AT THE HOME OF DANIEL WEBSTER, MARSHFIELD
JULY 4, 1916
History is revelation. It is the manifestation in human affairs of a “power not ourselves that makes for righteousness.” Savages have no history. It is the mark of civilization. This New England of ours slumbered from the dawn of creation until the beginning of the seventeenth century, not unpeopled, but with no record of human events worthy of a name. Different races came, and lived, and vanished, but the story of their existence has little more of interest for us than the story the naturalist tells of the animal kingdom, or the geologist relates of the formation of the crust of the earth. It takes men of larger vision and higher inspiration, with a power to impart a larger vision and a higher inspiration to the people, to make history. It is not a negative, but a positive achievement. It is unconcerned with idolatry or despotism or treason or rebellion or betrayal, but bows in reverence before Moses or Hampden or Washington or Lincoln or the Light that shone on Calvary.
July 4, 1776, was a day of history in its high and true significance. Not because the underlying principles set out in the Declaration of Independence were new; they are older than the Christian religion, or Greek philosophy, nor was it because history is made by proclamation or declaration; history is made only by action. But it was an historic day because the representatives of three millions of people there vocalized Concord and Lexington and Bunker Hill, which gave notice to the world that they were acting, and proposed to act, and to found an independent nation, on the theory that “all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” The wonder and glory of the American people is not the ringing declaration of that day, but the action, then already begun, and in the process of being carried out in spite of every obstacle that war could interpose, making the theory of freedom and equality a reality. We revere that day because it marks the beginnings of independence, the beginnings of a constitution that was finally to give universal freedom and equality to all American citizens, the beginnings of a government that was to recognize beyond all others the power and worth and dignity of man. There began the first of governments to acknowledge that it was founded on the sovereignty of the people. There the world first beheld the revelation of modern democracy.
Democracy is not a tearing-down; it is a building-up. It is not a denial of the divine right of kings; it supplements that claim with the assertion of the divine right of all men. It does not destroy; it fulfils. It is the consummation of all theories of government, to the spirit of which all the nations of the earth must yield. It is the great constructive force of the ages. It is the alpha and omega of man’s relation to man, the beginning and the end. There is and can be no more doubt of the triumph of democracy in human affairs, than there is of the triumph of gravitation in the physical world; the only question is how and when. Its foundation lays hold upon eternity.