Presented here are a some essays that I have assembled for all of
you with a patriotic heart. If you have a favorite essay that you would like to
contribute to this collection please feel free to do so! Be sure to include the
title & author (if known) to Contact Us.
The Meaning Of Our Flag
Henry Ward Beecher
If one asks me the meaning of our flag, I say to him: It means just what Concord and
Lexington meant, what Bunker Hill meant. It means the whole glorious Revolutionary
War. It means all that the Declaration of Independence meant. It means all that the
Constitution of our people, organizing for justice, for liberty and for happiness,
Under this banner rode Washington and his armies. Before it Burgoyne laid down his
arms. It waved on the highlands at West Point. When Arnold would have surrendered
these valuable fortresses and precious legacies, his night was turned into day and
his treachery was driven away by beams of light from this starry banner.
It cheered our army, driven out from around New York, and in their painful pilgrimages
through New Jersey. This banner streamed in light over the soldiers' heads at Valley
Forge and at Morristown. It crossed the waters rolling with ice at Trenton, and when
its stars gleamed in the morning with a victory, a new day of hope dawned on the
despondency of this nation.
Our Flag carries American ideas, American history and American feelings. Beginning
with the Colonies, and coming down to our time, in its sacred heraldry, in its
glorious insignia, it has gathered and stored chiefly this supreme idea: divine
right of liberty in man. Every color means liberty; every thread means liberty;
every form of star and beam or stripe of light means liberty - not lawlessness,
but organized, institutional liberty - liberty through law,
and laws for liberty!
This American Flag was the safeguard of liberty. Not an atom of crown was allowed
to go into its insignia. Not a symbol of authority in the ruler was permitted
to go into it. It was an ordinance of liberty by the people, for the people.
That it meant, that it means, and, by the blessing of God, that it shall mean
to the end of time!
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Our Flag - America's Tonic Against Cynicism
Vice President Dan Quayle
[Note: From the Nov.-Dec. 1994 National Flag Foundations "Standard Bearer" Magazine.
This article remains the copyrighted material of the National Flag Foundation
and is presented here by permission.]
As Vice President and as a Senator and member of Congress before that, I have visited
dozens of foreign countries.
Believe me when I say I have seen lots of flags. Every country in the world flies
flags on ceremonial occasions, such as the arrival of dignitaries on official trips.
But something sets Americans apart. We don't just put out the flag for important
visitors, or on solemn occasions, and then put it away. Ordinary Americans, by the
millions, revere our flag and display it every day.
We fly it from tall poles in front of our businesses, from short poles in our
front yards, from balcony railings in our condominium complexes. We pin the flag
on our jacket lapels and paste it to the windows of our cars and trucks.
As soon as our toddlers can hold a little stick in their tiny fists, we give them
Old Glory to wave at the Fourth of July parade. And at life's end, we drape the
caskets of our fallen patriots with the Stars and Stripes.
This proud display of, and devotion to, the symbol of our nation is uniquely American.
It is how we reaffirm the fact that we are indeed "one nation" and that whatever our
other differences, there are core values Americans hold in common: a belief in the
dignity of the individual, a love of liberty, and a commitment to government of, for,
and by the people.
By displaying the flag, we express our gratitude to the generations past who fought
and died for this country, and we remind ourselves of our obligation to preserve for
generations to come the freedom that others won for us.
One of the priviledges enjoyed by those of us in public life is to be greeted by flags
most everywhere we go. This simple expression of patriotism is often a welcome relief
from the cynicism of elites in our nation's capital who are too "sophisticated" to be
caught waving a flag.
My aquaintances in the major media might find this hard to believe, but there's nothing
like seeing proud faces of youngsters reciting the Pledge of Allegiance to remind you
of the high ideals that first led you to seek elected office.
I realize that the temper of our times is increasingly cynical, that Americans in
growing numbers raise a skeptical eyebrow upon hearing the words "high ideals" and
"elected office" in the same breath.
If you read the same newspaper stores I do, then you have seen the public opinion polls
showing in what low repute we now hold the major branches of government.
