Wednesday, November 24, 2010
The Pilgrims of New England
We meet again, the children of the Pilgrims, to remember our fathers. The two centuries and more which interpose to hide them from our eye – centuries so brilliant with progress, so crowded with incidents, so fertile in accumulations – dissolve for the moment as a curtain of cloud, and we are once more at their side. The grand and pathetic series of their story unrolls itself about us, vivid as if with the life of yesterday. All the stages by which they were slowly formed from the general mind and character of England, the tenderness of conscience, the sense of duty, force of will, trust in God, the love of truth, and the spirit of liberty by which they were advanced from Englishmen to Pilgrims, from Pilgrims to the founders of a free church, and the fathers of a free people, in a new world, come before us.
The voyage of the “Mayflower;” the landing; the slow winter’s night of disease and famine in which so many, the god, the beautiful, the brave, sank down and died, giving place at last to the spring-dawn of health and plenty, - come before us. The meeting with the old red race on the hill beyond the brook; the treaty of peace unbroken for half a century; the organization of a Republican form of government in the “Mayflower’s” cabin; the planting of these kindred , coeval, and auxiliary institutions, without which such a government could no more live than the uprooted tree can put forth leaf and flower, - come before us. And with these come institutions to diffuse pure religion, good learning, austere morality, plain living, and high thinking; the laying deep and sure, far down on the Rock of Ages, the foundation-stone of the imperial structure whose dome now swells towards Heaven.
All these things, high, holy, and beautiful, come thronging fresh on our memories, such as we have heard them from our mother’s lips; such as we have heard them from history kings, of religion, and of liberty. They gather themselves about us, familiar, certainly, but of an interest that can never die, - an interest heightened by their relations to that eventful future into which they have expanded, and through whose light they shine.
It is their festival we have come to keep to-day. It is their tabernacle we have come to build. It is not ourselves, our present, or our future; it is not political economy, or political philosophy, of which you would have me to-day say a word. We would speak of certain valiant, good peculiar men, our fathers. We would wipe the dust from a few old, noble urns. We would recall the forms and lineaments of the honored dead, - forms and feathers which the grave has not changed; over which the grave has no power; robed in the vestments and all radiant with the hues of an assured immortality.