Fourth of July.

Fourth of July.

  The bells ring; the cannon rouse the echoes along the river shore; the boys sally forth with shouts and little flags and crackers enough to frighten all the people they meet from sunrise to sunset. The orator is conning for the last time the speech in which he has vainly attempted to season with some new spice the yearly panegyric upon our country; its happiness and glory; the audience is putting on its best bib and tucker, and its blandest expression to listen.

  And yet, no heart, we think, can beat to-day with one pulse of genuine, noble joy. Those who have obtained their selfish objects will not take especial pleasure in thinking of them to-day, while to unbiased minds must come sad thoughts of National Honor soiled in the eyes of other nations, of a great inheritance, risked, if not forfeited.

  Much has been achieved in this country since the first Declaration of Independence. America is rich and strong; she has shown great talent and energy; vast prospects of aggrandizement open before her. But the noble sentiment which she expressed in her early youth is tarnished; she has shown that righteousness is not her chief desire, and her name is no longer a watchword for the highest hopes to the rest of the world. She knows this, but takes it very easily; she feels that she is growing richer and more powerful, and that seems to suffice her.

  These facts are deeply saddening to those who can pronounce the words ‘My Country’ with pride and peace only so far as steadfast virtues, generous impulses find their home in that country. They cannot be satisfied with superficial benefits, with luxuries and the means of obtaining knowledge which are multiplied for them. They could rejoice in full hands and a busy brain, if the soul were expanding and the heart pure, but, the higher conditions being violated, what is done cannot be done for good.

  Such thoughts shadow patriot minds as the cannon-peal bursts upon the ear. This year, which declares that the people at large consent to cherish and extend Slavery as one of our “domestic institutions,” takes from the patriot his home. This year, which attests their insatiate love of wealth and power, quenches the flame upon the altar.

  Yet there remains that good part which cannot be taken away. If nations go astray, the narrow path may always be found and followed by the individual man. It is hard, hard indeed, when politics and trade are mixed up with evils so mighty that he scarcely dares touch them for fear of being defiled. He finds his activity checked in great natural outlets by the scruples of conscience. He cannot enjoy the free use of his limbs, glowing upon a favorable tide; but struggling, panting, must fix his eyes upon his aim and fight against the current to reach it. It is not easy, it is very hard just now to realize the blessings of Independence.

  For what is Independence if it do not lead to Freedom?—Freedom from fraud and meanness, from selfishness, from public opinion so far as it does not consent with the still small voice of one’s better self?

  Yet there is still a great and worthy part to play. This country presents great temptations to ill, but also great inducements to good. Her health and strength are so remarkable; her youth so full of life that disease cannot yet have taken deep hold of her. It has bewildered her brain, made her steps totter, fevered, but not yet tainted, her blood. Things are still in that state when ten just men may save the city. A few men are wanted, able to think and act upon principles of an eternal value. The safety of the country must lie in a few such men—men who have achieved the genuine independence, independence of wrong, of violence, of falsehood.

  We want individuals to whom all eyes may turn as an example of the practicability of virtue. We want shining examples. We want deeply rooted characters, who cannot be moved by flattery, by fear, even by hope, for they work in faith. The opportunity for such men is great, they will not be burnt at the stake in their prime for bearing witness to the truth, yet they will be tested most severely in their adherence to it. There is nothing to hinder them from learning what is true and best, no physical tortures will be inflicted on them for expressing it. Let men feel that in private lives, more than in public measures must the salvation of the country lie. If that country has so widely veered from the course she prescribed to herself and that the hope of the world prescribed to her, it must be because she had not men ripened and confirmed for better things. They leaned too carelessly on one another; they had not deepened and purified the private lives from which the public must spring, as the verdure of the plain from the fountains of the hills.

  What a vast influence is given by sincerity alone? The bier of General Jackson has just passed, upbearing a golden urn. The men who placed it there lament his departure and esteem the measures which have led this country to her present position wise and good. The other side esteem them unwise, unjust, and disastrous in their consequences. But both respect him thus far that his conduct was boldly sincere. The sage of Quincy! Men differ in their estimate of his abilities. None, probably, esteem his mind as one of the first magnitude. But both sides, all men, are influenced by the bold integrity of his character. Mr. Calhoun speaks straight out what he thinks. So far as this straightforwardness goes, he confers the benefits of virtue. If a character be uncorrupted, whatever bias it takes, it thus far is good and does good. It may help others to a higher, wiser, larger independence than its own.

  We know not where to look for an example of all or many of the virtues we would seek from the man who is to begin the new dynasty that is needed of Fathers of the Country. The Country needs to be born again; she is polluted with the lust of power, the lust of gain. She needs Fathers good enough to be God-fathers—men who will stand sponsors at the baptism with all they possess, with all the goodness they can cherish, and all the wisdom they can win, to lead this child the way she should go, and never one step in another. Are there not in schools and colleges the boys who will become such men? Are there not those on the threshold of manhood who have not yet chosen the broad way into which the multitude rushes, led by the banner on which, strange to say, the royal Eagle is blazoned, together with the word Expediency? Let him decline that road, and take the narrow, thorny path where Integrity leads, though with no prouder emblem than the dove. He may there find the needed remedy which, like the white root, the Moly, detected by the patient and resolved Odysseus, shall have power to restore the herd of men, disguised by the enchantress to whom they had willingly yielded in the forms of brutes, to the stature and beauty of men.*

“Fourth of July.” New-York Daily Tribune, 4 July 1845, p. 2.