I must admit there are days when I understand those feelings. It's easy to look at the
discrepancy between what officials say and what they do, and to become cynical as a
However, I don't believe Americans will ever become entirely cynical -- as long as
they keep flying the flag.
As a symbol of our republic and its institutions, our link to this country's past and
to its future, the flag helps us keep in mind that the Founding Fathers created
a durable and admirable system of government.
The founders didn't pretend to guarantee that only honorable men and women would hold
office. In fact, they assumed the opposite -- and created a system of checks and balances
as insurance against the imperfect politicians they knew would always exist.
In other parts of the world, people tend to find Americans' love of the flag overly
sentimental. I believe that our system of government, for all its occasional flaws, is
still the finest in the world.
Far from being sentimental, we have very good reason to show our appreciation anew every
Up to Essays Index
by J. Ollie Edmunds
This country was not built by men who relied on somebody else to take care of them. It was
built by men who relied on themselves, who dared to shape their own lives, who had enough
courage to blaze new trails with enough confidence in themselves to take the necessary risks.
This self-reliance is our American legacy. It is the secret of that something which stamped
Americans as Americans. Some call it individual initiative, others backbone. But whatever it
is called, it is a precious ingredient in our national character, one which we must not lose.
The time has come for us to re-establish the rights for which we stand, to re-assert our
inalienable rights to human dignity, self-respect, self-reliance—to be again the kind of
people who once made America great.
Such a crusade for renewed independence will require a succession of inspired leaders,
leaders in spirit and in knowledge of the problem, not just men with political power, but
men who are militantly for the distinctive way of life that was America. We are likely to
find such leaders only among those that promote self-reliance and who practice it with strict
devotion and understanding.
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"Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death"
by Patrick Henry - March 23, 1775
No man thinks more highly than I do of the patriotism, as well as
abilities, of the very worthy gentlemen who have just addressed the House.
But different men often see the same subject in different lights; and,
therefore, I hope it will not be thought disrespectful to those gentlemen
if, entertaining as I do opinions of a character very opposite to theirs, I
shall speak forth my sentiments freely and without reserve.
This is no time for ceremony. The question before the House is one of
awful moment to this country. For my own part, I consider it as nothing
less than a question of freedom or slavery; and in proportion to the
magnitude of the subject ought to be the freedom of the debate. It is only
in this way that we can hope to arrive at truth, and fulfill the great
responsibility which we hold to God and our country. Should I keep back my
opinions at such a time, through fear of giving offense, I should consider
myself as guilty of treason towards my country, and of an act of disloyalty
toward the Majesty of Heaven, which I revere above all earthly kings.
Mr. President, it is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope.
We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth, and listen to the song
of that siren till she transforms us into beasts. Is this the part of wise
men, engaged in a great and arduous struggle for liberty? Are we disposed
to be of the number of those who, having eyes, see not, and, having ears,
hear not, the things which so nearly concern their temporal salvation? For
my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the
whole truth; to know the worst, and to provide for it.
I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of
experience. I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past. And
judging by the past, I wish to know what there has been in the conduct of
the British ministry for the last ten years to justify those hopes with
which gentlemen have been pleased to solace themselves and the House. Is
it that insidious smile with which our petition has been lately received?
Trust it not, sir; it will prove a snare to your feet. Suffer not
yourselves to be betrayed with a kiss. Ask yourselves how this gracious
reception of our petition comports with those warlike preparations which
cover our waters and darken our land.
Are fleets and armies necessary to a work of love and reconciliation? Have
we shown ourselves so unwilling to be reconciled that force must be called
in to win back our love?
Let us not deceive ourselves, sir. These are the implements of war and
subjugation; the last arguments to which kings resort. I ask gentlemen,
sir, what means this martial array, if its purpose be not to force us to
submission? Can gentlemen assign any other possible motive for it? Has
Great Britain any enemy, in this quarter of the world, to call for all this
accumulation of navies and armies? No, sir, she has none. They are meant
for us: they can be meant for no other. They are sent over to bind and
rivet upon us those chains which the British ministry have been so long
forging. And what have we to oppose to them? Shall we try argument? Sir,
we have been trying that for the last ten years.
