Address at the Dedication Ceremony for the Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument in Rochester, New York
Every external condition, and some internal conditions affecting my strength, admonish me that I should speak to you with brevity. I have enjoyed greatly the exercises which are now being consummated in this beautiful city. You have met a great occasion greatly. I have never seen anywhere a more magnificent expression of patriotism than I have witnessed here.
These streets upon which the institutions of trade have been for a time covered with the starry banner, this great marching column in which the veterans of the war inarch again to the old music and follow with faithful hearts the old flag that they may do honor to those brave comrades who were permitted under God to make a supremer sacrifice than they to the flag they dearly love; these following companies of the children of our public and parochial schools; these banners, the music of drum and fife and bugle, the cheering multitude, the great open-hearted, loving expression which we saw as we moved along your streets, all testify to the fact that our Constitution, our civic institutions, and that glorious flag that symbolizes them, are set upon a granite foundation in the people's hearts. As the old hymn says, "What can shake our sure repose?" If we should fail, comrades, to meet any occasion of peril which may be in the pathway of this nation, it seems to me that the trundle-beds of this country would furnish its defenders. War is not attractive to our people. We have not many of that class of men, of whom we sometimes heard during the war, who would rather fight than eat.
I had one of that class in my regiment, and he got into the ditch the first serious engagement we became involved in. No, our people are smitten with the love of peace. We had not before the civil war so much cultivated in the North as had our friends in the South the military spirit. We were a peaceful people. They said, but they will say so no more, that we were a craven set of peddlers. It took a great deal to separate the home-loving, peaceful people from their homes-these farmers and artisans and clerks and professional men.
It must be a strong pull that could withdraw them from association that so closely bound their affections and their lives, but when the moment came and the dreaded war was present, with what magnificent self-denial, with what alacrity every family tie and every commercial interest were put beneath the supreme duty to save the nation and redeem the flag from dishonor. Out of this war we have brought a mutual respect that would not otherwise have been possible.
Some of us fancied that the Southern people were given to vaporing-that each one of them was equal to five Northern soldiers. But the South learned that Paul Revere still rode the highways of Massachusetts, and that the man of Concord still plowed his fields. And we, on our part, learned that the spirit of the cavalier which was found in the Southern army was combined with the reserve and steadfastness of Cromwell's Ironsides.
We have found a plane of mutual respect, and I am glad of it; and not only this, but we have found a common country. I do not think-indeed, I am sure that no war ever waged in history before our civil war brought equal blessings to the victor and to the vanquished. No companies of weary, sad-eyed captives at the chariot wheel adorned our triumph and return. We brought into full participation in the glories of restored Union those who had mistakenly sought to destroy it.
It gladdens my heart now to believe that the love of the old flag is so revived in these Southern hearts that they would vie with martial ardor to be in front of the charge if we should ever be called to meet a common enemy. Glorious victory and God-given and God-blessed peace! No yoke upon the defeated except that yoke which we wore, comrades, when we resumed our place as citizens-the obligation to obey the Constitution, and all laws made in pursuance of it, as the condition of peaceful citizenship.
We are happy in our great national isolation-happy, as your distinguished orator has said, that we do not need to burden our people to maintain standing armies, and do not live under a perpetual threat that the chariot wheels of war may roll through our peaceful villages. No nation in the world is able to wage war, on our soil, with the United States, and when the generous work upon which we have entered of building, equipping, and manning a suitable navy is completed, no nation in the world will be hasty to engage us upon the sea.
We are now entering into competition with the great nations of the world in the markets of the world. We will push these purposes peacefully.
The diplomacy of the United States has always been a sentimental diplomacy. We do not push our trade by the bayonet, by aggression, by the subjugation of helpless people. We push it only upon the basis of friendliness and mutual trade advantage. Holding up the dignity and honor of our country, we shall expect others to respect our rights as we shall respect theirs.
United we will enter upon a career of wealth and development, accompanied by the sweet influences of the school, of the churches, of the home-refining, the gold of trade-by their purifying influences to save, under God, the great heritage, committing to His care the generation that is to take from our lips these lessons of patriotism that they may be fitted, if such an exigency should come, to do the part their fathers did.
What they did who can tell? We say you saved the nation. Who can expand that thought until its full meaning is before the soul? Who can look down the pages of history and say what one issue would have involved in disaster, contention, weakness, and blood, and what the other has involved on this ascending plane of brightness and glory.
Benjamin Harrison, Address at the Dedication Ceremony for the Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument in Rochester, New York Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/276760