Category: fourth of july orations

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An address, delivered before the members of the Franklin Debating Club, on the morning of the 5th July, 1824

Pamphlets – literature published in an unbound, ephemeral format – are one of the strengths of Special Collections. The collections contain thousands of sermons, speeches, tracts, and political writings from the seventeenth through the nineteenth century, many of which are very scarce.   We'll share a pamphlet each week to highlight these holdings.

This week's selection comes from the Fourth of July Orations Collection. It's one of eight known copies, all in the United States, and contains exactly what it says it does – the text of a Fourth of July address given in 1824. 

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The Fourth of July Orations collection is a great source for studying the development of American identity and politics.  Many speeches, including this one, comment on contemporary world events and urge leaders to stick with the values and policies espoused by the country's founders. 

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Newburyport, [Mass.] : Printed at the Herald office [by Ephraim W. Allen], 1824. Find it in the MERLIN catalog.

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July 4, 1813

An address delivered before the Washington Benevolent Society (title page)Happy Independence Day!  While we celebrate with fireworks, picnics, and other festivities, nineteenth-century Americans often attended public speeches by popular religious and political figures.  The Fourth of July Orations Collection, made up of over 450 sermons and addresses, documents the issues that mattered to the American people from 1791 to 1925, and allows us to recapture some of the spirit of Independence Days Past.

On Independence Day* 200 years ago, the United States was 13 months into the War of 1812, and the outlook wasn’t good.  The American military, cobbled together from state militias and lacking professional leadership, lost battle after battle to smaller but better trained and equipped British forces.  By the end of the summer of 1813, the Americans would be forced to flee in disarray from the advancing British.  Public sentiment had never been in favor of the war (as we saw in last year’s Independence Day address); heavy losses and the looming possibility of defeat made the war even less popular, especially in New England.

This year’s featured speech comes to us from Abiel Holmes, a clergyman and author from Cambridge, Massachusetts, who is perhaps best known to us today as the father of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. (the author) and the grandfather of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (the Supreme Court justice).

Page 21Holmes presented his speech before the Washington Benevolent Society in Washington, D.C.  As was common in his time, the first half of the speech is a lengthy panegyric on the virtues George Washington.  However, midway through the address, Holmes changes direction.  He condemns the current war and calls for a return to Washingtonian values, principles and policies, particularly that of neutrality.

That most wars are unnecessary, and therefore unjustifiable, the history of the world plainly shows us. … Republics, no less than despotic governments, have been addicted to war, from the lust of gain, a passion for glory, or some unhallowed motives, equally hostile to their prosperity, and dangerous to their liberties. (21)

Holmes goes on to draw a parallel between warlike Sparta and the United States, suggesting that the new republic would be pulled apart by foreign and civil conflict.  He adds, “Whether he [Washington] would ever have sacrificed our peace, or hazarded our liberties, from any considerations, not far more imperious than those alleged as the grounds of the present war, you may conclude, with moral certainty, from his avowed principles, and his pacific administration” (22).

You can read more of Holmes’ speech online.  The entire Fourth of July Orations Collection is available at the University of Missouri Digital Library, and also in traditional format in the Special Collections Reading Room

*July 4, 1813, was a Sunday.  To avoid conflict with religious observances, Independence Day festivities in many communities were moved to July 5, the following Monday.

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The Fourth of July Orations Collection: Independence Day 1812

July 4, 2012, will likely see many Americans partaking in backyard barbeques and enjoying fireworks displays. However, generations of earlier Americans celebrated Independence Day in a different way: with a sermon.

On this day two hundred years ago, the young United States was preparing itself to go to war yet again with a world superpower, Great Britain. In Washington, renowned orator Daniel Webster delivered an impassioned anti-war address on the subject.  The war, he argued, would damage American business and place American liberty in peril:

Under these circumstances we believe that the War, “instead of elevating will depress the national character; instead of securing, it will endanger our rights; instead of improving, it will prejudice our best interests.”

Page from Webster's speechNot only that, but the war would in effect ally the U.S. with Napoleonic France.  What could be worse than that?  Webster can’t think of much.

If there be any among us so infatuated, or so stupified [sic], as not to shudder at the prospect of a French Alliance, let them come and behold the nations that lie mangled and bleeding at the foot of the Tyrant’s throne, in a mixture of moral and political ruin.

Webster’s speech is one of the 450+ sermons and addresses that are now preserved in the Fourth of July Orations Collection in Special Collections.  Spanning 1791 to 1925, the collection documents the issues and debates that mattered to the American people across a broad span of our history.

The collection is completely digitized.  It is available online at the University of Missouri Digital Library, and also in traditional format in the Special Collections Reading Room.

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Posted in Digital Collections, Rare Book Collection, Special Collections
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