Read CHAPTER XXIX. OHIO AND FRANCE CONTRASTED AS REPUBLICS of Select Speeches of Kossuth, free online book, by Kossuth, on ReadCentral.com.

[Reception at Cincinnati.]

Kossuth having been received by a vast assemblage of the people of Cincinnati was addressed in their name by the Honourable Caleb Smith, from whose speech the following are extracts:

Your progress through a portion of the whole States which originally constituted the American confederacy, has called forth such manifestations of public feeling as leave no doubt that the liberty enjoyed by the people of those States, has created in their hearts a generous sympathy for the advocates of civil liberty who have endeavoured to establish free institutions in Europe.

The brilliant success which attended the first efforts of the Hungarian Patriots, excited the hope that the tricoloured flag unfurled on the shores of the Danube, would, like the stars and stripes of our own Republic, become the emblem and the hope of freedom.

The intervention of Russia, in violation of the law of nations, in defiance of justice and right, and in disregard of the public sentiment of the civilized world, for a time, at last, disappointed this hope; and the exultation it excited was followed by a mournful sadness, when Russian arms and domestic treason combined, caused the Hungarian flag to trail in the dust.

Hungary failed to establish her independence, but failed only, when success was impossible. The efforts she has made have not been wholly lost. The seed which she has sown in agony and blood, will yet sprout and bring forth fruit. The memory of her devoted sons who have fallen in the cause of liberty, will be perpetuated upon the living tablets of the hearts of freedom’s votaries throughout the world. The spirits of the martyrs shall whisper hope and consolation to the hearts of her surviving children; and from out the dungeons of her captive patriots shall go forth the spirit of liberty to cheer and animate their countrymen.

You are engaged in a high and holy mission. The redemption of your fatherland from oppression is worthy of your efforts, and may God prosper them; and may you find in this free land such sympathy and aid as will strengthen your heart for the stern trials which await you in your own country.

Kossuth replied:

Sir, Before I answer you, let me look over this animated ocean, that I may impress upon my memory the look of those who have transformed the wilderness of a primitive forest into an immense city, of which there exists a prediction that, by the year of our Lord 2000, it will be the greatest city in the world.

“The West! the West! the region of the Father of Rivers,” there thou canst see the cradle of a new-born humanity. So I was told by the learned expounders of descriptive geography, who believe that they know the world, because they have seen it on maps.

The West a cradle! Why? A cradle is the sleeping place of a child wrapped in swaddling clothes and crying for the mother’s milk.

People of Cincinnati, are you that child which, awakening in an unwatched moment, liberated his tender hands from the swaddling band, swept away by his left arm the primitive forest planted by the Lord at creation’s dawn, and raised by his right hand this mighty metropolis. Why, if that be your childhood’s pastime, I am awed by the presentiment of your manhood’s task; for it is written, that it is forbidden to men to approach too near to omnipotence. And that people here which created this rich city, and changed the native woods of the red man into a flourishing seat of Christian civilization and civilized Christianity into a living workshop of science and art, of industry and widely spread commerce; and performed this change, not like the drop, which, by falling incessantly through centuries, digs a gulf where a mountain stood, but performed it suddenly within the turn of the hand, like a magician; that people achieved a prouder work than the giants of old, who dared to pile Ossa upon Pelion; but excuse me, the comparison is bad.

Those giants of old heaped mountain upon mountain, with the impious design to storm the heavens. You have transformed the wilderness of the West into the dwelling-place of an enlightened, industrious, intelligent Christian community, that it may flourish a living monument of the wonderful bounty of Divine Providence a temple of freedom, which glorifies God, and bids oppressed humanity to hope.

And yet, when I look at you, citizens of Cincinnati, I see no race of giants, astonishing by uncommon frame: I see men as I am wont to see all my life, and I have lived almost long enough to have seen Cincinnati a small hamlet, composed of some modest log-houses, separated by dense woods, where savage beast and savage Indian lurked about the lonely settlers, who, as the legend of Jacob Wetzel and his faithful log tells, had to wrestle for life when they left their poor abode.

What is the key of this rapid wonderful change? The glorious cities of old were founded by heroes whom posterity called demi-gods, and whose name survived their work by thousands of years. Who is your hero? Who stood god-father at the birth of the Queen of the West?

