African American intellectual Alexander Crummell lived in Monrovia, Liberia for nineteen years between 1853 and 1872. While there he taught at Liberia College. In a speech delivered in Monrovia on December 1, 1863, Crummell discusses the role educated young Liberian men would play in the development of their nation. His speech appears below.
Young Gentlemen of Monrovia:
You have asked me to aid you today in the celebration of an event which is interesting to the whole country, but which has become sacred, in an especial manner, to the people of this city; for it is commemorative of an incident in the history of this young nation, which helped, through God’s mercy, to secure a permanent foothold to the first emigrants to this coast, and at the same time to convince the native mind, through all this region, that there was a presence and a power here such as never before had been known by them or their fathers.
The incident, glowing and exciting as it is, exceeds by far my power of description; but deserves, nevertheless, a passing notice.
On the 1st December, 1822, a few brave colonists were beset by hosts of infuriate savages, intent upon the complete destruction of the weak, sickly, and enfeebled settlement which was then encamped upon Fort Hill. The attack wa again and again repulsed; but relying upon exhaustless numbers, and confident of the failing strength of the settlers, the enemy repeatedly returned to the deadly strife. At last a crisis arrives. The native foe imagines that the energy of the colonists is waning, and their fire relaxing. Once more they come with savage, monstrous might, to the imminent deadly breach. Once more the feeble, faithful settlers strive to meet the desolating wave. But in vain, alas, in vain! this unequal contest with a multitudinous foe. Your gallant predecessors, few and feeble, had to give way before the mighty host of their enemies; and now everything seems lost; confusion and dismay seize upon the enfeebled band; the enemy press forward and capture the cannon of the settlers; and ruin and destruction seem certain and inevitable.
Just then occurred one of those events, as beautiful and poetic as it was decisive, which secured the fortune of the day. A female colonist, by the name of Mary Newport, seeing the perilous position of the settlers, snatches a match and applies it to a cannon now held by the enemy, and scatters death among hundreds of the native foe.
That single touch of woman saved the colony! The wave of confusion turns back upon the enemy; courage fires the bosom of the gallant colonists. Once more they pour united fire into the scattered ranks of their adversaries; they stagger in their course; they turn in despair from their aroused and valiant victims; they flee, broken and defeated, into the wilderness; and from that day supremacy and might have ever crowned the hill of Monrovia and sent their influence abroad along the whole line of our coast.
I apprehend, however, that you care but little about the mere strife of that day; but that its relation to the permanent occupancy of the land, and the ultimate growth from it, of a civilized nationality, has excited your interest and made this a holiday. Indeed, what are the sabre’s thrust, the well aimed shot, the gashing wound, and the ghastly exit, disassociated from ideas? What, even, the great fields of battle Bannockburn, Austerlitz, Waterloo, with their grim carnage and multitudinous corpses, divorced from human ends and moral policies! Worse than the ghastly sacrifices of Dahomy! The very carnival of devils! But as soon as you join any human good whether the life of nations, the rescue of periled freedom, the permanence of national being to any such scenes, immediately art, eloquence, and poesy, offer their finest powers for lustration and historical remembrance.
You keep up this celebration, then, because it is strongly related, as an event, to the nation’s existence. You have made it a holiday, since it tells powerfully upon the life of the Republic, reminds us of important events, and suggests a commanding principle.
But what is the principle suggested for our consideration? It may be easily reached, I think, by one or two simple questions. Why did those brave men fight like heroes, in December, 1822 ? Why did they peril wife and children, personal safety, and their precious lives? Merely because they liked to fight? For the mere purpose of conquest? For the sake of their petty property and their slender gains? By no manner of means! They had come out to this coast with an object before them, clear, distant, and well defined. Its was no less than to set up a civilized nationality here, amid the relics of barbarism, and to extend the blessings of Christian enlightenment among these rude people, their, and our own kinsmen. They knew that a tremendous responsibility rested upon them to hold their place; not to let the feeble light they had lit go out in darkness; to stand, and if necessary, to die! Under this conviction they fought. With this weight of responsibility upon them, they contended. Looking forward by faith to that great nation yet, we trust in God, to be realized in our government, which they came to establish, and by which they hoped to bless; even the children of their enemies; they felt that a great obligation rested upon them to resist and overcome their blind adversaries; to prove faithful to the trust reposing upon them; and to act as worthy trustees of distant generations and of future times.
In the light of their example and their action, I feel myself drawn to but one theme as appropriate to this day, that is, THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE FIRST FATHERS OF A COUNTRY FOR ITS FUTURE LIFE AND CHARACTER.
