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Proceedings of the Fourth Congress at Atlanta, GA., April 28 to May 1, 1892
An Address by Judge James G. Gordon, of Philadelphia.


Delivered at the Third Annual Banquet of the Pennsylvania Scotch-Irish Society in Response to a Toast.

Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen: The toast which has just been announced suggests a theme that may be treated either historically or prospectively. It may serve as a text for recounting the glory and achievements of the past, or for sounding a call to future sacrifice and duty. The temptation is very strong on an occasion like this to dally in the pleasant ways and safe retreats of history. The good cheer and good fellowship under whose softening influence "the horizon of the board" expands "into the horizon of man," strongly invite the contemplation of that common heritage of greatness and renown that so justly constitutes our ancestral boast. On such a theme one may always rely upon having approving hearers. Even a slight "trace" (as the chemists would say) of Celtic admixture in our composition would assure the recital against being pitched in a minor key. Indeed, the pure Scot himself has never been accused of minimizing the distinction of his ancestors. Something of the redundant eloquence of Caleb Balderstone when portraying the imaginary hospitality of the Lord of Ravenswood still lingers with his remote descendants on this side of the sea. This disposition toward an exaggeration of the merits and prowess of one's ancestors is universal, and from this fact is probably not to be criticised. "He censures God who quarrels with man's infirmities." And yet it is an infirmity, though a generous one. The mistake is in confounding eulogy with emulation. The heir too often extols the thrift of the ancestor and wastes his estate. It is so much easier to praise than to practice; to write an epitaph than to earn a monument. There is a self-consciousness in the laudation of progenitors that is not infrequently satisfied with mere eulogy. But the eulogists only narrate and generally distort history; it is the critics who make it. To emulate is to strive, to imitate but to excel, and to excel is to improve upon conscious defects.

Therefore it is, that I think something may bo gained by considering the sentiment of the toast in relation to our duties and obligations in the future as citizens of the republic.

The Scotch-Irish in America have fared well at the hands of the historians. It has become almost trite to say that they were " the choice and master spirits " who inspired, animated, and impelled the forces of revolution in the rebellious colonies. Ample testimony has been borne by every chronicler, even the most reluctant, to the enormous debt owed by the United States to the Scotch-Irish race. Our laws, social observances, the spirit of our institutions bear the impress of this race beyond all others. Call the muster roll of our heroes, whether on the field of battle, in the conflict of the Senate, in the strife of the forum, in ecclesiastical activity, in the ranks of educators, or in the heterogeneous but honorable array of social and political reformers, and the list will sound like a parish register of the province of Ulster, into which a foreign foundling has now and then been intruded. It is an incontrovertible truism to say that the United States of America constitute the contribution of Scotch-Irish genius to modern civilization.

But, Mr. Chairman, there is another side to this picture; and it is the one I would like to exhibit in strong relief. Great as is the debt of America to the Scotch-Irish, infinitely greater is the obligation of the Scotch-Irish to America. Let us brush away the distorting mists of prejudice and look the truth fairly in the face. We would depart from our traditions if we were not veracious and were not grateful. Antedate American independence, and you antedate the glory of Scotch-Irish history. Before that its fame is as the first gray streaks of dawn; thereafter it is as the day star when he "flames in the forehead of the morning sky." America presented a theater for the development and exercise of the Scotch-Irish genius that it had never enjoyed when confined to the knuckle end of an island, and wasn't on speaking terms with its neighbors. No people will ever exhibit heroic qualities where they neither govern nor are oppressed. This was the singular fate of the Scotch-Irish. They were quartered upon a country that was not their home by a power that never failed to remind them of their dependence and obligation. It would be difficult to devise circumstances better calculated to dwarf and repress all that was great, noble, and generous in people. Nothing is more marvelous in the history of the Scotch-Irish than that they survived the blight of so baleful a situation. They must have been made of good stuff not to sink to the level of surroundings so depressing. But they kept their pride, they kept their thrift, they kept the schoolmaster always in commission, they read their Bibles and they never revised their Shorter Catechism. It would be vain to speculate as to what would have been their fate had destiny confined them to the contracted situation and limited opportunities in which English diplomacy had placed them. But America beckoned them across the wave, and they came with eager steps. No great enterprise over found fitter agents for its consummation; no people ever found a fitter task for the highest development and exercise of all that is heroic and excellent in human nature. The most momentous social experiment of the ages was to be tested here. The young republic was to have her foundations laid, and on the soundness and solidity of that work depended the hope of free government, the fate of unborn millions.

The exceptional adaptation of the Scotch-Irish for this imposing duty consisted in their peculiar freedom from insular affections and narrowing traditions. A new nation was to be formed here, free, unfettered, and independent. The aggressive spirit of nationalism needed for such a task could not have been found among a people trammeled by the bias of fatherland. The Scotch-Irish became instinct with the American spirit the moment they landed on our shores. It was not necessary for them to be first denuded of any old world political prejudices before they could adjust themselves to the needs and aspirations of the new republic.

