This is the publication of a speech given on July 4, 1863 which corresponded with the eighty-seventh year of American Independence. The oration was given by Oliver Wendell Holmes in front of the city authorities of Boston. The pamphlet was published in 1863, but the exact date isn’t known.
In the speech, Holmes calmly and compassionately addresses the distress of the American citizen. He begins by explaining how his Independence Day speech must differ from previous orations.
“It is our first impulse, upon this returning day of our Nation’s birth, to recall whatever is happiest and noblest in our past history, and to join our voices in celebrating the statesmen and the heroes, the men of thought and the men of action, to whom that history owes its existence. In other years this pleasing office may have been all that was required of the holiday speaker. But to-day, when the very life of the nation is threatened, when clouds are thick about us, and men’s hearts are throbbing with passion, or failing with fear, it is the living question of the hour, and not the dead story of the past, which forces itself into all minds, and will find unrebuked debate in all assemblies…”
He mentions the frustration, the bitterness, and the disbelief the civil war has caused.
“As we look at the condition in which we find ourselves on this fourth day of July, 1863 in the 88th year of American Independence, we may well ask ourselves what right we have to indulge in public rejoicings. If the war in which we are engaged is an accidental one, which might have been avoided but for our fault; if it is for any ambitious or unworthy purpose on our part; if it is hopeless, and we are madly persisting in it; if it is our duty and in our power to make a safe and honorable peace, and we refuse to do it; if our free institutions are in danger of becoming subverted, and giving place to an irresponsible tyranny; if we are moving in the narrow circles which are to engulf us in national ruin; then we had better sing a dirge and leave this idle assemblage, and hush the noisy cannon which are reverberating through the air, and tear down the scaffolds which are soon to blaze with fiery symbols; for it is mourning and not joy that should cover the land; there should be silence, and not the echo of noisy gladness in our streets; and the emblems with which we tell our nation’s story and pre-figure its future, should be traced not in fire but in ashes.”
Holes goes on to argue, however, that the current conflict was inevitable, and necessary for maintaining the Republic.
“The war in which we are engaged is for no meanly ambitious or unworthy purpose. It was primarily, and is to this moment, for the preservation of our national existence….Not to have fought would have been to be false to liberty everywhere, and to humanity. ”
He concludes by addressing the fallen and hurt veterans whose sacrifice should carry the Republic to continued resolve.
“Citizens of Boston, sons and daughters of New England, men and women of the North, brothers and sisters in the bond of the American Union, you have among you the scarred and wasted soldiers who have shed their blood for your temporal salvation. They bore your Nation’s emblems bravely through the fire and smoke of the battle-field nay, their own bodies are scarred with bullet-wounds and striped with sabre-cuts, as if to mark them as belonging to their Country until their dust becomes a portion of the soil which they defended. In every Northern graveyard slumber the victims of this destroying struggle. Many whom you remember playing as children amidst the clover blossoms of our Northern fields, sleep under nameless mounds with strange Southern wild-flowers blooming over them.
By the wounds of living heroes, by the graves, of fallen martyrs, by the hopes of your children and the claims of your children’s children yet unborn, in the name of outraged honor, in the interest of violated sovereignty, for the sake of an imperiled Nation, for the sake of men everywhere and of our common humanity, for the glory of God and the advancement of His kingdom on earth, your country calls upon you to stand by her through good report and through evil report, in triumph and in defeat…until the flag that fell from the wall of Fort Sumter floats once more, inviolate, supreme, over all her ancient inheritance, every fortress, every capital, every ship, and this warring land is once more a United Nation!”
Citation: Oliver Wendell Holmes, Oration delivered before the city authorities at Boston on the eighty seventh anniversary of the national independence of America. Philadelphia, 1863. A 863o.