You will not think this subject mistimed, if you will but remember that forty years in the life of a nation, leave it still in its infancy. You will not regard it as unsuitable, if you will but consider that the foundation work is still going on here; that no peculiar class in the nation can as yet claim to have accomplished this great end; and that we of the present time, and our little children too, and even those who may come out here, for a long time, in many an emigration, are even yet founders of this Republic. It is no flattering reflection, but, nevertheless, a true one, namely, that as yet we cannot call our governmental movement here anything but an EXPERIMENT; however profound may be your conviction that it will prove a successful one. The work of founding a nation, of laying deep and broad its solid foundations; of causing them to settle in their beds firmly, thoroughly, compactly; of rearing thereon a strong, well proportioned, well knit superstructure; is not the work of a day, a year, or a generation. It is not a work which is completed when you have written out a constitution and appointed executive agents, and spread abroad to the breezes the flag which symbolizes its existence, and gathered a people around it who look to it with pride, and swear most solemnly for its defense. These, however precious, are but the simpler elements of real national existence. They are only the outward visible signs, the external framework, which after all may prove but empty shadows. In addition to these, you have yet to secure and to join to them, by indissoluble bonds, a strong and manly spirit, a sentiment of bravery and endurance, a disposition for strong self restraint and prompt obedience; a yearning for culture and enlightenment, for manners and refinement, for beauty and for art; the sober feeling of obligation for gifts and blessings; and a deep sense of responsibility to man and to God, It is this marriage of noble sentiment to outward forms and symbols, which gives bright promise of a nation. But all this is a matter of growth. Never, in the history of the world, has it been secured to any people, until after generations of toil, and pain, and self sacrifice, and the agonies which come to the highest souls. We have placed our feet in the hard, the toilsome, the blood stained track which we trust will bring to our descendants the grand realities, and the noble fruits we desire in a nation. But all this a future thing which we, of this day, are to anticipate and provide for. Most fortunate shall I be this day, if I can succeed in drawing off the attention of my fellow¬ citizens from themselves and selfish interests, to think of grand futurity and our solemn relations to it.
I. First of all we will notice the question ” What is the future life and character that you would fain secure this country? How would you characterize the ideal national existence which you crave for your posterity? What is the status, the substance, the features of the commonwealth which, say a hundred years hence, you would have as the result and outgrowth of your present aims, activities, and aspirations?”
There is no insuperable difficulty in forming a right judgment in this matter;, indeed, there is no middle course; there is but one alternative. If we would realize the noblest desires of men for our descendants in this nation, then we must build up here, either a form of despotism, or else we must perpetuate a free and rational government.
I present the subject in this governmental aspect, not because I think that government can do everything for man; nor because civil government, in its influences covers the whole of individual life; nor because it can reach to, and nourish the higher elements of our per¬sonal being. I make this reference, because history and experience teach me that man’s opportunities for personal freedom, for intellectual advancement, for so¬cial comfort, for domestic bliss, and for religious growth, depend very measurably upon his civil status. I speak of government, because I find that an ennobled man¬hood and the masculine virtues are generally the fruits of distinct national systems. I present my subject in this special form from the fact that the spirit of a people and their form of government are mostly reciprocal; and that, therefore, for the higher kind of human char¬acter, you are forced to seek an analogy of rule and system as its parent.
I maintain, therefore, that the future of this country will be determined by the governmental principles and system which we may purposely found in our own day. I speak of purpose, because if we are indifferent, we know not what growth may spring up from the weeds of neglect and carelessness. Moreover, in all things that are to last, and stand, and flourish from their firm rootings, the principle of their endurance is found to proceed from wise forecast and deliberate preparation. In governmental matters, however, nothing must be left to fortuitous circumstance, to idle chance. The citizens of a country who would fain frame a compact and enduring political fabric for their descendant must give themselves to restraint and study; to cautious prudence, and the wisdom which comes from historic experience; and they must add thereto great virtue joined to constant watchfulness. Lord Bacon forcibly observes, “No man can, by care taking, as the Scripture saith, add a cubit to his stature in this little model of a man’s body; but in the great frame of kingdoms and commonwealths, it is in the power of princes or estates to add amplitude and greatness to their kingdoms. For by introducing such ordinances, constitutions, and customs as are wise, they may sow greatness to their posterity and successors.”
I say, then, that the destinies of posterity are to be very considerably determined by the principles and the policies which shape and govern our system in this day and generation in which we live.
I know that there are modifications of both the systems which I have referred to. The Kingdom of Dahomy is a different government from that of imperial France; but in one respect they assimilate; for they are both despotisms. So, on the other hand, the Republic of the United States varies, in divers respects, from the Monarchy of England; but still, in the great central, ennobling feature which characterizes both, there is a spirit of oneness; for they are both free governments, with free institutions. And thus you may easily see that there inheres in these respective systems one great, seminal principle which separates them from each other at the widest distance. All the art, the refinement, the magnificence of Paris, fail to realize that ideal of human government which is the aspiration of every free soul, and which is an essential element in the growth of free and manly character. On the other hand the absence of Versailles and the Tuilleries, and the elegance and fashion of St. Germains, from the precincts of Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, neither lessen nor neutralize the characteristic freedom of the political system of America.