Have we anything new to offer upon the subject? Nothing. We have held the
subject up in every light of which it is capable; but it has been all in
vain. Shall we resort to entreaty and humble supplication? What terms
shall we find which have not been already exhausted? Let us not, I beseech
you, sir, deceive ourselves.
Sir, we have done everything that could be done to avert the storm which is
now coming on. We have petitioned; we have remonstrated; we have
supplicated; we have prostrated ourselves before the throne, and have
implored its interposition to arrest the tyrannical hands of the ministry
and Parliament. Our petitions have been slighted; our remonstrances have
produced additional violence and insult; our supplications have been
disregarded; and we have been spurned, with contempt, from the foot of the
In vain, after these things, may we indulge the fond hope of peace and
reconciliation. There is no longer any room for hope.
If we wish to be free -- if we mean to preserve inviolate those inestimable
privileges for which we have been so long contending -- if we mean not
basely to abandon the noble struggle in which we have been so long engaged,
and which we have pledged ourselves never to abandon until the glorious
object of our contest shall be obtained -- we must fight! I repeat it, sir,
we must fight! An appeal to arms and to the God of hosts is all that is
left us! They tell us, sir, that we are weak; unable to cope with so
formidable an adversary. But when shall we be stronger? Will it be the
next week, or the next year? Will it be when we are totally disarmed, and
when a British guard shall be stationed in every house? Shall we gather
strength but irresolution and inaction?
Shall we acquire the means of effectual resistance by lying supinely on our
backs and hugging the delusive phantom of hope, until our enemies shall
have bound us hand and foot? Sir, we are not weak if we make a proper use
of those means which the God of nature hath placed in our power. The
millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that which we
possess, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us.
Besides, sir, we shall not fight our battles alone. There is a just God
who presides over the destinies of nations, and who will raise up friends
to fight our battles for us. The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone;
it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave.
Besides, sir, we have no election. If we were base enough to desire it, it
is now too late to retire from the contest. There is no retreat but in
submission and slavery! Our chains are forged! Their clanking may be heard
on the plains of Boston!
The war is inevitable -- and let it come! I repeat it, sir, let it come.
It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace,
Peace -- but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale
that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding
arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What
is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace
so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God!
I know not what course others may take but as for me; give me liberty or give me death.
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At Lincolns Tomb
by Everett McKinley Dirksen
On the night of Good Friday, 1865, he left us to join a blessed procession, in neither doubt
nor fear, but his soul does indeed go marching on. For this was the Bible-reading
lad come out of wilderness, following a prairie star, filled with wonder at the world
and its Maker, who all his life, boy and man, not only knew the Twenty-third Psalm but,
more importantly, knew the Shepherd.
Now it seems possible that we shall never see his like again. This is a sobering thought,
but it should be a kindling one, for upon us now, as a people and a party, has been laid
perhaps the greatest responsibility any nation was ever asked to shoulder, yet certainly not
greater than we can bear.
Our days are no longer than were Lincoln's, our nights are no darker, and if there
is any difference between his time and this it lies in the tremendous advantage that is ours,
that he stood so tall before us. In such a time and at such a moment we surely can say then,
from hopeful, brimful hearts:
We are standing, Father Abraham, devoted millions strong, firm in the faith that was
yours and is ours, secure in the conviction bequeathed by you to us that right does make
might and that if we but dare to do our duty as we understand it, we shall not only
--we shall prevail.
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What's a flag? What's the love of country for which it stands? Maybe it begins with love of
the land itself. It is the fog rolling in with the tide at Eastport, or through the Golden Gate
and among the towers of San Francisco. It is the sun coming up behind the White Mountains,
over the Green, throwing a shining glory on Lake Champlain and above the Adirondacks.
It is the storied Mississippi rolling swift and muddy past St. Louis, rolling past
Cairo, pouring down past the levees of New Orleans. It is lazy noontide in the pines of
Carolina, it is a sea of wheat rippling in Western Kansas, it is the San Francisco peaks
far north across the glowing nakedness of Arizona, it is the Grand Canyon and a little
stream coming down out of a New England ridge, in which are trout.
