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.

Civil War Era Flag – 34 Stars


And when New York took her great oath to merge her one star in the galaxy of the Union, she took it with no mental reservation, but swore to preserve that standard entire against foes without and traitors within, and always, always to “carry the flag and keep step to the music of the Union.”

That is the history of our flag and let us be sure that nothing will preserve it but the preservation of those principles that originated it.

We must put away the notion that this flag is merely something to float over a cargo of cotton. Tyrants do not fear and Patriots love this banner merely because it is the flag of a rich people, but because it is the emblem of freedom. It was a glory in ’76 because it was in the hands of a people that founded these states and formed this Union that they might worship God and govern themselves as they saw fit. And it will be a glory now in the hands of such a people, and in the hands of no other.

Our fathers formed a nation that has so far been prosperous and permanent, not only because their form of government was right, but because they were right themselves. Not Solon, not Franklin, not Gabriel himself could devise a form of government that would make a vicious, or ignorant, or indolent people prosperous and happy. We, ourselves, our neighbors, our people must be right, or a good form of government will no more avail us that it does the states of Mexico and Central America, which are formed on our type.

In a monarch, if the government is pure and wise the state will survive, even when the people have become corrupt and vicious; and it is, is my opinion, the only form suitable for such a people. And this is the reason why free governments so often end in despotisms. And so it will be in this land if our people become thoroughly corrupted. But in a Republic the majority rules, that is it, the majority rules, and from the nature of things when that majority becomes demoralized the state must fall, however excellent the minority may remain. We must stop putting our trust in the chariots and horses of Egypt. We must cease to tremble before the cotton tyrants on either side of the Atlantic, and remember that neither iron nor gold, neither corn nor cotton can save an evil people which God hates.

We must purge our land of luxury. Under God, productive industry will save any people. We must cry out now,

“Weave no more silks, ye Lyon’s looms, To deck our girls for gay delights.”

Cease our gambling of all sorts, and purify our land from these millions drones, idlers, stock jobbers and politicians, that Edward Winslow would have put into the pillory as vagrants.

Then, too, we must not only take care that we are pure ourselves, but we must see to it that our legislators and officials are pure also, If only the worst and meanest of mankind are sent to our legislative halls, so far as the influence upon the destinies of the nation are concerned. We might about as well all be knaves at once. I protest before God, that I believe the present unhappy condition of our country arises more from the practical divorce between patriotism and politics in this land, than from any all other causes combined, from sending to our Legislatures and our Congress, and to every official position, men destitute of moral worth and integrity. Let us not be deluded, the soul of a dishonest man is the very best sol to grow treason and rebellion in; and who so likely to cheat his country as the man who cheats his neighbor?

But of late we have not even selected our most sagacious rascals to fill our public places. We have put in place and power mongrel hermaphrodites of both the knave and fool order; and in contemplating the characters of many of the statesmen of the hour, we are puzzled to aver in which of these orders they should be ranked.

It is patent to every observer that there are very few communities whose intellect, whose morals, or even whose politics are fairly represented by its legislative members.

A country is never more in danger that when about to fall into the hands of either official knaves or official fools; and the man of worth and honor, who, while shunning all the little nastiness of partisan politics, is willing to leave his private affairs, however urgent, and go to the polls or the legislature and vote the rascals down, deserves well of his country in the same sense that the soldier does, who walks a sentry on a stormy night or braves the bayonets of a fiery foe. The Thompson and Floyds and all their traitorous colleagues would to-day have been battening on the spoils of distracted country if moral worth had been in any sense the scale by which official position was determined.

However honeyed their eloquence or profound their learning, we must see to it for the future, that men’s moral qualifications to a seat in Congress shall not be precisely the same as to a cell in the Penitentiary.

Then, too, we must keep our plighted faith – a corporation may have no soul, but a great State can not break its word. We loath and abhor the rich man who breaks his contract with his poor neighbor, and can we expect less of a sovereign state? If these states in their infancy have made a constitutional compact, and selected a tribunal to interpret it, however much of comparative power any of them may have attained, by the agreements of that compact and the interpretations of that tribunal, they are none the less bound to abide.

This constitutional compact between these states is like the marriage vow between man and wife, voluntarily made It cannot well be dissolved by any divorce but such as the red hand of Revolution makes.

It was a union ratified by the oaths of heroes, consecrated by the prayers of patriots, sealed by the blood of martyrs, and bless by God himself. We see the smiles of Heaven in the success of the revolutionary struggle, and in four score years of national prosp0erity ever since; and shall we see it shattered not? Shall we stand quietly by and see the world’s hope of freedom go down in this storm? Shall we admit that the hereditary tyrants of the world were right, our fathers wrong? That man must be govern himself? Is this the lesson we leave behind as for all the ages to read?

