How different with the Old Flag that we love. It had been tested before, but this was its supreme trial. It had been victorious in several wars. It had sheltered new and expanding States, it had fostered higher forms of civilization, and represented peoples and interests that were complex and varied; but in our Civil War it was assailed as never before. The test was crucial, but nobly was it borne. Men died in ranks as the forest goes down before the cyclone. What sharp agony in death, and what long-continued suffering and bereavement this implies. But the result was decisive–a strengthening of the power and grandeur of the nation that sometimes seems to be only too great and unquestioned.
We have no wish by any word of ours to revive bitter feeling or stir up strife. This hallowed day has been from the first a peacemaker. Men, standing with uncovered heads in the presence of the dead, do not care to utter words of reproach for the irrevocable past. We, wearing the blue, can say to the scarred veteran wearers of the gray: “You fought well for the lost cause. But the case was fairly tried in the awful court of war. It took four years for the jury to agree, but the verdict has been given–a verdict against your cause–and there is no higher court and no appeal. There is no resurrection for the dead Confederacy; but we can offer you something better–an equal part in the life and destiny of the most glorious nation time has yet produced.” And on their side the gray can reply, in the words of Colonel Grady, the eloquent orator of the South, in his speech at Atlanta: “We can now see that in this conflict loss was gain, and defeat real and substantial victory; that everything we hoped for and fought for, in the new government we sought to establish, is given to us in greater measure in the old government our fathers founded.”
We do not meet on these Memorial Days to weep for the dead, as we did while wounds were yet fresh. Time has healed the scars of war, and we can calmly contemplate the great lesson of patriotic devotion, and rejoice that the nation to which we belong produced men noble enough to die for that which they valued so much. Neither do I care to say anything of human slavery, the institution that died and was buried with the Confederacy. I had enough to say about it while it was living. Let the dead past bury its dead.
But we are here to foster patriotism, in view of the most tremendous sacrifice ever willingly made by a people on the altar of nationality. That the sacrifices of the Civil War deserve this rank will appear from the fact that they were made–in the main–by volunteers. We were not fighting directly to defend our altars and our fires; we were not driven to arms to repel an invading foe; we were not hurried to the field by king or noble; but in the first flush of manhood we offered ourselves to preserve unimpaired the unity, the purity, the glory of our nation. So far as I have turned over the leaves of the volume of time, I have found nothing in all the past like this. Therefore, standing before the highest manifestation of earthly patriotism, viewing it crowned in all the glory of self-sacrifice, by a faithfulness which was literally in the case of hundreds of thousands “unto death,” we ask: “What is there that justifies a nation in exacting or accepting (when freely offered) such tribute of the life-blood of its people?”
The two things of inestimable value which our government furnishes and which we ought to preserve even with life itself, if the sacrifice is needed, are liberty and law, or rather liberty _in_ law. The old world gave law, without which human society cannot exist. But it was accompanied with terrible suffering–as when “order reigned in Warsaw.” Such law came from masters, and made the mass of the people slaves. We have an equal perfection of law, order, subordination, but it rises side by side with liberty The people govern themselves–not in one form of government alone but in affairs national, State, county, down to the smallest school district and a thousand voluntary societies. In each the methods by which the people’s will may be made supreme in designated affairs are clearly defined, so that the whole of united human effort is brought under the dominion of law, even such things as general education, and yet each affair is in the hands of the people directly concerned. For thousands of years the principles of our complex and wonderful system of co-ordinated government have been growing up till they have reached their fullest perfection on our soil, and we breathe their beneficence as we breathe the air of heaven. Men are willing to die by the tens of thousands that this liberty under law may not perish from the world.
… Comrades and Citizens:–We move forward to new issues and new responsibilities. Grave dangers are now upon us. God grant that they may not need to be met and settled in the rude shock of war. The time for wisdom, for clear-sighted patriotism is–_now_. Labor and capital, the foundations of law and order; the complex civilization of a nation which now talks by lightning, and is hurled by steam over plains and mountains, and which, doubtless, will soon fly through the air–all these are to be settled by the men now on the stage of action. We cannot do better than to tell you, to settle them in the spirit of the men whose great sacrifices we to-day commemorate.