Carrie Chapman Catt

Address at Rockford, Iowa - July 4, 1889

Carrie Chapman Catt
July 04, 1889— Rockford, Iowa
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4th of July 1889 Rockford IA

All the world is a stage and men and women players, says the poet. Then does it follow that the history of nations composes the plot of the world’s drama. It was 113 years ago today the curtain was [illegible] up on a new Nation. The ages had witnessed the incoming and outgoing of many a National tragedy. The birth and death of empires had been frequent. Like the swift course of a meteor, dynasties had climbed to the summit of power; empires had sprung into dominion; savage revolutions had surged over the earth and with a flash disappeared from view. Here and there a figure stood forth clearly defined against the background of events and became for the moment the star of the drama. Perhaps it was a king surrounded by the glorious pageantry of a luxuriant court; a prince leading his band of followers into the jaws of death, in the vain search for human freedom; a reformer calmly teaching the truths of a new philosophy to listening multitudes; a martyr offering his silent prayer to Heaven while his persecutors kindle the fagots which are to consume him. From East to West, from North to South, in rapid transit the scene changes. Tragedy, tragedy everywhere.

There was nothing of novelty in the announcement that a new Nation had been born and from the stage of action demanded audience. Among the thousands of nations which had sprung into reality and passed into oblivion, America numbered but one more. Yet there was a promise of great originality of plot and purpose in this American drama. The scene was laid in a new continent. The wealth which lay buried in its bosom, the vastness and resources of its great unexplored interior, the wonders and phenomena which might be hidden amid its forests and mountains were all a mystery. Its native people were a strange race, possessing the customs, habits and characteristics of savagery. Fringing the Eastern shore were settlements of a different people who had brought the customs, convictions and courage which belonged to civilization. In their hearts there burned the indomitable resolution to conquer this great continent, to reclaim its wildness to garner its wealth.

Aye there is something novel there. Other empires had been ushered into existence amid the clashing of swords, the clangor of arms, the warrior’s cry of victory. What scene here? The curtain rises and behold the first scene of our National life. A small room, meagerly furnished. No pictures or decoration adorns the walls. No carpet covers the floor. It can be no hall of state. A row of leather covered stiff-backed chairs whereon are seated a few men with powdered wigs, knee breeches and silver shoe buckles. On a small dais in front sits the dignified Pres. of the Confederation represented there. One of their members is reading a report of a committee. That is all [illegible] of some unusual import it must be for slim resolution and determination is depicted on each of those intelligent faces. Death like stillness pervades the little hall. The powdered wigs nod in approval as the words are dropped one by one from the lips of the reader. Aye it is of momentous significance for that Committee’s report is a resolution which declares free and independent, a little weak confederation from a great Nation which professed to own and to control it. It was a declaration of war upon a great Empire. Ah it was a mad conspiracy. England’s armies were strong, valiant, unconquerable. Her fleets were powerful, her wealth enormous, her resources unlimited. Her very name had in it a power [illegible] triumph with it. Victory had every perched upon her standard. The arms of her commerce had extended into every quarter of the globe. For years, she moulded the wealth and controlled the wealth of the civilized lands. Alas! what claim for victory could a little confederation urge against a power so indomitable? It had no army, no navy, no treasury, no money, no munitions of war. But there was something more than a measure of war in this committee’s report. All the [illegible] which 6000 years of tempestuous event, of ceaseless turmoil had [illegible] was embodied in that incomparable document. It was no conquest for governmental power. It was a contest for the enjoyment of inalienable rights and in the years of war which followed, God sent his power in the cause of America. The forefathers declared their independence and having so declared they heroically marched forth against the enemies of human freedom and the record of a hundred battles gallantly fought attest the sacrifices and heroism to which we are owe the existence of this, the greatest nation on Earth.

We have met to-day in commemoration of that victory. We have come not as Catholics or Protestants, not as Jews or Gentiles, not as Democrats or Republicans, not as friends or enemies, but simply and solely as American citizens, rejoicing that the victories of Bunker Hill, Valley Forge and Princetown rendered it possible for us to enjoy the protection of so liberal a government and the possession of such beneficial institutions. For the day we have laid aside the petty differences which divided us yesterday. To-day we have buried our religions and political creeds and divisions beneath the broader scope of American principles and American liberty. It is the one day we have devoted to the instruction of American youth in American patriotism. It is the day we endeavor to tell him something of the grandeur of the liberty he enjoys. It is the day we try to teach him to love the American flag for the victories it has won and for the noble principles it symbolizes. When we retrace history and revere the heroic deeds of the founders of the Republic; when we recount their hardships and privations and laud the courage and intrepidity which refused to stop short of victory.

