Benjamin Harrison photo

Remarks During Decoration Day Ceremonies in Independence Hall, Philadelphia

May 30, 1891

Mr. Mayor, Comrades of the Grand Army of the Republic, and Fellow-Citizens:

I esteem it a great pleasure to stand in this historic edifice, in this historic city, to take part to-day as a comrade of the Grand Army of the Republic in these instructive and interesting exercises, which have been instituted to keep alive in our hearts the memories of patriotic devotion and sacrifice. It is eminently appropriate that we should stand for a little before we go to the graves of our dead in this edifice where the foundation declarations of independence and of civil government were made and put into that course of development which has brought our nation to its present position of prosperity and of influence among the nations of the earth.

I have recently, in an extended trip, been able to see what the flower is of the seed that was planted here. We are here, in Philadelphia, a community instituted upon the principles of peace and good will among men; and yet, in a community that had given conspicuous illustration of the fact that the fruits of peace may sometimes be made to be defended by the valor of soldiers, you did not at all depart from the great lessons which were taught by the founders of this great colony, when, uniting with your comrades from all the States, you went out into the field to hold up this banner; to maintain a peace which should be perpetual and pervading in all the States. Obedience to law is the first element of domestic peace and social order. You went out to maintain, and have established, as I believe, again in the affections of all our people, the old flag of our fathers, and have settled perpetually the question of loyal submission to the Constitution and the law in all the States. It has been settled to the great contentment and happiness of all our people, and brought what any other nation could have brought, prosperity to every section and every State.

I appreciate most highly this generous welcome which you extend to me, and shall take part in these exercises of the day with a sense of their fitness and of the great events which they commemorate.

I have never been able to think of the day as one of mourning; I have never quite been able to feel that half-masted flags were appropriate on Decoration Day. I have rather felt that the flag should be at the peak, because those whose dying we commemorate rejoiced in seeing it where their valor placed it. We honor them in a joyous, thankful, triumphant commemoration of what they did. We mourn for them as comrades who have departed, but we feel the glory of their dying and the glory of their achievement covers all our great country, and has set them in an imperishable roll of honor.

Benjamin Harrison, Remarks During Decoration Day Ceremonies in Independence Hall, Philadelphia Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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