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MASSACHUSETTS IN 1775.
A SPEECH DELIVERED AT THE CELEBRATION OF THE COMPLETION OF A
MONUMENT, - ERECTED BY ORDER OF THE LEGISLATURE OF MASSACHUSETTS, TO ISAAC DAVIS, ABNER HOSMER, AND JAMES HAYWARD, AT ACTON, OCTOBER 29, 1851.
[In reply to a complimentary call from the President of the day, Rev. James T. Woodbury.]
I could have wished, Mr. President, that this call might have been postponed to a later period of the festival, or that, at least, I might have been spared from attempting to speak, until the clatter of plates within, and the noise of drums without, had in some measure subsided. But I suppose that one who has just looked on the bones of Isaac Davis, must not permit himself to shrink from any service which may be assigned him. And indeed, Sir, I am deeply indebted to your Committee of Arrangements for the privilege of being present at all on this occasion, and for the opportunity they have afforded me of witnessing the impressive ceremonies of this morning, and of listening to the instructive and eloquent address of His Excellency the Governor.
Sir, we have had many celebrations and jubilees of late in this part of the country, and it has been my fortune to be present at not a few of them. But, though comparisons are sometimes odious, I can safely and sincerely say that there has been none, none among them all, which has seemed to me so peculiarly congenial to the spirit of our republican institutions, so eminently characteristic of the American people and of American principles, as that in which we are now engaged.
We are here, Mr. President, for what? Not to inaugurate the opening of some magnificent highway of internal communication. Not to display the rich trophies of agricultural or borticultural industry and skill. Not to celebrate the almost miraculous triumphs of modern mechanic art and invention. Not to offer the homage of our hearts, or the hospitalities of our homes, to some popular Chief Magistrate of our own Republic, or of a neighboring Colony. No, Sir; no. All these things have been attended to elsewhere. In the crowded cities, in the larger towns, they have been done, and well done. And it was fit they should be done; and many of them have been attended with a more costly ceremonial, with a more gorgeous pageant, with more of outside pomp and circumstance, than have been witnessed on this occasion.
But these are not the objects which have broken the ordinary stillness of this quiet, rural neighborhood. These are not the objects which have summoned to this retired spot such masses of the people of Middlesex, and of Massachusetts generally, in all their various capacities of magistrate, and citizen, and citizensoldier, and which have engaged and engrossed all our minds and all our hearts to-day. Not for the present, not for the living, not for those who are, or ever have been, high in place, exalted in rank, powerful in influence, have these memorials been prepared, and these libations poured out.
We have assembled, on the contrary, to pay a grateful, though a tardy tribute, to the memory of three humble citizens of one of the smallest towns in the State, two of them privates in a militia company, and the third with no higher title than that of a captain, whose simple story is that they laid down their lives, seventy-six years ago, in defence of American Liberty.
I need not say, Sir, that such an example of rendering honor to the memory of the humblest officers and the common soldiers of our Revolutionary Militia, is in beautiful harmony with the spirit of republican equality which pervades our institutions, and is better calculated than all the bounties and bonuses and land scrip, which can be voted by the most liberal or the most prodigal Congress, to raise up defenders for those institutions, — where alone they must be looked for in time of need, - among the rank and file of the people. It gives an assurance which will not be forgotten, that, however it may be in the country churchyards of the old world, the “ village Hampdens" and village Heroes of our own land will never want a stone to mark their grave, or an inscription to tell the tale of their prowess and their patriotism.
But it would be quite unjust, Mr. President, to limit the intention of this occasion to the precise object which has given rise to it. It has a larger and more comprehensive scope. We are here to commemorate, and to commend afresh to the admiration and imitation of our children, the patriotism and valor and selfdevotion of the whole people of Massachusetts in 1775 - of all her citizens and of all her soldiers — militia-men, minute-men, and volunteers - as exemplified and illustrated on the 19th of April, in the persons of three of their number, to whom so early and so glorious a crown of martyrdom was assigned.
