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THE TRUE BASIS OF AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE.
FELLOW CITIZENS: I do not know how lightly you, who are hur ried so fast through the ever-changing panorama of metropolitan life, may regard the quiet scenes of this unpretending festival, appointed and arranged with so much care by the American Institute; but I confess for myself, that, coming from a distant and rural home, and so being never more than an occasional spectator here, I find always the same first freshness, in these autumnal shows of flowers, and fruits, and animals of subsistence, fleece and burden, trained and perfected by hard yet gentle hands; and that these annual trials of the skill of emulous, yet unambitious men and women, in the use of the spade and the plow, the forge and the furnace, the dairy and the needle, the spindle and the loom, innocent in their nature, yet beneficent in their effect, by stimulating invention and enterprise, while they faithfully mark, as years roll on, the progress which our country is making in arts and civilization, never fail to excite within me sympathies and emotions more profound and pleasing than any state pageant which I have witnessed at home, or the most imposing demonstration of military power that can be seen in any other and less favored land.
divides concerning that progress. Those who are occupied with their own personal cares, and apprehensive of evil in every change, look upon it with indifference or distrust; others, knowing that in a republic, constituted as this is, there exists always a restless activity toward either peace or war, virtue or vice, greatness or shame, devote themselves to the duty of regulating that activity, and giving it a right direction.
The members of the American Institute are of this class. Having constantly sympathized with them heretofore, when their unremitted labors secured neither rewards nor favor, I rejoice in meeting them now, under more propitious circumstances. I congratulate you, Messrs. Reese, Livingston and Hall, Stillman, Meigs and Chandler, and others, associates, that your institution has been adopted as a model by many towns, and by all the counties in this state, by the state itself, and by many other states; and that your instructions and example, patiently continued through so many years, have at last induced the nation itself to consent to appear, and to win some significant trophies, in the Exhibition of Universal Industry, already held in London, and to inaugurate another and brilliant one in the world's new capital, which we are founding on this yet rude coast of a recently impassable ocean.
1 An Address before the American Institute, New York, October 20, 1853.
Nevertheless, I have been for many reasons habitually averse from mingling in the sometimes excited debates which crowd upon each other in a great city. There was, however, an authority which I could not disobey, in the venerable name and almost paternal kindness of the eminent citizen, who so recently presided here with dig. nity and serenity all his own; and who transmitted to me the invitation of the Institute, and persuaded its acceptance!
How sudden his death! Only three weeks ago the morning mail brought to me his announcement of his arrival to arrange this exhibition, and his summons to me to join him here; and the rv .ning dispatch, on the self-same day, bore the painful intelligence that the lofty genius which had communed with kindred spirits so long, on the interests of his country, had departed from the earth, ani that the majestic form which had been animated by it, had disappearer! forever from among living men.
I had disciplined myself when coming here, so as to purpose to speak no word for the cause of human freedom, lest what might seem too persistent an advocacy might offend. But must I, therefore, abridge of its just proportions the eulogium which the occasion and the character of the honored dead alike demand ?
The first ballot which I cast for the chief magistracy of my native and most beloved state, bore the name of James Tallmadge as the alternate of De Witt Clinton. If I have never faltered in pursuing the policy of that immortal statesman, through loud reproach and vindictive opposition during his life, and amid clamors and contentions, often amounting almost to faction, since his death, I have found as little occasion to hesitate or waver in adhering to the counsels and example of the illustrious compeer who, after surviving him so many years, has now been removel, in ripened age, to the companionship
of the just. IIow does not time vindicate fidelity to truth and to our country! A vote for Clinton and Tallmadge in 1824, what censures did it not bring then? Who will impeach that ballot now?
A statesman's claim to the gratitude of his country rests on what were, or what would have been, the results of the policy be has recommended. If the counsels of James Tallmadge had completely prevailed, then not only would American forests, mincs, soil, invention and industry have rendered our country, now and forever, inde. pendent of all other nations, except for what climate forbids; but then, also, no menial hand would ever have guided a plow, and no footstep of a slave would ever have been tracked on the soil of all that vast part of our national domain that stretches away
from the banks of the Mississippi to the far western ocean.
This was the policy of James Tallmauge. It was worthy of New York, in whose name it was promulgated. It would have been noble, even to have altogether failed in establishing it. He was successful, however, in part through—only through—unwise delays and unnecessary compromises, which he strenuously opposed, and which, therefore, have not impaired his just fame. And so in the end, he, more nearly than any other citizen of our time, realized the description of the happiest man in the world, given to the frivolous Croesus by the great Athenian: "He saw his offspring, and they all survived him. At the close of an honorable and prosperous life, on the field of civic victory, he was rewarded with the honors of a public funeral by the state that he had enriched, adorned, and enlarged."
