Time, the artificer, makes men, as well as things, for their day and use.
The Revolution was the evolution of an idea--one inherent in all humanity--Liberty!
First, was the thought of a home, the most sacred and best of man's sanctuaries. These pioneer Colonists, fleeing from religious persecution, debt and poverty, often came to an untrodden wilderness of limitless forest and plain, to form a local habitation and a name.
After the establishment of the home, education and its application followed, through the teaching and oratory of the pulpit to the white man and Indian. Next in order was self-government. The Revolutionary period was productive not only of the general and soldier, but the statesman and orator, who set forth the "grievances of the people" in most glowing and convincing terms. The term "orator" has two specific meanings--in common language, one who delivers an oration, a public speaker; and technically, one who prays for relief, a petitioner. The orators of the Revolutionary period were both in one. The true orator is the poet of the practical. He must be an enthusiast; he must be sincere; he must be fearless, and as simple as a child; he must be warm and earnest, able to play upon the emotions, as a skillful musician his instrument that responds to his every touch, be it ever so light and delicate. So shall his words descend upon the people like cloven tongues of fire, inspiring, sanctifying, beautifying and convincing; for an orator's words are designed for immediate effect.
When the "Stamp Act" was repealed, March 18, 1766, Jonathan Mayhew delivered a thrilling speech, known as "A Patriot's Thanksgiving," in which he said: "The repeal has restored things to order. The course of justice is no longer obstructed. All lovers of liberty have reason to rejoice. Blessed revolution! How great are our obligations to the Supreme Governor of the world!"
Even the conservatives, Benjamin Franklin and George Washington, take of the promethean fire of patriotism; it is seen in Franklin's writings, in Washington's "Farewell Address"--his masterpiece of prophetic admonition, delivered in the style and diction of a gifted orator. A long and faithful career of usefulness, and the very human touch he had gained as a soldier and general, particularly during that terrible year of 1777, developed the hitherto unknown gift.
Of the men who composed the Second Colonial and First Continental Congress, which met at Philadelphia, September 5, 1774, William Pitt said in his speech to the House of Lords: "History has always been my favorite study, and in the celebrated writings of antiquity I have often admired the patriotism of Greece and Rome, but, my lords, I must avow that in the master states of the world I know not a people or senate who can stand in preference to the delegates of America assembled in general congress at Philadelphia."
Samuel Adams was one of the foremost orators and patriots of America, and was of Massachusetts' famous bouquet--James Otis, Joseph Warren, Josiah Quincy, John and John Quincy Adams--and left his work on the history of America as a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
James Otis, next in chronological order, was a bold, commanding orator, and the first to speak against the taxing of the colonies. He was called "the silver-tongued orator" and "a flame of fire." His death was as unusual as his gift--he was killed by a stroke of lightning May, 1772.
Joseph Warren and Josiah Quincy were both men of great talents and power, Warren was elected twice to deliver the oration in commemoration of the massacre of the fifth of March; he rendered efficient service by both his writing and addresses; and was distinguished as a physician, especially in the treatment of smallpox. He was killed while fighting as a volunteer at Bunker Hill.
Josiah Quincy's powers as an orator were of a very high order. It is sad to think that he died the very day he reached his native land, after a voyage to Europe in the interest of the colonies. One does not wonder that John Adams possessed influence, when in voting for the Declaration of Independence he exclaimed: "Sink or swim, live or die, survive or perish, I give my heart and hand to this vote;" nor that the son of such a father was called "The Old Man Eloquent" and the "Champion of the Rights of Petition," who thought "no man's vote lost which is cast for the right."
John Adams is the one man who remembered liberty and the people, for when he died July 4, 1826, his last words were, "It is the glorious Fourth of July! God bless it--God bless you all!"
From this cursory glance of the orators of Massachusetts, we can well understand how, like the "alabaster box" of old, the perfume of their noble deeds for the cause of right still lingers.
Alexander Hamilton was an orator that accomplished much for the colonies with his forceful, facile and brilliant pen, as did Madison and Jay, in the "Federalist." Patrick Henry, the red feather, of the Revolutionary period, as is E. W. Carmack of to-day--is by the South regarded the Magna Stella of that marvelous galaxy of stars. It is probable that his oratory was not as much a product of nature as was thought at the time when it was so effective. It was somewhat an inheritance, as he was the great-nephew of the Scotch historian Robertson, and the nephew of William Winston who was regarded as an eloquent speaker in his day.
Patrick, after six weeks study of law, we are told, commenced the practice of law (having the incumbrance of a family and poverty) and with what success, all the world knows. It was in the celebrated "Parson's case" that he won his spurs, and the epithet of "the orator of Nature;" also his election to the House of Burgesses, of Virginia. Nine years after he made his famous speech in which he told George III he might profit by the examples of Caesar and Charles I, he delivered his greatest effort of oratory--in which he said, "I know not what course others may take, but give me liberty, or give me death!"
Thomas Jefferson was the father of that instrument, the Declaration of Independence--that gives us "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," in so far as we trespass not on the moral and civil rights of our neighbor--and was persuasive and eloquent, as well as an acute politician. He was the acknowledged head of his party; and his work was of the uttermost importance to both the colonies and states. No one politician and orator has left a more indelible impression upon succeeding generations than he.
Thomas Paine also did his quota as an orator and writer; and great were the results accomplished by his "Common Sense" and the first "Crisis." Paine was not only a writer and orator, but a soldier. Under General Nathaniel Greene he rendered such efficient and valuable service that he was called the "hero of Fort Mifflin." Although he was an Englishman, who came to America and espoused the cause of the Continentals, the English nation are glad to own him. William Cobbett (the English statesman) says "whoever wrote the Declaration, Paine was its author."
Paine was one of the most noted orators, if we remember that an "orator is one who prays for relief--a petitioner," whether it be viva voce or with the pen. We wish it were possible in the time allotted to us to give extracts from the speeches and writings of these orators of the Revolution. How grateful we should be, and what a debt of gratitude we owe each of them, for their labors that have long since received the encomium from God and man--"well done, thou good and faithful servant."--_American Monthly._