Now one or the other of these systems, modified indeed by circumstance, we must perforce create and develop for our children. But we are not creatures of necessity. In a certain sense we are all creators. The future of our families and of our country is the outgrowth of the principles we propound, of the acts we perform, and of the policies we settle upon. It is indeed a necessity that the future of our country shall exhibit one or the other of the systems I have just outlined; for the range of governmental systems is narrow; but the necessity lies in the fact that according to the constitution of things, no other political systems than these can exist. You must have either a free system or a repressive one.
But which you will have is a matter of election. The providence of God does indeed ofttimes thwart the best calculations of men; but we may generally act upon the broad principle that results answer to their causes; that fruits correspond to the seeds from whence they spring.
Looking forward, then, with concern and responsibility to those who are to succeed us; anxious for their security, their growth and greatness, I put the question to you to day in behalf of posterity:
Will you have here, on the one hand, a governmental system which merely contemplates temporal interests, and whose master aim is the control, regulation and subjection of men?
Will you have here a system which shall settle itself in mere will, and which will eschew the control of legality and the force of law?
Will you have a system which will exaggerate the importance of rulers, and disregard the interests of the people, and use them for the advantage of the authorities ?
Will you have a system which shall legislate for selfish class interests; which will perpetually sacrifice the many to the few, and turn the masses into subjects instead of citizens?
Will you have a system which shall create privileged classes, and carry on its operations by force and despotism?
Will you have a system which will crush down the lowly and the poor, and preserve its suffrages for the powerful and the great?
Is it such a government, partial, one sided, exclusive, and tyrannous, which you wish to upbuild in this country, and hand down to posterity?
Let me now present to your consideration the alternative system which it is in the power of this generation to choose, root in the soil, and to hand over to future times.
I ask, therefore, will you inaugurate in this country a free, ennobling, enlightening governmental system; a system capable of elevating the degraded, and of civilizing the heathen; a system which will enlarge the souls of men, give them manhood and superiority, and, without going beyond the proper sphere of government, serve as an auxiliary agent to evangelize the continent, and to raise the souls of men to heaven.
And in order that I may make my own meaning somewhat distinct upon this point, I will venture to set forth, just here, what I mean by a free system; more especially in contrast with what I regard as a dominating and repressive one.
I call that a free system which is one of law and not of caprice; which is based upon downright and thorough justice; which eschews partial monopolies, and seeks the promotion of the common weal.
I call that a free system which guarantees legal equality to all; which respects humanity in its humblest forms; which opens to obscurest persons an open pathway to preferment; which permits neither the rich nor the powerful to stretch themselves beyond law.
I call that a free system which proclaims the duties of citizens as well as their rights; which confers its franchises as trusts as well as prerogatives; which distinguishes calm Republicanism from wild and lawless Democracy.
I call that a free system which guarantees universal personal freedom; which allows no shackles to fetter the mind; which concedes free play to thought and
opinion; which gives the fullest liberty to investiga¬tions, to speech, and to the press.
I call that a free system which would fain stimulate industry; which seeks to ply the arms of honest labor; which strives to move the springs of action in a com¬munity; which starts men in the race for improvement, for enterprise, for wealth.
I call that a free system which recognizes the second¬ary as well as the primary ends of government; which not only subserves men’s temporal interest, but also seeks their moral elevation, and aims to strengthen their souls.
I call that a free system which makes men brave and honorable, self forgetful and patriotic; which trains them to public service and self sacrifice; and which teaches them, when necessary, to die for their country.
I call that a free system which inspires respect for authority; which reverences law in the person of rulers; which recognizes the authority of God in governors and magistrates.
I call that a free system which respects the intellect of a nation; which aims at the diffusion of knowledge; which provides for the culture and training of its pop¬ulation; and strives to make education the common boon of the whole people.
In fine, I call that a free system which acknowledges government an ordinance of God; which holds all human law as subject to the higher law of heaven; which regards a nation as a grand instrument for human blessedness and the divine honor.
You see, then, what I regard as a free national system. You will also judge for yourselves which is preferable, such a system, or, one that is narrow, arbitrary and repressive for the great work before us in this country, and which we would desire to hand down to our children’s children.
So far as theory is concerned, you have already elected to take a free, generous, and expansive system, as your system; such an one as, in my opinion, is in harmony with the evident mission GOD has given us for this continent; a system fitted to the elevation of the aborigines of the land, and adapted to the Reformed Religion which we have brought to this continent. Such an one I believe you desire to hand down as a legacy to your children, and to make the model of numerous other civilized nations all over the continent, as their brutish and degraded systems vanish before the light of intelligence and the cross of Christ!
II. But if you would fain realize such a system for the future, you must now plant the seed which may hereafter produce the proper and desired fruit, and that is by the recognition in this, our own day, of that organic principle of being which binds the present to the future, under a sense of ditty and responsibility. And this, to a very great extent, we can do. God has so made man that the future is somewhat in our power. According to the organization of our being we are unable to con¬fine ourselves to the mere brief period of life allotted us in this world. No man can thus make his life a disconnected, isolated unit. For human life is not like a pillar rooted and columnar; not like a mountain, fixed and rigid; but human life is a stream, which springs up, and flows over at his fountain head; and likewise flows onward forever towards the ocean! So we, too, go onward in vital power, creative, influence, and plastic energy, generations after our bodies have been laid in the tomb. Man is a creature so formed and fashioned that besides his grasp upon the present, he has a power of historic life, which sends forward his influence far beyond his own times, and. makes him an agent of might and even of responsibility in other generations.
E’en from the tomb the voice of nature cries.
E’en in’ our ashes live their wonted fires.”
Indeed we are vital in the external facts of our being, as well as in its central points. We are immortal in look, and glance, and movement, and word, as well as in the living soul; they too give forth power and energy, not only in the days of our life, but also in those after times which sweep swiftly beyond our graves.
There is an organic life of the individual which perpetuates his power and influence beyond his lifetime, and in this resides his responsibility to posterity. This principle is a law of our being. We come into the world members of the State and of the family, independent of choice and will. Without any lessening of our personality, or loss of individual will, still we perpetuate our ancestors in their traits and peculiarities. As their offspring, we bring down to our own day their features, talents, manners, and in a measure, their characters. Our fathers, for long generations, live in our life and blood. To a considerable extent they made us what we are; and we move among men the residuum of our progenitors. Men look at us; they hear our words, they see our lives, and they behold therein the plastic power and processes of all those our sires who, through long generations, have been sending down their blood and character into the depository of our personal being. And the stream goes onward; both that of organic life and of deep responsibility which inheres in it. We, too, as the generations that are past, shall lie down in our graves; but we shall not die. Other men who walk the avenues of life, shall see us in our children, and them again and us, in theirs. They will see our persons reproduced, more or less, in the likeness of our offspring; but they will see also our principles, our morals, and our wills; see the springs of action which have moved us, the master principles which have stirred our souls, the living truths or damning lies, that brought us down to the level of brute beasts, or raised us to high and noble endeavor.
Most unfortunate for man, he acts from selfish motives; he thinks but little of the future his soul is absorbed in the present. Men live for themselves; they forget their fathers, they are careless and indifferent about their children. But all nature, all history, all experience protest against this. We recognize the great truth before us in individuals; for we see the descent of virtues, of noble traits, of personal bravery in families, from generation to generation. So we see the transmission of gross vices, of drunkenness and lust, of diseases, of consumption and scrofula; and in these facts we discover not only the law we referred to, but we recognize also the principle of responsibility which accompanies it.
There is a noticeable passage in Motley’s “Rise of the Dutch Republic,” which somewhat illustrates this subject. Speaking of the early inhabitants of the Netherlands, he says: “The Gaul was so fond of dress that the Romans divided his race respectively into longhaired, breeched and gowned Gaul.” [Gallia comita, braccata, togata.] “He was fond of brilliant and parti colored clothes, a taste which survives in the Highlander’s costume. He covered his neck and arms with golden chains.”
In this description of the Gaul, we see the image of the Frenchman. Then he was rude, simple, unlettered; now he is civilized, refined, and accomplished; but under both conditions we may perceive the same fondness for the elegant and ornate, which makes Paris the seat of modern civilization. And we perceive also that law of transmission, by which a people pass on and hand over to posterity their chief qualities and most characteristic traits. If you visit the manufacturing towns or the agricultural districts of England, or sit down and read the account of the battle of Waterloo, you will see the same untiring industry, the same unyielding tenacity, which characterized the Anglo Saxon amid the hardy toil of the Middle Ages, or at the battle of Hastings.
Thus, by a fixed law of nature, the mind, the temper, the character, the main peculiarities of a people, are propagated in the blood, brain, bones, and sinews of that people; so that remote progenitors, show as truly as in a mirror, the stock from whence they came. But I would fain have you notice how will, purpose, and obligation may be, are connected with this fact. God in His providence, and by the laws of His economy, holds up before us the great principle involved in this discussion; and shows us therein how we may live in, as well as for, the future. We ourselves, under God, may say what our children shall be. We, too, can be creators of great posterity. We have no need, as we have no right to say, as I have heard it said by parents here ” I have had no advantages: I had to work my way up into life without assistance. I had no one to help me on in life, and my children must do as I did. I had to take care of myself, and they must take care of themselves. But that structural organization of our being to
which I referred, as well as the precepts of scripture, tells us ” The children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children.” And it says with as much distinctness that preceding generations must use forecast for the well being of successors.
Now in all this we see the principle by which one generation is, of necessity, the framer and shaper of both the character and the destiny of another; that principle which carries down a common character in a people, and transmits their inherent traits and tempers.
