Pictures and Illustrations.
Northern Normal University, De Kalb, Illinois.
Laying the Corner-Stone of the New Normal University at De Kalb, Ill., October 1, 1895.
Mr. Chairman: Ten days ago I stood on one of the world's greatest battlefields, a field which will be remembered as long as the children of men love liberty and cherish free institutions. Scores of monuments now mark the positions held by different troops, and you can trace the line of battle for miles, over fields and through woods, and as you do so you are struck with the fact that wherever the struggle was the hardest and the slaughter the greatest, there were the soldiers of Illinois. As I stood there overwhelmed by the spirit that hovers over those grounds, I exclaimed, "Great was Illinois on this field, and immortal are her sons who here fought for freedom."
To-day as I gaze over this vast multitude of our citizens representing all classes and conditions of our people, and drawn together, not by lucre, not by passion, not by prejudice, but by the most lofty impulse that can move men to action — drawn together by a common desire to elevate the standard of education — I am forced to exclaim, great are the people of Illinois wherever found, and glorious will be their career.
Your presence here tells the world that there is something superior to houses and lands, greater than office, or honor, something that cannot be purchased across the counter, and does not depend upon the market; something that does not grow in a night, but must be nurtured by truth and illumined by wisdom; and that is true manhood, true womanhood, lofty character and high purpose.
By your presence here you tell the world that material achievement is not the highest destiny of man, but that in order to grasp the imperishable he must move upward toward the sunlit peaks of intelligence.
All of the creations of man that rested only upon a foundation of matter have crumbled to dust. There were mighty people possessing power and wealth of whom the recording angel took no note, for they possessed nothing that was worth preserving. Egypt was one of the greatest nations of ancient times, but her memory is preserved largely
498by the fact that she once held in slavery a people whose history, literature and laws glow with immortality.
For centuries the Greeks were a powerful people, yet their fleets, their houses, and their vast wealth all have disappeared. But the grove in which Plato taught philosophy has given its name to institutions of learning for more than two thousand years. The world still admires the sculpture and the architecture of Phidias and his colleagues, it is still thrilled with her oratory, and reads the creations of her poets and dramatists with delight.
Rome possessed a material splendor and power such as had never before been seen, but her armies, her granaries, her slaves and her office-holders all have passed away; yet we still listen to the orations of Cicero, and the songs of her poets, while her laws formed the foundation for the systems of jurisprudence of all of the great empires of modern Europe.
We grow weary of hearing about the workshops, and counting-rooms of England; we lose interest in the story of her factories, her fleets, her commerce and her banks, for there is nothing in all this to satisfy the soul. We grow weary even of hearing it said that the sun never sets upon her empire, and that her morning drum-beat is heard around the world, for while this is a splendid figure of speech, it suggests physical force, it suggests the tax-gatherer, it suggests the hand of the oppressor, it suggests a despoiled and weary people, who eat their bread in sadness and for whom this drum-beat has no music. We turn rather to the England of Shakespeare, of Milton and of Goldsmith; the England of literature, and philosophy, and of oratory; and long after all of her material grandeur shall have been forgotten the creations of her intellectual genius will live.
In this country we have had a career that is without parallel in all history; but while the extraordinary growth and splendor of our country are due to the superior intelligence and patriotism of our people, the future will not ask about our railroads and our factories; it will not ask about our warehouses and our fields, it will not inquire about our factions, nor our men of authority. The future will ask: What did these people of America do for humanity? What was the high-water mark of intelligence which they reached? Fortunate shall we be if when measured from that standpoint we shall surpass the nations that have preceded us. The Almighty uses the centuries as a yard stick with which to measure the achievements of nations, and unless we can offer works which, when measured by his great rule, shall surpass the people who have gone before us, little will be set down to our credit.
Fortunately we are moving along great highways that were closed
499to the ancients, we are tilling fields that were unknown to the past, and we are producing a harvest that only poets had dreamed of. In the centuries that have gone, few were counted worthy of notice; we are helping the many. Once the children of the few only were led up the hill of knowledge; now we labor to bring the whole human family into the regions of light. As a result of this democratic spirit, guided by sturdy character, both the physical, the moral and the intellectual conditions of all classes of men have been greatly advanced. Learning is no longer confined to the three professions, but every line of industry has its educated and distinguished men, who often overshadow their brethren in the profession, and we have a variety of beneficent institutions that are the children of this century. This spirit and this character are especially seen in the growth of the State of Illinois. We are but three-quarters of a century old, but we have one of the most romantic and thrilling histories to be found in song or story, and our advancement in every line of human activity has astonished the world. Without being conscious of it themselves, our people pushed ahead until they surpassed all the States of the earth in agriculture, in mining, in manufacturing, in railroading, in merchandising, in the founding of institutions, in the building of cities and in the ceaseless struggle for human advancement. Moved by a lofty impulse we invited the nations to come within our borders to exhibit the highest and best productions of the genius and industry of their people; and although our expectations were high, we were amazed at the result. We had called into being the great Columbian Exposition, the crowning wonder and glory of all the centuries. The nations came and gazed with rapture, while we unconsciously took a position at the head of the mighty States of the earth. We were so overwhelmed with emotion as we beheld the indescribable grandeur of the White City that we took no note of the responsibility we were assuming. Now we must go ahead, there is no retreat. The same energy the same industry and the same high purpose which has distinguished our people in the past must guide us in the future.
