In offering to the public a revised edition of Professor Johnston’s American Eloquence, a brief statement may be permitted of the changes and additions involved in the revision. In consideration of the favor with which the compilation of Professor Johnston had been received, and of its value to all who are interested in the study of American history, the present editor has deemed it wise to make as few omissions as possible from the former volumes. The changes have been chiefly in the way of additions. The omission, from the first volume, of Washington’s Inaugural and President Nott’s oration on the death of Hamilton is the result, not of a depreciation of the value of these, but of a desire to utilize the space with selections and subjects which are deemed more directly valuable as studies in American political history. Madison’s speech on the adoption of the Constitution, made before the Virginia Convention, is substituted for one of Patrick Henry’s on the same occasion. Madison’s is a much more valuable discussion of the issues and principles involved, and, besides, the volume has the advantage of Henry’s eloquence when he was at his best, at the opening of the American Revolution. In compensation for the omissions there are added selections, one each from Otis, Samuel Adams, Gallatin, and Benton. The completed first volume, therefore, offers to the student of American political history chapters from the life and work of sixteen representative orators and statesmen of America.
In addition to the changes made in the selections, the editor has added brief biographical sketches, references, and textual and historical notes which, it is hoped, will add to the educational value of the volumes, as well as to the interest and intelligence with which the casual reader may peruse the speeches.
As a teacher of American history, I have found no more luminous texts on our political history than the speeches of the great men who have been able, in their discussions of public questions, to place before us a contemporary record of the history which they themselves were helping to make. To the careful student the secondary authorities can never supply the place of the great productions, the messages and speeches, which historic occasions have called forth. The earnest historical reader will approach these orations, not with the design of regarding then merely as specimens of eloquence or as studies in language, but as indicating the great subjects and occasions of our political history and the spirit and motives of the great leaders of that history. The orations lead the student to a review of the great struggles in which the authors were engaged, and to new interest in the science of government from the utterances and permanent productions of master participants in great political controversies. Certainly, there is no text-book in political science more valuable than the best productions of great statesmen, as reflecting the ideas of those who have done most to make political history.