Gentlemen of the American Institute, Dr. Johnson truly said, that the first man who balanced a straw on his nose; the first man who rode three horses at a time; in short, all such men deserved the applause of mankind, on account, not of the use of what they did, but of the dexterity which they exhibited; for that everything which enlarged the sphere of human powers, and showed man that he could do what he thought he could not do, was valuable. I apprehend that this is a true exposition of the philosophy of your own most useful labors.
The increase of personal power and skill diminishes individual dependence; and individual independence, when it pervades the whole state, is national independence. It is only when, through such individuality of its members, a nation attains a certain independence, that it passes from that condition of society in which it thinks, moves, and acts, whether for peace or for war, for right or for wrong, accord. ing to the interests or caprices of one, or of a few persons (a condition which defines monarchy, or aristocracy), to that better condition in which it thinks, moves, and acts, in all things, under the direction of one common interest, ascertained and determined by the intelligent consent of a majority, or all of its members; which condition constitutes a republic, or democracy. So democracy, wherever it exists, is more or less perfect, and, of course, more or less safe and strong, according to the tone of individuality maintained by its citizens.
Of all men, and of all nations, it seems to me that Americans, and this republic, have at once the least excuse for a want of indepen. dence, and the most need for assuming and maintaining it.
No other nation has equal elements of society and of empire. Charlernagne, when founding his kingdom, saw, or might have seen, that, while it was confined by the ocean and by the Mediterranean on the west and on the south, it was equally shut in northerly and eastwardly by river and mountain barriers, which would be successfully maintained forever, by races as vigorous and as independent as the Franks themselves. Alfred the Great saw so clearly how his country was circumscribed by the seas, that he never once thought of continental empire. The future careers of France and England may, like the past, be filled up with spasmodic efforts to enlarge fixed dominions by military conquests and agricultural and commercial colonies; but all such attempts, even if they should be as gigantic as those which have heretofore been made, will, like them, be followed by disastrous reactions, bringing the nations back again, and confin. ing them at last within their natural and earliest borders. No political system can be held together permanently by force, suspending or overpowering the laws of political affinity and gravitation. Unlike those nations, we are a homogeneous people, occupying a compact and indivisible domain, peculiarly adapted to internal commerce, seventeen times greater than that of France, and an hundred times more extended than that of Great Britain. While it spreads eastward and westward across the continent, nature has not interposed, nor has man erected, nor can he raise, a barrier on the north or on the south, that can prevent any expansion that shall be found neces. sary, provided only that our efforts to effect it shall be, as they ought to be, wise, peaceful, and magnanimous. Only Russia excels us in territorial greatness. But while all of her vast population are not
merely willing, but even superstitious subjects, of an unmitigated despotism, more than four-fifths of them are predial slaves. If such a population could, within any short period, rise up to a state of comparative social elevation, such a change would immediately lead to seditions that must inevitably result in dismemberment of the empire.
Why should we go abroad for mineral materials, or for metallic treasures, since this broad domain of ours is, even more plentifully than any equal portion of the earth, stored with marl, gypsum, salt, coal, quicksilver, lead, copper, iron, and gold? Where shall we find quarries and forests, producing more amply the materials for architecture, whether for the
or of war on land or on sea ? Our cities may be built of our own freestone, marble and granite; and our southern coasts are fringed with pine and live-oak, while timber and lumber, diversified and exhaustless, crown our northern mountains and plains.
Why should we resort to other soils and climates for supplies of subsistence, if we except spices, dyes, and some not indispensable tropical fruits, since we have sugar, rice and cotton fields stretching along the shore of the gulf, long mountain ranges, such as those of Virginia and Vermont, declivities in which the vine delights, along the banks of the Ohio, and the endless prairies, fertile in all cereal grains, tobacco, flax and hemp, that border the laites and the Mississippi, and their widely-branching and far-reaching inlets and tributaries ?
If there is virtue in blood, what nation traces its lineage to purer and gentler stocks? And what nation increases in rumbers, by either immigration or by native births, more rapidly? And what nation, moreover, has risen in intelligence equally or so fait ?
If it be asked whether we have spirit and vigor proportioned to our natural resources, I answer, look at these thirteen origin.1 states. Their vigor is not only unimpaired, but it is increasing. The look at the eighteen others, offshoots of those stocks. They are eve. more elastic and thrifty. Consider how small and how recently p_inted were the germs of all this political luxuriance, and to what early hardships and neglect they were exposed. Can we not reasonably look for a maturity full of strength and majesty ?
Moreover, the circumstances of the age are propitious to us. The nations on this continent are new, youthful and fraternal, while those