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Oration - July 4th - 1826
George Bancroft - 07/04/1826

George Bancroft (1800-1891)

George Bancroft is one of the nation’s foremost historians, titled “The Father of American History” for his herculean and groundbreaking efforts in that field. Bancroft was also a high-ranking and noted political figure, being accorded honors rarely bestowed on any citizen.

George Bancroft was the son of the famous minister, the Rev. Aaron Bancroft, who authored the popular 1807 work, The Life of Washington. (Rev. Bancroft was a traditionalist remembered as the last person in his part of Massachusetts to wear the three-cornered hat and the short kneelength pants.) Aaron’s regular prayer at family meals had been, “Give us a teachable temper”; his son George epitomized that answered prayer.

At the age of eleven, George went to Phillips Exeter Academy and at thirteen entered Harvard. After graduation, he remained at Harvard for an additional year pursuing the study of divinity and then spent the next four years in Germany, France, Italy, Switzerland (and elsewhere), continuing his studies in Biblical learning and Asian languages. During his time in Europe, he earned both a master’s degree and a doctorate.

After his return to Boston, Bancroft pursued a teaching profession and accepted offers to fill pulpits. However, he became dissatisfied with his own efforts both in education and the ministry and instead found his fulfillment in public writing. In the 1820s and 1830s, he was a frequent contributor to the popular periodical, the North American Review, authoring articles on financial, historical, political, and academic topics. In 1834, he began work on his magnum opus: the History of the United States – a project that spanned four full decades, with the last volume (volume ten) being published in 1874.

During that same time, Bancroft was heavily involved in a number of political endeavors. In 1837, he authored a Thanksgiving proclamation for New York Governor William Marcy and also received a presidential appointment from President Martin Van Buren. In 1844, as Secretary of the Navy for President James K. Polk, he was responsible for the establishment of the Naval Academy at Annapolis as well as for advancing the work of the Naval Observatory. And while serving as Secretary of War, Bancroft oversaw military action in the early stages of the US-Mexican War of 1845.

Bancroft originally pursued his career as a Democrat and even delivered the official eulogy following the death of Democratic President Andrew Jackson. However, because Democrats promoted slavery and strongly supported the secession of the South from the Union during the Civil War, Bancroft supported Republican leaders and even delivered the official eulogy following the death of Republican President Abraham Lincoln.

This oration by Bancroft was his first in what became a long and impressive list of public orations and writings. It was delivered in Northampton, Massachusetts – an historic town with a rich legacy. Established in 1654 as a Puritan settlement on land purchased from the Indians, the town was home to famous leaders and the site of several important historic events. For example, Jonathan Edwards – a leading minister in America’s First Great Awakening – pastored a church in Northampton; and Northampton was also the area of the famous Shays’ Rebellion following the American Revolution in which Daniel Shays and a number of farmers revolted against the State government in protest of tax policies and farm seizures – a rebellion that was forcefully quelled.

Northampton was also an innovative educational center, housing schools for girls and for the deaf (two clienteles often neglected in America during those years). In fact, it was in Northampton that Bancroft had opened a boy’s school three years before this oration. Even though Northampton was a booming town in those days, it was still small by today’s standards.

On the national scene, the electoral college had been unable to garner a majority of votes for any one of the four candidates in the presidential election, so the House of Representatives elected antislavery leader John Quincy Adams as President; his arch nemesis, pro-slavery leader John C. Calhoun, had been elected his Vice-President by the Senate. American hero and favorite adopted son Marquis de Lafayette was making a final farewell tour across the United States, being greeted in city after city by massive, cheering crowds.

On the domestic scene, the University of Virginia – the last great work of Thomas Jefferson’s hands – had just opened its doors; the steam railroad engine had just been invented; the tin can was patented; Davy Crockett was newly elected to Congress; James Fenimore Cooper had published Last of the Mohicans; San Francisco Bay had just been mapped; and the first American warship had visited Hawaii.

Significantly, this oration was delivered on the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence – the day that both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died (although public knowledge of these events was not yet known at the time of this oration), leaving alive only one remaining signer of the Declaration: Charles Carroll of Maryland.

Bancroft’s oration looks first at the powerful influence of liberty throughout the world. He then examines American liberty, noting that the world was being united by the unique ideas of liberty flowing from America. Bancroft’s oration is full of thankfulness to God for His blessings upon America. In fact, it opens with the line “Our act of celebration begins with God” and closes with a similar sentiment, challenging Americans to a recognition of the hand of God both in our history and in our future. Bancroft’s oration is an uplifting look at the uniqueness of American liberty.