It is men at work. It is the storm-tossed fishermen coming into Gloucester and Provincetown
and Astoria. It is the farmer riding his great machine in the dust of harvest, the
dairyman going to the barn before sunrise, the lineman mending the broken wire, the
miner drilling for the blast. It is the servants of fire in the murky splendor of Pittsburgh,
between the Allegheny and the Monongahela, the trucks rumbling through the night,
the locomotive engineer bringing the train in on time, the pilot in the clouds, the riveter
running along the beam a hundred feet in the air. It is the clerk in the office, the
housewife doing the dishes and sending the children off to school. It is the teacher, doctor
and parson tending and helping, body and soul, for small reward.
It is small things remembered, the little corners of the land, the houses, the people
that each one loves. We love our country because there was a little tree on a hill, and grass
thereon, and a sweet valley below; because the hurdy-gurdy man came along on a sunny
morning in a city street; because a beach or a farm or a lane or a house that might not seem
much to others were once, for each of us, made magic. It is voices that are remembered
only, no longer heard. It is parents, friends, the lazy chat of street and store and office,
and the ease of mind that makes life tranquil. It is Summer and Winter, rain and sun and
storms. These are flesh of our flesh, bone of our bone, blood of our blood, a lasting part of
what we are, each of us and all of us together.
It is stories told. It is the Pilgrims dying in their first dreadful Winter. It is the minute
man standing his ground at Concord Bridge, and dying there. It is the army in rags, sick,
freezing, starving at Valley Forge. It is the wagons and the men on foot going westward
over Cumberland Gap, floating down the great rivers, rolling over the great plains. It is
the settler hacking fiercely at the primeval forest on his new, his own lands. It is Thoreau
at Walden Pond, Lincoln at Cooper Union, and Lee riding home from Appomattox.
It is corruption and disgrace, answered always by men who would not let the
flag lie in the dust, who have stood up in every generation to fight for the old ideals
and the old rights, at risk of ruin or of life itself.
It is a great multitude of people on pilgrimage, common and ordinary people, charged
with the usual human failings, yet filled with such a hope as never caught the imaginations
and the hearts of any nation on earth before. The hope of liberty. The hope of justice. The
hope of a land in which a man can stand straight, without fear, without rancor.
The land and the people and the flag, the land a continent, the people of every race, the
flag a symbol of what humanity may aspire to when the wars are over and the barriers are
down: to these each generation must be dedicated and consecrated anew, to defend with
life itself, if need be, but, above all, in friendliness, in hope, in courage, to live for.
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by Hal Borland
I am an American: That's the way we put it, simply, without any swagger, without any
brag, in those four plain words.
We speak them softly, just to ourselves.
We roll them on the tongue, touching every syllable, getting the feel of them, the enduring flavor.
We speak them humbly, thankfully, reverently: I am an American.
They are more than words, really. They are the sum of the lives of a vast
multitude of men and women and wide-eyed children.
They are a manifesto to mankind; speak those four words anywhere in the
world -- yes, anywhere -- and those who hear will recognize their meaning.
They are a pledge. A pledge that stems from a document which says: "When in the
course of human events," and goes on from there.
A pledge to those who dreamed that dream before it was set to paper, to those who
have lived it since, and died for it.
Those words are a covenant with a great host of plain Americans, Americans who put
their share of meaning into them.
Listen, and you can hear the voices echoing through them, words that sprang white-hot
from bloody lips, scornful lips, lips a tremble with human pity:
"Don't give up the ship! Fight her till she dies... Damn the torpedoes! Go ahead!
. . . Do you want to live forever? . . . Don't cheer, boys; the poor devils are dying."
Laughing words, June-warm words, words cold as January ice:
"Root, hog, or die. .. I've come from Alabama with my banjo. . . Pike's Peak or bust!
. . . Busted, by God! . . . When you say that, smile.... Wait till you see the whites of
their eyes.... With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the
right.... I am not a Virginian, but an American."
You can hear men in assembly summoned, there in Philadelphia, hear the scratch of
their quills as they wrote words for the hour and produced a document for the ages.
You can hear them demanding guarantees for which they suffered through the hell of
war, hear a Yankee voice intoning the text of ten brief amendments.
