Speech at Unveiling of Statue of General Shields.
Note. — The proceedings were in the presence of a vast assemblage, including the Vice-President, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and prominent men from all parts of the country.
Fellow-Citizens of America:
We are here to perform an unusual ceremony, to do an act that is not common, and that has never been and never can be so. We are here not to mourn the departure of a friend, but to honor the memory of a hero; not to shed tears, but to place a laurel wreath. We are here to pay that tribute which civilized people give to the memory of such of their sons as have rendered great and distinguished service to their country. Occasions of this kind are not common, because few men ever render a service to mankind that ensures the gratitude of a Nation.
There have been ages in the history of the world in which no monuments were erected, either because there were no men of sufficient genius and grandeur of soul to do great deeds,or else there were no people of sufficient appreciation to recognize them; and the fact that occasions of this character are now more frequent than ever shows the advance of civilization, and it also shows that liberal institutions, giving freedom of thought, freedom of speech, freedom of action for honest men, are more conducive to the growth of genius and the development of greatness than the repressive institutions of the past.
The greater frequency of occasions of this character in this century may warrant us in saying that the genii travel in groups; that brilliancy never wanders alone, but as the brighter stars range themselves together, so in the march of ages, by a kind of natural assimilation, superiority and brilliancy go together. The basis of all demonstations of this character is gratitude — that gratitude which a living people feel for the distinguished dead. In early times great services were always of a military character, because all people were exposed to the ravages of war. Nearly all the early heroes were warriors. But as the world progressed, as civilization moved a league onward, and men began to understand that only through the arts of peace can the world be permanently blessed, they came to regard the founding of States as an act of immortality, and instead of remembering only soldiers they began to erect statues to those men who made it possible for cities to grow, for learning to flourish, for industries to thrive, and for the arts to beautify life.
And then, when civilization had again moved a step forward, and the wants of man began to develop under the new order of things, when it was discovered that there is nothing fixed or stationary in all the universe; that change and consequent growth or dissolution are perpetual; that the law of concentration and the law of separation are everywhere simultaneously at work, and that those laws apply not only to the heavens and to the entire physical creation, but to all social, religious, economic and political existence; when it was noticed that the tendency of the strong to devour the weak was inherent and eternal; that grasping selfishness is but a manifestation of universal law; that government, instead of being the protector of the poor and the weak, is in constant danger of being used as an instrument by the cunning and designing to despoil the ignorant and the unwary; when it was found that it required constant vigilance to prevent the very best institutions from being productive of great wrong, and that problems constantly arise that are difficult of solution, and vitally affect the happiness of men, then the world created another class of heroes. It began to honor the men who devoted their lives to the solution of these problems. It began to build statues to statesmen. Not to the men who were merely office-holders, for they do little good and win no glory, but it built statues to the men who, whether in office or out of office, helped to light the way for humanity.
To-day we honor the memory of a man whose career meets all three of the requirements we have mentioned. He was a brilliant soldier, he helped to lay the foundation of States, and he assisted in guiding the destiny and shaping the institutions, not only of a great commonwealth, but of the great American Republic. A lawyer and a soldier, a judge and a legislator, an executive officer and a popular leader, he was honest, brilliant and brave. He added glory to the flag of his country on both foreign and domestic soil.
I shall not attempt to tell the full story of his life; there are others who can do it better. I will refer to only such parts of it as tell a lesson to the age and to posterity.
James Shields was born in a village in Ireland in 1810. When about sixteen years old he came to America and stopped for a time on the seaboard, working his way upward, teaching school and doing some newspaper work. He then studied law and settled in Kaskaskia, Ill. The military bent of his mind led him to participate in Indian warfare for a time, but he returned to his law practice. In 1836 he was elected a member of the Illinois Legislature, and later held the office of Auditor; in 1843 he was appointed one of the judges of the Supreme Court of the State, and in 1845 was made Commissioner General of the United States Land Office.
At the commencement of hostilities with Mexico, he was appointed Brigadier General and served under Gen. Zachariah Taylor on the Rio Grande, under Gen. Wood in Chihuahua, and through the extended campaigns of Gen. Scott, everywhere displaying great skill as a military leader. At Cerro Gordo he was shot through the lungs and was breveted as Major General for gallant conduct. After his recovery he participated in all of the campaigns in the valley of Mexico, and was again severely wounded at the battle of Chapultepec.
Returning from Mexico, he was, in 1848, elected a United States Senator by the Legislature of Illinois, and served in the Senate of the United States until in the spring of 1855. Subsequently he went to the then Territory of Minnesota, assisted in organizing the State government there, and was elected United States Senator from that State, serving, however, but a short time. He then went to California, and at the beginning of the civil war was in Mexico superintending a mine. He at once hastened to Washington, tendered his services to the government, was appointed a Brigadier General in August, 1861, and on
363March 23, 1862, he won a victory over the great Stonewall Jackson at Winchester, in one of the hardest fought battles of the war, and was again severely wounded.