The careful calculating Yankee mind has worked this thing all out, and in Hosea Bigelow’s Anglo-Saxon,

“I’ll tell you just the end they’ve come to, Arter cyphering, playing smart, And it makes a handy sum tew, Any gump may larn by heart.”

Whoever has violated the Constitution, — that is the test. – Whoever has violated the Constitution must be put down. The rebels have done this, therefore the rebels must be put down.

We might have desired that the last Congress had tendered to the South some compromise, like the Crittenden or the Border State compromise, so called; and we may hope that this Congress, which meets to-day, may do this; and if they are the true representative men of the nation – that they ought to be, and that we might have had – will they not do it, for the sake of old Andy Johnson and his gallant compatriots of the South, if for nothing else?

But that first cannon shot, fired at Fort Sumpter, went straight to the bull’s eye of our patriotism; the scales fell from our eyes – we saw that the doubter is damned. At once the great North sprang to its feet. That cannon shot awoke a louder echo that Montezuma’s “war drum made of serpents’ skin.” It rang through all the green hills of New England, and the delvers in the California mines heard the sound – a nation of twenty millions strong was stirred to its very core. We had drifted into an age of heroes, and unconsciously had become heroes ourselves. – All the old Revolutionary miracles of patriotism were re-wrought in our day, and among a people from whose altars it was supposed the fires of Independence had died out.—Men again left their plows standing in the field where, eighty-six years before, Israel Putnam left his plow to go on as holy a mission. Inform old men “shouldered the crutch to show how fields were won;” and dying women, here in Essex County, sold their tombstones to equip the volunteers A quarter of a million of freemen

“Left the corpse uninterred, and the bridge at the altar, Left the deer, left the steer, left nets and barges, “

And

“Went with their fighting gear”

to deliver a Capital beleaguered by traitors. And in their van, be it always remembered, marched three hundred and fifty of the gallant boys from our own mountains of Essex. And marched, not to emancipate the slave, for none of us are wise enough to say what we would do with him if he were emancipated. But we are tired of playing the part of the dwarf, in the fable of the dwarf and the giant, any longer. The census of 1860 has taught us our strength, and taught the South her weakness. We are determined that not threats of disunion shall move us any further.  With the rights of any state we will to interfere; but we are convinced that nothing is ever gained by cowardice, and our national rights we will never yield again.

Our gallant brothers are now in the field, and whoever of us is able to bear a musket, however feebly, is ready to follow them whenever our country needs us, and to do just what they are doing, to save our national government from destruction; to save the star spangled banner from degradation; to preserve the priceless legacy of a free government, which our fathers left us; to check the derisive laughter of Europe’s despots, and show them that there is still one place on earth where banished liberty can find a home.

At this hour, when Russia is emancipating forty-five millions of slaves, and the freed states of Italy have just passed through the blood and fire of Solferion to secure their Union, we should be recreant to our trusts, false to the cause of freedom, disgraced of men and forsaken of God, should we now permit this Union to broken up, that upon its ruins may be erected a government whose foundations its ablest expounder declares to be the doctrine of human slavery.

We do not ask that carnage and rapine may be poured out upon the South; we do not forget that they are our brethren. We still believe that tens of thousands all through the South as a good Union men to-day as you and I.

But we do ask that the actors in this strife – these traitors and thieves who have stolen our national property, who have insulted our national flag, who have butchered our gallant soldiery and attempted to make us scorn in every court in Europe – shall be hemmed in with blockades, shall be compelled to eat their own beloved cotton; shall give up their infamous leaders and pirates to the tender mercies of the axe and halter; that they and all the world may know that this government is not weak and pitiful simply because it is free.

This is not the first rebellion in the history of the world. That despots should attack, or rebels resist, is no evidence that the government is weak; when we succeed in putting it down, it will be proof of our strength, and liberty in this land will take a new lease.

And we may be sure that we are right. The world is looking on! Let us show from what race we have sprung, and the day is not far distant when

“Dangers trouble night departs and the star of peace returns.”

Notes:

  1. Edited text – illustrations added

  2. Winslow C. Watson (1832-1908) – Son of Winslow C. and Susan Skinner Watson. Graduated from  Keeseville Academy and University of Vermont in 1854.  Continued his education at that place  receiving his Master’s Degree in 1857.  Studied law in the office of Hon. George A. Simmons of Keeseville, NY and was admitted to the bar in 1861.  He practiced law at Plattsburgh, NY.  His interment was at Port Kent, NY

wgd 7/3/20

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