For 113 years America has presented the everchanging, shifting brilliant scenes of her drama. The plot of the story is not – yet – worked out. It is for you, O young men of America, to choose the roles you will act. It is for you to decide whether our future shall be tragedy or comedy. Upon your choice hangs the destiny of a great Republic and the liberty and happiness of coming millions.

For you O young men of America, there is a splendid inheritance. It was earned by bloodshed and sacrifice. Billions of dollars have been expended and millions of lives have poured out their blood that you might receive these riches. From ancestors, brave and true, heroic and patriotic there has descended to you the guardianship of the greatest nation on earth. An empire young in years, mighty in power. In extent, it measures nearly all a continent. From the ice bound coast of Alaska to the sunny Southland where the date palm and banana grow side by side, there stretches an immensity of territory wherein is contained every variety of climate every diversity of resource, every incentive to the enterprise of man. Within this great expanse, inexhaustible mines of glittering metal, vast valleys of golden harvest fields, boundless prairies of inestimable fertility, hills and mountains studded with stately forests, rivers lakes and ocean abounding with fish and game; walls cities and human habitations everywhere dotting its broad domain, perching on hills and mountain and shore; the smoke curling heavenward from its millions of furnaces, the buzz and whirr of its busy factories bespeak the glorious promise of life and comfort to its 60 millions of people. There is no nation on earth so rich, no empire contains such unexampled powers. Its resources are unlimited, its powers of production unsurpassed, its wealth is boundless. It has a constitution which for grandeur of conception and nobility of purpose has never been equaled. Whether it be the physical feat which wins the prize in walking match and tennis court, or comes off the victors’ cup in regatta race; the mental power which catches the practical principle and enchains it in useful invention, the mercantile enterprise which sends the arms of her commerce into every quarter of the globe and has established within her borders almost every know industry, the wonderful achievements of the American race dazzles and fascinates the world.

You possess every political privilege for which revolutions have been agitated and dynasties overthrown. There is not a principle for which martyrs ever died or heroes contended, that you do not enjoy. For centuries men were burned at the stake, tortured on racks and pillaries, because they differed in religious belief. The U.S. government throws the panoply of its legal protections around you, whether you be Heathen or Christian. For ages there was war, massacre, rapine, and murder, that Kings might rule over man by Divine Right. The American government recognizes no sovereign save the will of a majority of its citizens. Here you are free in your conscience, free in your persons, free in your speech.

It matters not, what land may claim your birth; if you have become an American citizen, these wondrous privileges are yours. It was in Germany you gave the best years of your life to the military service of your empire. Here you are not drafted into the U.S. armies. In England you gazed in envy upon the vast tracts of arable land closed against you, that the aristocracy might pursue the pastime of hunting, there, too, you were taxed upon your meager savings to support an established church in which you were not interested; here, lands of inexhaustible fertility are free to all and you are only taxed to defray the necessary expenses of the government. In Finland, centuries of toil had left you a legacy of poverty from which there was no promise of relief. Here there is prosperity for all who are not idle. In Scandinavia, you were serfs; here the highest political honors are within your reach. In Belgium, your women were hitched to carts with dogs and Austria they were yoked with oxen to plow. Here horses are cheap and a woman can assume the position of a human being. In Italy your children groped in the darkness of ignorance and superstition. Here our free schools are liberally educating 30 millions of children. In Russia did you protest against your wrongs, your voice was stifled in an exile to Siberia; here we give you courts to defend yourself and place no restraint upon honest thought. There is no ruler in all Europe who is not forced at times to defend his person by a military guard from the malase of malcontents. You the American sovereign untrammeled by forceful influences are free to think and act. The monarch issues his edict and with fear and trembling enforces it by military power. You drop your decree into the electoral urn and if you represent the majority; a great nation becomes patiently submissive to your will. Clothed in the sovereignty of American citizenship, you possess to-day more political power, more freedom to think and act than the most arrant despot at the head of his armies.

In the brief cycle of time since the birth of the American nation, there have been none but unimportant changes in old world. The century has seen the French empire develop into a republic, a change of sovereigns in England, a union of duchies in Germany, an extension of dominion in Russia but upon every side there are still the evidences of barbaric laws, customs and institutions extant before America had discovered that men were free and equal. Europe still quarters huge standing armies upon her defenseless people, England refuses inalienable rights to Ireland. Russia is an unlimited monarchy which recognizes no privileges of her subjects.