You can hear the slow cadences of a gaunt and weary man at Gettysburg, dedicating
not a cemetery, but a nation.
You can hear those echoes as you walk along the streets, hear them in the rumble of
traffic; you can hear them as you stand at the lathe, in the roaring factory; hear them
in the clack of train wheels, in the drumming throb of the air liner; hear them in
the corn fields and in the big woods and in the mine pits and the oil fields.
But they aren't words any longer; they're a way of life, a pattern of living.
They're the dawn that brings another day in which to get on the job.
They're the noon whistle, with a chance to get the kinks out of your back, to get a bowl of
soup, a plate of beans, a cup of coffee into your belly.
They're evening, with another day's work done; supper with the wife and kids; a
movie, or the radio, or the newspaper or a magazine -- and no Gestapo snooping at the
door and threatening to kick your teeth in.
They are a pattern of life as lived by a free people, freedom that has its roots in rights
The right to go to a church with a cross or a star or a dome or a steeple, or not to go to
any church at all; and the obligation to respect others in that same right.
The right to harangue on a street corner, to hire a hall and shout your opinions till your
tonsils are worn to a frazzle; and the obligation to curb your tongue now and then.
The right to go to school, to learn a trade, to enter a profession, to earn an honest living;
and the obligation to do an honest day's work.
The right to put your side of the argument in the hands of a jury; and the obligation to
abide by the laws that you and your delegates have written in the statute books.
The right to choose who shall run our government for us, the right to a secret vote
that counts just as much as the next fellow's in the final tally; and the obligation to use
that right, and guard it and keep it clean.
The right to hope, to dream, to pray; the obligation to serve.
These are some of the meanings of those four words, meanings we don't often stop to
tally up or even list.
Only in the stillness of a moonless night, or in the quiet of a Sunday afternoon, or in the
thin dawn of a new day, when our world is close about us, do they rise up in our memories
and stir in our sentient hearts.
Only then? That is not wholly so -- not today!
For today we are drilling holes and driving rivets, shaping barrels and loading shells,
fitting wings and welding hulls,
And we are remembering Wake Island, and Bataan, and Corregidor, and Hong Kong
and Singapore and Batavia;
We are remembering Warsaw and Rotterdam and Rouen and Coventry.
Remembering, and muttering with each rivet driven home: "There's another one for remembrance!"
They're plain words, those four. Simple words.
You could write them on your thumbnail, if you chose, Or you could sweep them all across the
sky, horizon to horizon.
You could grave them on stone, you could carve them on the mountain ranges.
You could sing them, to the tune of "Yankee Doodle."
But you needn't. You needn't do any of those things, For those words are graven in the hearts
of 130,000,00 people, they are familiar to 130,000,000 tongues, every sound and every syllable.
But when we speak them we speak them softly, proudly, gratefully:
I am an American.
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Rights and Duties
by Calvin Coolidge
We do honor to the stars and stripes as the emblem of our country and the symbol of all
that our patriotism means.
We identify the flag with almost everything we hold dear on earth. It represents our
peace and security, our civil and political liberty, our freedom of religious worship, our
family, our friends, our home. We see it in the great multitude of blessings, of rights and
privileges that make up our country.
But when we look at our flag and behold it emblazoned with all our rights, we must remember
that it is equally a symbol of our duties. Every glory that we associate with it is the
result of duty done. A yearly contemplation of our flag strengthens and purifies the national
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by John Francis Mercer
In response to a request from England for a description of Col. George Washington, his
aide-de-camp, John Francis Mercer, wrote:
"He may be described as being as straight as an Indian, measuring six feet two inches in
his stockings and weighing 175 pounds when he took his seat in the House of Burgesses in
1759. His frame is padded with well developed muscles, indicating great strength. His
bones and joints are large, as are his feet and hands.
"He is wide shouldered, but has not a deep or round chest; is neat waisted, but is broad
across the hips, and has rather long legs and arms. His head is well shaped though not
large, but is gracefully poised on a superb neck. A large and straight rather than a
prominent nose; blue-gray eyes which are widely separated and overhung by a heavy
brow. His face is long rather than broad, with high round cheek bones, and terminates in a
good firm chin. He has a clear though rather colorless pale skin, which burns with the sun.
