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An Oration by Dr. John Savage
with related correspondence
Published in the Southern Telegraph - July 11, 1837
FOURTH OF JULY 1
Although the celebration of our National Independence in this place was signalized by no remarkable pomp and array, yet it was conducted with a spirit of becoming animation and propriety. According to previous arrangement, at 10 o'clock A. M. the Rodney Guards and citizens formed a procession in front of the Mansion House, and marched to the church. After prayer by the Rev. Mr. Russell, the Declaration of Independence was read by I. Shelby Reed, Esq., and an eloquent oration pronounced by Dr. John H. Savage which will be found in our columns to-day, together with the correspondence soliciting the same for publication.
In the afternoon, the Guards and some of the citizens partook of a plentiful repast prepared in the church grove -- Dr. Chas. B. New, acting as President, and Mr. Wm. Lape as Vice-President. We have not been favored with sentiments drank on the occasion. We understand that the best of feeling prevailed at the time, and that nothing occurred to interrupt the friendly relations and patriotic demonstrations of the party.
Rodney, July 6, 1837
Dr. John H. Savage--
Dear Sir: Suffer us, on the behalf of the Guards, to express our gratitude for the eminent pleasure your address has afforded us, and assure you that we feel deeply the importance of disseminating sound and ennobling principles of patriotism. Such principles, your eloquent address cannot fail to inculcate. That the public may enjoy the gratification which you have afforded us, we respectfully solicit a copy of your oration delivered on the 4th instant for publication.
With sentiments of high esteem, we are, dear sir,
C. B. NEW
JAS. M. KNIGHT
Rodney, July 6, 18372
Gentlemen: Your note has just been received, requesting a copy of the Oration delivered by me on the 4th inst.
The highly flattering terms in which you have been pleased to communicate your request, are due rather to the occasion and subject, than to any merit which it may possess as a performance.
I submit it, therefore, with diffidence, to your disposal, and would remark, that it was prepared amidst professional engagements and some little indisposition, which I hope will be an apology for the many defects, which I am but too sensible, it contains.
With great esteem,
Your friend and fellow citizen,
JOHN H. SAVAGE
To Dr. New, and Messrs. Jas. M. Knight, and Wm. Lape, Committee
Fellow-citizens: We have assembled here this morning to celebrate the anniversary of no ordinary event. The glad voices of a great and powerful people are this day proclaiming a nation's joy; the rich and the poor, the proud and the humble, have forgotten their distinctions , and are mingling their distinctions, and are mingling their loud acclamations together; the roar of artillery, the discharge of musketry, announce the commemoration of a glorious era; and the tears of a few hoary headed veterans, more eloquently than all, are speaking the fullness of their hearts. And wherefore come these enthusiastic demonstrations of joyful feeling? Is it to bind the laurel wreath around the blood-stained brow of some military chieftain? Or is it to pour the syren song of adulation into the ears of some favorite prince? Ours is no idle and unmeaning pageant, where the eye is dazzled, but the heart is unmoved. We have met, not to do honor to the living, but to pour incense of gratitude over the graves of departed heroes; not to signalize some victorious achievement, but to celebrate the triumph of freedom. We have assembled, fellow-citizens, to commemorate the birth day of our National Independence; to call up to our grateful recollections the memories of those illustrious men who nobly achieved it, and to impress on our minds a more solemn regard for those sacred principles of liberty which belonged to the fathers of our country.
In order to appreciate properly our exalted privileges as a people, it were necessary only to glance for a moment at Europe, and compare the condition of the most enlightened nations of that quarter, with the more favored destiny of our own country. If we caste our eye at England, the mother of our language, and once the mistress of our soil, we behold her reeling under a national debt, the interest of which, with her vast resources, she is scarcely able to pay; a few rioting in luxury and wealth, the many taxed for the benefit of the few; a clergy, who teach the divine precepts of charity and benevolence, absorbing the hard earnings of the poor. If we look to Ireland, unhappy Ireland, the land of poets and orators, of Emmet and Fitzgerald, we see her bowed down beneath the iron yoke of oppression, and we hear the moans of her brave, but suffering sons, wafted upon every breeze. If we look at France, we behold her giant energies at one moment, convulsed with revolutionary struggles, and at another slumbering with apathy in the arms of despotism; torn by factions, and shaken by the intestine commotion; her people too proud to be slaves, not virtuous enough to be free. If we look at Spain, and Portugal, and Italy, the picture is still more gloomy -- their glory has departed, and the lustre of their fame has passed away amidst the darkness of ignorance, and bigotry, and superstition.
