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SPECIAL INTRODUCTION

T

HE story of American oratory covers a space of but a

century; for orators since the epoch of the Civil War

have been few, and their efforts, not being animated by any overpowering national exigency, but the outcome, rather, of occasional or even of personal suggestions, show more of the academic and premeditated quality than of that great and towering emotion for generous ends which cannot withhold itself from expression.

But brief though the period of our best eloquence may be, it is crowded with splendid and inspiring examples. It might not at first seem probable that the stern and reticent Puritan nature, or even those descendants of less severe ancestry whose scattered settlements covered the broad expanse of the Southern country, would furnish a suitable soil for the production of eloquence. But this is merely another illustration of the truth that eloquence is a veritable daughter of the skies, who comes to men not after the flesh, but after the spirit. The orator is not the creature of heredity; there is no gift vouchsafed to man which is so individual, and manifests itself so unexpectedly and sometimes unaccountably, as that of moving other men by spoken words. And if the sober men who first tenanted the new continent were trained to husband their speech, and to utter naught out of measure or with unseemliness, we may well imagine that when the long oppression and insolence of England at length passed the point where endurance was a virtue, there set in a reaction against fetters of speech as well as against those of civil liberty, which gave to the appeals and denunciations of our first great orators a power more irresistible than any that is born of rule and precept. The orators of the years immediately preceding the Revolution seem indeed to possess an almost miraculous inspiration. When Otis spoke, his audience became a company of heroes; and from the lips of Samuel Adams our inchoate colonial population learned to crystallize into a nation, and to

remain steadfast under whatever arrogant threats from abroad or busy treachery at home might menace their existence or sap their constancy. John Adams was as a wall of iron round the growing republic, against which the blows of the enemy fell only to bring forth ringing notes of defiance. Patrick Henry, the awkward country boy from the wilds of Virginia, was trumpettongued when his eyes opened upon the vision of independence; and John Hancock bore as courageous a heart beneath his embroidered waistcoat, and as unconquerable a voice for liberty and justice sounded from his aristocratic lungs as ever roused a populace or made oppressors tremble. In our great emergency, the men to stimulate and direct our action were not wanting; and during the hardly less critical period when the obligation was upon us to create rules for the conduct of the commonwealth which should be worthy of the sufferings we had undergone and the responsiblities we had incurred, there rose from our ranks a company of statesmen who in nobility of speech and wisdom of procedure may well bear comparison with any others whose fame has been bequeathed to history. Then came forward the great Jefferson, more effective doubtless with the pen than with the spoken word, but immortal among our forefathers; the brilliant, deeply-planning, generous Hamilton; Morris, the eloquent mourner at his tragic grave; and the unforgettable names of Jay, Madison, Pinckney and Ames. The speeches made by these men and others during the making of the constitution, which is admitted by a foreign critic so competent as Gladstone to be the greatest product of statesmanship ever accomplished at one stroke, prove that America possesses intellectual resources commensurate with her commercial and political magnitude. No better school than is afforded by these addresses need be sought by anyone desirous of perfecting himself in the science and art of building, governing and maintaining a state. Few, indeed, are the debates of our contemporary Congresses in which any thoughts are developed, or expedients devised, which had not already been discussed or foreshadowed by these extraordinary men at the close of the eighteenth century and the opening of the nineteenth. They did their work well; and had we always remained faithful to their teachings, and heedful of their warnings, we would doubtless have escaped most of such ills as have befallen us, or minimized their effect.

Following the constitutional period comes the famous era of Clay, Webster, Calhoun and Randolph; the era when the question of slavery began to force itself into a prominence which was first the subject of regret and then of alarm to the far-seeing and patriotic legislators who stood at the head of our affairs. Their great orations were more elaborate and meditated than those of the former generations; yet they were touched by the true Promethean fire, and electrified those who listened to them to passionate heights of emotion that seem strange to us to-day. Yet if we imaginatively reconstruct the conditions under which they were delivered, and supply so far as we may the magic of the speaker's presence, his gesture and his voice, we may partly comprehend the depth and reach of his influence. The matchless persuasiveness and fiery flights of Clay were well balanced against the organ tones, the Jovian front, and the profound intellectual command of Webster. These two were in their own class, solitary and unapproachable. Their companions would have seemed giants, but for them; as it is, the greatness of the mighty pair can best be gauged by comparing them with any and all of the rest. But even they, with all their efforts, were unable to hinder the advance of a destiny which was the will of one mightier than man; which, while seeming to mortal foresight to involve the inevitable doom of the republic, worked out at last, through blood and fire, the emancipation and union of the whole people.

When the war came, and Webster and Clay were no more, the voice of the cannon seemed for a time to overpower all human voices. But in truth the nation was not left without its spokesmen. Seward held aloft the banner of truth and right with a courage and ability that gradually compelled the homage and fealty of all; the savage and unrelenting eloquence of Sumner formulated in uncompromising words our duties and our dangers. The pure and penetrating flame of Wendell Phillip's undaunted tongue vindicated the moral obligations of negro emancipation; and men like Stephens and Douglas broadened the field of political discussion to national dimensions. Lincoln, loftiest figure of the age, and withal the most tenderly human, touched the depths of every heart in the few immortal words in which he summoned us to consecrate ourselves to the task of proving that those who died for their country on the field

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