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The Scotch-Irish in America
The Scotch-Irish Congress


The Scotch-Irish Congress, it's Objectives and Results
By A. C. Floyd.

The Scotch-Irish people have been second to none in their influence upon modern civilization. Their impress upon American institutions has been especially strong. They have been leaders in every sphere of life, both public and private. They were the first to declare independence from Great Britain, and foremost in the revolutionary struggle; leaders in the formation and adoption of the Constitution, and its most powerful defenders; most active in the extension of our national domain, and the hardiest pioneers in its development.

The associations suggested by a few of the illustrious men of the the stock are sufficient to outline the extent of their influence. Among them were Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, John Witherspoon, John Paul Jones, James Madison, John Marshall, Andrew Jackson, James K. Polk, James Buchanan, Abraham Lincoln, and Ulysses S. Grant.

That they have been no less conspicuous in the material development and intellectual progress of the country, is evidenced by the names of Robert Fulton, Horace Greeley, Robert Bonner, and the McCormicks.

These men are but types of the Scotch-Irish, and their achievements are but examples of the numberless illustrious deeds of the race; and yet no distinct and connected history of this people has ever been written. Their marked and distinctive impress upon the country and their proverbial race pride renders this passing strange, especially in this history-writing age, when the Puritan, the Huguenot, the Dutch, and every other class and nationality composing our population, have recorded their deeds with minutest care. In this, they have done nothing more than perform their duty, for it is the duty of all to study great examples and hold their virtues up for the emulation of on-coming generations. Thus is patriotism cultivated and every noble endeavor stimulated. Thoughtful men, indeed, knew the wealth of Scotch-Irish achievement and keenly felt the poverty of its recognition. Where else could nobler types of manhood be found? The hand of the historian, brushing away the dust of time, was alone needed to reveal the grandest figures of the world. The greatness of the fathers still lingered in the traditions of the children, but the delay of a few more years would consign them to an oblivion from which they could never be recovered.

If the work was ever to be done, it was necessary that it should be commenced without further delay. These facts were recognized and discussed, but the demand resulted in nothing definite until it took form in the Scotch-Irish Congress held at Columbia, Tennessee, last May.

The objects to be attained were not new; but the Congress, as a means of their accomplishment, was altogether original. The projectors of this gathering fully realized the extent of the work they had undertaken, and desired that it should be done in the most thorough and comprehensive manner possible. A convention composed of representative members of the race from all quarters of the country commended itself to them as the best means of beginning the work.

The addresses of the distinguished speakers, the historical papers submitted, and the reminiscences recounted would form a nucleus for the complete collection of data which it was hoped to accumulate in the course of time. Important as this meeting was expected to be, however, its promoters realized that it could only begin the great work. A permanent organization was necessary to continue it. Besides, a Scotch-Irish association was desirable for social as well as historical purposes. In this, as in the matter of history writing, they were behind all others. Every other people in America had banded themselves together for purposes of mutual pleasure and assistance. When properly directed, these societies had accomplished much good. Why should not the Scotch-Irish organize in a similar manner? Why should not their proverbial and well warranted race pride serve to focus their great energies upon purposes of common good? Among the many great objects to which this organized power could be applied was the collection of the desired historical data and the promotion of social intercourse.

The one would contribute in the highest degree to the cultivation of patriotism; the other would promote the warmest fraternal feeling. A better acquaintance between the northern and southern members of the race would bring a better understanding and a broader sympathy, binding the two sections together in the strong and enduring bonds of real friendship. To effect such an organization was the second great object of the Congress.

Among all the states of the Union, none could have been more appropriate for the gathering than Tennessee, both on account of her geographical position and the blood of her people. Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and North and South Carolina received the first great accessions of Ulster immigration; but swarms from these parent hives, moving westward since colonial days, now make Tennessee about the center of the blood in the United States. Besides, her intermediate position between the extreme North and the extreme South makes her people freer from sectional prejudice than either of these quarters, and, therefore, better fitted to promote the fraternal spirit which the convention was intended to foster. In no other state is the Scotch-Irish blood purer. They were the earliest and most numerous of her pioneers. On the banks of the Watauga, they made the first American settlement west of the Alleghanies, and it was they who led the vanguard in the march of civilization westward through her territory. They filled the armies that subdued the savages of the West and South-west. It was their stern, unalterable courage and determination which prevented Great Britain and Spain from confining the Americans to the Atlantic slope, and secured the Mississippi valley to the Union. Their numbers and valor in every war in which the country has been engaged has won for Tennessee the proud title of "The Volunteer State." They stamped their predominant characteristics upon their descendants, and gave the prevailing type to the character of the whole people. It was but natural that a convention called to do them honor should meet with warmest approval.