Turn your eyes now to your own country, and how gratifying the contrast. Her rulers are not her masters, but her agents. She has no haughty aristocracy to engross her honors, and usurp her power; no standing army to feed upon her industry; no idle clergy to banquet upon the proceeds of the poor man's labor: -- but in place of them she offers competence to industry, wealth to enterprise, honors to the deserving, liberty to all. This, then is our inheritance, and for this we have reason to rejoice.
In casting our eyes back to the early history of our country, and viewing it through all of its trying struggles and <illegible> disasters, from its origin to the establishment of our National Independence, it seems more like a beautiful and thrilling tale of romance than the sober realities of history. We behold a few firm and independent men, leaving the homes of their youth and the burying places of their fathers, to seek in a new world and in a far distant wilderness, another home for themselves and their posterity. Some of them were prompted to engage in this perilous enterprise from pious motives and from a hope to enjoy that liberty of conscience which they were denied in the country of their ancestors; while others were allured by the novelty of the undertaking or the hope of gain. Privations which might have deterred even the stout hearted -- difficulties at which the spirit of enterprise might have faltered -- and dangers at which even the boldest might have felt alarm, had no terrors for these undaunted men. In despite of every sacrifice and discouragement, they accordingly undertook their voyage across the Atlantic, and arrived in the depth of winter upon a stony shore. Three thousand miles now, from the land of their ancestors, with no aid to rely upon but the God in whom they trusted, a trackless wilderness covered with snow, stretching out in gloomy and illimitable distance before them, the horrors of famine impending over them, and to complete the catalogue of the difficulties, an Indian foe to contend with, how appalling was the prospect -- how formidable and terrific was the dangers of their situation. But they met them with fortitude, and endured them with patience and perseverance; and at last they succeeded, after years of toil, of privation, and of bloody conflict, in establishing themselves in comparative comfort and independence.
How often have you, my fellow-citizens, gathered around the evening fire sides of your fathers, and listened with an eager ear and with an intense and chilling interest to the chivalrous deeds and the daring exploits of the first settlers of Kentucky? The names of Boone, and Harrod, and Logan, call up to your vivid fancies, the soul-stirring incidents, the intrepid achievements, the fierce and desperate encounters which belong to "the dark and bloody ground" -- and yet, in comparison with the first settlement of Virginia and Massachusetts it has more the character of romantic and dangerous enterprise, than that of the heart chilling expatriation of the forefathers of our country, their helpless separation from the world of white men, and the gloomy sacrifice of all that is dear to the human heart.
Notwithstanding, however, the almost insurmountable difficulties , which the two provinces of Virginia and New England had to encounter, their numbers soon began to increase; other colonies were established by new emigrants, and the cultivation of the soil not only yielded sufficient for their own consumption, but afforded some for export. The various colonies which in progress of time were scattered along the coast, soon began to wear an aspect of prosperity; and while the planters were realizing the comforts of life, and gradual accumulation of property, they were able, by their contributions to add something to the revenue of the mother country.
