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WAR AND LOYALTY.*
(From Brownson's Quarterly Review for October, 1846.]
Our orators have invested the Fourth of July with so many disturbing associations, that our citizens are gradually becoming less and less disposed to greet its annual return with those festivities which it was the hope of our fathers would continue to mark it through all generations to come. Still, it is a day sacred in the affections of every American citizen, and it cannot come round without exciting lively emotions of gratitude and joy in every American heart. The birth of a nation is an event to be remembered, and the day on which it takes its rank in the family of independent nations is well deserving to be set apart by some service, at once joyous and solemn, recounting the glory which has been won, the blessings which have been received, and pointing to the high destiny and grave responsibilities to which the new people are called.
The orations ordinarily given on our national anniversary are of that peculiar sort which it is said neither gods nor men can tolerate. They are tawdry and turgid, full of stale declamation about liberty, fulsome and disgusting glorification of ourselves as a people, or uncalled-for denunciations of those states and empires, that have not seen proper to adopt political institutions similar to our own. perhaps, be too fastidious in our taste, and too sweeping in our censures. Boys will be boys, and dulness will be dulness, and when either is installed “orator of the day,” the performance must needs be boyish or dull. But when the number of orations annually called forth by our national jubilee, from all sorts of persons, throughout the length and breadth of the land, is considered, we may rather wonder that so many are produced which do credit to their authors, and fall not far below the occasion, than that there are so few. All are not mere school-boy productions; all are not patriotisin on tiptoe, nor eloquence on stilts. Every year
Yet we may, sends out a few, which, for their sound sense, deep thought, subdued passion, earnest spirit, manly tone,and chaste expression, deserve an honorable place in our national literature. There are--and perhaps as large a proportion as we ought to expect-Fourth of July orators, who, while they indulge in not unseemly exultations, forget to disgust us with untimely rant about self-government, the marvellous virtue and intelligence of the masses, and the industrial miracles they are daily performing; who show by their reserve, rather than by their noisy declamation, that they have American hearts, and confidence in American patriotism and American institutions. A people not factitionsly great has no occasion to speak of its greatness; and true patriotism expresses itself in deeds, not words. The real American patriots are not those shallow brains and gizzard hearts which are always prating of the American spirit, American . genius, American interests, American greatness, and calling for an American party; but those calm, quiet, self-possessed spirits who rarely think of asking themselves whether they are Americans or not, and who are too sincere and ardent in their patriotism to imagine it can be necessary to parade its titles. Their patriotism has no suspicions, no jealousies, no fears, no self-consciousness. It is too deep for words. It is silent, majestic. It is where the country is, does what she bids, and, though sacrificing all upon her altars, never dreams that it is doing any thing extraordinary. There is, perhaps, more of this genuine patriotism in the American people than strangers, or even we ourselves, commonly suppose. The foam floats on the surface, and is whirled hither and thither by each shifting breeze; but below are the sweet, silent, and deep waters.
* An Oration deliver before the Authorities of the City of Boston in the Tremont Temple, July 4, 1846. By FLETCHER WEBSTER. Boston: 1846.
Among the orations delivered on our great national festival, which we would not willingly forget, the one before us by Mr. Fletcher Webster, eldest son of Daniel Webster, deserves a high rank. It is free from the principal faults to which we have alluded, simple and chaste in its style and language, bold and manly in its tone and spirit, and, in the main, sound and just in doctrine and sentiment. It frequently reminds us of the qualities which mark the productions of the author's distinguished father, and which have placed him at the head of American Orators; and it bears ample evidence, that, with time, experience, and effort, the son need not be found unworthy of such a father.
Certainly, we do not subscribe to every sentiment, view,
or argument of this eloquent oration ; but we like its frank and manly tone, its independent and earnest spirit, and we accept without reserve the leading doctrine it was designed to set forth. We are also grateful to Mr. Webster for having had the moral courage to assert great truths in a community where they can win little applause, and to administer a well merited rebuke to certain dangerous ultraisms when and where it was not uncalled for. He has proved that he is not unworthy to be reckoned a freeman and a patriot, and he deserves and will receive the approbation of all who can distinguish between words and things, and prefer sound sense and solid wisdom to mad fanaticism and hollow cant. It is cheering to tind our young men rising above the tendencies of the age and country, and manifesting some respect for the wisdom and virtue of their ancestors, and indicating that they have some suspicion that all that is wise and just was not born with the new generation and possibly may not die with it. It permits us to hope things may not have gone quite so badly with us as we had feared; that the people are less unsound at the core than we had dared besieve; that, after all, there is a redeeming spirit at work among them; and that our noble experiment in behalf of popular institutions may not be destined to a speedy failure.
Our great danger lies in the radical tendency which has become so wide, deep, and active in the American people. We have, to a great extent, ceased to regard any thing as sacred or venerable; we spurn what is old ; war against what is fixed; and labor to set all religious, domestic, and social institutions afloat on the wild and tumultuous sea of speculation and experiment. Nothing has hitherto gone right; nothing has been achieved that is worth retaining; and man and Providence have thus far done nothing but commit one continued series of blunders. All things are to be reconstructed; the world is to be recast, and by our own wisdom and strength. We must borrow no light from the past, adopt none of its maxims, and take no data from its experience. Even language itself, which only embodies the thoughts, convictions, sentiments, hopes, affections, and aspirations of the race, cannot serve as a medium of intercourse between man and man. It is not safe to affirm that black is black, for the word black only names an idea which the past entertained, and most likely a false idea. With such a tendency, wide and deep, strong and active, we cannot but apprehend the most serious dangers. With it there can be no permanent institutions, no government, no society, no virtue, no well-being.
There is much to strengthen this radical tendency. It is natural to the inexperienced, the conceited, and the vain ; and it can hardly fail to be powerful in a community where these have facilities for occupying prominent and commanding positions. Young enthusiasts, taught to "remember, when they are old, not to forget the dreams of their youth," that is, not to profit by experience, and not doubting that what they were ignorant of yesterday was known by no one, and that they must needs be as far in advance of all the world as they are of their own infancy, bring benevolent affection, disinterested zeal, and conscientiousness to its aid ; political aspirants, reckless of principle and greedy of place, appeal to it as their most facile means of success; and the mass of the people, finding their passions flattered, and their prejudices undisturbed, are thrown off their guard, presume all is right, and cherish unconsciously the enemy that is to destroy them. A factitious public opinion grows up, becomes supreme, to which whoever wishes for some consideration in the community in which he lives, must offer incense, and which he must presume on no occasion to contradict. The majority of the people, indeed, may not be represented by this opinion,-may, it is true, not approve it; but they are isolated one from another, minding each their own affairs, and ignorant of their numbers and strength ; while the few, by their union, mutual acquaintance, concert, and clamor, are able to silence any single voice not raised in adulation of their idol. Political parties conspire to the same end. One party to-day, ambitious of success, courts this factitious public opinion as a useful auxiliary, and succeeds; the other must do so to-morrow, or abandon all hopes of succeeding. Then follows a strife of parties, which shall bid highest, and outradical the other. The radical tendency is thus daily exaggerated by those who in reality disapprove it, and in their feelings have no sympathy with it. Hence, the evil goes ever from bad to worse. Unhappily, this is no fancy sketch. We have seen it, and we see it daily pass under our own eyes, and not, we confess, without lively alarm for our beloved country and her popular institutions.
İt is, therefore, with more than ordinary pleasure that we see among our young men, in whose hands are the destinies