substance of the orations.
There were well-rounded periods on the self-sacrifice of the Fathers, the beneficence of diffused knowledge, the conscientious exercise of the right of suffrage, the dangers of innovation, of party spirit, and of extended territory.
While the anniversary itself helped to maintain the sentiment of nationality, he whose place it was to express its significance contented himself too often with mere commonplaces of patriotism.
What was said was not vigorous or pointed enough to stimulate citizens to earnest reflection and good deeds.
During the decade preceding 1845, the orators themselves, in opening sentences, sometimes confessed a decline of public interest in the festival; and they strove to revive it by the selection of a more impressive theme.
The three city orators who immediately preceded Sumner
were Peleg W. Chandler
in 1844, Charles Francis Adams
in 1843, and Horace Mann
They each spoke with earnestness and power; the first two on historical subjects, and the last on popular education, to which he was then devoting himself with extraordinary industry and enthusiasm.
But among the orations which were delivered during three quarters of a century, Sumner
's was the first which attacked a custom and opinions approved by popular judgment and sanctioned by venerable traditions.
The others, even when speaking well for the country or summoning to some important duty, never jarred on popular thought and sentiment, but were, as John Adams
described them, ‘conformable to the prevailing opinions of the moment.’
The committee of the city government, charged in 1845 with the duty of selecting the orator,—of which the Mayor
, Thomas A. Davis
, was chairman,—formally notified Sumner
of his appointment on April 24.
By whose nomination he was chosen is not now known; but it appears from his correspondence that he undertook the service reluctantly, and only after considerable pressure.
While his name had very rarely been mentioned in the newspapers, and he had made no mark as a public speaker, he was well known among leading citizens for his learning and accomplishments.
The theme he chose grew out of convictions held for some years, and dwelt upon in his private correspondence.
The substantial doctrines of his oration are briefly developed in letters written in 1839 and 1843-44, already printed in these pages;1
and while in Europe
, and after his return, he wrote