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THE MESSAGE OP WASHINGTON
[delivered At Chicago, February 22, 1907]
In furtherance of the high endeavor of your organization, it would have been impossible to select for observance any other civic holiday having as broad and fitting a significance as this. It memorizes the birth of one whose glorious deeds are transcendently above all others recorded in our national annals; and, in memorizing the birth of Washington, it commemorates the incarnation of all the virtues and all the ideals that made our nationality possible, and gave it promise of growth and strength. It is a holiday that belongs exclusively to the American people. All that Washington did was bound up in our national life, and became interwoven with the warp of our national destiny. The battles he fought were fought for American liberty, and the victories he won gave us national independence. His example of unselfish consecration,1 and lofty patriotism made manifest, as in an open book, that those virtues were conditions not more vital to our nation's beginning than to its development and durability. His faith in God, and the fortitude of his faith, taught those for whom he wrought that the surest strength of nations comes from the support of God's almighty arm. His universal and unaffected sympathy with those in every sphere of American life, his thorough knowledge of existing American conditions, and his wonderful foresight of conditions yet to be, coupled with his powerful influence in the councils of those who were to make or mar the fate of an infant nation, made him a tremendous factor in the construction and adoption of the constitutional chart by which the course of the newly launched republic could be safely sailed. And it was he who first took the helm, and demonstrated, for the guidance of all who might succeed him, how and in what spirit and intent the responsibilities of our chief magistracy should be discharged.
If your observance of this day were intended to make more secure the immortal fame of Washington, or to add to the strength and beauty of his imperishable monument built upon a nation's affectionate remembrance, your purpose would be useless. Washington has no need of you. But in every moment, from the time he drew his sword in the cause of American independence to this hour, living or dead, the American people have needed him. It is not important now, nor will it be in all the coming years, to remind our countrymen that Washington has lived, and that his achievements in his country's service are above all praise. But it is important—and more important now than ever before—that they should clearly apprehend and adequately value the virtues and ideals of which he was the embodiment, and that they should realize how essential to our safety and perpetuity are the consecration and patriotism which he exemplified. The American people need today the example and teachings of Washington no less than those who fashioned our nation needed his labors and guidance; and only so far as we commemorate his birth with a sincere recognition of this need can our commemoration be useful to the present generation.
It is, therefore, above all things, absolutely essential to an appropriately commemorative condition of mind that there should be no toleration of even the shade of a thought that what Washington did and said and wrote, in aid of the young American republic have become in the least outworn, or that in these later days of material advance and development they may be merely pleasantly recalled with a sort of affectionate veneration, and with a kind of indulgent and loftily courteous concession of the value of Washington's example and precepts. These constitute the richest of all our crown jewels; and, if we disregard them or depreciate their value, we shall be no better than "the base Indian who threw a pearl away richer than all his tribe."2
They are full of stimulation to do grand and noble things, and full of lessons enjoining loyal adherenca to public duty. But they teach nothing more impressive and nothing more needful by way of recalling our countrymen to a faith which has become somewhat faint and obscured than the necessity to national beneficence and the people's happiness of the homely, simple, personal virtues that grow and thrive in the hearts of men who, with high intent, illustrate the goodness there is in human nature.
Three months before his inauguration as first President of the republic which he had done so much to create, Wasnington wrote a letter to Lafayette,3 his warm friend and revolutionary ally, in which he expressed his unremitting desire to establish a general system of policy which, if pursued, would "ensure permanent felicity to the commonwealth"; and he added these words:
"I think I see a path as clear and as direct as a ray of light, which leads to the attainment of that object. Nothing but harmony, honesty, industry, and frugality is necessary to make us a great and happy people. Happily, the present posture of affairs, and the prevailing disposition of my countrymen promise to cooperate in establishing those four great and essential pillars of public felicity.''
It is impossible for us to be in accord with the spirit which should pervade this occasion if we fail to realize the momentous import of this declaration, and if we doubt its conclusiveness or its application to any stage of our national life, we are not in sympathy with a proper and improving observance of the birthday of George Washington.
Such considerations as these suggest the thought that this is a time for honest self-examination. The question presses upon us with a demand for reply that will not be denied:
Who among us all, if our hearts are purged of misleading impulses and our minds freed from perverting pride, can be sure that today the posture of affairs and the prevailing disposition of our countrymen cooperate in the establishment and promotion of harmony, honesty, industry, and frugality?
When Washington wrote that nothing but these was necessary to make us a great and happy people, he had in mind the harmony of American brotherhood and unenvious good will, the honesty that insures against the betrayal of public trust and hates devious ways and conscienceless practices, the industry that recognizes in faithful work and intelligent endeavor abundant promise of well-earned competence and provident accumulation, and the frugality which outlaws waste and extravagant display as plunderers of thrift and promoters of covetous discontent.
The self-examination invited by this day's commemoration will be incomplete and superficial if we are not thereby forced to the confession that there are signs of the times which indicate a weakness and relaxation of our hold upon these saving virtues. When thus forewarned, it is the height of recreancy for us obstinately to close our eyes to the needs of the situation, and refuse admission to the thought that evil can overtake us. If we are to deserve security, and make good our claim to sensible, patriotic Americanism, we will carefully and dutifully take our bearings, and discover, if we can, how far wind and tide have carried us away from safe waters.
If we find that the wickedness of destructive agitators and the selfish depravity of demagogues have stirred up discontent and strife where there should be peace and harmony, and have arrayed against each other interests which should dwell together in hearty cooperation; if we find that the old standards oi sturdy, uncompromising American honesty have