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The Address















The De Vinne Press





ONE hundred years ago there knelt within these walls a man to whom, above all others in its history, this nation is indebted. An Englishman by race and lineage, he incarnated in his own person and character every best trait and attribute that have made the Anglo-Saxon name a glory to its children and a terror to its enemies throughout the world. But. he was not so much an Englishman, that when the time came for him to be so, he was not even more an American; and in all that he was and did, a patriot so exalted, and a leader so great and wise, that what men called him when he came here to be inaugurated as the first President of the United States the civilized world has not since then ceased to call him--the Father of his Country.

We are here this morning to thank God for so great a gift to this people, to commemorate the incidents 'of which this day is the one hundredth anniversary, and to recognize the responsibilities which a century so eventful has laid upon us.

And we are here of all other places, first of all, with preëminent appropriateness. I know not how it may be with those to whom all sacred things and places are matters of equal indifference, but surely to those of us with whom it is otherwise it cannot be without profound and pathetic import that when the first President of the Republic had taken upon him; by virtue of his solemn oath, pronounced in the sight of the people, the heavy burden bf its Chief Magistracy, he turned straightway to these walls, and kneeling in yonder pew, asked God for strength to keep his promise to the nation and his oath to Him. This was no unwonted home to him, nor to a large proportion of those eminent men who, with him, were associated in framing the Constitution of these United States. Children of the same spiritual Mother and nurtured in the same Scriptural [3/4] faith and Order, they were wont to carry with them into their public deliberation something of the same reverent and conservative spirit which they had learned within these walls, and of which the youthful and ill-regulated fervors of the new-born Republic often betrayed its need. And he, their leader and chief, while singularly without cant, or formalism, or pretense in his religious habits, was penetrated, as we know well, by a profound sense of the dependence of the Republic upon a Guidance other than that of man, and of his own need of a strength and courage and wisdom greater than he had in himself.

And so, with inexpressible tenderness and reverence we find ourselves thinking of him here, kneeling to ask such gifts, and then rising to go forth to his great tasks with mien so august and majestic that. Fisher Ames, who sat beside him in this chapel, wrote, "I was present in the pew with the President, and must assure you that, after making all deductions for the delusions of one's fancy in regard to characters, I still think of him with more veneration than for any other person." So we think of him, I say; and indeed it is impossible to think otherwise. The modern student of history has endeavored to tell us how it was that the service in this chapel which we are striving to reproduce came about. The record is not without obscurity, but of one thing we may be sure--that to him who of that goodly company who a hundred years ago gathered within these walls was chief, it was no empty form, no decorous affectation. Events had been too momentous, the hand of a Heavenly Providence had been too plain, for him, and the men who were grouped about him then, to misread the one or mistake the other. The easy levity with which their children's children debate the facts of God, and Duty, and Eternal Destiny was as impossible to them as Faith and Reverence seem' to be, or to be in danger of becoming, to many of us. And so we may be very sure that, when they gathered here, the air was hushed, and hearts as well as heads were bent in honest supplication.

[5] For, after all, their great experiment was then, in truth, but just beginning. The memorable days and deeds which had preceded it--the struggle for independence, the delicate and, in many respects, more difficult struggle for Union, the harmonizing of the various and often apparently conflicting interests of rival and remote States and sections, the formulating and adopting of the National Constitution--all these were, after all, but introductory and preparatory to the great experiment itself. It has been suggested that we may wisely see in the event which we celebrate to-day an illustration of those great principles upon which all governments rest, of the continuity of the Chief Magistracy, of the corporate life of the nation as embodied in its Executive, of the transmission, by due succession, of authority, and the like; of all of which, doubtless, in the history of the last 100 years we have an interesting and on the whole inspiring example.

