and any man may become great, and of weight in the community, if he will take care of his health, and eat sufficiently of boiled salmon and potatoes.

Moreover, I assert it unblushingly, any man in this country may marry any woman he pleases—the only difficulty being for him to find any woman that he does please.

Washington has been called the “Father of his country;” … He was twice elected President of the United States by the combined Whig and Know-Nothing parties, the Democrats and Abolitionists voting against him; and served out his time with great credit to himself and the country—drawing his salary with a regularity and precision worthy all commendation.

Although, for the time in which he lived, a very distinguished man, the ignorance of Washington is something perfectly incredible. He never travelled on a steam-boat; never saw a railroad, or a locomotive engine; was perfectly ignorant of the principle of the magic of the magnetic telegraph; never had a daguerreotype, Colt’s pistol, Sharp’s rifle, or used a friction match. He eat his meals with an iron fork, never used postage-stamps on his letters, and knew nothing of the application of chloroform to alleviate suffering, or the use of gas for illumination. Such a man as this could hardly be elected president of the United States in these times, although, it must be confessed, we occasionally have a candidate who proves not much better informed about matters in general.

Washington died from exposure on the summit of Mount Vernon, in the year 1786, leaving behind him a name that will endure forever, if posterity persist in calling their children after him to the same extent that has been fashionable. He is mentioned in history as having been “first in peace, first in war, and first in the hearts of his countrymen;” in other words, he was No. 1 in every thing, and it was equally his interest and his pleasure to look out for that number, and he took precious good care to do so. … A monument has been commenced in the city of Washington to his memory, which is to be five hundred feet in height; and it should be the wish of every true-hearted American that his virtues and services may not be forgotten before it is completed; in which case, their remembrance will probably endure forever.

In future times, when by some impartial historian the present Oregon war is faithfully depicted, posterity, as it peruses the volume, will drop a tear o'er the picture of the sufferings of those noble volunteers that wallowed in the Walla Walla valley, and their intrepid march into that country, and their return, will excite a thrill of admiration as an adventure never equaled even by Napoleon H. Bonaparte, when he effected the passage of the Alps.

But the war will soon be ended; it is even now drawing to a close. The completion of the Pacific railroad, which may be looked upon as certain in the course of the next fifty years, increasing our facilities for transportation of arms and supplies, will undoubtedly have a most favorable effect; and I look upon it as a matter of little doubt that, three or four hundred years from this time, hostilities will have ceased entirely, and the Indians will have been liberally treated with, and become quiet and valuable members of our society. … Four hundred years from this time, the descendants of Kamiakin will be celebrating with our posterity the recurrences of this glorious day, with feelings of interest and delight. While to-day that great chief, moved by feelings of animosity toward us, sits and gnaws the gambrel-joint of a defunct Cayuga pony, little knowing on which side of his staff of life the oleaginous product of lactation is disseminated. But long after that time shall arrive, centuries and centuries after our difficulties shall have been settled, and the scrip, with accumulated interest, paid, may our glorious institutions continue to flourish, may the Union be perpetuated forever in perfect bonds of strength and fraternal affection, and the
Star-spangled banner continue to wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

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