The World’s Famous Orations.
America: III. (1861–1905). 1906.
James Abram Garfield
His Speech Nominating Sherman for President
I HAVE witnessed the extraordinary scenes of this Convention with deep solicitude. Nothing touches my heart more quickly than a tribute of honor to a great and noble character; but as I sat in my seat and witnessed this demonstration, this assemblage seemed to me a human ocean in tempest. I have seen the sea lashed into fury and tossed into spray, and its grandeur moves the soul of the dullest man; but I remember that it is not the billows, but the calm level of the sea, from which all heights and depths are measured. When the storm has passed and the hour of calm settles on the ocean, when the sunlight bathes its peaceful surface, then the astronomer and surveyor take the level from which they measure all terrestrial heights and depths.
Gentlemen of the Convention, your present temper may not mark the healthful pulse of our people. When your enthusiasm has passed, when the emotions of this hour have subsided, we shall find below the storm and passion that calm level of public opinion from which the thoughts of a mighty people are to be measured, and by which final action will be determined.
Not here, in this brilliant circle, where fifteen thousand men and women are gathered, is the destiny of the Republic to be decreed for the next four years. Not here, where I see the enthusiastic faces of seven hundred and fifty-six delegates, waiting to cast their lots into the urn and determine the choice of the Republic, but by four millions of Republican firesides, where the thoughtful voters, with wives and children about them, with the calm thoughts inspired by love of home and country, with the history of the past, the hopes of the future, and reverence for the great men who have adorned and blessed our nation in days gone by, burning in their hearts,—there God prepares the verdict which will determine the wisdom of our work to-night. Not in Chicago, in the heat of June, but at the ballot-boxes of the Republic, in the quiet of November, after the silence of deliberate judgment, will this question be settled. And now, gentlemen of the Convention, what do we want?
Bear with me a moment. “Hear me for my cause,” and for a moment “be silent that you may hear.”
Twenty-five years ago this Republic was bearing and wearing a triple chain of bondage. Long familiarity with traffic in the bodies and souls of men had paralyzed the consciences of a majority of our people; the narrowing and disintegrating doctrine of State sovereignty had shackled and weakened the noblest and most beneficent powers of the national government; and the grasping power of slavery was seizing upon the virgin territories of the West, and dragging them into the den of eternal bondage.
At that crisis the Republican party was born. It drew its first inspiration from that fire of liberty which God has lighted in every human heart, and which all the powers of ignorance and tyranny can never wholly extinguish. The Republican party came to deliver and to save. It entered the arena where the beleaguered and assailed Territories were struggling for freedom, and drew around them the sacred circle of liberty, which the demon of slavery has never dared to cross. It made them free for ever. Strengthened by its victory on the frontier, the young party, under the leadership of that great man who on this spot, twenty years ago, was made its chief, entered the national Capitol, and assumed the high duties of government. The light which shone from its banner illumined its pathway to power. Every slave-pen and the shackles of every slave within the shadow of the Capitol were consumed in the rekindled fire of freedom.
Our great national industries by cruel and calculating neglect had been prostrated, and the streams of revenue flowed in such feeble currents that the treasury itself was well-nigh empty. The money of the people consisted mainly of the wretched notes of two thousand uncontrolled and irresponsible State banking corporations, which were filling the country with a circulation that poisoned, rather than sustained, the life of business.
The Republican party changed all this. It abolished the Babel of confusion, and gave to the country a currency as national as its flag, based upon the sacred faith of the people. It threw its protecting arm around our great industries, and they stood erect with new life. It filled with the spirit of true nationality all the great functions of the government. It confronted a rebellion of unexampled magnitude, with slavery behind it, and, under God, fought the final battle of liberty until the victory was won.
Then, after the storms of battle, were heard the calm words of peace spoken by the conquering nation, saying to the foe that lay prostrate at its feet: “This is our only revenge—that you join us in lifting into the serene firmament of the Constitution, to shine like stars for ever and ever, the immortal principles of truth and justice: that all men, white or black, shall be free, and shall stand equal before the law.”
Then came the questions of reconstruction, the national debt, and the keeping of the public faith. In the settlement of these questions, the Republican party has completed its twenty-five years of glorious existence and it has sent us here to prepare it for another lustrum of duty and of victory. How shall we accomplish this great work? We can not do it, my friends, by assailing our Republican brethren. God forbid that I should say one word, or cast one shadow, upon any name on the roll of our heroes. The coming fight is our Thermopylæ. We are standing upon a narrow isthmus. If our Spartan hosts are united, we can withstand all the Persians that the Xerxes of Democracy can bring against us. Let us hold our ground this one year, and then “the stars in their courses” will fight for us. The census will bring reinforcements and continued power.
But in order to win victory now, we want the vote of every Republican—of every Grant Republican, and every anti-Grant Republican, in America—of every Blaine man and every anti-Blaine man. The vote of every follower of every candidate is needed to make success certain. Therefore I say, gentlemen and brethren, we are here to take calm counsel together, and inquire what we shall do.
We want a man whose life and opinions embody all the achievements of which I have spoken. We want a man who, standing on a mountain height, traces the victorious footsteps of our party in the past, and, carrying in his heart the memory of its glorious deeds, looks forward prepared to meet the dangers to come. We want one who will act in no spirit of unkindness toward those we lately met in battle. The Republican party offers to our brethren of the South the olive-branch of peace, and invites them to renewed brotherhood on this supreme condition—that it shall be admitted for ever, that in the war for the Union we were right and they were wrong. On that supreme condition we meet them as brethren, and ask them to share with us the blessings and honors of this great Republic.
Now, gentlemen, not to weary you, I am about to present a name for your consideration,—the name of one who was the comrade, associate, and friend of nearly all the noble dead, whose faces look down upon us from these walls to-night; a man who began his career of public service twenty-five years ago,—who courageously confronted the slave power in the days of peril on the plains of Kansas, when first began to fall the red drops of that bloody shower which finally swelled into the deluge of gore in the late Rebellion. He bravely stood by young Kansas, and, returning to his seat in the national Legislature, his pathway through all the subsequent years has been marked by labors worthily performed in every department of legislation.
You ask for his monument. I point you to twenty-five years of national statutes. Not one great, beneficent law has been placed on our statute-books without his intelligent and powerful aid. He aided in formulating the laws to raise the great armies and navies which carried us through the war. His hand was seen in the workmanship of those statutes that restored and brought back “the unity and married calm of States.” His hand was in all that great legislation that created the war currency, and in all the still greater work that redeemed the promises of the government and made the currency equal to gold.
When at last he passed from the halls of legislation into a high executive office, he displayed that experience, intelligence, firmness, and poise of character, which have carried us through a stormy period of three years, with one-half the public Press crying “Crucify him!” and a hostile Congress seeking to prevent success. In all this he remained unmoved until victory crowned him. The great fiscal affairs of the nation, and the vast business interests of the country, he guarded and preserved while executing the law of resumption, and effected its object without a jar and against the false prophecies of one-half of the Press and of all the Democratic party.
He has shown himself able to meet with calmness the great emergencies of the government. For twenty-five years he has trodden the perilous heights of public duty, and against all the shafts of malice has borne his breast unharmed. He has stood in the blaze of “that fierce light that beats against the throne”; but its fiercest ray has found no flaw in his armor, no stain upon his shield. I do not present him as a better Republican or a better man than thousands of others that we honor; but I present him for your deliberate and favorable consideration. I nominate John Sherman, of Ohio.