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A SPEECH DELIVERED AT THE PAVILION ON BOSTON COMMON AT THE
CELEBRATION OF THE COMPLETION OF THE CANADA AND BOSTON RAIL
ROADS, SEPTEMBER 19, 1851.
[In reply to a complimentary sentiment proposed by the Honorable John P. Bigelow, Mayor of the City.]
I am deeply sensible, Mr. Mayor, that the honors and compliments of this occasion belong to others. They belong, in the first place, as my friend, Mr. Everett, has just suggested, to the distinguished and illustrious strangers of our own country and of other countries, who have adorned our festival with their presence. And they belong, in the next place, to those of our own fellow-citizens, of whom I see not a few around me, to whose far-seeing sagacity and persevering efforts and personal labors we owe the great works whose completion we celebrate. For myself, Sir, I have no pretension of either sort; but I am all the more grateful for the opportunity you have afforded me of saying a few words, and for the kind and cordial manner in which you have presented me to this assembly. Most heartily do I wish that I could say any thing worthy of such a scene.' Most heartily do I wish that I could find expressions and illustrations in any degree commensurate to the vast and varied theme which such an occasion suggests. And still more do I wish that I could find a voice capable of conveying, even to one half of this crowded and countless audience, such poor phrases as I may be able to command. But voice, language, and imagination seem to falter and fail alike, in any attempt to do justice to circumstances like the present.
Mr. Mayor, the very dates which you have selected for your three days' jubilee, would furnish material for a discourse which would occupy far more than all the daylight which is left us. The 17th, 18th, and 19th days of September! How many of the most memorable events in our local, colonial, and national history, are included in this brief period!
It was on one of these days, in the year 1620, that the Pilgrim Fathers of New England took their final departure from the mother country, their last and tearful leave of old England, and entered on that perilous ocean voyage, of more than three months' duration, which terminated at Plymouth Rock!
It was on one of these days, ten years later, in 1630, that the Puritan Fathers of Massachusetts, with one of whom you have done me the honor to associate me, first gave the name of Boston to the few tents and huts and log cabins which then made up our embryo city!
It was on one of these same days, too, in 1787, that the Pa. triot Fathers of America set their hands and seals, at Philadel. phia, to that matchless instrument of government — the Constitution of the United States - which has bound this nation together for better or worse - let me not say for better or worse, but for the best and highest interests of our country and of mankind - in one inseparable and ever-blessed Union forever!
Nor, Mr. Mayor, is this eventful period in the calendar with out associations and reminiscences of pride and glory, for our brethren whom we have welcomed from over the borders. It was, if I mistake not, on one of these same three September days, in the year 1759, that the proud fortress of Quebec was finally surrendered to the British forces, - surrendered as the result of that memorable conflict on the heights of Abraham, five or six days before, in which the gallant Wolfe had expired in the blaze of his fame, happy (as he said) to have seen his country's arms victorious, - and in which the not less gallant Montcalm had lain down in the dust beside him, happy, too, (as he also said,) not to have seen the downfall of this last strong-hold of the French dominion on the North American continent.
Nor is this a reminiscence, Sir, in which we of New England, and of Massachusetts particularly, have no part or heritage; for, let it not be forgotten that Massachusetts, during that year, besides furnishing to the British army her prescribed quota of six or seven thousand men to fight the battles of a common Crown, at Louisburg, in Nova Scotia, and elsewhere, actually raised three hundred additional men, at the request of General Wolfe himself, who served as the very pioneers of that seemingly desperate assault upon Quebec. Let it not be forgotten, either, that the Colonial Assembly of Massachusetts testified their ad. miration of Wolfe, and their sorrow for his loss, by voting a marble monument to his memory.
But all these, I am aware, are but the accidental coincidences of this occasion. We have assembled, not to recall the past, but to rejoice in the present; not to commemorate the early trials and exploits of our fathers, but the mature achievements and proud successes of their sons. We come not to celebrate the triumphs of the forum or the battle-field, but the peaceful victories of science, of invention, and of those mechanic arts, so many of whose noble products, and nobler producers, we have seen in the splendid pageant of the day.
