The Ghosts and other lectures, by Robert Green Ingersoll

The Grant Banquet

At the Palmer House, Chicago, Thursday, Nov. 18th, 1879.
Twelfth Toast:

The Volunteer Soldiers of the Union, whose valor and patriotism saved the world “a government of the people, by the people, and for the PEOPLE.”

Response by Robert G. Ingersoll.

WHEN the savagery of the lash, the barbarism of the chain, and the insanity of secession confronted the civilization of our century, the question “Will the great Republic defend itself?” trembled on the lips of every lover of mankind.

The North, filled with intelligence and wealth — children of liberty — marshaled her hosts and asked only for a leader. From civil life a man, silent, thoughtful, poised and calm, stepped forth, and with the lips of victory voiced the Nation’s first and last demand: “Unconditional and immediate surrender.” From that moment the end was known. That utterance was the first real declaration of real war, and, in accordance with the dramatic unities of mighty events, the great soldier who made it, received the final sword of the rebellion.

The soldiers of the Republic were not seekers after vulgar glory. They were not animated by the hope of plunder or the love of conquest. They fought to preserve the homestead of liberty and that their children might have peace. They were the defenders of humanity, the destroyers of prejudice, the breakers of chains, and in the name of the future they slew the monster of their time. They finished what the soldiers of the Revolution commenced. They re-lighted the torch that fell from their august hands and filled the world again with light. They blotted from the statute-books laws that had been passed by hypocrites at the instigation of robbers, and tore with indignant hands from the Constitution that infamous clause that made men the catchers of their fellow-men. They made it possible for judges to be just, for statesmen to be humane, and for politicians to be honest. They broke the shackles from the limbs of slaves, from the souls of masters, and from the Northern brain. They kept our country on the map of the world, and our flag in heaven. They rolled the stone from the sepulchre of progress, and found therein two angels clad in shining garments — Nationality and Liberty.

The soldiers were the saviors of the Nation; they were the liberators of men. In writing the Proclamation of Emancipation, Lincoln, greatest of our mighty dead, whose memory is as gentle as the summer air when reapers sing amid the gathered sheaves, copied with the pen what Grant and his brave comrades wrote with swords.

Grander than the Greek, nobler than the Roman, the soldiers of the Republic, with patriotism as shoreless as the air, battled for the rights of others, for the nobility of labor, fought that mothers might own their babes, that arrogant idleness should not scar the back of patient toil, and that our country should not be a many-headed monster made of warring states, but a Nation, sovereign, great, and free.

Blood was water, money was leaves, and life was only common air until one flag floated over a Republic without a master and without a slave.

And then was asked the question: “Will a free people tax themselves to pay a nation’s debt?”

The soldiers went home to their waiting wives, to their glad children, and to the girls they loved — they went back to the fields, the shops, and mines. They had not been demoralized. They had been ennobled. They were as honest in peace as they had been brave in war. Mocking at poverty, laughing at reverses, they made a friend of toil. They said: “We saved the Nation’s life, and what is life without honor?” They-worked and wrought with all of labor’s royal sons that every pledge the Nation gave might be redeemed. And their great leader, having put a shining band of friendship — a girdle of clasped and happy hands — around the globe, comes home and finds that every promise made in war has now the ring and gleam of gold.

There is another question still:— Will all the wounds of war be healed? I answer, Yes. The Southern people must submit, not to the dictation of the North, but to the Nation’s will and to the verdict of mankind. They were wrong, and the time will come when they will say that they are victors who have been vanquished by the right. Freedom conquered them, and freedom will cultivate their fields, educate their children, weave for them the robes of wealth, execute their laws, and fill their land with happy homes.

The soldiers of the Union saved the South as well as North. They made us a Nation. Their victory made us free and rendered tyranny in every other land as insecure as snow upon volcanoes’ lips.

And now let us drink to the volunteers — to those who sleep in unknown, sunken graves, whose names are only in the hearts of those they loved and left — of those who only hear in happy dreams the footsteps of return. Let us drink to those who died where lipless famine mocked at want — to all the maimed whose scars give modesty a tongue — to all who dared and gave to chance the care and keeping of their lives:— to all the living and to all the dead — to Sherman, to Sheridan, and to Grant, the laureled soldiers of the world, and last, to Lincoln, whose loving life, like a bow of peace, spans and arches all the clouds of war.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/i/ingersoll/robert_green/ghosts/chapter7.html

Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38