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Dicey, Edward. Six Months in the Federal States, Vol. II . London: MacMillan and Co., 1863. [format: book], [genre: travelogue]. Permission: Newberry Library
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Independence-Day in New York.

"You should go to New York for the Fourth — before then we must have grand news from Richmond — and you will see a sight that you ought to witness — a regular noisy, rowdy, glorious, Fourth of July." So an American friend of mine said to me in the latter days of June, and I followed his advice; but, according to the French proverb, "Man proposes, God disposes," and though I saw the Fourth, instead of being glorious, it was the gloomiest Independence-day that the Empire city had known during the present century. It was only on the preceding day that the full truth concerning McClellan's retreat had become known. The bitter suspense, indeed, was over, and people were beginning to look the worst fairly in the face. But the half-stunned feeling of dismay had not yet passed away; and even the public mind of America, with all its extraordinary elasticity, was still unable to brace itself to rejoicing and self-glorification. It was under such auspices that the last Independence-day was celebrated.

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To show the tone with which the press of America represented popular feeling, let me quote two articles from leading New York papers on the morning of the festival. Even the New York Herald, for once, was dignified, and wrote of the day in the following words: — "‘Through the thick gloom of the present we see the brightness of the future as the sun in heaven. We shall make this a glorious and immortal day. When we are in our graves our children will honour it; they will celebrate it with thanksgiving, with festivities, with bonfires, with illuminations; on its annual return they will shed tears, not of subjection and slavery, not of agony and distress, but of exultation, of gratitude, and of joy.’ Thus exclaimed the patriot seer John Adams on the adoption of the Declaration of Independence eighty-six years ago. We could have no better motto for the day. He saluted it by the ‘All hail hereafter!’ as the birthday of the Republic; We celebrate it now in the new birth and regeneration of that Republic. Now as then, indeed, ‘thick gloom’ hangs over our country; but the eye of faith can descry the ‘brightness of the future as the sun in heaven.’ To-day we celebrate it, not merely by the festivities, bonfires, and illuminations whereof he speaks, but by the awful baptism of fire and blood. We have, indeed, our wonted festivities; but the real celebration of to-day is along the line of battle, and where the Union hosts surround the beleagured

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armies of the cursed rebellion. There are our hearts and hopes. The rest is all but show, and we have that within that passeth show. God defend and prosper the armies of the Republic!"

The Tribune drew a more practical lesson from the day in these words: —

"Eighty-six years ago this day, the representatives of our fathers, in Congress assembled at Philadelphia, united in that immortal Declaration of Independence of the United States of America, which they delibe rately placed on this immutable basis: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,’ . . . . So broad and solid a basis was never before laid by the founders of a new political fabric; hence no predecessor ever exerted so wide and beneficent a sway over the destinies of mankind. The American Revolution derives its chief significance and glory from its clear and hearty recognition of the equal and inalienable Rights of Man as Man. Had our country been uniformly faithful to the principles thus boldly enunciated, her career would have been the grandest, her people the happiest on the globe. Unfortunately, she soon faltered, and ultimately fell.

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Her revolutionary patriot-statesmen, with scarcely an honourable exception, perceived and maintained that she was bound by her fundamental principle to achieve and secure the liberty of every one, even of the humblest and most despised of her people. Franklin, Washington, Jefferson, Madison, all held that slavery was condemned by our struggle for Liberty and Independence, and that we must abolish it at the earliest practicable moment. Fatal qualification! Soon peace, security, sloth, ease, luxury, the greed of power and of gold, weaned us from the grand truth asserted by the fathers: ‘Another king arose, who knew not Joseph.’ Vainly did the philanthropist remonstrate, the patriot plead, and the slave hold up appealingly his galling shackles. Our Scribes and Pharisees have too long wrested Law and Gospel to the cruel ends of oppression; and this nation, which was born amid the expectant shouts of the scourged and down-trodden, has for two generations been the accomplice of man-thieves, the stay of the tyrant and oppressor. The long forborne punishment of our national sin is at length upon us. A nation distracted and convulsed by treason — a country devastated, a people decimated by furious civil war — the vultures of aristocracy and despotism gathering and circling impatiently for the expected feast on the remains of what was once their chief terror; such are the aspects that greet the eighty-second anniversary of

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our Independence. The clouds are heavy and dark, but the heavens are clear and bright above them. Let us struggle and trust. God save the Republic!"

