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But I have other and more recent associations with the Society of Cincinnati. I had the happiness, sir, a year or two since, to spend a few days at one of those charming country seats which enamel the borders of the beautiful Hudson River. It was situated near the point at which so many at once of the most exquisite features of Highland scenery, and so many of the most stirring associations of revolutionary incident, are concentrated. It was at Fishkill Landing, where I remember to have been told by my father, that he himself, then just escaped from the confinement of college life, and travelling through the country on horseback for his health, met Washington and his staff returning to West Point, - unconscious apparently of what was to be communicated to them within another half hour,— on the very morning on which the treason of Benedict Arnold was divulged. That, sir, was a meeting not likely to be forgotten by at least one of the parties, and which my father often recurred to with the deepest interest.
The hospitable residence at which I was staying was just opposite to the city of Newburgh, and I did not fail, of course, to cross the river and visit the old headquarters of Washington, endeared to us all by so many associations of the most interesting, and many of them of the most thrilling character. But on one of the beautiful moonlight evenings which shed their selectest influence on the whole period of my visit, my excellent host and hostess took me to a little social gathering a few miles off, at an ancient and venerable mansion, adorned within, by not a few most valuable works of art, and surrounded without by the noblest and most picturesque productions of nature, - grand old trees, whose giant branches had seemingly been tossed by the storms of centuries. In the course of the evening, when I had casually passed into an apartment which had a little more of the veritable antique about it than either of the others, it was said quietly in my hearing, “ We are now in the room in which the Society of Cincinnati was originally formed.” And it was so; I was at the old Verplanck manor, now occupied by the accomplished and estimable gentleman whose name is associated with so many literary and philanthropic enterprises in his native State and city,— Hon. Gulian C. Verplanck, — but which, during so momentous a part of our revolutionary struggle, was the headquarters of MajorGeneral the Baron Steuben. And here was the very room, in which that brave and benevolent officer - to whom Washington addressed his very last letter of acknowledgment and affection before quitting the army — presided over the meeting, while our own Boston boys, Major-General Henry Knox and Major Samuel Shaw,- for the Cincinnati was a good deal of a Boston notion at the outset, — with other brave and patriotic spirits from other States, were devising and proposing that monstrous and treasonable plot against the liberties of the United States !
Knox and STEUBEN, the great artillerist and the great disciplinarian of the American army, - both of them beloved and trusted by Washington, from first to last, beyond almost all other men; what names are these for suspicion and calumny to have fastened their poisonous fangs upon!
And yet we know that some of the most distinguished men in our own land and in other lands, entertained grievous misgivings and prejudices against this Association, when it was first instituted; and, groundless as those suspicions were, I cannot help honoring that early jealousy in the cause of freedom from which they sprung. I have myself a still unpublished letter from a distinguished member of Congress of that period, dated at Annapolis, 2d February, 1784, in which the most gloomy forebodings are indulged in as to the future safety of American freedom, and in which the great sources of impending and imminent danger are declared to be — the Funding System and the Society of Cincinnati! The writer would seem almost to have forgotten already the great scene which had been witnessed at that same Annapolis only a few weeks before, – a scene hardly second in its moral grandeur to any in which actors, merely human, ever participated on earth, - where your first President-General (for Washington was at that moment acting as such) exhibited that immortal example of true glory by resigning his commission and surrendering his sword to those from whom he had received them. He had seemingly forgotten, too, the spirit displayed only a few months before, at the old Newburgh headquarters, by Washington and all the officers associated with him there, in their noble repudiation of the first suggestion of insubordination to the civil authorities of their country.
Sir, I agree cordially with my valued friend, Governor Fish, that neither the officers nor the soldiers of the Revolutionary army, from the Commander-in-Chief down to the humblest private, have ever received half credit enough for all that they did and suffered in that great contest. Credit, did I say? Let me recall that word, lest I should seem to have uttered it in mockery. They all received a great deal too much credit, a great deal too much of that cheap and almost worthless .commodity. It was solid specie payment of which they stood in need. I only meant, sir, that they never have had glory enough for their services and sacrifices and sufferings. In the words of your motto, they literally “ left all to serve their country.” And when they had served it and preserved it by their heroic efforts, they voluntarily retired to the ranks of citizenship again, and waited patiently for the scanty pittance which Congress saw fit to dole out to them. I do not wonder that it was charged that there was something like a nobility in an association formed of such men, under such circumstances. It was, indeed, an evidence of true nobility, to exhibit such a spirit of self-denial, -- a nobility like that to which the old Latin Poet referred when he said, “ Nobilitas sola est et unica VIRTUS.”