We see also the great responsibility which is allied to this principle. For as we perceive that the life and spirit of one generation flow out into another; that as the character of a people is a continuous and integral quality, so we may learn the duty of care and pains¬taking in every people, that they send down a pure blood; sound brains, and a right spirit to their descend¬ants. Indeed, every age is under obligation so to use the materials, both of talents and opportunities, trans¬mitted to it, that it may bless the age that follows. For every age is, if I may make so exaggerated a per¬sonification, a steward, entrusted with certain respon¬sible powers and prerogatives, which it is bound to use for the good of the generations that come after it.
How solemn, then, is this generative power of souls and societies! How weighty the obligations which grow out of it! How awful the responsibilities which it imposes!
The living age holds in its power the character of that which is unborn. To it is committed the awful trust of transmitting those proper influences, and that normal mode of being, which shall conserve society in distant times. Woe therefore to the people whose infancy is base and unprincipled! Woe to the people who plant dishonor and profligacy right beside the foundation stones of their political system! Woe to the nation whose early days are characterized by guile and mad ambition! Woe to the people who commence their political life with the infused virus of misrule, irreverence, and disobedience!
The fathers, in the first generation, may quietly reap their fields over the burning volcanoes visible to sight, but in the third generation they may burst forth upon their children with wide spread destruction and utter ruin!
But there is one feature of this subject to which I ask your special attention. We are now in the process of national formation. Do not let your pride turn you with dislike from this somewhat humbling assertion, nor blind you to its rigid truthfulness; for indeed we are not yet formed; we are as yet only forming. Ours is at present a state of feeble infancy; we have not yet reached vigorous manhood, nay, not even elastic youth. I wish to say nothing discouraging, and surely I am not discouraged in the least myself; but I wish most earn¬estly to remind you that the day is too early for us to sit down confident and assured. No nation has a right to be assured and confident until time and experience have proven that it can withstand the storms of faction within, and the assaults of powerful nations from without; that it can effectually resist the workings of corruption; that it can quietly outride the violence of party spirit; that it can rapidly pass from a state of weakness and poverty to large productive capacity; that it can originate sterling moral character and great hardihood of soul; that it can keep down enervating vice and shameless profligacy; and I tell you here: to day we have not yet reached such a state!
We stand, therefore, at the very start of national life. And let me say here that there is something solemn, awful, and responsible in the first beginnings of all great fundamental institutions. It seems to me most natural that under such circumstances, men would pause and think somewhat on this wise: “Here, in God’s providence we have arrived at an important point. Here springs up a fresh, new stream of human influence. On this spot grows up a new form of might and power among men. Now, from this time, begins the forming and the training of families, the uprearing and the regulation of communities, and the framing and the fashioning of minds and characters. As is the infancy of our ‘ system, so measurably will be its youth, its maturity,’ its old age. The future lives in, and depends upon us. We feel responsibility for the ages to come. By God’s, help we will strive so to shape and fashion things: to lay such firm foundations; to build upon such solid principles, that blessedness and strength shall flow in’ fullness to posterity forever!”
Such considerations are demanded of all those who venture upon the world of souls any new institution which is to effect and influence the most vital interests of human beings. For a new organization, when brought into being, is governed by the law of its birth; and by that law it is to do good or to exert mischief. That law gives it a fixedness of being and of influence which continues through long generations of men and their children. All things, I know, as they grow and are developed, are constantly modified; but these modifications are chiefly those of form and appearance the partial change of leaf and bud and flower but the root remains intact.
“The child is father of the man.”
The infant of the nation, of the church, of the school, of the family, is, as it were, by a necessary law, the shaper and controller of their respective aftergrowths to their maturest developments. The germ infolds stem, branches, bud, blossom, and expected fruit: and so the infant state, the future.
But the special thing to be noticed here, that which is momentous in the fresh beginnings of every organic system, is this, namely, that the primal organization is the seed which is to be produced over and over again,
“To the last syllable of recorded time,”
in the outgrowth which is generated by it. This is the law of life in all things, as well as the law of plants, and fruits, and trees; that the germinal influence is permanent and lasting.
This principle, moreover, is awfully comprehensive. It takes in minutia that are hardly visible; it bears along, in a mighty stream, the passions, vices, or virtues; the habits and customs; the social character, the manners, and convivialities ; the marriage system; the dignity or degradation of woman; the obedience or presumption of children; the drinking habits, the licentiousness or purity; the ignorance or enlightenment; yea, all the traits and characteristics of a people, in their infant state, are carried on and transmitted to their children, as their inheritance, whether for good for evil; all these by a singular but certain law become interfused with the organic life of the system, down with it with influence to other generations of men and women, and little babes, acting upon their life and controlling their destiny!
III. I turn now, in the last place, to a brief consideration of some of the teachings which proceed from train of remark I have brought before you.