So brilliant was his conduct in this battle, that he was congratulated, not only by Generals McClellan and Banks, but by the great War Secretary, Stanton, for "energy, activity and bravery" displayed by him, and was further honored by Gov. Curtin, of Pennsylvania, who ordered that the flags of Pennsylvania be inscribed "Winchester, March 23, 1862."
In 1863 he resigned his commission in the army and went to California but afterwards returned, settled in Missouri, and resumed the practice of law, for Gen. Shields was always obliged to work for a living. In Missouri he served as a railroad commissioner; he was a member of the Legislature, and in 1879 was appointed to serve out the brief unexpired term of Senator Bogy in the United States Senate. This was his last public service.
The people of Illinois delight to honor him, and having been invited to erect two statues in Memorial Hall, at Washington, of citizens who had achieved military or civic renown, the Legislature of that great commonwealth, at its last session, declared Gen. Shields to have been a distinguished warrior, statesman and jurist, and it directed this statue to be made and placed in position here.
The life of Gen. Shields shows that love of country and lofty patriotism do not depend on the locality of birth. He was reared almost to manhood on foreign soil, and yet no truer patriot ever bled for the American flag.
The American Nation differs from all other nations on earth; it differs from its ancestry and differs from its component parts.
The brain and muscle of all peoples meet here; all give and all receive; all are burnished; none remain the same; all are transformed, not by intermarriage through generations, but as by magic, so that in a few years after landing on our shores, even though they retain their mother language, they are no longer English. German or Scandinavian — no longer Teuton, Celt, Latin or Slav — but are of that new, cosmopolitan people known the world over as Americans. Empires can only be founded by labor; it requires labor to clear forests and span rivers, to found schools and churches, to build factories, railroads and cities. The making of a mighty State requires hewing and lifting, delving and spinning. It requires that endurance that comes from being used to conditions. Gen. Shields saw this; he saw that where the
364foreign-born people joined hands with the native-born, joined their industry and frugality to the magnificent genius of the native-born citizens, it made a force such as existed nowhere else.
He saw that those States which had the greatest number of foreign-born citizens co-operating with and standing shoulder to shoulder to the native-born made the greatest progress. In them was found the best agriculture, the most railroads, the most factories, the finest cities, the best schools, the most libraries, and the greatest material and intellectual development, while those States having no foreign-born citizens lagged far behind.
More than this, he saw that these people did not take up arms against their adopted country, but came promptly forward in support of the Union. Not only did their industry, joined to that of the native American, help to produce that material wealth which enabled the government to carry on a protracted war, but they and their sons made up a large per cent. of our armies, and formed a large per cent. of the dead and wounded on every battle-field.
Gen. Shields himself was shot a number of times while fighting for the flag of his country; yet, he in his day heard men, as we do in our day, inveigh against the foreign-born, and seeking to apply a different law to them from that applied to the native.
The life of Gen. Shields is a fitting response to all such people. If the great Shields could animate this statue but for an hour, with what infinite scorn would his proud spirit look upon these men, who, having bled on no battle-field, stormed the ramparts of no armed enemy, solved no great problem for humanity, done nothing to develop our resources, taken no part in laying the foundation of State or building its superstructure; who, having done nothing to make their country great, or their age illustrious, now seek to turn the accident of birth into a virtue by an act of Congress.
But to my mind, the most important feature in the career of Gen. Shields, the most inspiring lesson to the world, and especially to the ambitious young men of America, is the fact that he was poor; that he had to toil for daily bread, not only for himself, but for his family; that, notwithstanding this poverty, by strong resolution, by lofty purpose by keeping his eye fixed upon the star of patriotism and of duty, he has won renown and a place in the galaxy of the world's heroes. Every age has produced millions of brilliant and able men, who, failing to keep their eye turned to the sun, losing sight of lofty ideals, gave way to
365dissipation and carried only indescribable wretchedness to miserable graves.
Every age has produced millions of strong and industrious men who knew no higher God than the dollar, who coined their lives in sordid gold, who gave no thought to blessing the world or lifting up humanity; men who owned ships and palaces and the riches of the earth, who gilded meanness with splendor and then sunk into oblivion. Posterity erected no statue to their memory, and there was not a pen in the universe that would even preserve a letter of their names.
Let the young men of America learn from this statue and from the career of Gen. Shields that the paths of virtue and of honor, the paths of glory and immortality are open to them.