(This biography for George Bancroft as well as the oration itself are taken from David Barton’s book Celebrate Liberty! Famous Patriotic Speeches & Sermons. This book is available here.)

Our act of celebration begins with God. To the eternal Providence – on Which states depend and by Whose infinite mercy they are prospered – the nation brings its homage and the tribute of its gratitude. From the omnipotent Power Who dwells in the unclouded serenity of being without variableness or shadow of change [James 1:17], we proceed as from the Fountain of Good, the Author of Hope, and the Source of Order and Justice, now that we assemble to commemorate the revolution, the independence, and the advancement of our country!

No sentiments should be encouraged on this occasion but those of patriotism and philanthropy. When the names of our venerated fathers were affixed to the instrument which declared our independence, an impulse and confidence were imparted to all efforts at improvement throughout the world. The festival which we keep is the festival of freedom itself – it belongs not to us only but to man. All the nations of the earth have an interest in it, and humanity proclaims it sacred!

In the name of LIBERTY, therefore, I bid you welcome to the celebration of its jubilee 1 ; in the name of our COUNTRY, I bid you welcome to the recollection of its glories and joy in its prosperity; in the name of HUMANITY, I welcome you to a festival which commemorates an improvement in the social condition; in the name of RELIGION, I welcome you to a profession of the principles of public justice which emanate directly from God! These principles are eternal not only in their truth but in their efficacy [effectiveness]. The world has never been entirely without witnesses to them; they have been safely transmitted through the succession of generations; they have survived the revolutions of individual states and their final success has never been despaired of. Liberty has its foundation in human nature and some portion of it exists wherever there is a sense of honor. Are proofs of its existence demanded?

As the mixture of good and evil is the condition of our earthly being, the efficient agency of good must be sought for even in the midst of evil – the impulse of free spirits is felt in every state of society and in spite of all constraint! There may have been periods in which the human mind has sunk into slothful indifference, the arm of exertion been paralyzed, and every noble aspiration hushed in the tranquility of universal submission, but even in such periods the world has never been left utterly without hope. And when the breath of tyranny has most effectually concealed the sun of liberty and shrouded in darkness the magnificence of his beams, it has been but for a season.

Tomorrow he repairs the golden flood, And gilds [adorns] the nations with redoubled ray [rainbow]. [These lines come from a 1752 poem called “The Bard” by famous English poet Thomas Gray (1716-1771).]

Nature concedes to every people the right of executing whatever plans they may devise for their improvement, and the right of maintaining their independence. Of the exercise of these rights there have always been examples. The innate love of national liberty proceeds from an impulse and waits only for all opportunity to demonstrate its power. It has aroused the brave and generous from the first periods of history to the present moment and has been a principle of action under every form of government. It was this which made Marathon the watchword of those who fight for their country 2 ; this pointed the arrows of the Parthian 3 ; this lent an air of romance to the early history of the Swiss and gained the battles of Morgarten and Sempach 4 ; this inspired the Dutch when their freedom was endangered by the arms of Louis XIV and could be secured by no smaller sacrifice than to lay the soil of Holland beneath the ocean 5 ; this blessed the banners that waved on Bunker Hill and canonized the memory of those who fell as the elect martyrs and witnesses to their country’s independence 6 ; this made the French republic invincible when it stood alone against the world 7 ; this, which formerly at Pultova had taught the Russians to fight 8 , sacrificed Moscow, a splendid victim, on the altar of national existence 9 ; this united the mangled limbs of Germany, breathed a spirit once more into the long divided members, and led them against the French as if impelled by the throbbings of one mighty heart! 10 What need of many words? This made New Orleans a place of proud recollections 11 , and still more recently has raised its boldest standard under the Southern sky and finished a career of victory in the field of Ayacucho 12 . . . . The historians, the orators, the philosophers are the natural advocates of civil liberty. From all countries and all ages we have the same testimony – it is the chorus of the whole family of nations.