Fortunately for themselves and for the country, they were neither English, nor Irish, no: Scotch, but were a composite and nondescript quality that could adopt at once the loose-fitting and airy garments of Democracy in which every limb and muscle had room for free and vigorous action. In their evolution they had subsidized the better traits of all three races and the blended result required a new environment to fairly display its capacities. I hope I will not be misunderstood, therefore, when I say that their success and their value in the republic is due to the fact that the Scotch-Irish came here without any bias of patriotism. Their attachments were ethical and intellectual, not local. They were prejudiced toward ideas and principles, not places nor systems. This is the only true patriotism, and it is the patriotism of the New Testament. One of the greatest blessings of Christianity is that it delocalized patriotism; it enlarged vicinage. "And who is my neighbor?" said the captious lawyer to the Saviour. The Master's answer was that beautiful parable, concluding with the searching question: "Which now of those three thinkest thou was neighbor unto him that fell among the thieves?" This answer rang the death knell of the clan and made patriotism comprehend humanity. A narrower conception of the brotherhood of man would not have served for the corner stone of American Democracy. The tribal instinct of the future was to be the cohesive force of moral affinities.

The Scotch-Irish, as I have said, happily came here with no local prejudices or predelictions of race, and therefore at once became the most intensely American element in our population. I leave to others the history of their achievements. I desire only to emphasize a few of the principles which they so largely contributed to implant in our institutions and national life, and to plead with their descendants of to-day to live up to and uphold them.

At no time in our history, so much as now, have we needed that the essential principles of our institutions should be clearly understood and enforced, for at no time have they been menaced by foes so insidious and dangerous. When the republic was founded and when our ancestors were establishing and perfecting its systems, its enemies were all without, and open and avowed. To-day we harbor within our borders and protect with our flag the deadliest foes to our most cherished hopes.

The three cardinal virtues of American citizenship as typified by the Scotch-Irish were these: intelligence, morality, and respect for law. They may seem like simple requisites for citizenship, but they are the seminal principles out of which grew those triple towers of our strength: free schools, Christian homes, and constitutional liberty. Anything hostile to these is un-American; faith in them and fidelity to them will characterize every worthy citizen of the republic and every true descendant of the Scotch-Irish.

Our ancestors were possessed of an almost sublime faith in the capacity of the people for self-government, but they believed those only to be free "whom the truth makes free." Illiteracy they esteemed as the dry rot of Democratic institutions. To be thrall to ignorance was to be foe to freedom. They knew that to intrust the ignorant with power was to equip the most hideous form of despotism. They therefore instituted the duty of education as the law of self-preservation in the state: they established common schools. Are the descendants of the Scotch-Irish mindful of the lesson?

Sixty millions of people now live under the republic. There were only about three millions when Patrick Henry startled the House of Burgesses with incipient rebellion. Whence came and who compose this vast accretion? They have thronged your cities; they have pushed your center of population to the Mississippi Valley; they have swelled your ranks of idle labor, and they are "weaponed with the freeman's vote." The fleets still come as they came before, and out of every sea they still bear down with human freight upon your friendly shores. Who makes inquisition of these hordes as to their fitness for American citizenship? Intelligence, morality, and respect for law—who applied these tests, when you put the jewels of the republic in their keeping? Intelligence! Read the census statistics as to the growing illiteracy of our foreign population. Morality! Go dredge the slums of your cities; go spend a day in the criminal courts; go visit the prisons and asylums. Respect for law! Ask New Orleans, ask Chicago, ask New York.

Mr. Chairman, if intelligence is to be a condition of citizenship, we will have need of our common schools. Leaving the matter of preventive legislation for the present, let us at least hold fast to what securities we have got. We will fail in our duty if we do not "keep watch and ward" over our common school system. No citizen imbued with the spirit of true Americanism will ever consent to a relinquishment in any degree of the control of the state over public education. If the wells be poisoned, what hope have we? The nursing mother should abide in her lord's house.

Carlyle described the French revolution as "truth clad in hell fire." That was not the kind of garment worn by the truth our revolutionists sought to establish. The Scotch-Irish had a suit of Sunday clothes for the American idea, and nurtured it at Christian firesides. It was a Pensylvania Scotch-Irish jurist who said that Christianity was a part of the common law of the land. We had an appointive judiciary when he announced this doctrine. The Christian Sabbath, the chastity of Christian marriage, and the morality of the decalogue were not accidents, but institutes in the establishment of the American republic.

"Absolute acquiescence in the will of the majority lawfully ascertained" was declared by the fathers to be "the vital principle" of the republic. This is the language of a President of Scotch-Irish descent in his inaugural address. It is a fundamental requirement of American citizenship. The outlaw, the dynamiter, the anarchist, and he who holds any other tenet or authority as supreme is unfitted to wear the American name. All such are hostile to constitutional government, and it is a protest against them.

A recent writer has said that the Scotch-Irish were characterized by pugnacity, tenacity, and veracity. I think this phraseology faulty as a definition, but without subscribing to the entire accuracy of the description, I wish the descendants of this race to-day would display vigorously all these traits in performing their obligations as citizens. Most of us, I fear, have been slumbering on our privileges and forgetting our duties. The more aggressive Americans we become the more loyal to our Scotch-Irish teachings we will be. I have tried to show why this is true by attempting to define the American idea as the Scotch-Irish taught it. In a brief address like this I could do no more than throw out a few hints. If our gathering together in societies like this and calling ourselves by the ancestral name shall serve to stimulate us to emulate the virtues of our ancestors, it will effect a laudable purpose. Let us, however, remember that calling ourselves by their name is nothing, and holding fast only to their more easy and convenient traits is nothing. We must take up their work, we must carry forward their ideas, we must imitate that in them that was heroic, noble, and self-sacrificing if we would be their worthy sons. Let us, whether in private life or public station, uphold, defend, and guard the ark and covenant of American national life from spoliation or contempt. May it not be said of us as was said of the degenerate Greeks:

You have the Pyrrhick dance as yet,
Where is the Pyrrhick phalanx gone?
Of two such lessons why forget
The nobler and the manlier one?


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