These quotations will serve to show what the tone of the press was on this occasion. As to the day itself, it was a glorious one, with a sky bright and clear as that of Italy. The city was again gay with flags, and its shops were closed, and the streets were filled with holiday people, and the bells rang, and the cannon fired, and what was better than all, the news from the Peninsula was more encouraging; but still there was no spirit in the day, the life of the festival was gone. The one stock amusement of Independence-day consists in making as much noise as possible. From twelve o'clock on the previous night to midnight on the Fourth, the whole energies of the children and boys of New York are devoted to letting off as many crackers, firing as many pocket-pistols, and pelting passers-by with as many detonating balls as their own or their friends' purses can afford. All day long, in every street from Fifth Avenue down to Bowery, there is a never-ending disharge of this mimic artillery. You are lucky if you pass through the day without getting your hair singed, or your face scorched, or holes burnt in your clothes; and in fact prudent people keep much at home during the Fourth. Anybody who ever passed a Christmas at Naples, and has run the gauntlet of its squibs, and rockets, and pistols, will sympathize with me when I

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say, that it was some consolation for the national calamity to find that it checked the discharge of fireworks. It was bad enough as it was, but if McClellan had won a victory instead of being defeated, half the city would have been maimed and deafened. Some thirty people were taken to the hospitals in the course of the day from injuries inflicted by the fireworks. Like Oyster Day too in London, this annual Saturnalia, though professedly coming only once a year, lingers on in practice for days afterwards.

This discharge of fireworks was the one genuine exhibition of popular rejoicing throughout the day. Things must be very bad indeed before boys leave off throwing crackers in consequence of a national disaster; but with the grown-up population it was little of a holiday time. In the cool of the morning what few troops there were left in the city marched down Broadway; but most of them were boys, or old men, or raw recruits, and the show, in a military point of view, was a very poor one, and excited little interest. At ten o'clock there was a meeting in celebration of the anniversary held by the Common Council in the Cooper Institute. The meeting was announced for ten, but the proceedings did not begin till near eleven. The great hall, which I should say could hold between two and three thousand people, was never a quarter full, and a third of what crowd there was stood on the speakers' platform. The Mayor, Mr. Opdyke, was in the chair, and delivered a short

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address, in which he stated, amongst other things, that "with the loyal people of America, come what may, be the nations banded in arms against us, nothing shall be successful in overthrowing our cherished institutions." A long prayer was offered up by the select preacher to the Corporation, containing a statement novel to a New York audience as coming from such lips: "That this rebellion had been inflicted by Heaven on the people of America on account of their sins, because they had fallen away from the faith of their fathers, and had extended, protected, and perpetuated by their legislation, the abominable sin of slavery." An oration was next spoken by a Mr. Hiram Walbridge, more calm and dignified in its language than American declamations are wont to be. After dwelling on the popular resolution to do all and suffer all, rather than succumb, he gave vent to the grievances of the people in words such as these: — "Our lives, our money, our hopes, our destiny, our all, are at the service of the Government in upholding the Constitution and the Union. We, however, feel that we have the right to know every incident which marks the varying for tunes of the struggle, for it is our own chosen sons who are falling in defence of liberty. We also ear nestly desire, if any foreign mediation is meditated, it may be met with firmness and without complaint." Then followed a patriotic poem of interminable length and fatal fluency, some verses of which, perhaps, are

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worth reciting as specimens of American popular poetry: —

"Loftier waved the flags of freedom,
Louder rolled the Union drums,
When th' inspiring shout went upward,
‘Old Manhattan's army comes!’
Washington once more invoiced us,
And we rose in columns grand;
Marching round the flag of Sumter,
Grasped within his sculptured hand.

Then Manhattan's loyal legions
Shook the earth with martial tramp,
And she kissed her noblest children,
Hurrying down to Freedom's camp.
And the sundered coils of treason
Writhed upon her loyal shore,
When she flung her gallant ‘Seventh’
In the scales of righteous war.

