Words That Men Live By
Edward Everett (1826)
CHARLESTOWN, Mass., August I, I826 - Edward Everett, who retired last year from the Greek professorship at Harvard College to pit his oratorical skill against Congressional veterans as a Representative from this District, today embellished his own bright reputation by a memorial address honoring the late John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Both died on July 4.
Dr. Everett, in eulogizing these two highly different but grandly patriotic leaders, put into a perspective seldom realized the fantastic achievements of what is sometimes called the American ideal. By using the two heroes as a joint symbol, he separated cause from debate, principle from personality, and continuity of great ideas from the controversies of the moment.
Among the Congressman's auditors, who included a generous sprinkling of illustrious thinkers, the impression - seemed quite general that the speaker not only was eulogizing men who, in death, have passed beyond controversy, but was using his speech as a lever to raise much of the current political de- bate above the issues of sectionalism. Indeed, as a moderate conservative, he already has felt the sting of northern opinion that oftentimes thinks his attitude toward slavery too moderate and his desire for universal political harmony too lenient toward economic threats aimed at New England from both the South and the fast-growing West.
But these taunts, and whatever degree of apprehension they raise in the mind of Dr. Everett, seemed far away as he spoke today. Instead, his voice was that of the scholar, whose eloquence has developed during his four years of editing the North American Review.
The jubilee of America is turned into mourning. Its joy is mingled with sadness; its silver trumpet breathes a mingled strain. Henceforward, while America exists among the nations of the earth, the first emotion of the fourth of July will be of joy and triumph in the great event which immortalizes the day; the second will be one of chastened and tender recollection of the venerable men who departed on the morning of the jubilee.
This mingled emotion of triumph and sadness has sealed the beauty and sublimity of our great anniversary. ...
Friends, fellow-citizens, free, prosperous, happy Americans! The men who did so much to make you so are no more. The men who gave nothing to pleasure in youth, nothing to repose in age, but all to that country, whose beloved name fiIled their hearts, as it does ours, with joy, can now do no more for us; nor we for them. But their memory remains, we will cherish it; their bright example remains, we will strive to imitate it; the fruit of their wise counsels and noble acts remains, we will gratefully enjoy it.
They have gone to the companions of their cares, of their dangers, and their toils. It is well with them. The treasures of America are now in heaven. How long the list of our good, and wise, and brave, assembled there! How few remain with us! There is our Washington; and those who followed him in their country's confidence are now met together with him, and all their illustrious company. The faithful marble may preserve their image; the engraven brass may proclaim their worth; but the humblest sod of Independent America, with nothing but the dew-drops of the morning to gild it, is a prouder mausoleum than kings or conquerors can boast. The country is their monument. Its independence is their epitaph. But not to their country is their praise limited. The whole earth is the monument of illustrious men. Wherever an agonizing people shall perish, in a generous convulsion, for want of a valiant arm and a fearless heart, they will cry, in the last accents of despair, O for a Washington, an Adams, a Jefferson! Wherever a regenerated nation, starting up in its might, shall burst the links of steel that enchain it, the praise of our venerated fathers shall be remembered in their triumphal song!
The contemporary and successive generations of men will disappear, and in the long lapse of ages, the races of America, like those of Greece and Rome, may pass away. The fabric of American freedom, like all things human, however firm and fair, may crumble into dust. But the cause in which these our fathers shone is immortal. They did that to which no age, no people of civilized men, can be indifferent. Their eulogy will be uttered in other languages, when those we speak, like us who speak them, shall be all forgotten. And when the great account of humanity shall be closed, in the bright list of those who have best adorned and served it, shall be found the names of our Adams and our Jefferson!
~ Postlogue ~
Everett's speech this day was a land- mark in his on-going career as an orator in the ancient sense of the word. He was an orator whose delivery often overshadowed the subject about which he talked, in much the same manner that, in the 1950's, some television commentators would achieve reputations that for a time left their listeners not quite certain as to what they had been talking about, but charmed by their personalities.
His gifts carried Everett into the Governorship of Massachusetts, to a brief career as Secretary of State (succeeding his friend, Daniel Webster), and on into the Senate, to which he was elected while serving in the Cabinet post.
Everett resigned his Senate seat in the second year of his term, because in 1860 his moderate attitude toward slavery embarrassed his fellow members of the Whig party. But if there I was any question of his loyalty to the Union, which was beyond question, it evaporated during the Civil War when he stumped the North, addressing vast, audiences, with inspirational appeals to patriots.
But even as Everett was a great orator, so he stands as the classic example that oratory may, in some circumstances, leave something lacking.
It was Everett who was chosen to deliver, and who did deliver, the great "oration" of the day at the consecration of a portion of the Gettysburg Battlefield, as a perpetual cemetery and memorial to the men who died there. The "oration" of that day has been forgotten. It was overshadowed by some 400 words of extemporaneous remarks delivered by one of the least gifted of speakers - Abraham Lincoln.Printable version