And in whatever aspect we contemplate these great highways of intercommunication, in whose construction and completion we this day exult, we find it difficult to express, and impossible to exaggerate, our sense of their magnitude and importance. It is for others, and upon other occasions, to speak of their influence on our material interests, our commercial prosperity, and our local advantages.
Your own intelligent and accomplished Committee of Arrangements, indeed, have anticipated all that could be said by any one, on any occasion, on this part of the subject. They have prepared a tabular representation, which I am glad to see has been laid upon every plate, which tells in figures less deceptive or equivocal than those of rhetoric, how much has been done in this way for Boston, for Massachusetts, for New England, for the country, for the whole unbounded continent, by the enterprise, industry, capital, and skill of our citizens. Here, too, is a miniature map, which they have furnished us, exhibiting our little Commonwealth, as it really is, covered all over with railroad lines, as with the countless fibres of a spider's web. They tell us here, Sir, of a hundred and twenty passenger trains, containing no less than twelve thousand persons, shooting into our city, on a single, ordinary, average, summer's day, with a regularity, punctuality, and precision, which make it almost as safe to set our watches by a railroad whistle, as by the Old South clock !
But, Sir, by what figures of rhetoric, or of arithmetic either, shall we measure the influence of those great improvements on our political condition, or on our social relations, domestic or foreign ?
Consider them for an instant, in connection with the extent of our own wide-spread Republic. By what other agency than that of railroads could a Representative Government, like ours, be rendered practicable over so vast a territory? The necessary limits of such a Government were justly defined by one of our earliest and wisest statesmen, to be those within which the Representatives of the People could be brought together with regularity and certainty, as often as needful, to transact the public business.
And by which, do you think, Sir, of the old-fashioned modes of transportation or travel — the stage-coach, the pack-saddle, or the long wagon, - or by which, even, of those queer conveyances which his Excellency, the Governor-General of Canada," tells us he once shared with my friend, Governor Paine, - could Delegates from California or Utah, or even from some of our less recent and less remote acquisitions, be brought to our sessions of Congress at Washington, and carried back at stated intervals to consult the wishes of their constituents, within any reasonable or reliable time?
Mr. Mayor, in view of this and many other considerations, to which I may not take up further time by alluding, and which, indeed, are too familiar to require any allusion, I feel that it is no exaggeration to say that our Railroad system is an essential part of our Representative system; and that it has exerted an influence, second in importance to no other that can be named, ma
* The Earl of Elgin, whose admirable speech on this occasion will be forgotten by no one who heard it.
terial, political, or moral, in binding together, in one indissoluble brotherhood, this vast association of American States. It is hardly too much to add, that it seems to have been Providentially prepared, as the great centripetal enginery, which is destined to overcome and neutralize forever those deplorable centrifugal tendencies, which local differences, and peculiar institutions, and sectional controversies have too often engendered.
The President of the United States, in his admirable reply to your own most appropriate address, Sir, welcoming him within the lines of Boston, rerninded us that his illustrious predecessor, Washington, occupied eleven days in travelling by express from Philadelphia to the neighboring city of Cambridge, in one of the most critical emergencies of our local history. Let me remind you, also, of a similar experience in the journeyings of another of his predecessors. In the recently-published diary of our own John Adams, will be found the following entry, dated at Middletown, Connecticut, on the 8th day of June, 1771:
“Looking into the almanac, I am startled. Supreme Court at Ipswich the 18th day of June; I thought it a week later, 25th; so that I have only next week to go home, one hundred and fifty miles. I must improve every moment. It is twentyfive miles a day, if I ride every day next week.”
John Adams startled, - and, let me say, he was not of a complexion to be very easily startled at any thing, — at having only a week for going a hundred' and fifty miles! Startled at the idea of being obliged to go twenty-five miles a day every day for a week! While here, but a moment since, was his illustrious successor, who, having already travelled nearly five hundred miles in twenty-four hours, and having spent three or four days in Newport and Boston, which we hope have been as delightful to him as they have been to us, is now on his way back, and is about to reach Washington again, before the week in which he left there is fairly at an end !
And here, Mr. Mayor, I turn, in conclusion, to what to-day, at least, in the minds and hearts of us all, is the great charm of this modern miracle of rapid intercommunication. It is that it enables us to see, to know, and to enjoy personal intercourse with the great, the good, the distinguished, the admired, of our own