Robert Todd Lincoln
Galley proofs of speech at Galesburg, Ill October 7, 1896
I SOMETIMES wonder how many of the seventy millions of our people, who are still on what is called the sunny side of middle life, really understand the greatness of the dangers from which our country was rescued by the quick uprising and the dauntless patriotism of the volunteers of 1861, or at all appreciate what they endured for four long years in desolate camps, on difficult marches, in fierce battles and in unsheltered prison pens, to prevent the breaking up of our nation into hostile fragments. Here, in the North, the roll of the drum, and the tramp of the troops, the return of the sick and wounded soldiers, and the funerals of the dead, were incessant for month after month and year after year, but probably not one person in ten has now more than a shadowy recollection of even the loud rejoicings at the final home-coming of the surviving veterans.
It is not to recall victories or to revive bitter memories that this monument is raised, but to do just honor to the brave dead, and to encourage patriotism in the living by putting before those whose memory and personal knowledge are only of the peaceful times in which we live, something that will cause them to reflect upon what it is that leads men, when their country or its honor, or the institutions upon which its safety rests, are assailed by enemies, foreign or domestic, to lay down their occupations, whether of business or of pleasure, and to give themselves wholly to the public service; and if it actual war that comes, that makes
them leave their homes, their parents or their wives and children, and to endure in patience the numberless hardships of active warfare--to face rifle balls and bursting shells, and to risk not only the unutterable miseries of imprisonment, but probable maiming, and possible violent death.
The sentiment which so compels them involves the suppression of self and absolute devotion to the principle that the highest duty of man is to the State. Its loftiness is recognized by all, for there is no virtue whose exhibition in time of public need is so honored by every human being, in all ages and in all lands, as patriotism.
It is to pay such honor that at a set time in every year reverent hands cover these graves with fragrant flowers. It is to pay such honor that we are here today.
Let us remind ourselves, and tell our youth what we can in fewest words, of the story that cannot be told too often--of what it was that roused the brave hearts of these dead heroes.
The question debated here in 1858 was one as to which it now seems almost incredible that there could be opposing parties, and yet that question caused the longest and most bitter war of modern times.
Human slavery had been protected by the laws of the United States if fifteen states of the Union. Their people had been brought up to believe in its rightfulness as a moral question and in its expediency from an
economical point of view. The republican party was formed by those who believed slavery to be a heinous wrong to the enslaved and economically injurious to the community in which it existed; but the party was formed, not to attack slavery in the states where it was then lawful, but to prevent its extension into other states. The candidate of that party was elected President in 1860, and as Chief Magistrate he was at once confronted by the attempted secession from the Union of at first seven, but soon eleven states with a population of five and a half millions of whites and three and a half millions of slaves, occupying a territory nearly four times as large as France, and having a sea-coast of more than three thousand miles.
Think of what was meant by the success of such an effort; instead of there being a great and powerful nation, living under a single Constitution, the world's model of a Charter of Liberty; with Federal laws under whose wisdom and efficiency we had grown and prospered as no nation had ever done before; with no restraints on trade in all the land from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific; from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico; with holy traditions of the days in which our national existence was established; and of other days in which it was defended against powerful foes; and with the common veneration of the glorious Washington as the Father of our great country; instead of all this, there was to be chaos--all this was to pass away. There was to be a bayonet lined boundary between the North
and the South along the line of the Ohio river; a hostility implacable for generations to come was to be the very essence of the relations of the neighboring countries. And if it became established that seven states could peaceably secede, so of course could any other; a state could be expelled from the nation by all the others seceding from it; and the commerce of any interior state could be absolutely excluded from access to others or to foreign nations.
If these things could be, there could be left but one answer for the question of the President to the representatives of the people: "Must a government, of necessity, be too strong for the liberties of its own people, or to weak too maintain its own existence?"
In spite of the most solemn and the most authoritative assurances to the contrary, the people of the seceding sates claimed that their rights and property were menaced by the new administration; they formed a separate government as a nation; created armies; seized all national property within their limits and defied the Constitution and the laws of the Union.
At first there were serious dissensions and discussions in the North as to what course should be taken in such a crisis. The work of Washington and his ragged and battle-scarred heroes, and of the far-seeing statesmen who built upon their foundations, seemed for a time to be undone.
In some manufacturing countries of Europe, longing for an unrestricted market in the rich new Southern
empire, which had no industry of moment except agriculture, and which had by its Constitution prohibited the protection of mechanical industries, there was wide rejoicing in the apparent dismemberment and downfall of the great leader of republics; and the greatest one of these foreign countries was not entirely careful in straining the rules of international law in its willingness to see the catastrophe completed.