But it is a somewhat significant fact that it is not along lines such as these that that enthusiasm which has flamed out during these recent days and weeks, as this anniversary has approached, has seemed. to move. The one thing that has, I imagine, amazed a good many cynical and pessimistic people among us is the way in which the ardor of a great people's love and homage and gratitude has kindled, not before the image of a mechanism, but of a man. It has been felt with an unerring intuition which has, once and again and again in human history, been the attribute of the people as distinguished from the doctrinaires, the theorists, the system-makers, that that which makes it worth while to commemorate the inauguration of George Washington is not merely that it is the consummation of the nation's struggle towards organic life, not merely that by the initiation of its Chief Executive it set in operation that Constitution of which Mr. Gladstone has declared "as far as I can see the American Constitution is the most wonderful work ever struck off at one time by the brain and purpose of man"; but that it celebrates the beginning of an Administration [5/6] which, by its lofty and stainless integrity, by its absolute superiority to. selfish or secondary motives, by the rectitude of its daily conduct in the face of whatsoever threats, blandishments, or combinations, rather than by the ostentatious phariseeism of its professions, has taught this nation and the world forever what the Christian ruler of. a Christian people ought to be.

I yield to no man in my veneration for the men who framed the compact under which these States are bound together. No one can easily exaggerate their services or the value of that which they wrought out. But, after all, we may not forget to-day, that the thing which they made was a dead and not a living thing. It had no power to interpret itself, to apply itself, to execute itself. Splendid as it was in its complex and forecasting mechanism, instinct as it was, in one sense, with a noble wisdom, with a large-visioned statesmanship, with a matchless adaptability to untried emergencies, it was, nevertheless, no different in another aspect from one of those splendid specimens of naval architecture which throng our wharves to-day, and which, with every best contrivance of human-art and skill, with capacities of progress which newly amaze us every day, are but as impotent, dead matter, save as the brain and hand of man shall summon and command them. "The ship of state," we say. Yes; but it is the cool and competent mastery at the helm of that, as of every other ship, which shall, under God, determine the glory or the ignominy of the voyage.

Never was there a truth which more sorely needed to be spoken! A generation which vaunts its descent from the founders of the Republic seems largely to be in danger of forgetting their preeminent distinction. They were few in numbers, they were poor in worldly possessions--the sum of the fortune of the richest among them would afford a fine theme for the scorn of the plutocrat of to-day; but they had an invincible confidence in the truth of those principles in which the foundations of the Republic had been laid, and they had an unselfish purpose to maintain them. The conception [6/7] of the National Government as a huge machine, existing mainly for the purpose of rewarding partisan service--this was a conception so alien: to the character and conduct of Washington and his associates that it seems grotesque even to speak of it. It would be interesting to imagine the first President of the United States confronted with some one who had ventured to approach him upon the basis of what are now commonly known as practical politics." But the conception is impossible. The loathing, the outraged majesty with which he would have bidden such a creature to be gone is foreshadowed by the gentle dignity with which, just before his inauguration, replying to one who had the strongest claims upon his friendship, and who had applied to him during the progress of the "Presidential campaign," as we should say, for the promise of an appointment to office, he wrote: In touching upon the more delicate part of your letter, the communication of which fills me with real concern, I will deal with you with all that frankness which is due to friendship, and which I wish should be a characteristic feature of my conduct through life. Should it be my fate to administer the Government, I will go to the Chair under no preengagement of any kind or nature whatever. And when in it, I will, to the best of my judgment, discharge the duties of the office with that impartiality and zeal for the public good which ought never to suffer connections of blood or friendship to have the least sway on decisions of a public nature."

On this high level moved the first President of the Republic. To it must we who are the heirs of her sacred interests be not unwilling to ascend, if we are to guard our glorious heritage!

And this all the more because the perils which confront us are so much graver and more portentous than those which then impended. There is (if we are not afraid of the wholesome medicine that there is in consenting to see it) an element of infinite sadness in the effort which we are making to-day. Ransacking the annals of our fathers as we have been doing for the last [7/8] few months, a. busy and well-meaning assiduity would fain reproduce the scene, the scenery, the situation, of an hundred years ago! Vain and impotent endeavor! It is as though out of the lineaments of living men we would fain produce another Washington. We may disinter the vanished draperies, we may revive the stately minuet, we may rehabilitate the old scenes, but the march of a century cannot be halted or reversed, and the enormous change in the situation can neither be disguised nor ignored. Then we were, though not all of us sprung from one nationality, practically one people. Now, that steadily deteriorating process, against whose dangers a great thinker of our own generation warned his countrymen just fifty years ago, goes on, on every hand, apace. The constant importation," wrote the author of "The Weal of Nations," "as now, in this country, of the lowest orders of people from abroad to dilute the quality of our natural manhood, is a sad and beggarly prostitution of the noblest gift ever conferred on a people. Who shall respect a people who do not respect their own blood? And how shall a national spirit, or any determinate and proportionate character, arise out of so many low-bred associations and cross-grained temperaments, imported from every clime? It was indeed in keeping that Pan, who was the son of everybody, was the ugliest of the gods." [Horace Bushnell.]

