Speech of Governor Yates

At the Great War Meeting at Chicago,

AUGUST 1ST, 1862.


Establish the doctrine of secession, and all is lost. If one State has the right to secede, then another State has the same right, and so on, until all of them may secede. Draw the line between the Northern and Southern Confederacies, and see what a disjointed, unadjusted and fragmentary remnant of empire you would have, as it is bounded by mountains and rivers. It is plain that it would be utterly impossible to hold it together. Division would be inevitable, so that we would not only have to submit to tolls and exactions upon the banks of the Mississippi, but whenever our commerce went out or came in, between San Francisco and New York, we would have to submit to the tolls and exactions which independent jurisdictions might impose upon us.

Dissolve this Union and we shall see sights such as the eye never saw before. It would not be one year before, for some imaginary or real cause of grievance, such as the navigation of the Mississippi, the escape of slaves from the slave to the free States, the attempts to capture them, and the resistance to their capture, would involve us in war — and such a war. Why, again we would have the North arrayed against the South — the impetuous valor of the South against the determined bravery of the North. Blood would flow to the horses' bridles. We should see cannon frowning along our rivers, bayonets glistening along our border lines, armies marching to and fro, and commanders winning their victories; we should see the arts of peace converted into the arts of war. The green field of growing corn, the grain ripening for the harvest, would be desolated and the whole country would gleam with the light of burning towns, and villages, until at last, fellow-citizens, this dismembered, dissevered and fragmentary republic would cry out for intervention and some foreign despot would rise to lord it over the people.

Thus would depart forever the glory of the land of Washington. Thus would sink forever the last experiment made by man for self-government. Thus would go out in endless night the watch-fires which our fathers kindled upon our hills. [Applause.]

Fellow-citizens, I desire to make my appeal to you all — to all of us who are engaged in this war — to use our utmost efforts to put down this rebellion — to sacrifice every consideration, except that of the welfare of the country, and come to the conclusion — which I say before six months you will have to come to — that all the means in our power must be employed to put down this infernal rebellion. This is the conclusion we must come to. I care not what politicians may say; I care not what venal presses may say; the doom of these politicians, I can tell them, is sure, and the day is fast approaching when they shall call upon the rocks and mountains to hide them as they see the triumphal car of universal freedom marching as John Brown's soul is marching on [cheers,] and the whole country stands "redeemed and disenthralled by the genius of the universal emancipation." [Loud applause.]

Let us sacrifice all party considerations of every character and stand united as one man, doing everything in our power while the miserable miscreant and wretch who, out of the distress of his country to this perilous hour would attempt to manufacture capital for a political party, deserves to die a death such as we ought to impose upon Jeff. Davis himself. [Applause.]

Fellow-citizens, I shall not, as there are other speakers here, detain you much longer. ["Go on," "go on."] I will add one thing, however. As I have presented to you some discouraging facts, I will present you also with two most interesting feature in the remark which I am making, and that is this: That we will whip them. [Cheers.] As I told you when this war commenced, our statesmen did not believe that we were going to have much of a war. They did not dream that these southern traitors would give up so great and glorious a government as ours; consequently they made no preparations for the war. When the war commenced, we were without anything — without guns or munitions of war. We had literally nothing. We were taken by surprise. On the other hand, what had been doing by the secessionists of the South? For fifteen months they had been engaged in the audable business of seducing our army and navy officers, and by and through them stealing all of our best guns and all our munitions of war from the United States arsenals; and through the Secretary of War, Floyd, they had been stealing millions of money to carry on the war; so that we were left entirely unprepared for the crisis which was upon us.