As the condition of the colonies improved, the spirit and feelings of the inhabitants became more independent; and on the other hand, we find from the very commencement of the growth and prosperity of the colonies, a disposition was manifested on the part of the mother country to tyrannize over and oppress them. Commercial restrictions, oppressive taxation, and arbitrary laws seem to have characterized the policy of England at an early period of the existence of the colonies. But they never were quietly or tamely submitted to. When the colonies scarcely numbered a handful of men, we see them standing forth openly, and asserting their rights, resisting oppression, and ready to maintain at every hazard the privileges which belonged to them. It would afford a subject no less interesting than instructive, to contemplate these colonies from the first moment of their political existence -- to observe their spirit of freedom in its infant state -- to see their principles unfolding as they advance -- and finally, to behold how these characteristic qualities which distinguish them in mature age, were successively acquired. But I must pass over many of the interesting events connected with the early history of our country, to those of a period more immediately connected with the glorious occasion which has this day called us together. For some years previous to the breaking out of open hostilities between the colonies and England, it is well known to you, fellow-citizens, that the former had been subjected to the exercise of arbitrary power and of almost every species of oppression until it became a burden too heavy to be borne. The particular aggressions upon our rights have been clearly set forth in the sacred Declaration of Independence which you have just heard so eloquently read. Petitions for redress were sent to the throne, and they were trampled upon with silent contempt; remonstrations were made to the British Parliament, and they were answered with contumely and reproach. The duty on tea was reserved, after every other injury had been heaped upon our devoted countrymen, to furnish occasion to the ministry for a new effort to enslave and ruin them. A cargo of their tea was shipped to Boston, for the purpose of ascertaining how far they could carry their acts of oppression, and to what extent they could trample upon the rights of an unoffending people with impunity. But the measure of injustice and wrong was full to overflowing; the point of endurance had been transcended, and the infant energies of an indignant people which had been gathering like dark and portentous clouds, now burst forth into unrestrained and open resistance. In the month of December, 1773, the cargo of tea was thrown into the sea. It was the first oblation on the altar of freedom. It was the first signal in the glorious struggle for independence, and as they dashed the poisoned chalice of oppression from their lips, the war shout of liberty rung like a clarion through the land. The decisive step was now taken -- the line was distinctly drawn between the friends of liberty and its enemies -- and a trial, a fearful trial, was now to be made whether it was to be a country of freemen or slaves. It was a dark and gloomy period. An infant people scattered over a widely extended territory, with scanty resources, surrounded by warlike Indians, and with nothing but stout hearts and a good cause to aid them, had now marshaled themselves in array against the most powerful nation in the world. They knew well the disheartening disadvantages under which they labored; they foresaw the dangers of the contest, the difficulties, the sacrifices, the privations, which they must encounter in the conflict -- but they weighed them with the burden of tyranny and oppression under which they were then groaning, and their choice was soon decided upon. "If we fail," (said one of the most illustrious patriots of that day) "if we fail, it can be no worse for us. But we shall not fail. The cause will rise up armies; the cause will create navies. The people -- the people, if we are true to them, will carry us, and will carry themselves gloriously through the struggle." "I know the people of these colonies -- and I know that resistance to British aggression is deep and settled in their hearts, and cannot be eradicated." It is impossible, my fellow-citizens, to contemplate the fervent patriotism, the glowing love of liberty, the heroic self-devotion which breathed in every word, and animated every thought and act of the illustrious men of this period, without mingled emotions of wonder, of admiration, and gratitude. Who can call to his recollections their bold defiance of danger, their unbending and indomitable attachment to the holy cause which they had espoused, and not feel his bosom burn with indignation at their wrongs, and his heart pound with patriotic ardor? Who can remember their voluntary exposure to every privation, and their contemptuous disregard to all pecuniary considerations, without feeling elevated by the purity of their sentiments? Who can call to mind their unflinching firmness in every difficulty, and their patient submission to every misfortune, and not feel a veneration for the almost sublime intrepidity of their character? When we look back to this solemn and gloomy period of our country's history, and behold with the eye of fancy, the old revolutionary Congress assembled at Philadelphia -- when we see the bold and determined, but anxious and careworn countenances of Hancock, and Franklin, and Adams, and Jefferson, and others, conferring together upon the best measures for the welfare of their unhappy country -- when we imagine we hear the impassioned strains of eloquence that burst forth from their lips, summoning the friends of liberty to the rescue of their country, and invoking the aid of Heaven with fervent solemnity, we are constrained these mighty men as the commissioned agents of Providence, to achieve its own holy and glorious purposes.