Columbia, the place chosen for the first Congress, lies in the very center of Tennessee, and her Scotch-Irish population, surrounded by a country widely known as "the garden spot of Tennessee" — a country unsurpassed for salubrity of climate, richness and variety of products, and advantages of geographical position. This heart of the Middle Tennessee Basin, now carpeted with a rich growth of blue grass, was originally covered by luxuriant cane-brakes, the infallible sign of a fat soil. It is not strange that the Scotch-Irish should have occupied it first. Always in the foremost ranks of the pioneers, the richest lands became theirs by right of discovery and first occupation, while the poorer country was left to the more timid people, who followed at a later and safer period. The advantages thus acquired, and the characteristic tenacity with which they have been held, go far to explain why the race has ever since been the wealthiest and most influential of the people in the countries first settled by them. The strength of their influence in Maury county is illustrated in Judge Fleming's sketch of Zion Church, and Dr. Kelly's address, published in this volume. Among the distinguished men of this stock whom Maury county has produced was James K. Polk, who went from Columbia to the President's chair.

Another thing that recommended Columbia was her railway facilities. These roads, running north, south, east, and west, make her easily accessible from every quarter of the country. Arrived here, visitors, especially those from the North, occupy an excellent vantage point from which to visit and study the best parts of the South. Within short reach by rail are some of the most famous battle-fields of the late war — Franklin, Nashville, Murfreesboro, Shiloh, and others. In easy communication, also, are Florence, Sheffield, Birmingham, and other manufacturing cities of the celebrated coal and iron fields of the South, affording the finest illustrations of the marvelous industrial progress which this section is now making. These advantages and associations rendered Columbia a peculiarly appropriate place for the gathering.

Having decided that the Congress should be held, and that Columbia was the place to hold it, the initial steps in the arrangements for it were taken in October, 1888. This action was prompted by Colonel T. T. Wright, now of Nashville, Tennessee. To him belongs the honor of having originated this, as well as many other great ideas, which have resulted in much public benefit. He not only originated the idea and inspired the first action for carrying it into effect, but gave the movement, at every stage, the invaluable aid of his advice, time, and means.

The date fixed for the beginning of the Congress was May 8, 1889, the most perfect season of the year in Tennessee. Arrangements for the Congress were vigorously and systematically pushed from the beginning. Some of the most distinguished men of the race accepted invitations to deliver addresses and to prepare historical papers. A thousand leading newspapers published the general invitation to the race issued by Governor Taylor and the Secretary; also, the reports sent them from time to time, as events developed, together with extensive and favorable editorial mention.

Governor Taylor's Invitation.

Executive Office, Nashville, Tenn.

To the Scotch Irish Race:

Recognizing the Scotch-Irish Congress, to be assembled at Columbia, in this state, on the 8th of May next, as an event of international interest, Tennessee will welcome to it representatives of that lineage from all parts of the world. No political or sectarian significance attaches to the Congress. Its object is to revive memories of the race, and to collect materials for compiling a history showing their impress upon modern civilization, especially upon American institutions. It promises to be one of the most notable meetings ever held in Tennessee.

Robert L. Taylor, Governor.

Private invitations were sent to every representative man of the blood whose name could be ascertained. So unique and manifestly desirable was the gathering, that it met with hearty commendation from all to whose attention it was brought. Extensive correspondence was developed, and the interest became wide-spread. The latent pride of the race was at last stirred, and the enthusiasm which the call inspired evidenced its strength when once aroused. Reduced railroad fare was secured, and a large sum of money was readily and generously subscribed by the people of Columbia to defray the expenses of the occasion. The hospitable people vied with each other in their preparations for entertaining visitors.

When the day arrived, every detail of the arrangements was complete. The doors of every house stood wide open with welcome. The town was gaily decorated and thronged with visitors, representing every section of the Union. The weather was perfect throughout, and all the exercises were held in a great tent stretched in the oak-canopied, grass-carpeted grove of the Columbia Athenĉum, kindly offered the management by Captain R. D. Smith, president of this fine old institution for young ladies. The Rogers Band, of Goshen, Indiana, rendered delightful music, consisting largely of Scotch and Irish airs, prepared especially for the occasion.