You will bear in mind, that when I commenced I referred to government, chiefly because the politic condition of a country expresses, more fully than any thing else, the spirit, temper, and character of the people. You will connect with this, the remembrance of the great objects which have brought us to this coast. For I take it, that when the Almighty takes up a people in any of the great centres of civilization, and transplants them into a region of ignorance and benightedness, he gives such a people a commission, and imposes an obligation upon them, to undertake the, elevation of the degraded people who become subject to them, in all the respects of their mental and moral: nature. GOD sends them there on that mission. A mandate comes to them from heaven to take charge of the lowly and benighted, and to lift them up to manhood, to freedom, and moral superiority. I do not say they are not to consider collateral purposes, nor to devote themselves to personal advantage; but I beg to insist upon it that the providence of GOD points out to them a most certain mission of enlightenment and elevation, which such a people can only neglect at their peril. And this is the position in which we stand before GOD, in our place, in this new country. It is not the miserable thing as to who can get this place, or secure the other; not the contemptible ambition, who we can crush down in order for oneself to get up; not the pitiful thing as to who can sport a pair of epaulettes; or who can boast a title; but the end for which we have been planted in this spot, on these shores, is the promotion of grand civilization and human blessedness ! And hence comes the solemn consideration—Have we the right breed here? Have we such strong character, that we can send forth a stream of influence so deep, so strong, so unfailing, that it may flow on for ever, with blessed and vitalizing power?
Hence I am a deal more concerned about that temper, character, and spirit into which the people of this country may be educated, than about anything else. I am more anxious about the development of certain qualities in our population than about the rise or fall of parties. I am more eager for the planting of proper principles, and the bringing out of just sentiments, than I am about the movements of caucuses, or even the doings of a legislative session.
For you can easily see that if the people of this country are virtuous and brave; if they have a high spirit and sterling honor; then, the character of the people will react upon their institutions, modify their imperfections, and supply the correctives to all things unseemly, or wrong. The character of a people then, is the main consideration with us; and we may dismiss from our minds all thought concerning mere governmental framework, and political policy, and bet our whole thought to the point namely “How are we to train ourselves, as a people, to the great, perpetual work of GOD and man on this continent?”
Three distinct qualities seem to me most essential to this end:
The first of these is SELF RESTRAINT an element of character which more distinctly than many other proves manhood, and evidences real internal strength.
No free system can live without this principle pervading the national mind and governing personal character. For a free system depends upon public sentiment; upon the people’s interest and acquiescent in Government; in their prompt and punctual reverence of majestic law. Under a free system no man should test law to see how much it can bear; to put a constitution on trial to learn whether it could stand a rent. Indeed, if men are not to be governed as slaves; if a people are to live free from an imperious, prying police following them at every step, and peering into every window; if self government is to be a very considerable item in a national system, then that people must need cultivate a spirit of generous forbearance, and learn the lesson of self restraint. If they cannot do this, then they must be trammeled, chained, handcuffed. And they must perforce transmit such a system to their children; for the children will be like their sires; for “when the fathers eat sour grapes, their children’s teeth are generally set on edge.” As well turn a hungry tiger loose in your streets, as give constitutional freedom to a people who cannot use their tongues aright; who abuse the privilege of a free press; whose sympathies run counter to established law!
This spirit of self restraint must be taught in all the grades of life, so that it may come to form an integral clement of the national mind, and an universal, spontaneous sentiment. In the family, in the school, in the State, children, young men, maidens, the mature, the aged should be taught, nay, should teach themselves to fear their rulers, to respect the law, to bow before authority.
I am not speaking of mere political restraint; I am speaking of the PRINCIPLE as a habit of mind, as a necessary and indispensable element in a free system. And, as I address especially young men to day, I may call their particular attention to this point.
You know that there are several evils especially incident to new society. In all colonies and new countries, the bonds of olden manners and ancient customs are wanting; population is sparse, and therefore manhood is premature; hence, laxity prevails, freedom is exaggerated, control is loose and relaxed, and the young, for the most part, desire to do as they please. Thus will and inclination prove more powerful than conviction and duty, and hence a disposition is gendered to turn liberty into license, and to make desire the criterion of law.
Inasmuch, then, as we are in the very circumstances which naturally beget such results, I would fain exhort young men to practice self government; to accustom themselves to self restraint. Do not use all the liberty you have. Fall back a little from the margin of your freedom. Do not be too hasty to be self asserting men. Avoid the false and fatal theory that all the beauty and the strength of life are centered in the period of manhood. There are precious and priceless prerogatives which belong alone to youth; which are unattainable in any other period of life, and which, if lost, leave the system ill formed, crude, and distorted. Remember, too, that a hasty rush into manhood lessens the vital powers of being, and detracts from the strength and energy which attend a gradual but natural development.
Those creatures bugs, ants, and vermin that are born in the morning, and become mature at noon, are aged in the evening, and die before the morrow!