What have we done in the meantime? This nation has arisen like a giant refreshed with wine. We had to go to Europe for arms, and we had to manufacture arms to supply those which had been stolen. We have gone to Europe and have got them, and we have manufactured them in our own country. We have sent 600,000 men into the field in that short period of time — an army such as the world never saw before. We have conquered territory far and wide, as the Roman eagles ever flew. We have blockaded their coast form New Orleans to New York, a distance of nearly 2,000 miles. We have opened the Mississippi. We have taken Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Tennessee, Kentucky, Maryland, and a part of Virginia; and this day and hour, the American flag is floating triumphant in every State in the United States. [Applause.] Although our proud army has been driven back, it is simply for the want of reinforcements. The concentration of the rebel army at Richmond, is an evidence of their weakness — not of their strength. Driven from the sea coast and the Mississippi valley they have drawn all their forces form Corinth, and from Tennessee, and from almost every other portion of the Untied States, having those portions unprotected, that they might meet the grand army of the Potomac in its march; thus showing that what might seem their strength, is an evidence of their weakness. All we have to do is to be true to ourselves, and we will certainly and surely triumph.

Don't stand talking or idling away your time. You are under solemn obligation to the brave boys who are now holding out their hands for reinforcements. They have gone through many an exhausting campaign. Their numbers have been decimated. The bones of very many of these brave boys lie mouldering beneath the sod upon the banks of the Potomac, the Cumberland and Tennessee, and upon every battle field from the bloody struggle of Richmond to that of Pea Ridge. The very blood of your martyred dead, of your young DeWolf, and the many others who have offerred up their lives a willing sacrifice in the cause of their country, call to you. The living stretch out their hands to you for reinforcements. In the name of God, is there an American so recreant to his country and to every principle of humanity and friendship, so false to the great cause of the Union and liberty, as not to volunteer at once and come forward in this great and glorious contest?

The policy of the administration is coming up to your standard. They have passed the act now by which you are to counter upon the enemy, by which the labor of the negro is to be used and the negroes are to be used as far as necessary. You see they are coming up to your standard and now will you not stand up to your country in her hour of peril, and do your duty?

When I was asked what I meant by a vigorous policy, stamping armies out of the earth, it was asked of me whether I meant that free negroes in the North and slaves in the South would come up to the battle At the time, although such would have been the result, to a good degree, yet I had no such thought in my mind. I meant that if this administration would adopt a policy in which the people had confidence; if they would employ all the means at the hands of this Government and prosecute the war vigorously, it would so arouse the people of this country, that it would seem as if armies came out of the earth to defend the ever-glorious Stars and Stripes. [Cheers.] I can now say to you, candidly and truthfully, that I believe within the next ten days all the regiments yet required of me will be enrolled and ready for service. [Immense applause.] You ask me what I meant by stamping armies out of the earth, and I tell you the response is here in the hearts of you people — deeply touched and their purses opened wide — in the prompt cheerful action of our cities and counties in their corporate capacities. In the magnificent spectacle of our great State, roused throughout its length and breadth, and in all its deep foundations. Under the prospect of a vigorous prosecution of the war, Illinois is already leaping like a giant into the fight. [Loud applause.]

Active, energetic co-operation by all loyal men — speedy and rapid enrollment of our forces, power in overwhelming demonstration is one road to peace, and will speedily bring it about, while inaction, indecision, feeble-response to the President's call, and a continuation of the concidatory policy means a long and protracted war, foreign intervention, national bankruptcy, a broken, belligerent, dismembered Union and the loss of our dear bought and long cherished liberties. Rally then, rally to the rescue.

