George Bancroft (1800-1891) was one of America’s foremost historians, titled “The Father of American History” for his groundbreaking efforts in that field. Bancroft was also a high-ranking and noted political figure. Significantly, Bancroft delivered the following oration on the 50th anniversary (07/04/1826) of the Declaration of Independence – the day that both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died (although public knowledge of these events was not yet known at the time of this oration). The article that follows is made up of excerpts from that speech:
Our act of celebration begins with God. To the eternal Providence – on Which states depend and by Whose infinite mercy they are prospered – the nation brings its homage and the tribute of its gratitude. From the omnipotent Power Who dwells in the unclouded serenity of being without variableness or shadow of change [James 1:17], we proceed as from the Fountain of Good, the Author of Hope, and the Source of Order and Justice, now that we assemble to commemorate the revolution, the independence, and the advancement of our country!
No sentiments should be encouraged on this occasion but those of patriotism and philanthropy. When the names of our venerated fathers were affixed to the instrument which declared our independence, an impulse and confidence were imparted to all efforts at improvement throughout the world. The festival which we keep is the festival of freedom itself – it belongs not to us only but to man. All the nations of the earth have an interest in it, and humanity proclaims it sacred!
In the name of LIBERTY, therefore, I bid you welcome to the celebration of its jubilee 1 ; in the name of our COUNTRY, I bid you welcome to the recollection of its glories and joy in its prosperity; in the name of HUMANITY, I welcome you to a festival which commemorates an improvement in the social condition; in the name of RELIGION, I welcome you to a profession of the principles of public justice which emanate directly from God. . . .
Thought has been active in our times not with speculative questions but in devising means for improving the social condition. Efforts have been made to diffuse Christianity throughout the world. The cannibal of the South Sea forgets his horrid purpose and listens to the instructions of religion; the light of the Sabbath morn is welcomed by the mild inhabitants of the Pacific islands; and Africa and Australia have not remained unvisited. Colonies which were first established on the Guinea coast for the traffic in slaves have been renewed for the more effectual suppression of that accursed trade.
And what is the cause and the guarantee of our happiness? What but the principles of our Constitution! When our fathers assembled to prepare it, the genius of history admitted them to the secrets of destiny and taught them by the failures of the past to provide for the happiness of future generations. No model was offered them which it seemed safe to imitate; the Constitution established a government on entirely liberal principles [unselfish principles that benefit the general public rather than a few elite] such as the world had never beheld in practice. The sovereignty of the people is the basis of the system. With the people the power resides – both theoretically and practically. The government is a democracy – a determined, uncompromising democracy – administered immediately by the people or by the people’s responsible agents. In all the European treatises on political economy – and even in the state-papers of the Holy Alliance – the welfare of the people is acknowledged to be the object of government. We believe so too. But as each man’s interests are safest in his own keeping, so in like manner the interests of the people can best be guarded by themselves. . . .
We approve of the influence of the religious principle on public not less than on private life, but we hold religion to be an affair between each individual conscience and God, superior to all political institutions and independent of them. Christianity was neither introduced nor reformed by the civil power. And with us the modes of worship are in no wise prescribed by the state. Thus, then, the people governs – and solely; it does not divide its power with a hierarchy, a nobility, or a king. The popular voice is all powerful with us. This is our oracle; this we acknowledge is the voice of God! . . . The interests of the people are the interests of the individuals who compose the people. . . . We give the power to the many [the people] in the hope and to the end that they may use it for their own benefit – that they may always so legislate as to open the fairest career to industry and promote an equality founded on the safe and equitable influence of the laws. We do not fear – we rather invite – the operation of the common motives which influence humanity. . . .
The laws of the land are sacred – they are established by the majority for the general good. Private rights are sacred – the protection of them is the end of law and government. . . .
In possession of complete personal independence, our religious liberty is entire; our press without restrictions; the channels of wealth and honor alike open to all; the cause of intelligence asserted and advanced by the people! In our houses, our churches, our halls of justice, our legislatures – everywhere there is liberty! . . . Soul is breathed into the public administration by the suffrages [votes] of the people, and the aspect of our policy on the world is favorable to universal improvement. . . .
Our service began with God. May we not believe that He Who promises assistance to the humblest of us in our efforts to do His will regards with complacency the advancement of the nation and now from His high abode smiles on us with favoring benignity [kindness]?
Trusting in the Providence of Him, the Universal Father, let the country advance to the glory and prosperity to which – mindful of its exalted privileges – it aspires! Wherever its voice is heard, let it proclaim the message of liberty and speak with the divine energy of truth [and let] the principles of moral goodness [be] consistently followed in its actions! And while the centuries – as they pass – multiply its population and its resources, let it manifest in its whole history a devoted attachment to public virtue, a dear affection for mankind, and the consciousness of its responsibility to the God of nations!
Filed under: Christianity, Culture, Education, Founding Fathers, Freedom, Government, History, Justice, Patriotism, Worldview | Tagged: Declaration of Independence, George Bancroft, God, Holy Alliance, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, United States, United States Declaration of Independence | 2 Comments »