and stating his purpose ‘to inquire what, in our age, are the true objects of national ambition,—what is truly national glory, national honor,–what is the true grandeur of nations,’ he at once denounced the recent annexation of Texas
as the occasion of a probable war with Mexico
, and the assertion, in a warlike tone, of our title to disputed territory in Oregon
claimed both by the United States
This reference to pending questions provoked an open but faint disapproval from a few friends of President Polk
Without further preface he propounded his main thesis: ‘In our age, there can be no peace that is not honorable; there can be no war that is not dishonorable.’1
Although confined to ‘our age,’ this proposition was sufficiently novel to arrest attention.
Sermons on peace had been often heard from pulpits; peace societies were conspicuous in the calendar of ‘Anniversary Week;’ treatises on moral philosophy stated strongly the ethical and religious argument against war of any kind;2
particular wars were freely denounced as inexpedient or unjust: but no orator on a municipal occasion, before officers and soldiers participating in it, had ever assailed war itself on fundamental grounds.
The oration had not proceeded far before all recognized its extraordinary character.
It was a radical departure from usage, free from commonplaces, from the reiteration of truths confessed by all, and stereotyped praises of the past.
The boldness, the audacity of the orator in assailing popular traditions and opinions, with no prestige of personal influence or acquired fame, struck every listener.
The spirit of military organization has never in time of peace been stronger than it was then, as well from a sincere and strong conviction of its utility with some, as from delight in the pageant with others.
To the interest of novelty and the respect which courage always commands, was added the charm of classic eloquence and profound earnestness; and, however unwelcome were his views with a portion of the audience, Sumner
was heard with courteous attention to the end. He carried many along with him, winning their entire assent and sometimes open applause; while others,