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EDUCATION AND PROGRESS
BENJAMIN HARVEY HILL
Benjamin Harvey Hill was a noted southern lawyer and member of the Confederate Provisional Congress. His eloquence caused him to be in great demand on public occasions. He died in Atlanta in August, 1882.
In the present, far more than in any preceding age ideas govern mankind. Not individuals nor societies, not kings nor emperors, not fleets nor armies, but ideas -educated intellects—using and controlling all these, as does the mechanic his tools, uproot dynasties, overturn established systems, subvert and reorganize governments, revolutionize social fabrics, and direct civilization. True, we have the most wonderful physical developments—as marvelous in character as they are rapid in multiplication. Whether we look to the engines of war or the arts of peace, to the means of destruction or the appliances for preservation, to the facilities for distribution or the sources of production and accumulation, we shall find nothing in the past comparable to the achievements of the present. But all these gigantic elements of physical power are but the fruits of educated minds. They have leaped into being at the mandate of ideas, they are under the absolute command
of ideas; and whether they shall really promote or destroy civilization must depend altogether upon the wise or unwise discretion of this omnipotent commander. Thought is the Hercules of this age, and his strength is equally a vigorous fact, whether it be employed in throttling the lion of power or in cleaning out the Augean stables of accumulated social error. Moving by nations, by races, and by systems, this irresistible ruler, educated thought, is setting aside old and setting up new civilizations at will.
It is not my purpose now to analyze the different civilizations which are competing in the great struggle to lead humanity, nor to select any one for prominent advocacy. Nor must I be understood as saying that that which changes always reforms, nor yet, that every apparent triumph is a just progress. But this much I affirm is true; that community, that people, that nation, nay that race or that system which Diogenes-like, will now content itself with living in its own tub, asking nothing of the conquering powers around it except that they stand out of its sunshine, will soon find itself in hopeless darkness, the object of derision for its helplessness and of contempt for its folly. Whether civilization on the whole is going forward or going backward, the result must be the same to those who insist on standing still, they must be overwhelmed. Because all the world is moving, therefore, each portion of the world must be awake and thinking, up and acting. Nor can we afford to waste time and strength in defense of theories and systems, however valued in their day, which have been swept down by the moving avalanche of actual events. No system which has fallen and been destroyed
in the struggles of the past will ever be able to rise and grapple with the increasing power of its conqueror in the future. We can live neither in nor by the defeated past, and if we would live in the growing, conquering future, we must furnish our strength to shape its course and our will to discharge its duties. The pressing question, therefore, with every people is, not what they have been, but what they shall determine to be; not what their fathers were, but what their children shall be.
God in His wisdom, mysteriously it may be to us, has made the educated men in the South, of this generation, the living leaders of thought for a great and noble people, but a people bewildered by the suddenness with which they have been brought to those junctures in human affairs when one civilization abruptly ends and another begins. I feel oppressed with a sense of fear that we shall not be equal to the unusual responsibilities this condition imposes unless we can deal frankly with these events, frankly with ourselves, and bravely struggle with our very habits of thought. Though unjustly, even cruelly slain, brave survivors lie not down with the dead, but rise up resolved all the more to be leaders and conquerors with and for the living.
No period in the history and fortune of our state was ever half so critical as the present. And in this anxious hour, this crisis of her fate, to whom shall the state look with hope if not to her own educated sons? Who shall save our Rome from the clutch of the despot and tread of the vandal, if our Antonies still madly follow the fleeing, faithless, fallen African?
Gentlemen, we cannot escape the responsibility pressing upon us. If we prove unequal to our duties now,
then a state with every natural gift but worthy sons, appropriated by others, must be the measure of our shame in the future. But if we prove equal to these duties now, then a State surpassed by none in wealth, worth and power, will be the glory that is waiting to reward our ambitions.
And we shall escape this shame and win this glory if we now fully comprehend and manfully act upon
three predicate propositions: first that the civilization peculiar to the Southern States hitherto has passed away and forever; second, that no new civilization can be equal to the demands of the age which does not lay its foundations in the intelligence of the people and in the multiplication of industries; third, that no system of education for the people can be complete, or efficient, or available, which does not begin with an ample, wellendowed, and independent university.
These three postulates embody the triunity of all our hopes as a people. Here the work of recovery must begin-and in this way alone, and by us alone, can it be begun. The educated men of the United States of this generation must be responsible for the future of the United States. The educated men of the South now before me must be responsible for the future of the South. (That future will be anything you command. From every portion of this dear old commonwealth there comes this day, an earnest, anxious voice, saying to you: “Shall we live or shall we die? Shall we rise or fall yet lower? Shall we command or shall we serve?” Gathering in my own the voices of you all and with hearts resolved and purposes fixed I send back the gladdening response: “We shall live! We shall rise! We