* * * * *

Ireland's shamrock, Scotland's bluebell,
Bloom for us with crimson flowers;
And o'er all the roar of battle
Gallia's eagle screams with ours.
Roman ‘vivas,’ German ‘forwarts,’
Mingle with our own ‘huzzas;’
And the Hungarian answers ‘Eljen,’
‘Eljen’ for the flag of stars.

* * * * *

Here the toiler toils unbounded,
Here the poor man feels no shame,
For he knows the lowliest fortune
Upward treads to loftiest fame.
For he dwells where limbs are chainless,
Where the grandest heights of earth
May be scaled, with brave aspirings,
By the child of humblest birth.

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Where the old primeval forests
Gloom around like shades of night,
There the young backwoodsman opens
With his axe the gates of light;
And the intellect of labour,
Clasping Honour's guiding hand,
Climbs aloft with Abraham Lincoln —
Rules with him our glorious land.

Type of Freedom's highest manhood,
And the genius of her soil,
Stands to-day this brave backwoodsman,
Representative of toil.
And the lesson of his greatness,
Writ in faith and hope sublime,
Tells the humblest of the people
How to triumph he may climb.

And the nations gazing westward,
O'er Atlantic's stormy deep,
May behold this chosen people
In the Lord Jehovah's keep.
May behold how loyal manhood
Up to royal grandeur springs,
Where the realms are fields of labour,
And the toilers are the kings.

In the fiery trial of conflict,
Freedom proves her purest ore,
And the bands of peace are welded
Underneath the blows of war.
From the iron and gold of armies,
From the broken links of wrong,
God will weld the works together,
God will make the Union strong."

Besides this, there were some national glees sung without much spirit; a few patriotic airs played by a

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brass band; and a recital of the "Declaration of Independence," in which the narrative of poor old George the Third's offences and shortcomings sounded strangely out of place in the midst of the dread struggle of the passing hour. But the whole affair was tame and spiritless to a strange degree. All hearts and thoughts were far away on the banks of the James River.

Later on there was a mass-meeting of the Democratic party, in honour of the day, at Old Tammany Hall. Here the great attraction consisted in hooting at Secretary Stanton, Mr. Beecher, and the Abolitionists. The chairman, Mr. Waterbury, stated in his speech, "that Mr. Edwin M. Stanton had shown that the worst foe was a renegade pretending to be a Democrat. He had been honoured with a position by President Lincoln, in which he had betrayed his party, its young and gallant General, and all who trusted him." A Mr. Morford, too, delivered a poem of his own composition, called, "Tammany and the Union," from which I have picked out the following poetic gem: —

"We have claimed, and yet we claim it,
That the struggle must not be
To put down the white in slavery,
While it sets the negro free.
Honour, then, to Abraham Lincoln,
That thus far his course is true;
Doing for the nation's welfare
All an honest man can do.
Honour to his name for ever,
That no Abolition force

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Seems to have the power to move him
Far from safety's middle course.
Long ago he learnt the lesson
That they all must learn at length,
That the black Chicago platform
Had no element of strength;
That Republican support at
Last must prove a rope of sand;
That Democracy must aid him,
If he wish to save the land."

And so on. There was an attempt made during the day to reduce these doctrines to their practical application. Early in the morning placards were stuck over the town, headed, "To the People," and signed "By many Union Men," calling for vengeance on the Abolitionists, on Greeley and Beecher, and others, who had brought on this reverse of McClellan's army by their diabolical machinations; and summoning a public open-air meeting for the afternoon, in the City Park, to denounce Abolition. The Tribune office faces the park, and if a mob could have been collected, the intention of the ringleaders was to storm the office. The placards, however, were all torn down in an hour's time; no crowd whatever assembled, except a score or so of rowdies and a dozen policemen, and no one was found bold enough to ascend the hustings, which had been erected expressly for the meeting.

There was no general illumination at night; the fire-works exhibited by the municipality were very poor, and the day closed tamely and quietly.

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Dicey, Edward. Six Months in the Federal States, Vol. II . London: MacMillan and Co., 1863. [format: book], [genre: travelogue]. Permission: Newberry Library
Persistent link to this document:
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