top of page

July 4th, 1861 Address delivered at Essex, NY

From the archives of the Ticonderoga Historical Society we commemorate this 4th of July, 2020  by re-publishing a historical pamphlet — “An Address, delivered at Essex, Essex County, NY – July 4th, 1861” by W. C. Watson, Jr.

Fellow Citizens: —

While no American can forget the 4th of July – to an inhabitant of the valley of Lake Champlain it is a day of especial interest.

More than two hundred and fifty years ago, before the foot of the Puritan had pressed that “Blarney Stone of New England,” Plymouth Rock; before the Flying Dutchman had puffed his first whiff above the stormy tide of Hell Gate; that adventurous Frenchman, Samuel Champlain, on this same 4th of July, pushed his frail canoe into the waters of this fair lake, and, accompanied by a single white man, led his savage allies on an excursion, which terminating at our neighboring town of Crownpoint, displayed the skill and daring of the white man, and first taught the fierce Algonquin and the fiery Iroquois the scientific warfare of Europe, and established within the bounds of the Empire State and supremacy of the civilized over the savage man.

And is it not worth a moment’s reflection – this 4th day of July 1609, first opening the portals of Lake Champlain to the whiteman? What a scene did he behold in the early dawn of that morning, so silent and so beautiful! The swarthy red men sleeping around him, the towering mountains on every side lifting their nameless peaks up into the quiet sky, the boundless forest vocal with the songs of birds and melodious with the sound of streams and swarming with its wild beasts and wilder men; the quiet lake itself reflecting back the green shores, the blue sky, the wild fowl, and nothing more; not a mariners sail, not a civilized sound through all the wide expanse; no other white men near, their native land three thousand miles away, not a familiar object about them but the sky and its stars. The contrast between the scene then and now teaches its own lesson, conveys its own thoughts. Could Samuel Champlain have foreseen this day, how would his pious heart have swelled with gratitude to God that his name should be linked with the beauty and prosperity of such a scene as this.

Samuel de Champlain

It is said that Alexander planned carving Mount Athos into his kingly profile; happier Champlain to have baptized this beautiful lake with his own name, to be held dear in the memory of men so long as courage, enterprise and piety are revered by your sons and daughters, and so long as the church-going bell awakens the echoes of this valley of Lake Champlain.

But while the discovery of Champlain adds to our interest in this day, it is not the reason why as American Citizens we celebrate it.

I hear it said by some timid man, “we ought no longer to celebrate this day. In the days of our prosperity it was well to celebrate it, but not now. Now we should rather mourn than rejoice.” Well, in one sense, we should mourn. It is sad to reflect under what different auspices we celebrate this anniversary to-day from those under which we have celebrated it heretofore. Always before we have reflected that God in Heaven was looking down upon a great, free people, rejoicing in a common government, kneeling at their Altars of Liberty, all the way from Maine to Georgia; and under the folds of the Star Spangled Banner, praising Him in unison and keeping the 4th of July together. And I can’t teach my heart now to think of Charleston as a foreign city. The playmates of my childhood are there; and some of my dearest friends sleep in death beneath the palmetto tree and some sleep under the pines of New England. I can not forget how George Washington led a Northern Army and Nathaniel Green a Southern Army; neither to defend the liberties of Rhode Island or of Virginia, but both to protect the Union. And when the hardy pioneers have driven out the grizzly bears and Indians, with powder and shot and tobacco and rum, from a new territory. I have been accustomed to rejoice, not that the North or the South was made richer thereby, but that we were to have a new State. I have claimed a property in every log on the Kennebeck and every flat boat on the Mississippi because it belonged to our Uncle Sam; and have watched the growth of St. Louis and the cotton trade of New Orleans with the same interest that I have the population of Chicago or the pork market of Cincinnati. Though if this present melancholy state of affairs shall continue and this national dismemberment be accomplished, the growth of New Orleans is to me henceforth no more a matter of interest that the growth of Timbuctoo; and I am no more please that there is a new state formed in Texas or that Jeff. Davis had got a new privateer than I am to hear that a new coral reef is annexed to the Sandwich Islands, or that the Algerians have equipped another pirate.

In this sense the present condition of our country is disheartening and melancholy, and our present meeting an occasion for fasting rather feasting.

In another sense, however, it seems to me that there has never been such cause for rejoicing as there is on this 85th Anniversary of our Declaration of Independence. Have we no cause for National thanksgiving to-day? Are not the memories of our Revolutionary Dead as glorious to-day as they have ever been? Have we forgotten the face or form of a single worthy of Independence Hall? Does not the heroic face of John Hancock and his bold signature, which was “writ large that the king of England might be sure to see it,” live in our memory still? Do we not recollect the broad brimmed hat of good old Stephen Hopkins, and his tremulous hand which shook with age and with nothing else? Are Rutledge and Jefferson and Adams and the rest forgotten? Have the camp fires of the Revolution grown dim in our eyes? Let our own hearts answer whether these stirring memories ever, ever burned so bright as now?

Then, too, we have a cause for thankfulness to-day that, to my notion, we never had before – we have not discovered that the spirit of ’76 still lives, lives here in Essex county. And it alone was worth the pangs of a whole Rebellion, to find out, for sure, that our sires trust in God, our sires love of Liberty, their faith in the government they founded with its forms and laws, still lives in us. –- That patriotism is not merely a something for great occasions, for Independence day, something to be forgotten with the 4th of July dinner, and laid away till we smell the roast pig of the next year; not merely something to be wrote about and read about and talked about, but something to enter into our common life, to become a motive to our actions and a part of our souls: something to be enforced and loved and fought for, and died for if it be God’s good pleasure.