The initial proceedings were thus described by the Nashville American:

"The large canopy was beautifully decorated with flags and bunting of all kinds. Long streamers extended from the central post to the various points of the outer circumference, producing a most harmonious and beautiful effect. A large stage, thirty feet by twenty, and capable of comfortably seating fifty persons, had been erected under the south side of the tent. Arches spanned its front, and festoons of lovely flowers, from the rose to the evergreen, graced the arches in handsome designs. Vases of flowers were also conspicuously displayed.

"Upon the stage were placed a large painting of Jas. K. Polk and an old and historic "Harp of Erin," the hereditary property of Mrs. Emma McKinney, of the Athenĉum.

"It was not long before the spacious audience-room, so to speak, was filled with a crowded mass of humanity. The personnel of the audience and of the visitors in general was especially good, and free from all the rougher elements. Then the visitors, the descendants of the Scotch-Irish, who had assembled to engage in the events of the day, lent great dignity and intellectuality to the meeting.

"The procession formed at the head-quarters on Garden street and in front of the Bethell House on Seventh street. It was led by the Goshen Band, of Goshen, Indiana, followed by the Witt Rifles, of Columbia, in full dress uniform; then the carriages containing the visitors and members of the Reception Committee, and at last a large concourse. In one of the front carriages was the harp of Tom Moore, in charge of Captain J. T. Craik, Major William Polk, and Colonel H. G. Evans.

"The large tent had already been crowded, even as to standing-room, and when the procession arrived, its proportions amounted to anywhere between 6,000 and 10,000 people."

There were two sessions of the Congress each day, morning and night. The tent was filled to its utmost capacity at every session by cultured and appreciative audiences. In the afternoons, many of the visitors repaired to the Fair Grounds at South Side Park, where they were entertained with exhibitions of speed by Tennessee's fastest horses, and by the display of other blooded stock, in which this country stands unexcelled. Others enjoyed driving over the numerous fine pikes which radiate in every direction from Columbia like spokes from a wheel, leading to the great farms and points of historical interest in the country.

Representatives of the race from every section of the country met in freest and most cordial social intercourse. Old friendships were renewed and new ones formed. Rich stores of tradition were brought to light and valuable historical reminiscences were recalled. Memories of the past were revived, thoughts of the present interchanged, and hopes of the future discussed. Among the attendants were many old Federal and ex-Confederate soldiers, attracted hither by the reunion of the blue and the gray, and a desire to revisit the surrounding battle-fields of the late civil strife. Upon these fields, but a few years ago, these veterans had met each other in deadliest conflict. Now they met with hearty hand-shake and the warm regard felt by men who have proved each other's true manhood in the severest ordeals.

The Congress was a complete success in every particular, but its crowning result was the organization of the Scotch-Irish Society of America, which will take up and carry on in a systematic way the work so auspiciously begun.

The principal objects of the Society have already been outlined. Its purposes are social and historical. Through its members, sketches of the families represented and of the race in general, together with interesting relics connected with their history, will be collected.

Princeton College, New Jersey, has kindly offered to become custodian of this data for the present, but in the course of time the Society will have a permanent home for its reception.

The data thus obtained will be properly acknowledged, and the manuscripts filed in the archives of the Society for reference, or for use in the annual publications hereafter to be issued.

No partisan or sectarian significance attaches to the Society. Composed of a race thoroughly identified with all that has been most patriotic in our country, it is purely an American institution, and does not propose to concern itself with foreign affairs.

The social features of the organization promise large results. The Congress at Columbia gave earnest of the good fellowship which may be expected from the annual gatherings hereafter. The publications of the Society, and the development and extension of its organization, will promote correspondence among its members, increase their knowledge of one another, and draw them into closer relations of friendship and sympathy.

Though but a short time has elapsed since the conditions of membership were definitely settled, it has already reached gratifying proportions. Numerous applications for enrollment have been received from all parts of the country, from men occupying the highest positions in every sphere of life. Systematic plans are in operation, by which every member who joins becomes instrumental in bringing others into the Society. The membership is advancing by geometrical progression, and the present plans continued will in no great length of time bring a knowledge of the Society to every person of Scotch-Irish descent in America. There is practically no limit to its possible power and usefulness.


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