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Address on the Centennial of Washington's Inauguration at a Banquet at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City

April 30, 1889

Mr. President and Fellow-Citizens:

I should be unjust to myself, and, what is more serious, I should be unjust to you, if I did not at this first and last opportunity express to you the deep sense of obligation and thankfulness which I feel for these many personal and official courtesies which have been extended to me since I came to take part in this celebration. The official representatives of the State of New York and of this great city have attended me with the most courteous kindness, omitting no attention that could make my stay among you pleasant and gratifying. From you and at the hands of those who have thronged the streets of the city to-day I have received the most cordial expressions of good will. I would not, however, have you understand that these loud acclaims have been in any sense appropriated as a personal tribute to myself. I have realized that there was in this occasion and all these interesting incidents which have made it so profoundly impressive to my mind that which was above and greater than any living man. I have realized that the tribute of cordial interest which you have manifested was rendered to that great office which, by the favor of a greater people, I now exercise, rather than to me.

The occasion and all of its incidents will be memorable not only in the history of your own city, but in the history of our country. New York did not succeed in retaining the seat of National Government here, although she made liberal provision for the assembling of the first Congress in the expectation that the Congress might find its permanent home here. But though you lost that which you coveted, I think the representatives here of all the States will agree that it was fortunate that the first inauguration of Washington took place in the State and city of New York.

For where in our country could the centennial of the event be so worthily celebrated as here? What seaboard offered so magnificent a bay on which to display our merchant and naval marine? What city offered thoroughfares so magnificent, or a people so great, so generous, as New York has poured out to-day to celebrate that event?

I have received at the hands of the committee who have been charged with the details-onerous, exacting, and too often unthankful of this demonstration evidence of their confidence in my physical endurance.

I must also acknowledge still one other obligation. The committee having in charge the exercises of this event have also given me another evidence of their confidence, which has been accompanied with some embarrassment. As I have noticed the progress of this banquet, it seemed to me that each of the speakers had been made acquainted with his theme before he took his seat at the banquet, and that I alone was left to make acquaintance with my theme when I sat down to the table. I prefer to substitute for the official title which is upon the programme the familiar and fireside expression, "Our Country."

I congratulate you to-day, as one of the instructive and interesting features of this occasion, that these great thoroughfares dedicated to trade have closed their doors and covered up the insignias of commerce; that your great exchanges have closed and your citizens given themselves up to the observance of the celebration in which we are participating.

I believe that patriotism has been intensified in many hearts by what we have witnessed to-day. I believe that patriotism has been placed in a higher and holier fane in many hearts. The bunting with which you have covered your walls, these patriotic inscriptions, must go down and the wage and trade be resumed again. Here may I not ask you to carry those inscriptions that now hang on the walls into your homes, into the schools of your city, into all of your great institutions where children are gathered, and teach them that the eye of the young and the old should look upon that flag as one of the familiar glories of every American? Have we not learned that no stocks and bonds, nor land, is our country? It is a spiritual thought that is in our minds-it is the flag and what it stands for; it is the fireside and the home; it is the thoughts that are in our hearts, born of the inspiration which comes with the story of the flag, of martyrs to liberty. It is a graveyard into which a common country has gathered the unconscious deeds of those who died that the thing might live which we love and call our country, rather than anything that can be touched or seen.

Let me add a thought due to our country's future. Perhaps never have we been so well equipped for war upon land as now, and we have never seen the time when our people were more smitten with the love of peace. To elevate the morals of our people; to hold up the law as that sacred thing which, like the ark of God of old, may not be touched by irreverent hands, but frowns upon any attempt to dethrone its supremacy; to unite our people in all that makes home comfortable, as well as to give our energies in the direction of material advancement, this service may we render. And out of this great demonstration let us draw lessons to inspire us to consecrate ourselves anew to this love and service of our country.

Benjamin Harrison, Address on the Centennial of Washington's Inauguration at a Banquet at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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