It is a melancholy spectacle to behold the people of a degenerate race, such as are at this day seen in the streets of Athens and on the plains of Thebes, groveling among the columns and pyramids which their great fathers reared. It is sad when a nation’s tombs are its best monuments, and the dead lodge better that the living. But it is still more melancholy when the memory of their sire’s virtue is all the inheritance which a people has – when they possess the form of liberty without the powers thereof. While it is base to forget the good deeds of our fathers, the best way of demonstrating our recollection of their great achievements is by emulating their example, and by shielding the Liberty they have left us with our arms, and protecting their form of government with our lives.

I think it has of late years been a grave question with most thinking minds, whether our very prosperity, as a nation, had not swallowed up our patriotism, whether we had not lost our veneration for Liberty and free forms of government, whether our love for commerce and our eagerness for wealth would not soon have reconciled as to almost any change in our system of government, provided we might have grown rich thereby; whether the Boston shipper and the New York merchant would not about as soon live under a Despotism as in a Republic, if they should think such sway would forward the interests of trade. -–It has sometimes seemed as though our blessings had a tendency to denationalize us, and that as we had grown rich we had grown selfish, and mean, and sectional and envious — we were where the old Greeks were at the time of the Peloponnesian war. We had changed our ambition and begun to desire, not to make the United States the first of nations in the world, but to make our section the first of sections. And it was much to feared that if Almighty God had not sent us down this great thunderbolt of a Rebellion and shown us on what rocks were drifting, we should have lost our cohesion and perished as a nation; that this great influx of monarchists, and Red Republicans and infidels would have obliterated all the old Puritan veneration for religion and government, and made us prey to the first spoiler.

To the superficial observer it appears that a great, rich, free, civilized, Christianized Republic is falling to pieces. Tyranny exults and freedom mourns all over the world at the thought. It is not falling pieces, but is greatly disturbed; it is not destroyed, but it is much disordered. And why? Because, it is said, we have too great an extent of territory, and that men living so far apart, in such different climates, with such various products, will naturally and certainly fall into different nationalities. This, I apprehend, is untrue. Want of frequent communication is the only geographical reason why people territorially severe become politically separated; and our telegraphs and rail road’s bring Bangor and New Orleans nearer together to-day, than Boston and Philadelphia were in the times of the Revolution. And to-day Maine and California area alike true to the Union.

The monarchist of the old world cry out, too, that our present troubles have arisen from our form of government. They say that this experiment of ours is but another failure of a popular government to sustain itself; that this Republic, like all other Republics, must of necessity fall to pieces. And should we fail, I admit that it would be the most damaging blow that the cause of freedom has ever yet received. But this trouble does not arise from any inherent weakness of our form of government. Nations wax and wane, whatever, their forms of government, by reason of the inherent weakness or strength of the people composing them. And I much doubt whether any nation was ever destroyed by outside pressure.

A forest tree braves for a thousand years the storm and tempest, and at last falls before a summer breeze. And it falls, not because the wind is strong, but because it has become rotten at the heart; and so we have seen powerful people like Greece, and Rome, and Spain, of various forms of Government monarchical, democratic and imperial, fall back from the van of nations into insignificance; while all the bayonets of Europe have not been able to dash the Alpine stock from the firm hand of little Switzerland.

If then our present national troubles do not arise from our extent of territory, nor from our form of government, form what do they arise? How shall we correct the wrong and avoid the difficulties hereafter?

We must learn to love liberty, our nation, our union more. The Star Spangled Banner must be regarded by us with love and veneration; not merely because it is the standard of thirty millions of people – why, the barbarous banner of China and Japan are the standard of ten times as many people, and yet those nations wield no influence over the destines of the world; nor merely because it waves over a commerce so extended as our own is, for the tri-color of France, and the eagles of Russia, float over navies still more powerful, but the heart of freemen, the world over, never warm at the sight of them as they do when our standard sheet gleams before them. No; we must love this banner for its grand memories; we must not despise the religion and the liberty in whose sacred cause it was first unfurled; we must never forget with what suffering and afflictions those stripes were woven and those stars were planted on their azure field. Why, that flag was a making for a longer time, may be, than you think. It was not the blood of the Revolution only which gave the red to that banner!

Quiet, trusting, religious, hardy men and women, all through the wilderness of New England, and Virginia, and New York, had been weaving that flag for more than a hundred and fifty years before the streets of Boston and the mound of Bunker Hill had reddened with the blood of patriots. Stripe after stripe was added as state after state amid toil, and massacre, and starvation, established its foundations in rugged soils and under inclement skies, and made itself by such a discipline fit to become a member of the Thirteen United Colonies of North America.

Then the flag was unfurled, thirteen stripes and thirteen stars; and one of those stripes and one of those original stars New York claimed. She had begun to make her portion of that flag as long before as 1609, and she kept to work at it all through Dutch, and French, and Indian wars, and never had her part of the bunting ready till after old Ti. was captured. And then she said she would no longer defend one stripe and one star, but would devote her sons and her treasure to defend the Union of Thirteen stripes and Thirteen stars in ’76, and as many more stars and stripes as God should give states to that Union in the future. And when the stripes grew so numerous that no bunting would contain them then they resolved to preserve the stripes in memory of the old thirteen, and to add a star for each sister state; and this they did till the stars are thirty-four.