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First Bunker Hill Oration
“1775 belongs to Massachusetts, — Lexington, Concord and Bunker Hill.”
An analysis of this address reveals in Mr. Webster a great historical art-painter, and a net unprofitable exercise might be suggested by the teacher in reproducing it as an historical painting of a memorable battle scene.
The contest is thus described by a lineal descendant of General Warren. “The re-enforcements moving over the water; the fire of the floating batteries and ships of war; the flames from three hundred houses in Charlestown; the ascent of the British troops, pausing from time to time as their artillery played upon the American works; the coolness and intrepidity with which that fire was sustained by our countrymen, and the fatal precision with which they returned it; the broken and recoiling lines of enemy; the final retreat of the gallant band who had withstood them; the tens of thousands looking on from the housetops, steeples, and hills of Boston and all the neighboring country, and beholding with conflicting emotions the awful struggle in their view. It would, perhaps, be difficult to select in history an event more entitled to celebration by the character of the exploits, its great national effects, its astonishing grandeur, and its affecting incidents.”
An Association called the Bunker Hill Monument Association, was formed in 1823, with the object to erect at Bunker Hill some lasting monument of the history, valor, and glory of June 17, 1775. Daniel Webster was the second President of this Association.1 During the three periods of its history, from the laying of the Corner-Stone to the completion of this first “Pillar of the Republic,” there were connected with it the names of many of the most famous Americans of the first half of the century.
As three great names, Warren, Prescott, Putnam, are forever connected with the historic battle-ground, so are three with this granite record: Horatio Greenough the famous American sculptor, whose model was essentially adopted, Loammi Baldwin, who calculated the proportions, and Solomon Willard who was architect and superintendent of the work. It is scarcely less interesting to note that during nearly a score of years, in the three periods of construction, total-abstinence men were invariably employed by the architect, who refused to have completed by those whom he deemed America’s curse, what had been begun by those who were her salvation.
It is also worthy of remembrance that but for the co-operation of the women of Boston, led by Mrs. Sarah Josepha Hale, it would have been left to our own generation to have placed the topmost stone, and to another than the orator who laid its Corner-Stone, to have heard the prophetic echo distinctly given back by the monument on that second2 festal day, as it gratulated itself with its own completion.3
NOTES. — Bunker Hill Monument, in 1850, was made to contribute to the interests of science, by Professors Eben Norton Horsford, and William C. Bond, of Harvard University, who successfully demonstrated there the diurnal rotation of the Earth on its axis, by the famous pendulum experiment. The ball used for this experiment was one of the ill-spent balls of the British.
The American Flag was displayed from the summit of Bunker Hill Monument with great ceremony for the first time, June 17, 1861. Colonel Fletcher Webster, son of Daniel Webster, who was present as a child at the laying of the Stone, made the speech._______________________
1 The first President was Gov. John Brooks, a “participant in the Battle of Bunker Hill.”
2 In the Charlestown City Library may be found a full length painting of Mr. Webster, represented as delivering this second address, and at the point of saying, “This column stands on Union.’“
3 A distinct echo of “Over the globe” was given back by the monument, as Mr. Webster in his second oration uttered the words which referred to the foundation principles of the government: “ I would that the fifty thousand voices present could proclaim it with a shout which should be heard over the globe.” The applause that followed was as deafening as the battle itself.
LINE 1. Delegations from all the New England States, most of the Middle States, and some of the Southern States, were present. So long was the procession, that when the vanguard of the line had reached Charlestown Square, the rear had not left Boston Common.
10, 11. Within a radius of ten miles, it is interesting to note that there are no less than ten places of historic interest.
15-20. Cf. Shakespeare’s King Henry the Fifth, Act. IV., Scene III., lines 56-67.
“This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother: be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.”
38. Recent historical investigations might make the orator of to-day modify this epithet as applied to “Columbus.”
For a vivid and interesting enlargement of this description, see Washington Irving’s “Columbus.”
59-65. The most important early settlements were those of Virginia Colony, on the James River, 1607; Plymouth Colony, 1620; and Massachusetts Bay Colony, 1628.
83-85. The Corner-Stone of the Monument was laid on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the Battle of Bunker Hill.
85-88. The Stone was laid with Masonic ceremonies, in which Lafayette assisted the Masonic officers. The other “solemnities” were a prayer by the Rev. Joseph Thaxter, who, as chaplain of Colonel Prescott’s regiment, half a century before, had stood on the same hill to pray for the detachment, and for the success of the battle; and an ode by Rev. John Pierpont.
94-96. There are deposited in the Corner-Stone, five different accounts of the Battle of Bunker Hill, a plan of the battle and of Charlestown, an address and letter connected with Bunker Hill Monument Association, a copy of Edward Everett’s oration on the Battle of Lexington, a copy of the “ Life of Josiah Quincy,” specimens of Continental currency, coins and medals of the United States, a fragment of Plymouth -Rock, and a copy of each of the Boston newspapers printed during the week of the celebration.