The events of the last fifty years lead us to hope that liberty – so long militant – is at length triumphant. From our own Revolution the period derives its character. As on the morning of the nativity, the astonished wizards hastened with sweet odors on the Eastern road, [This refers to the birth of Christ, when the three wise men traveled to see the young babe (Matthew 2:1-12)] our government had hardly come into being and the star of liberty shed over us its benignant [kindly] light before the nations began to follow its guidance and do homage to its beauty. The French Revolution followed our own, and new principles of action were introduced into the politics of Europe. The melancholy events which ensued must be carefully distinguished from the original resistance to unlimited monarchy. . . . The torch of freedom was in their hands (though it had been seized with profane recklessness). 13 The light did indeed glare with a wild and terrific splendor, yet as it waved round the continent of Europe its beams reached the furthest kingdoms and startled tyranny in its securest recesses. . . .

But whatever may be the chances that popular sovereignty will finally prevail in Europe, that continent is no longer to the world what she once was. She has fulfilled her high destiny; she has been for many centuries the sole depositary and guardian of all that is most valuable in government, letters [learning], and invention [science] in present enjoyment and religious hope. But human culture has at length been transplanted to other climes [regions of the earth], and already grown to a more beautiful maturity. Whatever destiny may hang over Europe, mankind is safe. Intelligence and religion have found another home. Not only in our own free States, the Cross is planted on each side the Andes; 14 and the rivers which empty into either ocean fertilize the abodes of civilization.

A more admirable and cheering spectacle, therefore, than Europe can offer is exhibiting in our own hemisphere. A family of free states has at once come into being and already flourishes on a soil which till now had been drooping under colonial thralldom. 15 Our happiness is increased by the wide diffusion of the blessings of free institutions.

And it is a pleasing consciousness that the example of our fathers taught these new republics what were their rights and how they might assert them. . . . Will you not all coincide with me when I say we feel for man – not for a single race of men; and wherever liberty finds followers (as wherever Christ has disciples), be it that English or Indian, Spanish or African blood pours in their veins, we greet them as brethren! . . .

[This] age has been fertile in strange contrasts – in unforeseen and unparalleled events. Europe is filled with the shadows of departed states and the graves of ruined republics. In the North, an adventurer of fortune has succeeded to the Swedish throne and the legitimate King lives quietly in exile; 16 Rome was once more made the head of a republic. The secular power of the Pope – annihilated for a season – was restored by the help of Turks, Russians, and English, infidels, Schismatics, and Heretics. 17 An army of Europeans, having in its train a band of scientific men, pitched its victorious camp at the foot of the Pyramids. The solitary banks of the Nile again became the temporary abode of glory and civilization; and again the bands of armed men poured through the hundred gates of the long deserted Thebes 18 . . . . The whole East has been a scene of continued turbulence till at last a corporation of merchants residing in a distant island has reduced seventy millions of people to subjection. 19 And finally, to notice a singular fact in our own history, he whose eloquent pen [Thomas Jefferson] gave freedom its charter . . . [and] whose principles are identified with the character of our government and whose influence is identified with the progress of civil liberty throughout the world – after declining to be a third time elected to the highest station in the service of his country – has not preserved on his retirement (I will not say fortune enough to bury him with honor) – has not saved the means of supporting the decline of life with decency 20 ! . . .

While the United States show to what condition a nation is carried by establishing a government strictly national, we have in Russia and in Haiti examples of a military despotism; in England a preponderating [all-powerful] aristocracy; in France a monarchy with partial limitations; in Prussia an absolute monarchy, yet dependent for its strength on the spirit of the people; in Naples, the old-fashioned system of absolute caprice [lawlessness]. Let men reason if they will on the different systems of government; the history of the age is showing from actual experiment which of them best promotes the ends of the social compact.

Thought has been active in our times not with speculative questions but in devising means for improving the social condition. Efforts have been made to diffuse Christianity throughout the world. The cannibal of the South Sea forgets his horrid purpose and listens to the instructions of religion; the light of the Sabbath morn is welcomed by the mild inhabitants of the Pacific islands; and Africa and Australia have not remained unvisited. Colonies which were first established on the Guinea coast for the traffic in slaves have been renewed for the more effectual suppression of that accursed trade. 21 . . .

I turn from the consideration of foreign revolutions to our own condition and meet with nothing but what may animate our joy and increase our hopes. . . . In whatever direction we turn our eyes, we find one unclouded scene of prosperity – everywhere marks of advancement and increasing opulence [affluency]. . . . I will ask you to look around at your own fields and firesides, your own business and prospects. There is not one desirable privilege which we do not enjoy – there is not one social advantage that reason can covet which is not ours. I speak not merely of our equal rights to engage in any pursuit that promises emolument [profit] or honor, I speak also of the advantages which we are always enjoying – security in our occupations, liberty of conscience, the certain rewards of labor; . . . moral order pervades an industrious population, intelligence is diffused among our yeomanry [average citizens], the plow is in the hands of its owner, and the neat aspect of our farmhouses proves them the abode of contentment and successful diligence!

