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() R A TION.
Eighty-four years ago this day, the Anglo-American Colonies, acting by their delegates to the Congress at Philadelphia, formally renounced their allegiance to the British Crown and declared their Independence. We are assembled, Fellow-Citizens, to commemorate the Anniversary of that great day, and the utterance of that momentous Declaration. The hand that penned its mighty sentences, and the tongue which, with an eloquence that swept all before it, sustained it on the floor of the Congress, ceased from among the living, at the end of half a century, on the same day, almost at the same hour, thirty-four years ago. The last survivor of the signers, Charles Carroll, of Carrollton, closed his venerable career six years later;— and of the generation sufficiently advanced in life to take a part in public affairs on the fourth of July, 1776, how few are living to hail this eighty-fourth anniversary! They are gone, but their work remains. It has grown in interest with the lapse of years, beginning already
to add to its intrinsic importance those titles to respect, which time confers on great events and memorable eras, as it hangs its ivy and plants its mosses on the solid structures of the Past, — and we are now come together to bear our testimony to the Day, the Deed, and the Men. We have shut up our offices, our warehouses, our workshops, — we have escaped from the cares of business, may I not add from the dissensions of party, from all that occupies and all that divides us, to celebrate, to join in celebrating, the Birthday of the Nation, with one heart and with one voice. We have come for this year, 1860, to do our part in fulfilling the remarkable prediction of that noble son of Massachusetts, John Adams, - who, in the language of Mr. Jefferson, was "the Colossus of Independence, the pillar of its support on the floor of Congress.” Although the Declaration was not adopted by Congress till the fourth of July, (which has therefore become the day of the Anniversary,) the Resolution, on which it was founded, passed on the second instant. On the following day accordingly, John Adams, in a letter to his wife, says, “ Yesterday the greatest question was decided that was ever debated in America, and greater perhaps never was nor will be decided among men. A resolution was passed without one dissenting Colony, that these United States are and of right ought to be Free and Independent States.” Unable to restrain
the fulness of his emotions, in another letter to his wife, but of the same date, naturally assuming that the day on which the resolution was passed would be the day hereafter commemorated, he bursts out in this all but inspired strain :
The day is passed; the second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epocha in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great Anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance by solemn acts of devotion to God Alm"'"y. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and, parade, — with shows, games, , sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this site Continent to the other, from this time forward forevermore!
You will think me transported with enthusiasm, but I am not. vi. I am well aware of the toil and blood and treasure, that it will cost us to maintain this Declaration and support and defend these States. Yet through all the gloom, I can see the rays of ravishing light and glory. I can see that the end is more than worth all the means ; and that posterity will triumph in that day's transaction, even although we should rue it, — which I trust in God we shall not.
The time which has elapsed since the great event took place is so considerable, — the national experience which has since accrued is so varied and significant,
- the changes in our condition at home and our relations abroad are so vast, as to make it a natural and highly appropriate subject of inquiry, on the recurrence of the Anniversary, how far the hopeful auguries, with which our Independence was declared,
have been fulfilled. Has “the gloom” which, in the language of Adams, shrouded the 4th of July, 1776, given way on this 4th of July, 1860, “ to those rays of ravishing light and glory” which he predicted ? Has “the end,” as he fondly believed it would do, proved thus far to be more than worth all the means ?” Most signally, so far as he individually was concerned. He lived himself to enjoy a more than Roman triumph, in the result of that day's transaction ; to sign with his brother envoys the treaty of peace, by which Great Britain acknowledged the independence of her ancient Colonies; to stand before the British throne, the first representative of the newly constituted Republic; and after having filled its second office in connection with him, who, whether in peace or in war, could never fill any place but the first, — in office as in the hearts of his countrymen, — he lived to succeed to the great Chief, and closed his honored career, as the elective Chief Magistrate of those United States, whose independence he had done so much to establish ; with the rare additional felicity at the last of seeing his son elevated to the same station.
But the life of an individual is but a span in the life of a Nation; the fortunes of individuals, for good or for evil, are but as dust in the balance, compared with the growth and prosperity or the decline and fall of that greatest of human Personalities, a Commonwealth. It is, therefore, a more momentous inquiry, whether the great design of Providence, with reference to our beloved country, of which we trace the indications in the recent discovery of the Continent, the manner of its settlement by the civilized races of the earth, the Colonial struggles, the establishment of Independence, the formation of a constitution of republican government, and its administration in peace and war for seventy years, — 1 say, it is a far more important inquiry whether this great design of Providence is in a course of steady and progressive fulfilment, — marked only by the fluctuations, ever visible in the march of human affairs, — and authorizing a well-grounded hope of further development, in harmony with its auspicious beginnings, — or whether there is reason, on the other hand, to fear that our short-lived prosperity is already (as misgivings at home and disparagement abroad have sometimes whispered) on the wane, that we have reached, that we have passed the meridian, — and have now to look forward to an evening of degeneracy, and the closing in of a rayless and hopeless night of political decline.