The gloom of those threatening days can never be forgotten by those who had passed the age of childhood. Week after week it lasted, but suddeny it seemed to be dissipated as by a flash of lightning. The flag of the nation had been fired upon at Fort Sumpter. The flame of the burning fort was not extinguished before its sparks had kindled the fires upon the altars of patriotism in every town of the loyal North and in almost every home. All doubt and hesitation disappeared. The world saw the Uprising of a Great People. Before the little garrison of Fort Sumter had marched from its ruined walls, a proclamation was drawn by the President calling for seventy-five thousand soldiers to suppress the insurrection, but ere there was time to issue it, there came to him, a pledge the earnest support of his great ability and wide-spread influence in re-establishing the authority of the national government, the great Democratic leader who had been his lifelong political antagonist, Stephen A. Douglas.
In the peril of the Republic, the contentions of Democracy and Republicanism were by him and the Presi
dent put aside, and for the first time in their lives, which had been passed in the same community, they clasped hands as allies in a public cause.
In the election then just past, more than a million devoted followers in the North had cast their ballots for Mr. Douglas, and to them and to all others whom his voice could reach, he did not cease to cry until his untimely death: "Every man must be for the United "States or against it; there can be no neutrals in this war,--only patriots and traitors."
The response of the loyal North to the appeal of the national government was instant and even overwhelming; the number volunteering to its support was double what was called for, and far exceeded the ability of the authorities to give them arms and uniforms at once.
As to Illinois and as to Knox County, it is enough to say here that troops to a number equalling the assigned quota of the State had offered themselves for service by the third day after the President's proclamation, and that during the war nearly that number was credited from this county alone.
Upon the appalling events which crowd the history of the next four years there is here no time to dwell. Nearly three quarters of a million of men yearly faced the enemies of the Republic. Of regular battles and smaller armed contests there were more than two thousand; before the conflict ended more than sixty thousand Union soldiers had been killed outright and more than two hundred thousand had died of wounds
and diseased incurred in service. It was all in all the grandest exhibition of faithfulness and love of country the world has ever seen.
We who enjoy the blessings of the liberties and of the great nationality which the valor of our defenders has made enduring, gratefully honor the names of all of them, whether living or dead.
And for this we come today to the graves of these dead soldiers, who were of the men willing to give their lives that their country might live. We should never cease our thanks to God that their offered gift was not in vain.
There were times and many times, in the long four years, when their cause seemed desperate,-- their task a hopeless one; but they never faltered, and when the flag, that in the smoke of battles had streamed before them like a flame, was laid upon their coffins, no star was missing from its field.
One great lesson to be learned from the lives of these men and their comrades is that there is no danger to the Republic so great that it may not be overcome by the union of patriots.
Nothing can be so appalling as was the assault of those who wished to destroy it thirty-five years ago. In its defense blood was shed in torrents and treasure expended in inconceivable sums, but it was saved and it was worth the cost.
The Republic may have banded enemies who are not armed hosts. In the mind of a lover of his country
there is no difference between an attack upon its territory and an attack upon its honor. When either is lost all is lost that gives the pride of citizenship of a great country. In the defense of one, as in the defense of the other, there must be a sacrifice of all private interest--a sinking of all, mere party feeling,--each citizen must listen, not to the sophistries addressed to his suspected base selfishness, but to the voice of his own conscience. This is what was done by the patriots of 1861, and this is what will be done by the patriots in every national crisis. Their union then was invincible and their union will always be invincible.
And now let us dedicate this monument to the memory of these patriots of Galesburg and to patriotism.
It is not a monument of pride, put up by the victors in the flush of their conquest. Since the close of the great struggle which it commerates, victors and vanquished have by thousands and tens of thousands fallen into the sleep of death under the peaceful shelter of their homes. With few exceptions, the names of those who were in high places of state on either side, or who led armies, or corps or divisions in battle, or commanded squadrons on the sea, are in the great catalogue of the dead. To those who survive, the memories brought up by an occasion like this have long ceased to recall the exultation of victory on one side, or the grief of defeat on the other. The reflections of more than thirty years have turned the once bitterly warring
streams of sentiment into one broad river, on whose current is borne in safety and in glory the Ship of State, and no one lives under the protection of its flag who does not at heart rejoice that the rock of Disunion was exploded from its path and the canker of human slavery torn from its framework.