Europe looked on with astonishment, and the throne of Britain trembled with dismay. They smiled with derision at our colonial Congress as an assemblage of wild, and visionary, and ambitious politicians; but they found it composed of profound statesmen, of able and ambitious scholars, and of powerful and soul stirring orators. They sent out troops to subdue a few refractory rebels, and they found men who could not be conquered because they loved liberty better than life. They expected to find a few ambitious and mercenary leaders, whom gold would bribe into submission, and they found men who were willing to sacrifice their fortunes and lives upon the altar of their country. Bribe, did I say? During the siege at Boston, Gen. Washington consulted Congress on the propriety of bombarding the town. While the subject was undergoing discussion in Congress, Mr. Hancock, with characteristic magnanimity, remarked: "It is true that all the property I have in the world is in the houses and other real estate in the town of Boston; but if the expulsion of the British army from it, and the liberties of our country require their being burnt to ashes, issue the order immediately." What an example of noble disinterestedness, of patriotic self-devotion, is here, my fellow-citizens. Would to God, that sentiments like this, could be written upon the hearts of all Americans. Statesmen of this now great and powerful Republic, will you not, as you assemble in that city which takes its name from the father of this country -- will you not, as you ascend the steps of the Capitol, the sacred temple of your country's liberties -- will you not, as you take your seats in the legislative halls of the nation, the venerable sanctuaries of a people's rights -- will you not call to mind the noble independence, the self sacrificing patriotism, which pervaded, and animated, and inspired that little band of patriots which composed the old Continental Congress? Will you not remember, that they thought not of themselves, but of their country? That they sought not honor, nor wealth, nor power for themselves -- but the happiness, the prosperity, and freedom of their country? It was in 1775, that the Congress determined on prosecuting an open war with Great Britain, and adopted energetic measures for raising troops. The soil of Massachusetts was still wet with the blood which was shed in the battles of Lexington, Concord, and Bunker Hill. The spirit of Warren, as it went up from the battle field of Bunker Hill, hovered for a moment over his bleeding country, and then descended into the bosom of Washington, as the patriot hero to avenge his death and his country's wrongs. Washington received his commission as commander-in-chief on the same day on which the lamented Warren fell "in freedom's holy cause."
The year 1776 set in, in almost impenetrable gloom. Dark and heavy clouds were spread over our political horizon. At times they became somewhat dispersed, and the blue sky could be faintly discerned; but again it was suddenly obscured, and a dark, cheerless gloom settled on the face of our land. Congress again met. The hopes of the bold and sanguine were not indeed shaken -- but the fears of the timid were increased. It was as this inauspicious period that the subject of the Independence of the Colonies was first discussed. It is true, that the Independence of the Colonies, was not the object originally contemplated by them. They would have been satisfied at first to have been relieved of the grievances of which they complained. But when they remembered how much they had suffered, and with what patience they had endured -- when they found that the sword at last must be drawn -- when they looked around upon the reeking altar of their country, and heard its immolated victims crying to them for revenge, they resolved that they would achieve their freedom or perish in its cause. Congress accordingly declared the colonies free, sovereign, and independent. This declaration, so unexpected, burst from the Western hemisphere like a mighty thunderbolt, and mingling with the quick and vivid flashes of a nation's wrath, rolled in awful majesty across the Atlantic, and shook the thrones of Europe to their centre. France listened, and she heard the roar of the coming tempest; she gazed, and saw an infant people beneath a tyrant's grip, struggling to be free; and, girding her armor, she flew to the rescue. Great Britain began to discover that the conquest of the rebellious provinces was no frivolous undertaking, which could be accomplished by an ostentatious parade of military power, and by empty threats of vengeance. She augmented the number of her troops, and sent out a large naval force at once, as she vainly hoped to overwhelm the colonies and terminate the contest. But notwithstanding these vigorous exertions, the campaign of 1776, gloomy and disheartening as it was in its commencement to the American cause, terminated with brighter prospects, and with the increased confidence of its friends, in the ultimate redemption of their country. During this year, the surprise and capture of the Hessian troops near Trenton, by Gen. Washington, revived the drooping spirits of our suffering army, and stimulated our countrymen to renewed devotion and more zealous activity in the great cause which they had espoused.