A pleasing, benevolent, though a commanding countenance, dark brown hair, which he wears in a cue.
"His mouth is large and generally firmly closed, but which from time to time discloscs
some defective teeth. His features are regular and placid, though fiexible and expressivc of
deep feeling when moved by emotion."
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by Everett McKinley Dirksen
What strange doubts assail this timid generation of today as it beholds the challenges to
both liberty and equality. We seem beset with fear not faith, with doubt not confidence,
with compromise not conviction, with dismay not dedication. We are drenched with the
literature of fear and doubt. Survival has become the main theme. The fall-out shelter
from which the stars of hope and courage cannot be seen has become the symbol of our
fears and misgivings.
Are we to become fearful, unworthy legatees in a blessed, united land where the earth
is fertile to our every need, where the skills and ingenuity of men are boundless, where
the burdens are bearable, where decent living is within the reach of all, and where the
genius to produce is unlimited?
Perhaps we have lost our sense of continuity? Perhaps we have forgotten that we move in that
same endless stream which began with our forefathers and which will flow on and on to embrace
our children and our children's children. If we have, there will have gone with it that sense
of individual responsibility which is the last best hope that a nation conceived in liberty
and dedicated to equality can long endure.
Comes then the reminder from the man from Illinois. Men died here and men are sleeping here
who fought under a July sun that the nation might endure, united, free, tolerant, and devoted
to equality. The task was unfinished. It is never quite finished.
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An American Without Reserve
by Daniel Webster
I was born an American; I live an American; I shall die an American; and I intend to perform
the duties incumbent upon me in that character to the end of my career. I mean to do this with
absolute disregard of personal consequences.
What are the personal consequences? What is the individual man, with all the good or evil
that may betide him, in comparison with the good or evil which may befall a great country,
and in the midst of great transactions which concern that country's fate?
Let the consequences be what they will, I am careless. No man can suffer too much,
and no man can fall too soon, if he suffer, or if he fall, in the defense of the liberties and
constitution of his country.
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Daniel Webster Speaks at Bunker Hill
by Samuel Griswold Goodrich
The first time I ever saw Mr. Webster was on the 17th of June, 1825, at the laying of the
corner-stone of the Bunker Hill Monument. I shall never forget his appearance as he strode
across the open area, encircled by some fifty thousand persons—men and women,
waiting for the "Orator of the Day," nor the shout that simultaneously burst forth, as he
was recognized, carrying up to the skies the name of "Webster!" "Webster!" "Webster!"
It was one of those lovely days in June, when the sun is bright, the air clear, and the
breath of nature so sweet and pure as to fill every bosom with a grateful joy in the mere
consciousness of existence. There were present long files of soldiers in their holiday
attire; there were many associations, with their mottoed banners; there were lodges and
grand lodges, in white aprons and blue scarfs; there were miles of citizens from the
towns and the country round about; there were two hundred gray-haired men, remnants of the
days of the Revolution.
Mr. Webster was in the very zenith of his fame and of his powers.
There was a grandeur in his form, an intelligence in his deep dark eye, a loftiness in his
expansive brow, a significance in his arched lip, altogether beyond those of any other
human being I ever saw. And these, on the occasion to which I allude, had their full
expression and interpretation.
When he came to address the few scarred and time-worn veterans, some forty in
number, who had shared in the bloody scene which all had now gathered to commemorate, he
paused a moment, and, as he uttered the words "Venerable men," his voice
trembled, and I could see a cloud pass over the sea of faces that turned upon the speaker.
He said: "Our poor work may perish, but thine shall endure: this monument may
moulder away, the solid ground it rests upon may sink down to the level of the sea; but thy
memory shall not fail. Wherever among men a heart shall be found that beats to the transports
of patriotism and liberty, its aspirations shall claim kindred with thy spirit!"
I have never seen such an effect, from a single passage. Lifted as by inspiration, every
breast seemed now to expand, every gaze to turn above, every face to beam with a holy yet
exulting enthusiasm. It was the omnipotence of eloquence, which, like the agitated sea,
carries a host upon its waves, sinking and swelling with its irresistible undulations.
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