Response to Toast

"The Soldiers of the Union Army, Whose Valor and Patriotism Gave to the World a Government of the People, by the People, for the People."

Grand Banquet of the Re-Union of the Army of the Tennessee, Held at Palmer House, Chicago, November 13, 1879.

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 herself?” trembled on the lips of every lover of mankind. The North, filled with intelligence and wealth, products of liberty, marshaled her hosts and asked only for a leader.

For 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 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 no animated by the hope of plunder or the love of conquest. They fought to preserve the homestead of liberty, 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 saluted the monsters of their time. They finished what the soldiers of the revolution commenced. They relighted the torch that fell from those august hands and filled the world again with light. They blotted from the statute books the 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 man. They made it possible for judges to be just and statesmen to be human. 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 sepulcher of progress, and found therein two angles clad in shining garments — nationality and liberty.

The soldiers were the saviors of the nation. They were the liberators of man. In writing the proclamation of emancipation, Lincoln, greatest of our mighty dead, whose memory is as gentle as the summer air when reapers sing mid gathered sheaves, copied with 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, 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 the republic without a master and without a slave. Then was asked the question, “Will a free people tax themselves to pay the 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 were 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 feelings, 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 the North. They made us a nation. Their victories 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 often hear in happy dreams the footsteps of return. Let us drink to those who died while lipless famine mocked; to all the maimed who scars give modesty a tongue; to all who dared and gave to chance the care, the keeping of their lives; to all the dead; to Sherman, to Sheridan, and to Grant, the foremost soldier of the world; and, last to Lincoln, whose loving life, like a bow of peace, spans and arches all the clouds of war.

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