In reviewing at this period, the history of this eventful struggle, and contrasting the resources, the power, and the wealth of Britain, with the narrow and limited means of an infant people -- the number of her disciplined and well provided troops, with a far inferior force of the colonies, without clothing and exposed to every want, it would seem surprising that the operations of the British army were of so feeble and indecisive character. But when we reflect upon the different motives which animated the leaders and men of the two opposing armies -- when we compare the activity of the provincial troops, with the luxurious ease, the voluptuous dissipation, and profligate licentiousness of the English General and his army, our surprise ceases. While our devoted Washington, with his few, but gallant men, half clothed, half starved, borne up by a love of country, and urged on by an unquenchable hatred of tyranny, was enduring hardships at which humanity shudders, Gen. Howe, with upwards of thirty thousand men, was wasting time and the energies of his army, in a life of gayety and pleasure. On the one side were arrayed men who had been goaded into resistance, by repeated acts of injustice and oppression; on the other, were the minions of power -- the mere mercenary hirelings of an arbitrary monarch. On the one side were men impelled by lofty feelings of patriotism, and animated by a virtuous love of liberty; on the other were enlisted men who took no interest in their cause, and who felt that they had nothing to gain by success, and nothing to lose by defeat. Under circumstances like these, temporary misfortune, occasional defeat, and a combination of minor disadvantages, might indeed embarrass the operations of the colonies, and protract the war -- but they could not overcome them. They had erected in the new world, at temple of liberty; on its summit waved their broad banner, and they were resolved, if they must fall, at least they would fall with it. The contest went on; every battle won fresh laurels to our heroes, and every campaign inspired the friends of liberty with increased confidence in their success.
The haughty insolence of Britain felt humbled by her defeat, and disdain began to soften down into a feeling of compromise and concession. In 1778, she sent over commissioners with conciliatory propositions, which were submitted to Congress. The President returned an answer that they would maintain their independence, and would accede to no proposition which did not admit it.
It would occupy more time than custom has allotted on these occasions, to recapitulate to you, fellow-citizens, the many hard fought battles and brilliant victories of our Revolutionary heroes. But they need no repetition, for they are yet fresh in your recollections, and will go down to posterity with the same unfaded brightness. The battles of Brandywine and Bennington, of Saratoga and Stillwater, of Monmouth and Yorktown, will live in story, and give lustre to the page of history, when the thrones of royalty and the sculptured monuments of military greatness shall have crumbled into dust. The contest was over; the victory was won. At the close of the siege of Yorktown, the last thunderbolt of the war had passed away -- the clouds were dispersed -- and the sun of liberty rose with resplendent brightness upon a free and happy land.
But let us not forget, fellow-citizens, to pronounce the illustrious name, and do homage to him, who, it the dawn of manhood, surrounded by every allurement of pleasure, enjoying all that the splendor of wealth or the power of nobility could confer, was willing to forsake them all, and in the day of its greatest darkness and peril, to embark on the great cause of American Independence. He was no friendless wanderer whom misfortune had driven from the land of his fathers -- he loved the land of his nativity, and the valiant sons of France hailed him as one of their favorite chiefs. But the cry of oppression reached him from a distant shore -- the bugle of liberty sounded its inspiring notes, and he hastened to obey its summons. He went to the tombs of his ancestors, and he knelt over illustrious ashes which reposed there; he turned to the cherished idols of his ardent affection, and implored the blessings of Heaven upon them, and next to them, upon the holy cause which he had espoused: he left them -- but not in sorrow; he felt his soul expanded and elevated by the sacred fire which burned within him, and he longed to identify himself with the little band of heroes in their noble struggle for freedom. The winds of Heaven proudly wafted him over the ocean -- the land of his fathers faded in the dim distance, and a new land, the future birthplace of liberty, was now before him and around him. He went out to the great work in which he was to engage. He had been nursed in the lap of luxury and ease -- but he cared not for danger or fatigue. He shared in the toils and the dangers of his fellow soldiers. He fought and bled with the champions of freedom; he asked for no remuneration but the success of his glorious cause, and he nobly obtained it. Future generations, while they recount the deeds of valor and patriotism in the great struggle for American Independence, will delight to dwell upon the name of La Fayette, as the friend of liberty and benefactor of mankind.
But how shall I speak to you of Washington -- of him whose name is a Nation's history -- whose character is its glory -- whose memory is its treasure? If I say that he lived not for himself, but for his country and the world -- if I say that the splendor of his public life was equaled only by the purity of his private character -- if I say that he combined in an eminent degree, those great qualities which belong to the hero, the statesman, and the philanthropist -- your grateful hearts will call it poor praise. Be it so. To appreciate his character fully, belongs only to futurity. Not until after ages have enjoyed those blessings of civil liberty which it was his glory to establish, can his praise be spoken, or the measure of his fame be full. Ages shall pass away, but his name and glory shall grow brighter and brighter. Like some great luminary, his transcendent fame is destined to career to a place high in the heavens, and to shed its mild and beneficent light on the most distant nations of the earth. But, though our faltering tongues may not speak his praise, though our best incense may be the silence of grateful hearts -- yet, a solemn responsibility rests upon us, fellow-citizens, to preserve inviolate and unimpaired, the rich inheritance which has been handed down to us by Washington and his associates.