The men of the Revolution combined at once both the Roman and the English virtus, – Virtue and Valor, - which together make up such a nobility as stars and garters can neither confer nor augment.
Let me only add, Mr. President, before resuming my seat, that two or three of the most interesting memorials of Washington and the Revolution are in the archives of our Massachusetts Historical Society, and that I shall take pleasure in showing them to such members of your society as will do me the honor to meet me, in our new Dowse Library Room, to-morrow at 12 o'clock.
Meantime, let me propose as a sentiment for the present occasion, and in playful allusion to the gallant Bostonian, who has already been recognized as the founder of your fraternity:
THE BRETHREN OF THE CINCINNATI Whatever may be their belief as to the efficacy of modern rappings, they will never deny that they owe their own existence, as an Association, to honest, sturdy, valiant Knox.
SPEECHES AT THE INAUGURATION OF THE STATUE OF GENERAL WARREN ON
BUNKER HILL, JUNE 17, 1857.
I RISE, fellow-citizens, at the call of the President of the Day, with no view of detaining you with any poor words of my own, but only to prepare the way for others of our distinguished guests, whose voices you are all impatient to hear.
I cannot proceed, however, to the precise duty which has been assigned me, without renewing the expression of a regret, which I well know pervades this whole vast multitude.
Assembled as we are to do fresh honor to the first great martyr of our Revolutionary struggle, we are not unmindful of the living heroes of our land. And I cannot forget that my first privilege was to have been to present to you, as the pre-eminent witness of this occasion, that veteran hero of our later history, whose just renown is second to that of no living captain of the world, and of whom we cannot but gratefully remember at this hour, that we owe it to the protecting providence of God, and not to any prudent reserve of his own, that he was not long ago himself the subject of a monument or a statue, instead of being spared to command the armies of our country in peace, and to lead them on to victory in war. Absent from the holiday festival, he has never been absent from the post of duty, or from the field of his country's glory.
Worthily succeeding to a title, which has never before been worn under the laws of the United States since Washington bore it down with him to his grave, his presence would have lent a distinction to this occasion which nothing else could entirely supply. Let us send him, from Bunker Hill, - and let us charge our gallant Chief Marshal, Col. Thomas Aspinwall, who bears the unmistakable badge of honorable service on the same field, with the communication of the message, — let us send him an assurance of our heartfelt sympathy in the domestic anxieties and sorrows which have kept him at home, and of our cordial wishes that his own health and strength may long be spared for the honor and defence of his native land.
And now, fellow-citizens, I turn from regrets for the absent to a brief word of welcome to the present.
We are accustomed to designate our own beloved Commonwealth as Old Massachusetts, and I am one of the last of her sons, perhaps, who would be willing to forget how far back we may really date, in the history of this Western hemisphere. But we do not fail to remember that there is a State in our Union, which dates farther back than either the landing at Boston, or at Salem, or even at Plymouth Rock, and to which we cheerfully concede the rightful distinction which belongs to an acknowledged priority of settlement.
We are accustomed, too, to speak of Massachusetts as having furnished men for her own service, and for the service of the whole country, of no inferior grade, - patriots and statesmen, orators and scholars, heroes and martyrs, of whom any people on earth might well be proud. There stands one of them, brought back this day to the scene of his glorious death, by the magic finger of native art! And others equally worthy will in due time be grouped around him.
But we would not forget that there is a state in our Union, which has given birth to one, with whom no American heart admits that there is any comparison :- a State of which it may be said, -as, indeed, it has been said, -that him, whom the whole country proudly, gratefully, affectionately calls its Father, she can claim as her Son ; the State which held the cradle, and which still holds the grave, of the peerless, transcendent WASHINGTON ; — of that Washington, whose commission as Commander-in-Chief of the American Armies, - by one of those striking and beautiful coincidences which seem like the very