Remarks at the Bennington Monument in Bennington, Vermont
Mr. President and Fellow-Citizens:
There are several obvious reasons why I should not attempt to speak to you at this time. This great audience is so uncomfortably situated that a further prolongation of these exercises can not be desirable, but the stronger reason is that you have just listened with rapt attention to a most scholarly and interesting review of those historical incidents which have suggested this assemblage and to those lessons which they furnish to thoughtful and patriotic men. A son of Vermont, honored by his fellow-citizens, honored by the nation which he has served in distinguished public functions, honored by the profession of which he is an ornament and an instructor, has spoken for Vermont; and it does not seem to me fit that these golden sentences should be marred by any extemporaneous words which I can add. I come to you under circumstances that altogether forbid preparation. I have no other preparation for speech than this inspiring cup of good-will which you have presented to my lips. The most cordial welcome which has been extended to me to-day makes it unfitting that I should omit to make a cordial acknowledgment of it. Perhaps I may be permitted, as a citizen of a Western State, to give expression to the high regard and honor in which Vermont is held. Perhaps I may assume, as a public officer representing in some sense all the States of the Union, to bring to-day their appreciation of the history and people of this patriotic State. Its history is unique, as Mr. Phelps has said. The other colonies staked their lives, their fortunes and honor upon the struggle for independence, with the assurance that if, by their valor and sacrifice, independence was achieved, all these were assured. The inhabitants of the New Hampshire grants alone fought with their fellow-countrymen of the colonies for liberty, for political independence, unknowing whether, when it had been achieved, the property, the homes upon which they dwelt, would be assured by the success of the confederate colonies. They could not know-they had the gravest reason to fear-that when the authority of the confederation of the States had been established this very Government, to whose supremacy Vermont had so nobly contributed, might lend its authority to the establishment of the claims of New York upon their homes; and yet, in all this story, though security of property would undoubtedly have been pledged by the royal representative, Vermont took a conspicuous, unselfish, and glorious part in achieving the independence of the united colonies, trusting to the justice of her cause for the ultimate security of the homes of her people.
It is a most noble and unmatched history; and if I may deliver the message of Indiana as a citizen of that State, and as a public officer the message of all the States, I came to say, "Worthy Vermont!" She has kept the faith unfalteringly from Bennington until this day. She has added, in war and peace, many illustrious names to our roll of military heroes and of great statesmen. Her representation in the National Congress, as it has been known to me, has been conspicuous for its influence, for the position it has assumed in committee and in debate, and so far as I can recall, has been without personal reproach. We have occasionally come to Vermont with a call that did not originate with her people, and those have been answered with the same pure, high consecration to public duty as has been the case with those who have been chosen by your suffrages to represent the State, and I found when the difficult task of arranging a Cabinet was devolved upon me that I could not get along without a Vermont stick in it, and I am sure you have plenty of timber left in each of the great political parties. The participation of this State in the war of the rebellion was magnificent. Her troops took to the fields of the South that high consecration to liberty which had characterized their fathers in the Revolutionary struggle. They did not forget, on the hot savannas of the South, the green tops of these hills, ever in their vision lifting up their hearts in faith that God would again bring the good cause of freedom to a just issue. We are to-day approaching the conclusion of a summer of extraordinary fruitfulness. How insignificant the stores that were gathered at Bennington in 1777 compared with these great storehouses bursting with fullness to-day! Our excess meets the deficiency of Europe, and a ready market is offered for all our cereals. We shall grow richer by contributions which other countries shall make as they take from our storehouses the food needed to sustain their people. But after all, it is not the census tables of production or of wealth that tell the story of the greatness of this country. Vermont has not been one of the rich states of the Union in gold and silver, and its lands have not given the returns that some of the fertile riversides of the West yield. There has been here constant effort and honest toil; but out of all this there has been brought a sturdy manhood, which is better than riches, on which rather than on wealth the security of our country rests. I beg you to accept my sincere thanks again for the evidence of your friendliness, and my apology that the conditions are not such as to enable me to speak as I could wish.
Benjamin Harrison, Remarks at the Bennington Monument in Bennington, Vermont Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/276685