During a period of more than half a century, our country has gone on triumphantly through the sunshine of peace and the fearful storms of war. She has been honored by all nations. Our commerce has extended to every portion of the globe, and "the star spangled banner" has been hailed with respect in every clime. Within our own State, even in the short period of time of your own remembrance, what unexampled prosperity has prevailed. Our majestic forests have given place to smiling fields, and the cultivated earth has been made to give up its hidden wealth. Where but a short time since stood the rude log-hut, now reared the lofty and elegant mansion. Thriving and populous towns now occupy the places, where, but a few years since, the Indians roamed in pursuit of game, or mused perhaps in solitude or silence on the destinies of his fallen race. If no great political calamity should befall this happy country -- if no unhallowed inovavation3 upon our constitution -- no reckless and visionary experiments should be madly attempted, what exhilerating4 expectations, what bright and happy visions of the future, may not be safely entertained. But without indulging upon speculations of the future, let us endeavor to preserve at least the noble patrimony which we have received from our ancestors. Let each one of us, my fellow-citizens, consider himself personally responsible, as one of the guardians of this priceless treasure. Let us venerate the republican virtues of our fathers, and cherish as the life blood of our institutions, those principles for which they hazarded "their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor."
Guards! The great events which are connected with this day's commemoration, address themselves with peculiar force to you. The young men, in all ages, have been the hope of their country, and the bulwark of its liberty. It was the young men in our country, who first raised the spirit of rebellion and resistance against the encroachments and aggressions of British power; it was the young men of the Polytechnic school who first raised the standard of liberty in Poland; and it is to you, as young men, that our country looks for the preservation of its free institutions.
The daring deeds of your fathers -- their burning love of liberty -- the blood they shed as ransom for your country -- call upon you this day, as citizen soldiers, to renew those solemn pledges which in the darkest hour of oppression, they made and gloriously deemed. The voices of the veteran soldiers who fell in the revolution, come up from the hill tops and the green fields, where their bones are mouldering5, and call upon you this day, as their sons, to act as faithfull6 and vigilant "Guards" over the liberties of your country. The sainted spirit of Washington leans from the blue vault of Heaven, and bids you this day stand up around the altar of freedom, and swear that those glistening arms shall always be ready to defend it. But you have anticipated the summons; your hearts are already beating with patriotic ardor; your banner already waves proudly in the breeze; and like a Spartan band, you stand ready for your country's call. The chivalrous spirit which prompted the formation of your gallant corps -- your excellent discipline -- and your lofty and martial bearing, fully evince that spirit which animated the heroes of the Revolution, still burns in the bosom's of their descendants. The mantle of the sire's patriotism has descended fresh and unfaded7 to the son.
Go on, then, to your noble enterprize8. Let your patriotic zeal stimulate you to increased exertion to prepare yourselves for the service of your country. The illustrious examples of Washington and La Fayette will shed a brilliant light around your path, and will conduct you in your progress through life, as citizens or soldiers, to a glorious march of honor and renown. The father of the great Hannibal, on his death bed, required his son to vow eternal hatred to the Romans. -- Your fathers have left a better and wiser request; not to hate another country -- but to love your own. Cherish it then, as a noble inheritance -- as the holy sanctuary of the rights of man; cherish it, for the inestimable privileges which it confers; cherish it, as the asylum of the oppressed in every land; cherish it, as the world's last, great hope in the permanency of a free, and happy, and powerful Republic.
1 Published in Southern Telegraph, Rodney, Mississippi, on July 11, 1837. Transcribed by James W. Norris, August 2003
2 The printed text gives the year as 1836, but that date is clearly incorrect.
3 I have retained the spelling in the original document at this point.
4 Also here as well.
5 And here
6 And here
7 And here
8 And here
Contributed by James W. Norris
Contributor's note: The article was published in the Southern Telegraph on July 11, 1837. Dr. Savage married my great grandfather's aunt. Somehow or other, this newspaper survived in family hands all these years. Dr. Savage died in the Yellow Fever epidemic of 1843.