Ralph Waldo Emerson (18031882). The Complete Works. 1904. Vol. XI. Miscellanies
XIX. Address to Kossuth
At Concord, May 11, 1852
GOD said, I am tired of kings,
I suffer them no more;
Up to my ear the morning brings
The outrage of the poor.
My angel,his name is Freedom,
Choose him to be your king;
He shall cut pathways east and west,
And fend you with his wing.
SIR,The1 fatigue of your many public visits, in such unbroken succession as may compare with the toils of a campaign, forbid us to detain you long. The people of this town share with their countrymen the admiration of valor and perseverance; they, like their compatriots, have been hungry to see the man whose extraordinary eloquence is seconded by the splendor and the solidity of his actions. But, as it is the privilege of the people of this town to keep a hallowed mound which has a place in the story of the country; as Concord is one of the monuments of freedom; we knew beforehand that you could not go by us; you could not take all your steps in the pilgrimage of American liberty, until you had seen with your eyes the ruins of the bridge where a handful of brave farmers opened our Revolution. Therefore, we sat and waited for you.
And now, Sir, we are heartily glad to see you, at last, in these fields. We set no more value than you do on cheers and huzzas. But we think that the graves of our heroes around us throb to-day to a footstep that sounded like their own:
Sir, we have watched with attention your progress through the land, and the varying feeling with which you have been received, and the unvarying tone and countenance which you have maintained. We wish to discriminate in our regard. We wish to reserve our honor for actions of the noblest strain. We please ourselves that in you we meet one whose temper was long since tried in the fire, and made equal to all events; a man so truly in love with the greatest future, that he cannot be diverted to any less.
It is our republican doctrine, too, that the wide variety of opinions is an advantage. I believe I may say of the people of this country at large, that their sympathy is more worth, because it stands the test of party. It is not a blind wave; it is a living soul contending with living souls. It is, in every expression, antagonized. No opinion will pass but must stand the tug of war. As you see, the love you win is worth something; for it has been argued through; its foundation searched; it has proved sound and whole; it may be avowed; it will last, and it will draw all opinion to itself.
We have seen, with great pleasure, that there is nothing accidental in your attitude. We have seen that you are organically in that cause you plead. The man of Freedom, you are also the man of Fate. You do not elect, but you are elected by God and your genius to the task. We do not, therefore, affect to thank you. We only see in you the angel of freedom, crossing sea and land; crossing parties, nationalities, private interests and self-esteems; dividing populations where you go, and drawing to your part only the good. We are afraid that you are growing popular, Sir; you may be called to the dangers of prosperity. But, hitherto, you have had in all centuries and in all parties only the men of heart. I do not know but you will have the million yet. Then, may your strength be equal to your day. But remember, Sir, that everything great and excellent in the world is in minorities.3
Far be from us, Sir, any tone of patronage; we ought rather to ask yours. We know the austere condition of libertythat it must be reconquered over and over again; yea, day by day; that it is a state of war; that it is always slipping from those who boast it to those who fight for it: and you, the foremost soldier of freedom in this age,it is for us to crave your judgment; who are we that we should dictate to you? You have won your own. We only affirm it. This country of workingmen greets in you a worker. This republic greets in you a republican. We only say, Well done, good and faithful.You have earned your own nobility at home. We admit you ad eundem (as they say at College). We admit you to the same degree, without new trial. We suspend all rules before so paramount a merit. You may well sit a doctor in the college of liberty. You have achieved your right to interpret our Washington. And I speak the sense not only of every generous American, but the law of mind, when I say that it is not those who live idly in the city called after his name, but those who, all over the world, think and act like him, who can claim to explain the sentiment of Washington.
Sir, whatever obstruction from selfishness, indifference, or from property (which always sympathizes with possession) you may encounter, we congratulate you that you have known how to convert calamities into powers, exile into a campaign, present defeat into lasting victory. For this new crusade which you preach to willing and to unwilling ears in America is a seed of armed men. You have got your story told in every palace and log hut and prairie camp, throughout this continent. And, as the shores of Europe and America approach every month, and their politics will one day mingle, when the crisis arrives it will find us all instructed beforehand in the rights and wrongs of Hungary, and parties already to her freedom.
Note 1. On a beautiful day in May, 1852, Louis Kossuth, the exiled governor of Hungary, who had come to this country to solicit her to interfere in European politics on behalf of his oppressed people, visited the towns of Lexington and Concord, and spoke to a large assemblage in each place. Kossuth was met at the Lexington line by a cavalcade from Concord, who escorted him to the village, where he received a cordial welcome. The town hall was crowded with people. The Hon. John S. Keyes presided, and Mr. Emerson made the address of welcome. Kossuth, in his earnest appeal for American help, addressed Mr. Emerson personally in the following passages, after alluding to Concords part in the struggle for Freedom in 1775: It is strange, indeed, how every incident of the present bears the mark of a deeper meaning around me. There is meaning in the very fact that it is you, sir, by whom the representative of Hungarys ill-fated struggle is so generously welcomed to the shrine of martyrs illumined by victory. You are wont to dive into the mysteries of truth and disclose mysteries of right to the eyes of men. Your honored name is Emerson; and Emerson was the name of a man who, a minister of the gospel, turned out with his people, on the 19th of April of eternal memory, when the alarm-bell first was rung . I take hold of that augury, sir. Religion and Philosophy, you blessed twins,upon you I rely with my hopes to America. Religion, the philosophy of the heart, will make the Americans generous; and philosophy, the religion of the mind, will make the Americans wise; and all that I claim is a generous wisdom and a wise generosity. [back]
Note 2. I am unable to find the source of these lines. [back]
Note 3. For the power of minorities, see Progress of Culture, Letters and Social Aims, pp. 216219, and Considerations by the Way, Conduct of Life, pp. 248, 249. [back]