Nor are we without our recollections. I never can think without reverence of the spirited veteran who, on the morning of the seventeenth of June, in the seventieth year of his age, was hastening on horseback as a volunteer to Bunker Hill; but coming to Charlestown Neck and finding the fire from the British ships so severe that crossing was extremely dangerous, coolly sent back the animal which he had borrowed of a friend and shouldering his musket, marched over on foot! When the Americans saw him approach, they raised a shout and the name of Pomeroy ran along the lines. 22 Since the ashes of the gallant soldier do not rest among us, let us the more do honor to his memory! We have raised a simple monument to his name in our graveyard but his body reposes where he breathed out life on his country’s service, in the maturity of years and yet a martyr!

Even before that time and before the hour of immediate danger when the boldest spirits might have wavered in gloomy uncertainty and precious moments were wasting in indecision, one of our own citizens, my friends – his memory is still fresh among us – had been the first to cry in a voice which was heard beyond the Potomac, “We must fight!” And when some alternative was desired and reconciliation hoped from inactivity and delay, clearly saw the absolute necessity of the case and did but repeat, “We must fight!” It was in front of the very place where we are now assembled that the hearts of our fathers were cheered and their resolution confirmed by the eloquence of Hawley. 23

And what is the cause and the guarantee of our happiness? What but the principles of our Constitution! When our fathers assembled to prepare it, the genius of history admitted them to the secrets of destiny and taught them by the failures of the past to provide for the happiness of future generations. No model was offered them which it seemed safe to imitate; the Constitution established a government on entirely liberal principles [unselfish principles that benefit the general public rather than a few elite] such as the world had never beheld in practice. The sovereignty of the people is the basis of the system. With the people the power resides – both theoretically and practically. The government is a democracy – a determined, uncompromising democracy – administered immediately by the people or by the people’s responsible agents. In all the European treatises on political economy – and even in the state-papers of the Holy Alliance – the welfare of the people is acknowledged to be the object of government. We believe so too. But as each man’s interests are safest in his own keeping, so in like manner the interests of the people can best be guarded by themselves. . . .

We believe the sovereign power should reside equally among the people. We acknowledge no hereditary distinctions and we confer on no man prerogatives [superiority] or peculiar privileges. Even the best services rendered the state cannot destroy this original and essential equality. Legislation and justice are not hereditary offices – no one is born to power, no one dandled [pampered] into political greatness! Our government – as it rests for support on reason and our interests – needs no protection from a nobility. And the strength and ornament of the land consist in its industry and morality, its justice and intelligence. The states of Europe are all intimately allied with the church and fortified by religious sanctions. We approve of the influence of the religious principle on public not less than on private life, but we hold religion to be an affair between each individual conscience and God, superior to all political institutions and independent of them. Christianity was neither introduced nor reformed by the civil power. And with us the modes of worship are in no wise prescribed by the state. Thus, then, the people governs – and solely; it does not divide its power with a hierarchy, a nobility, or a king. The popular voice is all powerful with us. This is our oracle; this we acknowledge is the voice of God! . . . The interests of the people are the interests of the individuals who compose the people. . . . We give the power to the many [the people] in the hope and to the end that they may use it for their own benefit – that they may always so legislate as to open the fairest career to industry and promote an equality founded on the safe and equitable influence of the laws. We do not fear – we rather invite – the operation of the common motives which influence humanity. . . .

The laws of the land are sacred – they are established by the majority for the general good. Private rights are sacred – the protection of them is the end of law and government. When the rules of justice are trampled on, or the power of maintaining it wrested from the hands of its appointed guardians, there is tyranny – let it be done where and by whom it may, in the Old World or in the New, by a monarch or by a mob. Liberty frowns on such deeds as attacks on her safety, for liberty knows nothing of passion. She is the daughter of God and dwells in unchanging tranquility beside His throne; her serene countenance is never ruffled by excitement; reason and justice are the pillars of her seat, and truth and virtue the angels that minister unto her. When you come with violence and angry fury, do you pretend to come in her name? In vain; she is not there; even now she has escaped from among you! Thus, then, our government is strictly national, having its origin in the will of the people, its object in their happiness, its guarantee in their morality. [Our] government [is] essentially radical (in so far as it aims to facilitate the prompt reform of abuses) and essentially leveling (as it prohibits hereditary distinctions and tends to diminish artificial ones). . . .

