Believe me, Athenians, if recovering from this lethargy, you would assume the ancient freedom and spirit of your fathers; if you would be your own soldiers, and your own commanders, confiding no longer your affairs in foreign or mercenary hands; if you would charge yourselves with your own defence, employing abroad, for the public, what you waste in unprofitable pleasures at home, the world might, once more, behold you making a figure worthy of Athenians. “You would have us then (you say) do service in our armies, in our own persons; and for so doing, you would have the pensions we receive in time of peace, accepted as pay in time of war. Is it thus we are to understand you?”—Yes, Athenians, ’tis my plain meaning. I would make it a standing rule, that no person, great or little, should be the better for the public money, who should grudge to employ it for the public service. Are we in peace? the public is charged with your subsistence. Are we in war, or under a necessity, as at this time, to enter into a war? let your gratitude oblige you to accept, as pay, in defence of your benefactors, what you receive, in peace, as mere bounty.—Thus, without any innovation, without altering or abolishing any thing, but pernicious novelties, introduced for the encouragement of sloth and idleness; by converting only for the future the same funds for the use of the serviceable, which are spent, at present, upon the unprofitable; you may be well served in your armies; your troops regularly paid; justice duly administered; the public revenues reformed and increased; and every member of the commonwealth rendered useful to his country, according to his age and ability, without any further burden to the state.
This, O men of Athens! is what my duty prompted me to represent to you upon this occasion.—May the gods inspire you to determine upon such measures as may be most expedient for the particular and general good of our country!
Imagine to yourselves a Demosthenes addressing the most illustrious assembly in the world, upon a point whereon the fate of the most illustrious of nations depended.—How awful such a meeting! How vast the subject! Is man possessed of talents adequate to the great occasion? Adequate—yes, superior. By the power of his eloquence; the augustness of the assembly is lost in the dignity of the orator; and the importance of the subject for a while superceded by the admiration of his talents. With what strength of argument, with what powers of the fancy, with what emotions of the heart, does he assault and subjugate the whole man, and, at once, captivate his reason, his imagination, and his passions!—To effect this, must be the utmost effort of the most improved state of human nature. Not a faculty that he possesses, is here unemployed: not a faculty that he possesses, but is here exerted to its highest pitch. All his internal powers are at work: