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Remarks at the Cornerstone Laying Ceremony for the Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument in Indianapolis

August 22, 1889

Mr. President and Fellow-Citizens:

I did not expect to make any address on this occasion. It would have been pleasant, if I could have found leisure to make suitable preparation, to have accepted the invitation of the committee having these exercises in charge to deliver an oration. I would have felt it an honor to associate my name with an occasion so great as this. Public duties, however, prevented the acceptance of the invitation, and I could only promise to be present with you to-day. It seemed to me most appropriate that I should take part with my fellow-citizens of Indiana in this great ceremony. There have been few occasions in the history of our State so full of interest, so magnificent, so inspiring, as that which we now witness. The suggestion that a monument should be builded to commemorate the valor and heroism of those soldiers of Indiana who gave their lives for the flag attracted my interest from the beginning. Five years ago last January, when the people assembled in the opera house yonder to unveil the statue which had been worthily set up to our great war governor, I ventured to express the hope that near by it, as a twin expression of one great sentiment, there might be builded a noble shaft, not to any man, not to bear on any of its majestic faces the name of a man, but a monument about which the sons of veterans, the mothers of our dead, the widows that are yet with us, might gather, and, pointing to the stately shaft, say: "There is his monument." The hope expressed that day is realized now.

I congratulate the people of Indiana that our legislature has generously met the expectations of our patriotic people. I congratulate the commission having this great work in charge that they have secured a design which will not suffer under the criticism of the best artists of the world. I congratulate you that a monument so costly as to show that we value that which it commemorates, so artistic as to express the sentiment which evoked it, is to stand in the capital of Indiana. Does anyone say there is wastefulness here? My countrymen, $200,000 has never passed, and never will pass, from the treasury of Indiana that will give a better return than the expenditure for the erection of this monument. As I have witnessed these ceremonies and listened to these patriotic hymns I have read in the faces of the men who stand about me that lifting up of the soul, that kindling of patriotic fire, that has made me realize that on such occasions the nation is laying deep and strong its future security.

This is a monument by Indiana to Indiana soldiers. But I beg you to remember that they were only soldiers of Indiana until the enlistment oath was taken; that from that hour until they came back to the generous State that had sent them forth they were soldiers of the Union. So that it seemed to me not inappropriate that I should bring to you to-day the sympathy and cheer of the loyal people of all the States. No American citizen need avoid it or pass it with unsympathetic eyes, for, my countrymen, it does not commemorate a war of subjugation. There is not in the United States to-day a man who, if he realizes what has occurred since the war and has opened his soul to the sight of that which is to come, who will not feel that it is good for all our people that victory crowned the cause which this monument commemorates. I do seriously believe that if we can measure among the States the benefits resulting from the preservation of the Union, the rebellious States have the larger share. It destroyed an institution that was their destruction. It opened the way for a commercial life that, if they will only embrace it and face the light, means to them a development that shall rival the best attainments of the greatest of our States.

And now let me thank you for your pleasant greeting. I have felt lifted up by this occasion. It seems to me that our spirits have been borne up to meet those of the dead and glorified, and that from this place we shall go to our homes more resolutely set in our purpose as citizens to conserve the peace and welfare of our neighborhoods, to hold up the dignity and honor of our free institutions, and to see that no harm shall come to our country, whether from internal dissensions or from the aggressions of a foreign foe.

Benjamin Harrison, Remarks at the Cornerstone Laying Ceremony for the Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument in Indianapolis Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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