And that our glory as a nation might in nothing be wanting, the men to whom the people first confided their interests – they whose names stand highest in the annals of our glory – the statesmen by whose voice the pure spirit of the country expressed its desires – the leaders by whose bravery and skill our citizens were conducted to success in the contest for their rights – were of undoubted integrity and spotless patriotism, men in whom the elements of human greatness were so happily mixed that as their principles were generous and elevated, so their lives were distinguished by a course of honorable action and the sacrifice of private advantage to the public good! . . . [And t]he political privileges of the people correspond with the moral greatness of our illustrious men. . . .

In possession of complete personal independence, our religious liberty is entire; our press without restrictions; the channels of wealth and honor alike open to all; the cause of intelligence asserted and advanced by the people! In our houses, our churches, our halls of justice, our legislatures – everywhere there is liberty! . . . Soul is breathed into the public administration by the suffrages [votes] of the people, and the aspect of our policy on the world is favorable to universal improvement.

The dearest interests of mankind were entrusted to our country. It was for her to show that the aspirations of former ages were not visionary – that freedom is something more than a name – that the patriots and the States that have been martyrs in its defense were struggling in a sacred cause and fell in the pursuit of a real good. The great spirits of former times looked down from their celestial abodes to cheer and encourage her in the hour of danger [c.f., Hebrews 12:1]. The nations of the earth turned towards her as to their last hope. And the country has not deceived them. . . . Liberty is her device [banner]; liberty is her glory; liberty is the American policy! This diffuses its blessings throughout all our land; this is cherished in our hearts, dearer than life and dear as honor; this is imbedded in our soil more firmly than the ancient granite in our mountains! This has been bequeathed to us by our fathers – and whatever may befall us, we will transmit the heritage unimpaired to the coming generation!

Our service began with God. May we not believe that He Who promises assistance to the humblest of us in our efforts to do His will regards with complacency the advancement of the nation and now from His high abode smiles on us with favoring benignity [kindness]?

Trusting in the Providence of Him, the Universal Father, let the country advance to the glory and prosperity to which – mindful of its exalted privileges – it aspires! Wherever its voice is heard, let it proclaim the message of liberty and speak with the divine energy of truth [and let] the principles of moral goodness [be] consistently followed in its actions! And while the centuries – as they pass – multiply its population and its resources, let it manifest in its whole history a devoted attachment to public virtue, a dear affection for mankind, and the consciousness of its responsibility to the God of nations!


1. The Year of Jubilee was established in the Bible in Leviticus 25 to be observed every fifty years; it was a time of national celebration and festivity as well as a time for the restoration of the land to its owners and the freeing of slaves. (Return)

2. The Battle of Marathon (490 BC) is considered one of history’s most decisive battles. Some 10,000 Greeks defeated a much larger Persian invading force of 25,000 soldiers and 40,000 sailors, thus preserving Greek independence. (Return)

3. In 247 BC, the Parthians secured their independence from Greece and defeated Alexander the Great’s successors (the Seleucids) to create their own independent empire in ancient Persia, comprised of what is now Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Pakistan, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, and Israel. (Return)

4. Morgarten is a mountain in central Switzerland where in 1315 AD, a small Swiss force defeated the Austrians to help gain Swiss independence. Sempach is a small town – also in central Switzerland – where the Swiss decisively defeated the Austrians in 1386 AD and preserved Swiss independence. (Return)

5. In 1672, when the French attacked the helplessly overmatched Dutch, the Dutch opened the dikes and flooded their own country, thus saving it from French occupation. (Return)

