past, and humbly implore Him to keep us brothers yet, and to restore our beloved country to its former high estate.
In the outset I would announce the character in which I appear before you to-day.
I am not here as a Northern or a Southern man, an Eastern or a Western man; nor as a “Democrat,” which I have been; nor as a “Republican,” which I am not, nor ever was; but simply as an American citizen; more than content with the glory of that title, and ambitious only that it may not, now or ever, be sullied by any act or word of mine.
With profound reverence I have, from my youth, followed the teachings of the great lights of our country, from Washington
to the present day, and from them learned to love the Union
of the American
people above all other human institutions.
It is, with me, the preeminent embodiment of all national wisdom, beneficence, and greatness.
At the age of sixteen I was solemnly sworn to support the Constitution
which sprung from that Union, and on other occasions since, that oath has been repeated, until, by its influence, combined with that of every year's added experience, fidelity to that Constitution has become an intimate portion of my very existence; never to be destroyed, I hope, until that existence shall itself cease.
Here and elsewhere, to you and to all, I declare that so far as any past or existing causes of dismemberment are concerned, I am, in life or in death, for the
A third generation has almost passed away, since on this day eighty-five years ago, the American
people proclaimed themselves to be, as they had already in fact long been, one people, and solemnly before the world united their destinies for all future time as A Nation — a new, an independent, a republican, and as time has shown, a great nation.
Three millions of people were born as a Nationality on that day, baptizing themselves in streams of their own best blood, shed for liberty and national existence; to-day, the same Nation, grown to more than ten times its original numbers, a thousand-fold increased in physical power, and standing so lately without a superior in moral greatness among the nations of the earth, stains itself — O! shameful and horrid sight!--with the blood of its own people, shed in a strife provoked by passion and madness — a strife such as men have not seen before, and as the civilized world beholds with perplexity, amazement, and dread.
Under such circumstances, you will not expect that any other topics than those which so sadly engross every mind, should be now presented to you. Our Country and its perils
is the all-absorbing theme; involving an examination of the nature of our institutions, and a discussion on the startling rebellion which has burst upon us within the past six months, threatening their overthrow; and to that examination and discussion, in a frank and fearless spirit, but without exasperation or passion, I shall now address myself; earnestly invoking the supremacy of reason and of conscience, while we faithfully seek to know and understand the right.
The nature of the Union.
The Union--offspring of kingly oppression; nursed in a cradle of blood and fire, yet, Hercules-like, strong enough in its infancy to strangle the serpent that would have crushed it; respected by every foreign nation, while yet the dew of its youth is upon it; admired and venerated by the oppressed of other lands; beloved by every patriotic American; and alas!
contemned and hated by none in the whole world but its own children: what is it
? We were most of us born in the Union
; we have been reared under its benign influence; we have daily and hourly experienced its protection and its benefits; we enjoy, through it, the name and heritage of American citizens; and yet we are constrained in this day, when ungoverned malignity assails it on every side, and ruthless hands are raised for its destruction, to ask the strange and apparently superfluous question--What is the
My friends, strange as it may appear, upon this question turns much of the bitter controversy of this dark epoch in our country's history.
It lies in the foreground of every discussion of existing complications; and those complications have, to a great extent, grown out of the efforts of ambitious and unscrupulous men, to close the popular mind against what the Union
is, and to lead the people to regard it as what it is not, and thereby weaken their affection for it; a work better fitted for fiends than for men, but which fiends could not have done better than it has been done by men, who owe to the existence of the Union
all the position and influence which they have sacrilegiously used for its destruction.
As to them, we may leave them to time and to God; but with the errors they have disseminated we may never, without guilt, cease to contend; for, wherever they are implanted, the warm, all-embracing love of country, which should fill every American heart, withers and dies.
In the States where secession has been acomplished, so far as ordinances of secession could accomplish it, a period of more than thirty years has been unintermittingly occupied by their leading men, in convincing their people that the Union
sprung from the Constitution of the United States
; that the Constitution
is a mere league between separate and sovereign States, from which any State has a constitutional right to withdraw at any moment, for any cause she may deem sufficient; that allegiance is due from every man, primarily and by superior obligation, to the particular State of which he may happen to be a citizen, and only secondarily and by inferior obligation, to the United States
; and that the Government
of the United States
is a mere agent of the States, for particular purposes, with the privilege in any State to terminate the agency, as to itself, whenever it pleases.