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[339] for the service. John Adams wrote in 1816 of these orations1:—

The town of Boston instituted an annual oration in commemoration of this catastrophe [ “ the battle of King Street, on the 5th of March, 1770” ], “upon the danger of standing armies stationed in populous cities in time of peace,” and among the first orators were such names as Hancock, Warren, and Lovell. These orations were read, I had almost said by every body that could read, and scarcely ever with dry eyes. They have now been continued for forty-five years. Will you read them all? They were not long continued in their original design, but other gentlemen with other views had influence enough to obtain a change from ‘standing armies’ to “feelings which produced the Revolution.” Of these forty-five orations I have read as many as I have seen. They have varied with all the changes of our politics. They have been made the engine of bringing forward to public notice young men of promising genius, whose convictions and sentiments were conformable to the prevailing opinions of the moment. There is juvenile ingenuity in all that I have read. There are few men of consequence among us who did not commence their career by an oration on the 5th of March. I have read these orations with a mixture of grief, pleasure, and pity. Young men of genius describing scenes they never saw, and descanting on feelings they never felt, and which great pains had been taken that they never should feel. When will these orations end? And when will they cease to be monuments of the fluctuations of public opinion and general feeling in Boston, Massachusetts, New England, and the United States? They are infinitely more indicative of the feelings of the moment, than of the feelings that produced the Revolution.

The ex-President's criticism of the orations which preceded the year in which he wrote applies equally to many which followed. Those which belong to the quarter of a century immediately succeeding the Revolution are, as a class, vapid, elegiac in tone, and delighting most in tributes to Greek and Roman heroism. The historian who seeks in them materials for illustrating our own heroic period—the sifting of traditions, the fixing of sites where deeds worthy of note were done, and narrations of what individuals and communities did for the common cause— will find his search unrewarded. This was too prosaic a task for young orators who were revelling in the first ecstasies of patriotic eloquence, and has been reserved for their successors, who have well performed it on recent centennial anniversaries.

When the generation which shared in the Revolution had passed away, there was no considerable improvement in the

1 Letter to Dr. J. Morse, 5 January, 1816. Works of John Adams, Vol. X. pp. 203, 204

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