The young men here who would fain to do their part in building up society, and giving solid and enduring strength to their country, must distrust their own abilities; must cultivate modesty and diffidence; must learn betimes to put the rein upon themselves in every respect of their nature; must be willing patiently to postpone the period of responsibility; must husband their
powers, in the early period of life, to give strength to maturity and to preserve vigor for old age.
Some of you are aiming to be scholars; and I am sure you will pardon me for what I rarely do on any public occasion, that is to remind you of the words of a well known classic:
“Qui studet optatam cursu contingere metam Malta tubs fecitque puer; sudavit et alsit Abstinuit venere et vino.”
Regulating your lives thus by moderation and discipline, you will gain both inward strength and lasting power. Your influence will be mighty upon the generation which will follow you, increasing strong souls and well regulated characters. And they again shall carry down to their posterity the high tone and the large sentiment which first sprung up in our day and time in you. And so at length we shall stand forth before the world a nation of true and noble men; grave, sober, and earnest; high in aim, and lofty in endeavor; or as Akenside expresses it, in words which will well bear frequent repetition:
“Zealous, yet modest; Innocent, though free; serene amidst alarms. Inflexible in faith: invincible in arms! ”
But I go on to remark, that important as is the principle of self restraint to well developed national character, and the perpetuity of a high toned national life, that of honor is of equal value. I am not speaking now of mere honesty. Important and priceless as it is, its root, nevertheless, is not so very deep; civilization will secure it; trade will secure it; the rules of commerce will secure it; mere self regarding policy will secure it. When I speak of honor, I speak of that delicate and noble sentiment which comes from a more internal, more elevated source, and which gives a higher glory to our life and being. A mere honest man may be a rude and vulgar fellow; of course such an one will not cheat and defraud, but he might despise the poor and tread upon the weak and helpless. He would not steal, but he might insult poor widows and outrage the feelings of inferiors. He would not defraud and peculate, but he might lie; he might deceive; a woman; he might be ruffianly in conduct; with broadcloth upon his back and patent leather upon his feet he might have swinish manners. All this you see is quite compatible with mere honesty. But when men are thrown together in society they need something finer and more elevating to regulate their intercourse and to govern their lives, and we have this in the rules and requirements of honor, a sentiment which rises higher than the control of law; which has a nobler force than the fear of the magistrate, which throws men back upon inward self respect and quiet internal dignity. It is that generous sentiment which makes a man’s word his bond; which renders the bravest men modest and unassuming; which makes a mean act as impossible to a true man as theft or murder; which makes politeness as much a duty to a beggar as to a prince; which makes chastity as precious to men as to women; which makes lying a barrier to good society and polite circles; which causes trust, fidelity, and confidence to be regarded as solemn as religion; which requires deference to the poor and lowly, as well as to the rich and affluent; in fine, which mingles truth, and gentleness, and forbearance, and self sacrifice, and humility with the strongest elements of character; makes them compatible with all human relations; and instead of holding them as holiday qualities bares them freely and quietly to the daily light and common air, in the but and the hamlet, as well as in grand cities and noble palaces.
Lastly, I join to self restraint and honor the need of VIRTUE. Without this principle you cannot build up here a free commonwealth; you cannot make it the heritage of your children. What I ask are constitutions, and courts, and legislatures, and judges, and governors, and magistrates? What but the outward signs and symbols, the external manifestations of internal, invisible ideas of order, of rule, of government, of reverence for authority, of the “proud submission” of a free, but obedient people, who love law, and truth, and justice? But what if you have but the outward show, the mere flimsy trappings of these things, while there exists no inward moral sentiment answering thereto? Are not form and spirit, in all rightly constituted systems, always joined together, in this economy? Do you think it possible to preserve the formal element, when the spiritual idea belonging to it is lost and perished! Moreover do not the external symbols derive all their worth and value from the moral sentiment they are designed to express? Indeed, the best conceived, the most skillfully contrived political system is a thing of “shreds and patches;” if there is no sentiment or principle in a people answering thereto. As well plant the institutions and polity of Great Britain among the savages of the South Seas; or put the republican system of America in the hands of the King of Dahomy !
The free system into which we were schooled before we came here, and which we have chosen for this nation, depends upon consent, intelligence, and morality. Deprive it of these elements, and it dies out. We need, therefore, the principle of virtue in the people in their homes, among their children, in their hearts. Without this spring of noble action and of lofty duty, we perish. With the constant influence of an ancient, ever present paganism in our midst, we ourselves shall become paganized, unless this correction be made to act powerfully among us.
If I am asked what I mean by virtue, I answer INWARD BEAUTY, or excellence of soul. I mean that deep rooted principle which rejects the gross; which repels immorality; which refuses the mastery of mere sense and appetite; which resists the control of passion; which maintains an obliviousness of impurity and vileness. I mean that lofty sentiment which craves the good; which yearns after rectitude and truth; which rejoices in the fair and glorious things of this wondrous creation of GOD around us; which delights itself in the higher attractions of mind and thought, of art and poetry; which gladdens itself above all, in the majesty of the moral Law, and the magnific glories of the Infinite!