Let me not seem to disparage the individual heroism of Isaac Davis, Abner Hosmer, and James Hayward. Their names are upon yonder granite; they are upon the scroll of history; they are uppermost to-day upon the tablets of all our hearts. Few instances could be selected from the whole range of our Revolutionary records, of greater bravery and daring than those of these three noble men of Acton. But let us not forget the full force and import of that memorable exclamation of the gallant Davis himself, —“I have n’t a man that's afraid to go." Sir, that was a generous and a just exclamation. It was true, not only of his own Acton Company, which led the way so gallantly down to the old North Bridge, but it was true of the great mass of the common soldiers and of the common people of the State, whether in town or country, in cities or in villages. Everywhere, in every county and district alike, throughout the whole length and breadth of the State, there was found the same resolute determination to resist the tyranny of the mother country, even unto death.
There were different manifestations of this spirit in different localities, and different individuals enjoyed different opportunities of displaying it. In Boston, it exhibited itself in words and deeds of defiance towards Commissioners of Stamps and Commissioners of Customs, towards royal Governors and a hireling garrison. There was Faneuil Hall. There was the Old South. There was the Green Dragon. There was the Liberty Tree. There was the Tea Party. There were Otis, and Quincy, and Hancock, and Adams. There American Liberty was born and cradled.
In Salem, it displayed itself in the brave, though bloodless resistance, offered to Colonel Leslie and the British troops, by Colonel Pickering and the minute-men of that region, on that memorable Sabbath afternoon, February 26, 1775; - a resistance which almost made the North Bridge of Essex as famous in our annals, as the North Bridge of Middlesex. There, as was said by the British journals at the time, the Americans first “ hoisted the standard of Liberty.”
In Lexington and Concord, it manifested itself on the 19th day of April, in a sterner form and in less doubtful colors. There the first blood was shed.
At Bunker Hill, on the 17th of June, it assumed a still sterner and fiercer front. There was the first challenge, the first defiance, the first intrenchment, the first general engagement with the British forces. There Prescott and Putnam fought, and Warren fell.
And, lastly, at Dorchester Heights, on the 17th of March, 1776, it presented itself in the more welcome shape of a vigorous and masterly movement, which settled the question of Liberty once and for all, so far as Massachusetts soil was concerned, and made it free soil forever! There was the first success of Washington and the American cause, under the Union Flag.
Thus, Mr. President, in all these different localities of the Old Bay State, something was done first; the first word, the first blow, the first blood, the first redoubt, the first triumph. Each vied with the other in acts of heroism. Deep called unto deep, valley responded to valley, plain to plain, hill-top to hill-top. There were diversities of operations, but the same spirit; the same calm, deliberate, fearless, unchangeable, and unconquerable spirit, of which the Acton Martyrs furnished so noble a type. In 1805, I think, Nelson's last signal at Trafalgar was, “ England expects every man to do his duty.” But thirty years before that, in New England, every man did his duty. On that day, Massachusetts, certainly, might have said of her citizen soldiers, what your own Davis said of his
company, 6 I have n't a man that's afraid to go.” No, nor a woman, nor a child; for the spirit of Liberty pervaded all ages and sexes, and the patriot mothers of Massachusetts were alternately occupied in furnishing food and clothing for their husbands in the field, and in educating their children at home to a hatred of tyranny and oppression, and to an admiration of those who fought and bled in resisting it.
Let me illustrate this idea, Mr. President, by relating to you one of the most interesting personal incidents which I can look back upon, in the course of a ten years' service in Congress. It was an interview which I had with our late venerated fellowcitizen, John Quincy Adams, about five or six years ago. It was on the floor of the Capitol, not far from the spot where he soon afterwards fell. The House had adjourned one day, somewhat suddenly and at an early hour, and it happened that after all the other members had left the hall, Mr. Adams and myself were left alone in our seats engaged in our private correspond. ence. Presently the messengers came in, rather unceremoniously, to clean up the hall, and began to wield that inexorable implement, which is so often the plague of men, both under public and private roofs. Disturbed by the noise and dust, I observed Mr. Adams approaching me with an unfolded letter in his hands. “Do you know John Joseph Gurney?” said he. “I know him well, Sir, by reputation; but I did not have the pleasure of meeting him personally when he was in America.” “ Well, he has been writing me a letter, and I have been writing him an answer. He has been calling me to account for my course on the Oregon question; and taking me to task for what he calls my belligerent spirit and warlike tone towards England. And I should like to read you what I have written in reply.”
And then “the old man eloquent” proceeded to read to me, so far as it was finished, one of the most interesting letters I ever read or heard in my life. It was a letter of autobiography, in which he described his parentage and early life, and in which he particularly alluded to the sources from which he derived his jealousy of Great Britain, and his readiness to resist her, even