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PRONOUNCED JULY 4th, 1793,
AT THE REQUEST OF THE INHABITANTS OF THE TOWN OF BOSTON, ÎN COMMEMORATION OF THE ANNIVERSARY
OF AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE,
BY JOHN QUINCY ADAMS.
It has been a custom, sanctioned by the universal practice of civilized nations, to celebrate, with anniversary solemnities, the return of the days which have been distinguished by events the most important to the happiness of the people. In countries where the natural dignity of mankind, has been degraded by the weakness of bigotry, or debased by the miseries of despotism, this customary celebration has degenerated into a servile mockery of festivity upon the birthday of a sceptered tyrant, or has dwindled to an unmeaning revel, in honor of some canonized fanatic, of whom nothing now remains but the name, in the calendar of antiquated superstition. In those more fortunate regions of the earth where liberty has condescended to reside, the cheerful gratitude of her favored people has devoted to innocent gayety and useful relaxation from the toils of virtuous industry the periodical revolution of those days which have been rendered illustrious by the triumphs of freedom.
Americans ! such is the nature of the institution which again calls your attention to celebrate the establishment of your national independence. And surely since the creation of the heavenly orb which separated the day from the night, amid the unnumbered events which have diversified the history of the human race, none has ever occurred more highly deserving of celebration, by every species of ceremonial, that can testify a sense of gratitude to the Deity, and of happiness, derived from his transcendent favors.
It is a wise and salutary institution, which forcibly recalls to the memory of freemen, the principles upon which they originally founded their laboring plan of state. It is a sacrifice at the altar of liberty herself; a renewal of homage to the sovereign, who alone is worthy of our veneration; a profession of political fidelity, expressive of our adherence to those maxims of liberal submission and obedient freedom, which in these favored climes, have harmonized the long contending claims of liberty and law. By a frequent recurrence to those sentiments and actions upon which the glory and felicity of the nation rest supported, we are enabled to renew the moments of bliss which we are not permitted to retain ; we secure a permanency to the exaltation of what the constitution of nature has rendered fleeting, and a perennial existence to enjoyments which the lot of humanity has made transitory.
The 6 feelings, manners and principles," which led to the independence of our country; such, my friends and fellow-citizens, is the theme of our present commemoration. The field is extensive; it is fruitful : but the copious treasures of its fragrance have already been gathered by the hands of genius; and there now remains for the gleaning of mental indigence, nought but the thinly scattered sweets which have escaped the vigilance of their industry.
They were the same feelings, manners and principles, which conducted our venerable forefathers from the unhallowed shores of oppression; which inspired them with the sublime purpose of converting the forests of a wilderness into the favorite mansion of liberty; of unfolding the gates of a new world as a refuge for the victims of persecution in the old :—the feelings of injured freedom, the manners of social equality, and the principles of eternal justice.
Had the sovereigns of England pursued the policy prescribed by their interest, had they not provoked the hostilities of their colonists against the feeble fortress of their authority, they might perhaps have retained, to this day, an empire which would have been but the more durable, for resting only upon the foundation of immemorial custom and national affection.
Incumbered, however, with the oppressive glory of a successful war, which had enriched the pride of Britain with the spoils of her own opulence, and replenished the arrogance in proportion as it had exhausted the resources of the nation; an adventurous ministry, catching at every desperate expedient to support the ponderous burden of the national dignity, and stimulated by the perfidious instigations of their dependents in America, abandoned the profitable commercial policy of their predecessors, and superadded to the lucrative system of monopoly, which we had always tolerated as the price of their protection, a system of internal taxation from which they hoped to derive a fund for future corruption, and a supply for future extravagance.
The nation eagerly grasped at the proposal. The situation, the condition, the sentiments of the colonies, were subjects upon which the people of Britain were divided between ignorance and error. The endearing ties of consanguinity, which had connected their ancestors with those of the Americans, had been gradually loosened to the verge of dissolution, by the slow, but ceaseless hand of time. Instead of returning the sentiments of fraternal affection, which animated the Americans, they indulged their vanity with preposterous opinions of insulting superiority: they considered us, not as fellow-subjects, equally entitled with themselves, to every privilege of Englishmen, but as wretched outcasts, upon whom they might safely load the burden, while they reserved to themselves the advantages of the national grandeur. It has been observed, that nations the most highly favored with freedom, have not always been the most friendly to the liberty of others. The people of Britain expected to feel none of the oppression, which a parliamentary tyranny might impose upon the Americans; on the contrary, they expected an alleviation of their burden, from the accumulation of ours, and vainly hoped, that by the stripes inflicted upon us, their wounds would be healed.
The king—need it be said, that he adopted as the offspring of his own affections, a plan so favorable to the natural propensity of royalty towards arbitrary power? Depending upon the prostituted valor of his mercenary legions, he was deaf to the complaints, he was inexorable to the remonstrances of violated freedom. Born and eduoated to the usual prejudices of hereditary dominion, and habitually accustomed to the syren song of adulation, he was ready to believe what the courtly tribe, about his throne, did not fail to assure him—that complaint was nothing more than the murmur of sedition, and remonstrance the clamor of rebellion.
But they knew not the people with whom they had to contend. A people, sagacious and enlightened to discern, cool and deliberate to discuss, firm and resolute to maintain their rights. From the first appearance of the system of parliamentary oppression, under the form of a stamp-act, it was met by the determined opposition of the whole American continent. The annals of other nations have produced instances of successful struggles to break a yoke previously imposed; but the records of history did not, perhaps, furnish an example of a people whose penetration had anticipated the operations of tyranny, and whose spirit had disdained to suffer an experiment upon their liberties. The ministerial partizans had flattered themselves with the expectation, that the Act would execute itself; that before the hands of freedom could be raised to repel the usurpation, they would be loaded with fetters; that the American Samson would be shorn of his locks while asleep; and when thus bereaved of his Svain illushe fervidt and a
his strength, might be made their sport with impunity. Vain illusion! Instantaneous and forceful as an electric spark, the fervid spirit of resistance pervaded every part of the country; and at the moment, when the operation of the system was intended to commence, it was indignantly rejected by three millions of men; high-minded men, determined to sacrifice their existence, rather than resign the liberty, from which all its enjoyments were derived.
It is unnecessary to pursue the detail of obstinacy and cruelty on the one part, of perseverance and fortitude on the other, until the period when every chord which had bound the two countries together, was destroyed by the violence of reciprocal hostilities, and the representatives of America, adopted the measure, which was already dictated by the wishes of their constituents; they declared the United Colonies free, sovereign and independent states.
Americans ! let us pause for a moment to consider the situation of our country, at that eventful day when our national existence commenced. In the full possession and enjoyment of all those prerogatives for which you then dared to adventure upon “ all the varieties of untried being," the calm and settled moderation of the mind, is scarcely competent to conceive the tone of heroism, to which the souls of freemen were exalted in that hour of perilous magnanimity. Seventeen times has the sun, in the progress of his annual revolutions, diffused his prolific radiance over the plains of independent America. Millions of hearts, which then palpitated with the rapturous glow of patriotism, have already been translated to brighter worlds—to the abodes of more than mortal freedom. Other millions have arisen to receive from their parents and benefactors, the inestimable recompense of their achievements. A large proportion of the audience, whose benevolence is at this moment listening to the speaker of the day, like him were at that period too little advanced beyond the threshold of life to partake of the divine