This principle of virtue is to be maintained here by the devotedness of churches; by the zeal of ministers; by the assiduities of teachers; by the care and discipline of fathers; by the anxieties, the prayers, and the tears of mothers; by the modest chastity of maidens; by the morality and self control of young men; by the piety and beauty of obedient children. Subsidiary to these relations and their sacred duties, will be the rectitude of governors and magistrates; the justice and purity of courts and judges; the sanctity and the inviolability of the marriage relation, widely trenched upon already in this land by rash legislation and unholy license; by the virtuous industry of an enterprising people, and by the enlightenment which comes from common schools and superior education.
And now, young men, I have endeavored to fulfill the duty you have imposed upon me for this day, by speaking of the Nation’s youth, and addressing you, the youth of the Nation. Let me set before you, summarily, what I have aimed to do. I have attempted to show, 1st, That we, in this day and generation we men, women, aye, and even youth and little children, are, by virtue of our position, the founders and the fathers of a rising nation. And 2d, That in consequence of this august relation, we are living and working for the future, either to bless or to curse.
And now, young men, what will you be, and what will you do? Do not misunderstand my question. It is not, what office you will reach? What title you will bear? The question is What will you be really in your souls, internally in your heart of hearts, for the production of thorough, earnest, character? I have but little concern, I must confess, whether you get any great place in government, or whether you will ever rise to any high office. Indeed, young men, I am one of those heretics who doubt very much whether you yourselves would reap much advantage thereby, or do much good to others. I do not agree, by any means, and I tell you it in all candor, with those who think that every thing depends upon you. I acknowledge your usefulness. I see the need of young men, for if there were no young men there could never be any old men. But let me tell you that the theory which is getting in vogue in our country, and in none other under the sun, namely, that young men are the life, the soul, the main stay, the real strength of a country, is all balderdash! The real might of a country is centered in character; and if the young men of a country have more character than any other class, then they are the pillars of the State on no other condition. But you cannot claim, merely because you are young men, that its main dependence is upon you. You may have more learning than your fathers; but let me tell you that Latin, and Greek, and science, though valuable, are not education. “With the talents of an angel, a man may be a fool.” Learning is letters. Education is prudence, common sense, judgment, discretion, practicality. The fool may have the former; a man, nay many a man, who never went to school, may be educated. Young men, with your learning you need experience and wisdom, and for the acquisition of these the period of early life is given you. The period of youth is .the period of study, the period of self regulation, the period for mental acquisitions, the period for careful preparation. Anxious though you may be, and anxious as you should be to serve your country, stand back a while, I advise you, until you get the thorough training, the experience, the knowledge of history and of men, and the broad common sense which are fitted for hard and long continued service; in this consists true education; and without it all the letters and learning in the world will prove but as the senseless utterance of a parrot.
But I asked you also, What will you do? Look around you then at the vast moral waste which surrounds us in this country, and throughout this continent, and think of the multitudinous minds, of the vast energies, of the painful labors, of the marytr like self sacrifice, on the part of both Church and State, which are to be expended, from generation to generation, ere the great work of God and humanity on this soil, will approach its consummation! Open your eyes upon the deep vistas of grand futurity; glance along the long alleys of coming times, crowded with the rising generations, both emigrant and native, coming up into life, and falling into the ranks of society and the State; and then think of all the sober, earnest work which is to be done by us, in our day, to prepare them for the burdens and duties of their position. You will have to participate in this work; and therefore I entreat you, “Gird up your loins,” young men, for duty. Conscious that the mission of life is pregnant with obligation and deep responsibility, grapple in with its difficulties and its burdens, like young heroes. And this, not in some high expected position; but here, right here, in this country, right here, amid the relations you now sustain. Serve GOD, and serve your country, just where you are; however lowly your position, however rugged your pathway. Serve GOD, and not the devil. Serve your country, and not your lusts. And this, by’ meeting the duties of your sphere; not by leaving them, but by ennobling them by faithfulness and manhood. By standing quietly in your lot, as expectant but humble youth; and not by rushing into spheres unfitted to your years and unadapted to your untrained powers; for remember,
“They also serve who only stand and wait.”
For great and weighty is the responsibility of this young nation to God and man. Great suffering has been the portion of this people, but mingled mercy and Providential gifts accompanied it, from the hand of God. Sore and grievous was the trial of your fathers in the dark land of thraldom; but they were permitted, in humble hands, to bear from thence, across the seas, the fiery cross of Jesus, and the torch of civilization. And thus having received these gifts, hand them bright and luminous to the next generation, that they may pass them on to their successors, and so they may cross the continent and lighten up, by their rays, the deep solitudes of the interior, and scatter the darkness from the habitations of many a heathen tribe, until the whole land shall be redeemed from grossness, and superstition, and benightedness, to culture and to grace.
And so may God bless the young men of Monrovia! And so may He bless the young men of Liberia!