America: Prodigy of Modern Times, the Wonder and the Blessing of the World.
by David Trumbull - June 8, 2012
From last week's subject, Martin Lomasney, remembered for saying, "Don't write when you can talk, don't talk when you can nod," I turn to a man who was never shy about speaking. Daniel Webster, one of our greatest orators, in his 1825 address at the laying of the corner-stone of the Bunker Hill Monument, took the occasion to sketch a history of America of her people and their character.
In the introductory paragraphs he sets forth the purposes of the speech: (1) to move the listeners to an appreciation of the sacrifices of their ancestors; (2) to place the Battle of Bunker Hill as a pivot point in American history; and (3) to sketch a likely future of American prosperity.
He begins, not with the battle, nor even the War of Independence, but with the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus and continues through the early English settlements of North American -- in New England in 1620 by the Protestant Pilgrim Fathers and in Maryland in 1634 by Roman Catholics -- passing to "that prodigy of modern times, at once the wonder and the blessing of the world," the American Revolution. Webster justifies the erection of a monument to the first great battle of the revolution by pointing to the happiness and prosperity of America fifty years later, to the New World generally shaking off European colonialism, and to both Europe and American progressing in knowledge, legislation, commerce, in the arts, in letters, and in freedom since the American Revolution inaugurated a new age in the world.
Returning to the subject at hand, Webster addresses the survivors of the Battle of Bunker Hill, about 40 of them, present. He pays homage, by name, to some the heroes of that battle who have since been gathered to their fathers. Finally, he addresses all the veterans of the Revolutionary War.
Having addressed the men who had served in the war, Webster turns to the narration of the events leading to, and proceeding from, the Battle of Bunker Hill. He traces the conflict to the Intolerable Acts passed by the British Parliament in 1774. He discourses on how the British suppression of Boston, rather than bringing the other colonies back to obedience to British authority, drove the 13 colonies together in a common rebellion against British outrages. He rehearses how resistance to British mis-rule turned bloody at the April 19, 1775 Battles of Lexington and Concord and how New England united with "one cause, one country, one heart" for the June 17, 1775 Battle of Bunker Hill. Bunker Hill, he asserts, transformed the patriot cause from a local insurrection to a full-blown war of independence and inspired the world by showing that Americans were prepared to die for freedom.
Next week, Part 2 of Webster's 1st Bunker Hill Oration.