96-98. The height of Bunker Hill Monument is two hundred and twenty feet.
129-130. Mr. Webster doubtless emphasized the word “great” to distinguish this event from Lexington and Ticonderoga.
137-141. A wish which was a prophecy fulfilled during the years of the Civil War, 1861-1865.
145-148. A poetical expression not justified by fact. The first object seen in approaching Boston is the State House Dome.
152-193. The student will find an interesting comparison between the record of the succeeding years, i.e., from 1825 to the present day. For example, the present number of States is forty-two; the twelve- millions of people have been augmented to sixty-five millions; the country, which had extended itself to the Ohio and Mississippi, is now settled from ocean to ocean; the railroad which the erection of Bunker Hill Monument caused to be first constructed in the United States, is a network over the entire country; while the telegraphic and other electric systems have been both invented and applied. Add to these the Civil War; the abolishment of Slavery; the measures undertaken toward the citizenship of the Indian; the partial enfranchisement of women; the erection of new colleges, especially those for women; the countless political, philanthropic, and social institutions of America; — and Webster’s epitome becomes in turn, “a faint abstract.”
A broader and equally interesting comparison may also be made between Webster’s summary and a present review of foreign affairs. It is needless to add that lines 177-182 have reference to the French Revolution and the career of Napoleon, the succeeding lines to the South American Republics.
199-204. As the result of careful effort on the part of the committee, and a provision for their travelling expenses by the State, nearly two hundred Revolutionary soldiers, forty of whom were in the Battle of Bunker Hill, were present.
205, 206. It is amusing to note in the Memorials of Daniel Webster, that this oft-quoted passage, “Venerable men! you have come down to us from a former generation,” is associated with a trivial experience of a fishing excursion of the day before.
Vide Memorials of Daniel Webster.
215, 216. Next to the death of Joseph Warren, the firing of Charlestown was considered the most tragic event of the historic week.
241-243. Colonel Wm. Prescott,1 with a detachment of one thousand men, commanded and defended the fort; Gen. Israel Putnam re-enforced Prescott with the Connecticut troops of five hundred men, and with Pomeroy held the centre; Col. John Stark, who declared that there was no commander of the American troops on that hard-fought day, became afterward Brigadier-General of the Revolutionary Army; John Brooks became the Governor of Massachusetts; Colonel Read commanded Charlestown Neck; Colonel Bridge was severely wounded.
254, 255. Milton’s “Paradise Lost,” Book V., lines 310, 311.
256-275. Joseph Warren, the hero martyr of the Battle of Bunker Hill, was a graduate of Harvard University, a distinguished physician, and a natural leader, whose combined patriotism and wisdom prophesied at the outset his promotion. He had already been elected President of the Provincial Congress, had contributed to the success of Lexington, and had been made a Major-General by Congress on the 17th of June, 1775. His fine culture and exquisite beauty of character, joined to his true heroism, made him the first distinguished loss in the Revolutionary War.285-287. Battle of Trenton, Dec. 26, 1776.
Battle of Monmouth, June 28, 1778.
Battle of Yorktown, Oct. 10, 1781.
Battle of Camden, Aug. 6, 1780.
Battle of Bennington, Aug. 16, 1777.
Battle of Saratoga, Oct. 7, 1777.
322-324. The Boston Port Bill, 1774, closed that port to all commerce, and transferred the seat of Colonial Government to Salem, who rejected with scorn this opportunity for promotion at the expense of her old neighbor.
363-365. The first Continental Congress met in Philadelphia in September, 1774. At this Congress fifty-one delegates were present, and every colony was represented except Georgia.
379. Lexington, April 19, 1775, gave the first eight men to the cause of Liberty in the Revolutionary war.
384, 385. Virgil’s “Æneid,” Book VI., lines 725, 726.
“Totamque infusa per artus
Mens agitat molem, et magno se corpore miscet.”
“One soul is shed through all,
That quickeneth all the mass, and with the mighty thing is blent.”
395, 396. It was a grim joke of Franklin, when, at the suggestion of Hancock that they “must all hang together,” he responded, “ Yes, or we shall all hang separately.”
397, 398. Josiah Quincy, the orator and patriot, did valiant service to the Revolutionary cause by political essays and by his legal defence in the trial which attended the Boston Massacre; he died on a return voyage made in the service of his country, from England to America, April 17, 1775.
404, 405. The four New England Colonies were Massachusetts Bay, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island.
407, 408. An instance of the threefold form alluded to on page nine.
418-420. The Colonial Congress of Massachusetts had presented after the Stamp Act of 1765, a petition to King George III., and a memorial to both Houses of Parliament. William Pitt had championed the cause of the colonists in England; yet, although the Stamp Act was repealed, the doctrine of Pitt was formally repudiated by a Declaratory Act, asserting the power of Parliament over the Colonies in all cases whatsoever. It was this Act that made their cause known to Europe.