What has America done in that century? When she declared herself free she was unorganized she had an unstable confederation with a population of 4 million bordering the Atlantic, now she has a permanency of government no one dares question and 60 millions. Then she found it utterly impossible to raise 4 millions of dollars to carry on the revolution. Now when a little community away up in the mountains of one of the 48 states, is visited by disaster and its people left bereaved and stricken, her generous and sympathetic citizens voluntarily sent to Johnstown in money and values, more wealth than the whole confederation could muster. Think of it and in a brief 100 years. Then United States was composed of little settlements along the Atlantic. Now, she possesses a territory so great, the sun never sets upon it, for while its rays are sinking behind the ice drifts of Alaska in the West, the beauties of the morning sun are lighting up the mountain peaks of Maine in the East. Ah! It is a blessed country but why should it not be, while Gods’ eternal sunshine smiles in perpetual benediction upon it. True it is, Europe possesses great men of science, great statesmen, artists and musicians, but it is in America only where all men possess equally fair opportunities in life. It is in America only, no limitation is placed upon the ambitions of men or women. In America only where any man may achieve the highest political honors.

We have been criticised for the use of superlative adjectives in description of our country. But why should we not use them; why should we not boast; when of all the nations it is America which has the longest rivers, the most coastline, the grandest scenery, the highest mountains the largest waterfall, the greatest lakes the largest manufactures, the most agricultural production, the best mechanical appliance, the highest intelligence, the truest virtue. One by one we have our constituents over to Europe and each time she has been forced to confess that we have, too, the swiftest walkers, the fastest horses, the quickest yachts, the ugliest match sluggers and is even now down upon her knees in humble acknowledgment that America has the only Buffalo Bill in the world. No wonder Americans are boasters! An Englishman who had become somewhat disgusted with the braggadocio manner in which an American companion was always speaking of his native land. Together they stood before Mt. Vesuvius when in a state of eruption “At any rate” said the Englishman in a tone of triumph “you have nothing like that in your country.” “No” replied the American, “but we have a Niagara which would put it out in five minutes.”

When the revolution was over, the U.S. was but a small part of the continent. The great empire of Mexico was south of us, Canada with a vast territory was north of us. Both had more wealth & power than us, but as the century has passed away, we have so far outstepped our rivals, that our country alone is America and we alone Americans. Who can tell where this grand march of progress will lead.

A great dinner was given in Paris in honor of several prominent American gentlemen. The toast “America” was pronounced and Frenchman was asked to respond. Thinking to do especial honor to the country of which he spoke, he closed his address with what he intended should be a bit of exageration. “Long live the U.S. of America,” said he “the land which is bounded on the North by the Arctic Ocean, on the South by the Antarctic Ocean, on the East by the Atlantic and the West by the Pacific. No sooner was he seated than an American gentleman arose and begged permission to correct the geographical language of the speaker. America he exclaimed is bounded on the north by the Aurora borealis on the South by the [empty space] on the East by the rising and in the west by setting sun. “Oh no” exclaimed another, America is bounded on the N. by the North Star on the S. by the procession of the equinox, on the W. by primeval chaos and on the E. by the Day of Judgement.

Indeed ‘tis true for the foundational principles of our freedom, the essence of our liberty is as broad as the universe. Upon this our natal day, it is with pride we recount the wonders of our continent but amid these rejoicings it would be folly to forget the perils which may yet over whelm us. Even to-day as we celebrate our independence, there are thousands of men who are in want for honest bread – not the drunken good-for-nothing indigent men who compose the scum of the population of every nation, but honest men who can secure no honest employment. Among these people and among the ignorant, agitators are constantly at work stirring up hatred between capital and labor: A great labor problem is precipitated upon us, which ere it is settled make shake the very foundation of the government. That an uncontrolled, passionate revolutionary class shall come to possess political jurisdiction over our government is the greatest danger we have to fear. America has been the great teacher of civilization, this her mission; if we would attain the destiny intended for us, there must be an higher education of the masses. These must be an education of morals. The nation in indifference has drifted far from the land-marks of our forefathers. There is a spirit of communism and anarchy pervading the masses. To use the language of the immortal Lincoln we must bend every energy to “keep the jewel of liberty in the family of freedom.” The evils growing among us can only be overcome by a purer and [illegible] morality, a higher and nobler manhood and womanhood

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“Oh Union! Firm in will and tears, and grim with many a battle scar, Live on, through all the coming years, unshaken by the [illegible] of war! May notes of danger ne’er appall, Thy starry emblem never fall, Nor sound for thee thy funeral knell, Till Time shall ring his evening bell.”

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