And again: Another enormous difference between this day and that of which it is the anniversary, is seen in the enormous difference in the nature and influence of the forces that determine our national and political destiny. Then, ideas ruled the hour. To-day, there are indeed ideas that rule our hour, but they must be merchantable ideas. The growth of wealth, the prevalence of luxury, the massing of large material forces, which by their very existence are a standing menace to the freedom and integrity of the individual, the infinite swagger of our American speech and manners, mistaking bigness for greatness, and sadly confounding [8/9] gain and godliness--all this is a contrast to the austere simplicity, the unpurchasable integrity of the first days and first men of our republic, which makes it impossible to reproduce to-day either the temper or the conduct of our fathers. As we turn the pages backward, and come upon the story of that 30th of April, in the year of our Lord 1789, there is a certain stateliness in the air, a certain ceremoniousness in the manners, which we have banished long ago. We have exchanged the Washingtonian dignity for the Jeffersonian simplicity, which in due time came to be only another name for the Jacksonian vulgarity. And what have we gotten in exchange for it? In the elder States and dynasties they had the trappings of royalty and the pomp and splendor of the king's person to fill men's hearts with loyalty. Well, we have dispensed with the old titular dignities. Let us take care that we do not part with that tremendous force for which they stood! If there be not titular royalty, all the more need is there for personal royalty. If there is to be no nobility of descent, all the more indispensable is it that there should be nobility of ascent--a character in them that bear rule, so fine and high and pure, that as men come within the circle of its influence, they involuntarily pay homage to that which is the one preeminent distinction, the Royalty of Virtue!

And that it was, men and brethren, which, as we turn to-day and look at him who, as on this morning just an hundred years ago, became the servant of the Republic in becoming the Chief Ruler of its people, we must needs own, conferred upon him his divine right to rule. All the more, therefore, because the circumstances of his era were so little like our own, we need to recall his image and, if we may, not only to commemorate, but to reproduce his virtues. The traits which in him shone preeminent as our own Irving has described them, "firmness, sagacity, an immovable justice, courage that never faltered, and most of all truth that disdained all artifices"--these are characteristics in her leaders of which the nation was never in more dire need than now.

[10] And so we come and kneel at this ancient and hallowed shrine where once he knelt, and ask that God would graciously vouchsafe them. Here in this holy house we find the witness of that one invisible Force which, because it alone can rule the conscience, is destined, one day, to rule the world. Out from airs dense and foul with the coarse passions and coarser rivalries of self-seeking men, we turn aside as from the. crowd and glare of some vulgar highway, swarming with pushing and ill-bred throngs, and tawdry and clamorous with bedizened booths and noisy speech, into some cool and shaded wood where straight to heaven some majestic oak lifts its tall form, its roots embedded deep among the unchanging rocks, its upper branches sweeping the upper airs, and holding high commune with the stars; and, as we think of him for whom we here thank God, we say, "Such an one, in native majesty he was a ruler, wise and strong and fearless, in the sight of God and men, because by the ennobling grace of God he had learned, first of all, to conquer every mean and selfish and self-seeking aim, and so to rule himself!" For

"--What are numbers knit
By force or custom? Man who man would be
Must rule the empire of himself--in it
Must be supreme, establishing his throne
Of vanquished will, quelling the anarchy
Of hopes and fears, being himself alone."

Such was the hero, leader, ruler, patriot, whom we gratefully remember on this day. We may not reproduce his age, his young environment, nor him. But none the less may we rejoice that once he lived and led this people, "led them and ruled them prudently," like him, that Kingly Ruler and Shepherd of whom the Psalmist sang, "with all his power." God give us the grace to prize his grand example, and, as we may in our more modest measure, to reproduce his virtues.

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