6. The Battle of Bunker Hill (which was actually fought on Breed’s Hill) occurred outside of Boston on June 17, 1775 – the first full-fledged battle of the American Revolution. (Although the fight between the Minutemen and the British had occurred several weeks earlier at nearby Lexington and Concord, that action was little more than a skirmish followed by very effective guerilla sniping activity from the Americans as the British returned to Boston.) Five thousand British troops attacked one thousand Americans entrenched on Bunker Hill on three separate occasions. They were repulsed by the Americans on the first two attacks, but by the third attack, the Americans were running so low on powder and ammunition that General Israel Putnam ordered his troops, “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes!” The Americans finally ran out of ammunition and withdrew from the hill. While the battle was technically a victory for the British, in reality they suffered a military defeat: the British lost 1,000 soldiers, the Americans only 400 (including General Joseph Warren). Untrained American farmers and merchants fighting for their liberties had effectively defeated the greatest military force in the world at that time. (Return)

7. When the French established their republic in 1792 and executed Louis XVI, a coalition of other monarchies joined together to attack France and defeat the republic lest the French independence movement spread to their own nations. That coalition against the French included England, Holland, Spain, Sardinia, Italy, Austria, and Prussia. (Return)

8. In 1709, the Swedes attacked the Russians at Pultova and were decisively defeated, thus preserving Russia and resulting in the most famous defeat in Swedish history and ending Sweden’s role as a major European power. The battle of Pultova is considered one of the fifteen most decisive battles in world history. (Return)

9. In 1812, Napoleon occupied Moscow. A large fire occurred (probably started by French looters) and consumed the city, made largely of wood. The fire initiated an anti-French uprising that eventually caused the Russians to rise up and drive Napoleon’s army out of the country. Thus, without the “sacrifice [of] Moscow . . . on the altar of national existence” by fire, it is questionable whether the French invaders would have been defeated. (Return)

10. In 1806, French Emperor Napoleon took Germany as part of his conquests and dissolved the loosely knit German confederation. In 1813, the separate German affiliates rose up as one and defeated Napoleon, leading to the establishment of a strong German confederation of over three dozen sovereign states, four of which were republics. (Return)

11. The battle of New Orleans – the final battle of the War of 1812 (a battle that actually occurred after the peace treaty had been signed) – was a resounding American victory. Under the command of General Andrew Jackson, the American forces defeated the British with what historians describe as the most disparate loss in the history of warfare. The British suffered 700 dead, 1,400 wounded, and 500 taken prisoner while the Americans suffered only eight dead and 13 wounded. (Return)

12. Ayacucho is an area in south-central Peru where in 1824 a major battle occurred in the Peruvian struggle for independence from Spain. Outnumbered two to one, the Peruvians prevailed against the superior Spanish forces. Simón Bolivar (the South American liberator, called “the George Washington of South America”) declared: “The victory of Ayacucho has affirmed for ever the total independence of the [Peruvian] republic.” (Return)

13.The “armies of the [French] republic” holding “the torch of freedom” indeed manifested their “profane recklessness” through many gruesome and barbaric acts. The French leaders who initially fought to oppose the tyranny of the king ironically came to believe – like the king they had overthrown – that terror was a necessity and that due process was unimportant; the indiscriminate use of the guillotine and other tools of brutality therefore became a regular tool to terrorize the populace.

This eventually resulted in what became known as “The Reign of Terror” – an apt description, for in the course of only nine months, some 16,000 citizens were guillotined (and it is believed that 40,000 died as a result of execution or tortures such as whipping, branding, breaking on the wheel, mutilation, etc.). In fact, on one day, 800 were hacked to death, and on another day, 500 children were taken to a meadow and clubbed to death. Additionally, infants were regularly guillotined and river barges were filled with citizens and sunk, drowning all on board. Nothwithstanding these horrific atrocities, the French leaders actually condemned the American Revolution for its violence! (By comparison to the French Revolution, 10,000 British combat deaths were caused by Americans during the eight years of the Revolution; and the British caused 4,435 American deaths in battle, with the deaths of an additional 11,500 Americans in British prisoner of war facilities – a total far below the number of French executions, not of enemies, but of citizens.)

There was a distinct philosophical difference between the American and the French Revolutions. The French Enlightenment thought behind their revolution rejected the presence of religion in public life and asserted that morality was attainable without religion – a philosophy that not only produced a bloodbath and display of horrors in the French Revolution but also engendered widespread condemnation of that philosophy by a number of Founding Fathers (Alexander Hamilton, Gouverneur Morris, Noah Webster, John Jay, Fisher Ames, etc.). In fact, Washington delivered a succinct warning against embracing this French anti-religious philosophy in his “Farewell Address” of September 17, 1789:

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness. . . . The mere politician . . . ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity [happiness]. Let it simply be asked, “Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert . . . ?” And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds . . . reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.
While liberty was sought by all nations throughout the world, the principles of American liberty distinguished America from other nations (such as France) not just in philosophy but especially in behavior.(Return)

14. Planting the cross on each side of the Andes refers to Christian missionary efforts along the Andes mountains. The Andes touch seven nations on the western side of South America: Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Argentina, Chile, and Venezuela. While Catholic missionaries and missions had been present in all seven nations as early as the 1500s (Catholics established missions in Venezuela in 1516; Bolivia in 1537; Argentina in 1539; Ecuador in 1541; Peru in 1567; Chile in 1593; and Columbia in 1604), Protestant missionaries were much later in coming. Since Bancroft was a Protestant, he understandably was most interested in – and spoke here about – the work of Protestant missionaries. The first Protestant missionary in Argentina arrived in 1818; in Chile in 1821; in Peru in 1822; in Bolivia in 1827; in Venezuela in the 1830s; in Columbia in 1856; and in Ecuador in 1895. Obviously, the missionaries in most of these nations arrived after this oration was delivered, but the Protestant missionary work that had by then occurred in Argentina, Chile, and Peru was sufficient to acknowledge that “the Cross is planted on each side of the Andes.” (Return)

15. Long under Spanish domination, parts of Central America and the north of South America declared independence in 1813, forming the independent nation of Gran Columbia – comprised of what is now the individual nations of Columbia, Ecuador, Panama, and Venezuela. (Return)

16. At that time, Jean Baptiste Jules Bernadotte (1763-1844, called Charles XIV) ruled over Sweden. He had been a French general under Napoleon and the minister of war for France. The legitimate king of Sweden had been Gustavus IV (1778-1837), but he had opposed Napoleon; Sweden wanted peace with Napoleon and therefore forced Gustavus’ abdication, eventually replacing him with Napoleon’s general Bernadotte. The former king Gustavus lived the rest of his life in exile in Switzerland.] while in the rest of Europe the doctrine of the divine right has been revived. [Nations that for a short period had thrown off monarchy had once more reverted to the system of government they once hated – such as France, which overthrew monarchy in 1789 and reinstated it in 1815 – thus demonstrating that “the doctrine of the divine right has been revived.” (Return)

17. This refers to the invasion and overthrow by Napoleon – on multiple occasions – of the Papal States (a large land area in Italy). The first occasion was from 1793-1797, when Napoleon originally subdued the Papal States. In 1797, a treaty was reached that restored some powers to the Papal States, but the Pope was deposed of his civil powers and died in exile in 1799. In 1800, Napoleon returned to the area and again overthrew Italy and the Papal States; an 1801 treaty returned limited jurisdiction over some of the land back to papal authorities. In 1809 when Napoleon again took the Papal States, the Pope excommunicated him – an act that enraged Napoleon and caused him to take the Pope prisoner. Napoleon then abolished many of the Papal States and merged them into parts of the existing Italian nation. Eventually, several nations (including England, Turkey, Russia, Austria, Spain, and others) formed coalitions to help free Italy and the Papal States from Napoleonic control; they were finally successful in 1815. It was to this coalition that Bancroft alluded, citing “the help of Turks, Russians, and English, infidels, Schismatics, and Heretics” in restoring “the secular power of the Pope” (that is, restoring the Papal States and the Pope’s civil authority over the Papal States) through Napoleon’s defeat. (Return)

18. The “army of Europeans” refers to Napoleon’s forces that came to Egypt in 1798 and defeated the Egyptians in an area near the Pyramids. Accompanying Napoleon’s army were a number of historians, engineers, and scientists. After the military forces conquered the country, this non-military contingency began their work and achieved many major scientific milestones, including the discovery of the Rosetta Stone, deciphering the hieroglyphics, and uncovering much of Egypt’s ancient history and civilization. As Napoleon left Egypt to take Palestine, the “army of Europeans” marched up the Nile and “poured through the hundred gates of the long deserted Thebes” where they saw the majesty of that ancient city which – although constructed in 2000 BC and destroyed in 30 BC by the Romans – nevertheless was still home of some of the best preserved ancient monuments in Egypt (e.g., the colossi of King Ramases, the temple of King Tut, etc.). In 1805, following Napoleon’s departure from Egypt, an Ottoman (Turkish) army officer (Mohamad Ali) became the Egyptian leader and greatly modernized the nation. (Return)