The accounts come glowingly from every other State. I want to ask now if Illinois shall lag behind. [Cries of "no, no."] Heretofore she has gallantly and gloriously led the column. Her brave soldiery have shed imperishable lustre upon the arms, the names, the fame of Illinois. The star which answers to Illinois is now the brightest in the galaxy of the thirty four. [Applause.] The name of Illinois is synonymous with lofty courage and great achievements. [Renewed applause.] Her brave boys have never quailed in a single conflict. A General in our army, whom I met at Shiloh, said to me: "Your Illinois boys fight like the devil. [Laughter.] I tell them to storm a battery and they storm it; I tell them to go out, one regiment against four, and they go, but," he added, "the infernal scoundrels! there is one order they won't obey, and that's the order to retreat." I remember it was told me by an eye witness that when the glorious regiment which Chicago sent to the field under the gallant Col. White was pressed down by three or four regiments of the enemy, and was retiring in good order, the Colonel crying out "Steady, boys, steady." It was of no avail, until riding in front of the whole line and taking off his hat, he said, "now boys is the time to show the pluck of Illinois." [Loud cheering.] They staggered and reeled for a moment; but they stood fire, and marched to a great and glorious victory. [Applause.] Now remember what you are fighting for. You are fighting for your Constitution — for all that is dear to you — for your wives and children — for civil and religious liberty — for your grand experiment of government — for the interest of mankind, not only now, but always; not only here, but throughout all climes of the world. You are fighting for your Union, which has been handed down by men immortal for their goodness and greatness. Oh! what undying memories cluster around it! What hopes are fixed upon it! What eyes of the world are riveted upon it! You are fighting for your glorious old flag, the flag borne aloft in the days of the Revolution by those old patriot sires who struggled round about the camps of liberty; the same old flag that floated in triumph at Bunker Hill, and Brandwine, and Valley Forge and Ticonderoga, at Buena Vista and Cerretiordo, and Donelson and Pittsburg Landing; [cheers] the same glorious old flag which is now or was at the commencement of this war, hailed upon every continent, and island, and sea under the whole heavens as the best and noblest emblem of honor and freedom. [Applause.]

Now let me address myself to the foreigners who are here. Let me refer to an incident in the history of the country that you all know. Do you remember that away upon a distant sea, the coast of Smyrna, when a foreign horn citizen, a Hungarian, and who considered his domicil in this country, was claimed by the Austrian vessel and raised the American flag? Do you remember how the Austrian myrinadon shrank back in terror before the ever glorious Stars and Stripes? [cheers] and how even the unnaturalized foreigner had the protection of this flag, which was honored throughout the world?

There is another incident to which I will refer. During one of the tumultuous revolutions in Mexico, while Joseph L. Poinsett, former Secretary of War under Gen. Jackson, was Minister to Mexico, that city was taken by assault. The invadors, after they had got within the city walls, asked where the leading men of the city had secreted themselves. It was found that they had sought the house of the American Ambassador as their only place of refuge. They marched to the house, the levelled their cannon upon it, and Mr. Poinsett says: In that moment of extreme peril, as my only refuge, I seized the national flag. I ran out upon the balcony. I unfolded the Stars and Stripes and stood beneath them. In a moment every musket fell. Three cheers were given and the band struck up music to the old time of "Hail Columbia." Shall this flag be trailed in the dust? [Cries "No."] Shall its glorious stars be divided and scattered in confusion over the face of the earth? No! by the blessings of Almighty God, by the memories of our fathers, by the worth of human liberty, it shall remain, a proud emblem of rational freedom and the ensign of national greatness. [Cheers] And whether it shall float aloft in holiday triumph upon the summer breeze, or whether it shall be seen (as I have numerous specimens in my office now) pierced with bullets, amid the cloud and smoke of war — wherever it shall eb seen upon this earth by the oppressed of every land, it shall be hailed as the bright and glorious emblem of freedom.

Fellow-citizens, I must conclude, but before doing so I must mention one thing — that your city has so munificently provided, not only for those who are going to the war, but also the families they leave behind. We must remember that they leave families. Those families they love dearly. They leave behind them their wives and little ones. They go out to fight these battles for you and for me, for God, for liberty and humanity. In every town and city there should be provided a fund which should be literally exhaustless. It should be supplied from day to day, so that the soldier, when he is fighting beneath his flag, upon the most distant wind, can feel his heart to glow with the knowledge that his wife and dear little ones have friends and means to protect them in the home of destitution. [Applause.] I will only say in that connection, so help me God, so long as there is a dollar in the State Treasury and I am your Governor, I will bring back every wounded and sick man I can from the battle field. [Cheers.]

We will rally round this glorious old flag of ours until the Union is restored, until the majesty of our laws is vindicated, until the last armed foe of the Constitution shall either be slain or driven from the land, until we can see that old flag again proudly flying — with not a star obscured nor a stripe erased, and pray that so it may float forever. [Long continued cheers.]