Look at a map of America a moment and you will see that our State was designed to be the heart of this continent. It stretches from the Great Lakes to the two, yea, three great rivers through nearly four hundred miles of latitude, and possesses the best climate and the most wonderful resources that Providence could give. Man has endeavored to follow in the wake of the Almighty and has placed Illinois at the head of the column of mighty States, and the time is near at hand when from her will go out to the other States and to countries that all vivifying and elevating spirit that moves the world. The intellectual vivifying and elevating spirit that moves the world. The intellectual
500and literary activity is already being shifted from the hills of New England to the prairies of Illinois, and the time is near at hand when from this State will go out the most advanced ideas in all the fields of human knowledge. The time is near at hand when the young men and young women of this State will no longer go beyond our borders to be educated, but the sons and daughters of other States and of other countries will come here to perfect their education, for they will find here the vigor and strength of youth instead of the paralysis of age now seen elsewhere. In education we have laid the foundations for institutions that will grow stronger with the centuries. Aside from the numerous small colleges over the State that have given great men to their country in all fields of activity, we have a Presbyterian university at Lake Bluff that is an excellent institution. We have the Northwestern Methodist University at Evanston that is doing splendid work. We have the Baptist University of Chicago that is famous for the distinction of its instructors, and we have the University of Illinois at Champaign, an institution which, in many respects, is already one of the best in the world, especially in all matters relating to modern engineering and the sciences.
We have met to lay the corner-stone of an institution that is designed to produce the perfect teacher, who shall in the school-room make of the young, as near as human effort can, perfect men and women. If this institution shall instill the right spirit, if it shall teach the diversity of toil, if it shall make of the youth of the land strong, independent and liberty-loving men and women, then only the centuries can measure the good that will flow from it.
Institutions frequently partake of the character of the people whose influence surrounds them. When the question arose last winter of founding a new institution of learning in the northwestern part of the State we favored the measure, not simply because it was just to this great section of the State, but for the higher reason that here was found, in as great a degree as anywhere, the industry, the intelligence, the sturdy character and the high aim which would make an institution a success. Above all things, we want this institution to stand on the basic principle that all men are born equal, and that only industry, intelligence and effort shall lead to preferment.
If I had not believed that here a university would be free from a weakening dilettanteism, that here industry and character would rank above all other things, then the bill would have been vetoed or we would have told the gentlemen who were pushing the measure not to revive it after it had been defeated. For there was serious opposition to it; and but for the persistent, able and determined efforts, through an
501entire winter, of a distinguished gentleman of this town, the bill never would have passed. To him you are indebted at this time, and if this institution is properly managed, then all coming generations in this section of the State will appreciate his efforts. Let me say to you now that should it at any time in the future be used as a convenience by the trustees to furnish places or a living for relatives and favorites so that the standing of the university would be lowered, then go to the Executive at Springfield, no matter who he may be, and demand a change, and if you do it in earnest, you will succeed.
Aside from private institutions we have already two great Normal universities in this State, and they are doing a grand work. We are founding two more, not because we are behind our neighbors, for we are far in the lead, but we shall not rise to the occasion unless we put all tour on a plane that shall surpass everything in this country. The Illinoisan never has been and dare not in the future be content to rest where his neighbor does. He can recognize only time and space as limitations to his efforts; he must draw his inspiration from the stars, and so long as there are highlands ahead that have hanging over them the enchantment of unsolved mysteries, so long must he push forward.
Now, my fellow-citizens, this is the position, this is the mission, this is the grand destiny of Illinois. I care not for your politics, I care not what you think of this or that public man, I care not to what sect you belong, or at what shrine you kneel, but I do ask that you bring your best offerings to the altar of our State, whose spirit will surely shape the future of this country.
Let this new institution and all existing ones be guided by the high character the steady industry and the love of freedom for which our people are noted and only the eye of Omniscience can survey the future grandeur and glory of our State.