19. The “corporation of merchants” was the East India Company and the “distant island” was England. The British East India Company literally ruled more than seventy million inhabitants in India with an iron fist, operating a monopoly and successfully eliminating rivals, sometimes by commercial and sometimes by military means. As a result of the efforts of the East India Company, the entire nation of India eventually came under British control. The company was not disbanded until 1858. (Return)

20. This section is not referring to the death of Jefferson, for although Jefferson died in Virginia on the very day of this oration, that was not yet known in Massachusetts. What Bancroft is commenting on here is that although Jefferson gave so much to America (the Declaration, his Presidency, the Louisiana Purchase, etc.), he did not have enough personal finances left at the end of his life to support his own retirement. In fact, the personal economic difficulties of Jefferson were well known to the nation at that time – he even sold his prized private library to Congress in order to raise funds on which to live. Therefore, Bancroft notes that although Jefferson has enough to be buried should he die, he does not have enough to be “buried with honor” or even to “support the decline of life [his latter years] with decency” – that is, Jefferson gave the nation much and received nothing in return and did not even have enough of his own finances left to live comfortably or securely in his retirement. (Return)

21. Some of the lands along the Guinea coast from which so many had been enslaved and exported in the slave trade subsequently became colonies to help reverse that evil and repatriate African slaves (and their descendants) to their homeland. For example, in 1822 the American Colonization Society founded Liberia on the Guinea coast to receive free blacks from America who wanted to return to their own continent (Liberia’s capitol was named “Monrovia” in honor of President James Monroe, who helped found the colony). Similarly, Sierra Leone (also along the Guinea coast) became a British colony to which slaves from England could return (founded largely through the efforts of British abolitionist Thomas Clarkson, it was originally called the “Province of Freedom” and its main settlement was “Freetown”); and Ghana (another site on the Guinea coast originally used for slave trading) eventually became used by the British as a base to suppress slavery and the slave trade. (Return)

22. Seth Pomeroy (1706-1777) was a gunsmith who early in his life had entered the military and became distinguished as a soldier and officer. At the time of this incident in the American Revolution, he had already seen over thirty years of close-quarter combat experience. Pomeroy was so recognized for his bravery and patriotism that he was elected to the Provincial Congress even though he was nearly 70 years old at the time. After it was evident that a war with Great Britain would occur, Pomeroy – a distinguished officer of many previous battles – went to General Artemas Ward in 1775 to enlist as a volunteer. When Pomeroy heard the sound of cannon fire from Bunker Hill, he borrowed a horse from General Ward and rode at breakneck speed toward the battle. The closer he came to the battle, the more dangerous the area became with flying bullets – and the more Pomeroy feared for the safety of the General’s horse. He therefore dismounted, left the horse in the care of a sentry, shouldered the musket he had made for himself, and marched the rest of the way on foot. When he reached the scene of fighting, the other soldiers instantly recognized the great hero, his name being shouted in joy along the front line by the soldiers. He knelt down with those soldiers – soldiers the age of his grandchildren – behind a rail fence to defend the area. As a volunteer private, he and the others stood their ground until ordered to withdraw. Five days later, he received an appointment as a senior brigadier-general (one of only eight named by Congress), but he declined the appointment and headed home. However, the next year when Pomeroy heard that Washington was in trouble, he led a force of militia to aid Washington in New Jersey; he never returned from that march. (Return)

23. Joseph Hawley (1723-1788) was a patriot from Northampton, Massachusetts (the site where this oration was delivered). He early embraced the cause of American liberty (perhaps even more ardently than John Adams or James Otis) and organized pre-Revolutionary activities in the western part of the State. In the summer of 1774, Hawley addressed the Massachusetts delegates to Congress in a written paper called “Broken Hints” in which he proffered his advice to that group. In that writing, Hawley forcefully declared: “We must fight if we cannot otherwise rid ourselves of British taxation. The form of government enacted for us by the British parliament is evil – against right – utterly intolerable to every man who has any idea or feeling of right or liberty. There is not heat [public intensity] enough yet for battle; constant and negative resistance will increase it. There is not military skill enough; that is improving and must be encouraged. Fight we must, finally, unless Britain retreats.” Hawley’s words were so widely circulated and his voice was indeed “heard beyond [south of] the Potomac.” In fact, when John Adams later read Hawley’s words to Virginian Patrick Henry, Henry warmly responded, “I am of that man’s mind.” (Return)

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