425. Among the more important of these Revolutionary state papers are the “ Report of Franklin before the House of Commons,” 1767; Jonathan Mayhew’s discourse on the “ Righteousness of Rebellion; “ Samuel Adams’s “ Papers on the Rights of the Colonies ;” James Otis’s “ Letter to a Noble Lord ;” the “Address of Richard Henry Lee,” adopted by Congress, 1775; “ Patrick Henry’s Speech in the Virginia Convention,” 1775; Thomas Paine’s “ Separation of Britain and America;” Josiah Quincy’s Letters; and the Declaration of Independence.
436-438. About fifteen hundred were engaged on the American side, against twenty-five hundred of the British forces. The official record reads “Americans: killed, 115; wounded, 305; captured, 30; total, 450. British: killed, 206; wounded, 828; total, 1,054.” This disparity of numbers caused Edward Everett rightly to name this battle the “ American Marathon.”
440-445. The Marquis de Lafayette was the most distinguished foreign guest of this occasion. His name headed the subscription list for the monument, and such was his enthusiasm for the enterprise that he wrote, “In all my travels through the country, I have made Bunker Hill my Polar Star.” And when one reads the magnificent eulogy included between lines 445 and 493, one is disposed to believe that Webster, too, made this point the Polar Star of his oratory.
448, 449. The Marquis de Lafayette offered, not only his services, but a generous portion of his fortune to the American Colonists. He arrived in the United States in the spring of 1777, was given the commission of Major-General, was engaged in several battles of the Revolution, being wounded in one, and remained in the service until the war was virtually ended. His visit to the United States, 1824-5, was a triumphal progress of a Nation’s guest. His loyalty to the Republic continued throughout his life, as is evidenced by one of his latest sayings to Louis Philippe, “ You know that I am a Republican, and that I regard the Constitution of the United States as the most perfect that ever existed.”
485-487. General Greene was especially the hero of Eutaw Springs; Gates, of Saratoga; Sullivan, of Brandywine; and Lincoln, of Charleston.
490. “Serus in coelum redeas.” “Horace,” Book I., ode II., line 45.
“Late may you return to heaven.”
491-493. Lafayette, after experiencing many vicissitudes of fortune in his own country, died May 20, 1834.
495-497. The introduction to this second review of the half- century, savors too much of repetition (vide lines 157-193) to add to the value of the oration, while the simile of line 505 is rather clumsily carried out.
521-523. A poetic prophecy literally fulfilled in our own day by the laying of the Atlantic Cable.
510-535. In general, the beauty of Webster’s paragraphs owes much more to logic than to rhetoric. In this passage he reverses the case.
547-550. It is worth noting that this “incredible use of machinery” did not include most of the steam machinery in use to-day. At this time all our foreign intelligence came to us by way of sailing- vessels.
559-588. Probably, during the French Revolution and the Napoleonic dynasty, the nature of government was discussed as in no other age of the world. Thrones insecure by election or inheritance had tottered to their fall, while few had remained unshaken.
605-607. Another instance of the threefold, compound sentence.
646, 647. A famous antithetical sentence, frequently quoted in public speeches.
649. It was the ambition of Louis XIV. to make France great through an absolute monarchy. His policy is always referred to as “L’État, c’est Moi,” “The State, that is Myself!” the French rendering of the English principle of “the divine right of kings” which Charles I. expiated on the scaffold.
667, 668. Pope’s translation of Homer’s “Iliad,” Book XVII., lines 729, 730.
“Dispel this cloud,
the light of heaven restore,
685-708. From the capture of Constantinople, 1453, until 1829, Greece was oppressed to the last degree by the Mohammedan power. Mr. Webster refers to the struggle of 1820-1829, when Marco Bozzaris, the Leonidas of Modern Greece, had perished at Missolonghi, and when Lord Byron, in whom both England and America took sad interest, had died in tho same cause (1824). The temporary defeat that the brave Greeks suffered at this period, aroused the sympathy of all Europe, and by the aid of foreign allies, Greek independence was acknowledged by the Turkish Sultan in 1829.
720-723. The Revolution of the Spanish Colonies began in 1810, and the Republics were established in the following order: Chili, 1817; Colombia, 1819; La Plata, now Argentine Republic, 1810; Paraguay, 1810; Peru, 1821.
757. From this point to the end of the address, note the character of a perfect peroration.
912, 913. John Quincy Adams was inaugurated March 4, 1825.
917-919. Solon, one of the seven
wise men of Greece who remodelled the Constitution of Athens, 594 B.C. Alfred
the Great, who bears to authentic English history, as Arthur to mythic English
history, the relation of first recorded hero.
1 W. H. Prescott, the historian, was the grandson of Prescott of Revolutionary fame.