individuality which had been the growth of her history,—often described by visitors as very much like an English town.
The annual oration was at first commemorative of the ‘Boston Massacre,’—an encounter between the British
troops and the populace, March 5, 1770, resulting in the death of five of the inhabitants, to whom their fellow-citizens accorded the honors of martyrdom.
On the first and on each succeeding anniversary the people met to listen to some orator of their choice.
With the achievement of Independence in 1783, the day of the annual celebration was changed by a resolve of the citizens in town meeting at Faneuil Hall;1
which, after reciting that ‘it has been found to be of eminent advantage to the cause of America
in disseminating the principles of virtue and patriotism among her citizens,’ declared ‘that the celebration of the fifth of March from henceforwards shall cease, and that instead thereof the anniversary of the 4th day of July, A. D. 1776—a day ever memorable in the annals of this country for the Declaration of our Independence—shall be constantly celebrated by the delivery of a public oration in such place as the town shall determine to be most convenient for the purpose; in which the orator shall consider the feelings, manners, and principles which led to this great national event, as well as the important and happy effects, whether general or domestic, which already have, and will for ever continue, to flow from this auspicious epoch.’
From that time to the present the orations have been delivered in unbroken succession,—in the Old South Church and Faneuil Hall, or, during recent years, in more convenient resorts, as the Tremont Temple
, Music Hall, and Boston Theatre.
The mayor and aldermen, common council and other city officers, have marched in procession with music and military escort to the appointed place, attended by a concourse of citizens who have filled the seats and aisles.
The list of orators includes some who have left an enduring memory; but conspicuous by their absence from it are the names of Webster
Sometimes a veteran orator has been summoned from his retirement, as Mr. Everett
in 1860, and Mr. Winthrop
in 1876,—each speaking with undiminished vigor, and adding another to his many triumphs.
But generally, from the early period to the present, young men under thirty or thirty-five have been selected