Retiring Speech, January 11, 1897.
NOTE. — It had been the invariable custom at the inauguration of a new administration in Illinois for the retiring Executive to deliver a retiring speech. At the inauguration in January, 1893, this courtesy was extended to Governor Fifer, who delivered an able address. But in January, 1897, Governor-elect Tanner requested the managers of the House and Senate not to permit the retiring Executive to speak, and although Senator Mahony moved that this courtesy should be extended in accordance with custom he was overruled. So as the following address was already in the possession of the press, it was printed.
This occasion does not invite extended remarks from me. The world has decreed that an actor who has played his part shall simply make his bow and retire from the stage. Men turn their faces toward the rising sun and so it should be, for while the past may admonish it is the future that inspires.
But we may pause long enough to note the character of this occasion and the lesson it teaches. It took the world thousands of years to reach a point where such a scene as this was possible. Mankind struggled through weary and bloody centuries before anything like government was evolved and then there followed dark ages before it became possible to take the reins of government out of the hands of one political party and place them in the hands of a hostile party without bloodshed. The scene which we witness here to-day shows the triumph of republican government and teaches us that the journey of man, when viewed from headland to headland, has been onward
698and upward; that passion is retiring and reason is mounting the throne, and we may congratulate ourselves upon the fact that in this great advancement America has set the example for the nations.
The presence of the defeated and retiring party is not necessary for the peaceful change of administration, yet in order to add the graces to republican form it is customary for the retiring party to be represented and participate in the ceremonies of inauguration, and to-day the great party which I have the honor to represent, not only assists in these ceremonies, but it expresses the hope that the new administration will direct the destinies of this mighty State along the paths of honor and of glory. While politically divided we are all Illinoisans and the greatness and the grandeur of this State rise above all considerations of persons or of party. Her past thrills, her present awes and her future dazzles the intellect of man.
To the distinguished gentleman who is to stand at her head I extend the most cordial greeting and hearty good wishes. Loving Illinois as I do I shall applaud his every act that tends to her advancement. I have given her four of my best years and have brought all my offerings to her altar. Had it been necessary to do so I should have considered life itself but a small sacrifice in her interest and I retire from her service and from the high office to which her people elected me without any trace of bitterness or disappointment. I have tried to further the best interests of my country, and while I erred in many cases they were errors of judgment and I go forth with a peaceful conscience. I have endeavored to carry out those principles that form the basis of free government and I have acted on the conviction that it would be better to be Governor but for one day and follow the dictates of justice than to hold office for fifty years by winking at wrong. In my judgment no epitaph can be written upon the tomb of a public man that will so surely win the contempt of the ages than to say of him that he held office all his life and never did anything for humanity. We believe that the institutions of the State are in excellent condition. Some of my friends feel that we have been cleaning house; that we have been putting things in order. Permit me to say that if any of the measures which we have inaugurated should prove beneficial to the country the people will be in no wise indebted to me, for when a public man gives to his country the very best services in his power he has done no more than he agreed to do and has done no more than the public had a right to expect. I do not endorse the charge that republics are ungrateful. I believe that in the end there is a disposition to give every man his meed. In fact, many men have
699been loaded by republics with honors which were far beyond their deserts. We turn the affairs of the State over to our successors.
I would remind my distinguished successor that there is no such thing as repose in the universe; that the centripetal and centrifugal laws are constantly at work; that nothing stands still; that nothing is ever perfect; that there is a perpetual development and a constant disintegration, and that the institutions of this State must go on developing reaching a higher and a higher plane successively or they must retrograde, and I will further say to him that rarely does the hand of fate open the gate to a more alluring pathway of glory than is open to him now. Illinois is already the guiding star of the American constellation. Her people have outstripped all other peoples of the earth and they will surely shape the destiny of this republic. Their institutions of every kind and character should be the models for the earth and the flame of intelligence burning on her prairies and by the inland sea must brighten the sky for all people, and there could not possibly be a greater achievement than to assist in directing the thought and shaping the institutions of such a people.
But I warn my distinguished friend and successor that the task is not a light one. It is beset with the greatest difficulties and will require wisdom, courage and intense determination and persistence. The selfish forces of greed are always ready to tear to pieces the noblest creations of patriotism. Hence it has been well said that the tablets of immortality are harder than flint and that only persevering genius can engrave a name or an act there.
To the members of that great political party to which I have the honor of belonging let me say that while we are relieved of the responsibility of administration our responsibility in another direction is increased, for in a republic it is the minority party which creates the sentiment and develops the principles which the government shall in the end carry out. Not being hampered or embarrassed by the detail of administration, the minority party can devote its best energies to the discussion of great principles, while the majority party, being obliged to conciliate conflicting interests and to compromise, is in that respect hampered and generally spends its force in endeavoring to carry out a policy already determined upon by the country and is not able to deal in an independent manner with new questions which are from time to time evolved. It is the minority party that has made progress possible not only in this country but in Europe. In England it was the minority party that repeatedly forced the government to adopt new and great reforms. The immortal orators of England spoke for the minority. In our country the great forensic efforts which helped
700to move the nation forward were made by men who stood in the ranks of the minority. In fact, every great reform in our country had to first confront a hostile majority. In a sense the mission of the minority is of a higher order than that of the majority. True, it does not deal in spoils, it has no fleshpots to distribute, but it is its high mission to discover the eternal essence of things and to point out the way of justice.
We go out of power with nothing to regret. Conscious of having struggled for a great cause we smile at the frowns of fate and go forth with renewed hope and a firmer purpose. We need not inquire what were the reasons for our defeat. We know there were some conditions for which we were not responsible, and on account of these conditions the currents began to run against us nearly three years ago and they ran with such irresistible force two years ago that they covered the State like a deluge, submerging everything. In the last campaign the same currents were still running with the same force, other hostile forces were added which in themselves seemed irresistible. Our party was obliged to reform as it were in the face of the enemy. It eliminated many elements of weakness, elements which for years had tended to neutralize the party and make it impotent, so that it stood for no definite or great principle and was incapable of making an aggressive fight. After eliminating these elements of weakness the party made one of the grandest campaigns ever witnessed.
But all this belongs to the past. No American has a right to stand with his face toward that which is gone. Government is the constant meeting of new conditions. It is not the things of yesterday but the things of to-morrow that must engage our attention. The principles we hold are the only ones upon which free government can endure. Let us renew our devotion to them and kindle anew our enthusiasm. Let us not follow the example of those who try to use the names of Jefferson and Jackson to hide the most undemocratic principles and even the most destructive practices. In so far as the new administration, federal and State, shall adhere to the great doctrines of human right and shall adhere to those great principles that lie at the very basis of republican institutions let us give them our hearty commendation and support, but let us be watchful and whenever it shall seem to us that the welfare and prosperity of our great country are being endangered let us raise the alarm and let us all the time feel an abiding confidence that right will in the end prevail.