On this day in 1825, to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the great Battle of Bunker Hill in Boston—as well as to dedicate the site of a new monument—the venerable Senator from New Hampshire, Daniel Webster delivered one of the most eloquent orations in American political history. Long studied both for its rhetorical brilliance and its civic perspective, the speech outlines the basic principles and precepts of the nation’s extraordinary experiment in liberty.
He began asserting, “We are among the sepulchers of our fathers. We are on ground distinguished by their valor, their constancy, and the shedding of their blood. We are here, not to fix an uncertain date in our annals, nor to draw is into notice an obscure and unknown spot. If our humble purpose had never been conceived, if we ourselves had never been born, June 17, 1775, would have been a day on which all subsequent history would have poured its light, and the eminence where we stand a point of attraction to the eyes of successive generations. But we are Americans. We live in what may be called the early age of this great continent; and we know that our posterity, through all time, are here to enjoy and suffer the allotments of humanity. We see before us a probable train of great events; we know that our own fortunes have been happily cast; and it is natural, therefore, that we should be moved by the contemplation of occurrences which have guided our destiny before many of us were born, and settled the condition in which we should pass that portion of our existence which God allows to men on earth.”
He continued, saying, “These are excitements to duty; but they are not suggestions of doubt. Our history and our condition, all that is gone before us, and all that surrounds us, authorize the belief, that popular governments, though subject to occasional variations, in form perhaps not always for the better, may yet, in their general character, be as durable and permanent as other systems. We know, indeed, that in our country any other is impossible. The principle of free governments adheres to the American soil. It is bedded in it, immovable as its mountains. And let the sacred obligations which have developed on this generation, and on us, sink deep in our hearts.”
Finally, he concluded, “In a day of peace, let us advance the arts of peace and the works of peace. Let us develop the resources of our land, call forth its powers, build up its institutions, promote all its great interests, and see whether we also, in our day and generation, may not perform something worthy to be remembered. Let us cultivate a true spirit of union and harmony. In pursuing the great objects, which our condition points out to us, let us act under a settled conviction, and an habitual feeling, that these twenty-four States, are one country. Let our conceptions be enlarged to the circle of our duties. Let us extend our ideas over the whole of the vast field in which we are called to act. Let our object be, Our Country, Our Whole Country, And Nothing But Our Country. And, by the blessing of God, may that country itself become a vast and splendid monument, not of oppression and terror, but of Wisdom, of Peace, and of Liberty, upon which the world may gaze with admiration for ever.”
As Theodore Roosevelt later recounted, “It was perhaps the greatest oration since Cicero excoriated Cataline.”