I looked to history and found not his name. But instead of one mortal man’s renowned name, I find in the records of your city’s history an immortal being’s name, and that is, the people. The word sparkles with the lustre of a life invigorating flame, and that flame is LIBERTY. Freedom, regulated by wise institutions, based upon the great principle of national independence and self-government; this is the magical rod by which the great enchanter, “the people,” has achieved this wonderful work.

Sir, there is a mighty change going on in human development. Formerly great things were done by great men, whose names stand in history like milestones, marking the march of mankind on the highway of progress. It was mankind which marched, and still it passed unnoticed and unknown. Of him history has made no record, but of the milestones only, and has called them great men. The lofty frame of individual greatness overshadowed the people, who were ready to follow but not prepared to go without being led. Humanity and its progress was absorbed by individualities; because the people which stood low in the valley got giddy by looking up to the mountain’s top, where its leaders stood. It was the age of childhood for nations. Children cling to the leading strings as to a necessity, and feel it a benefit to be led.

But the leaders of nations changed soon into kings. Ambition claimed as a right what merit had gained as a free offering. Arrogance succeeded to greatness; and out of the child-like attachment for benefits received, the duty of blind obedience was framed by the iron hand of violence, and by the craft of impious hypocrisy, degrading everything held for holy by men religion itself into a tool of oppression on earth. It was the era of uncontroverted despotism, which, with sacrilegious arrogance, claimed the title of divine rank; and mankind advanced slowly in progress, because it was not conscious of its own aim. Oppression was taken for a gloomy fatality.

The scene has changed. Nations have become conscious of their rights and destiny, and will tolerate no masters, nor will suffer oppression any longer. The spirit of freedom moves through the air; and remember, that you are morally somewhat responsible for it, inasmuch as it is your glorious struggle for independence which was the first upheaving of mankind’s heart roused to self-conscious life. Even by that first effort she gloriously achieved the national independence of America. Though gifted with all the blessings of nature’s virginal vitality, you would never have succeeded to achieve this wonderful growth which we see, if you had employed your conquered national independence merely to take a new master for the old one.

And mark well, gentlemen! a nation may have a master even if it has no king a nation may be called a republic, and yet be not free Wherever centralization exists, there the nation has either sold or lent, either alienated or delegated its sovereignty; and wherever this is done, the nation has a master and he who has a master is of course not his own master. Power may be centralized in many the centralization by and by will be concentrated in few, as in ancient Venice, or in one, as in France at the time of the “Uncle,” some forty years ago, and again in France, now that the “Nephew” has his bloody reign for a day.

Yes, gentlemen, if that generation of devoted patriots who achieved the Independence of the United States, had merely changed the old master for a new one with the name of an Emperor or a King, or of an omnipotent President, your country were now just something like Brazil or Mexico, or the Republic of South America, all of them independent, as you know, and all except Brazil even Republics, and all rich with nature’s blessings, and offering a new home to those who fly from the oppression of the Old World and yet all of them old before they were young, and decrepit before they were strong. Had the founders of your country’s Independence followed this direction which led the rest of America astray, Cincinnati would be a hamlet yet as it was in Jacob Wetzel’s time; and Ohio, instead of being a first-rate star in the constellation of your Republic, would be an appendage of neighbouring Eastern States a not yet explored desert, marked in the map of America only by lines of northern latitude and western longitude.

The people, a real sovereign; your institutions securing real freedom, because founded on the principles of self-government; union to secure national independence and the position of a power on earth; and all together, having no master but God; omnipotence not vested in any man, in any assembly, and an open field to every honest exertion because civil, political, and religious liberty is the common benefit to all, not limited but by itself (that is, by the unseen, but not unfelt, influence of self-given law); that is the key of the living wonder which spreads before my eyes.

Let me recall to your memory a curious fact. It is just a hundred years ago, that the first trading house upon the Great Miami was built by daring English adventurers, at a place later known as Laramie’s Store, then the territory of the Twigtwee Indians. The trade house was destroyed by Frenchmen, who possessed then a whole world on the continent of America. Well, twenty-four years later, France aided your America in its struggle for independence; and oh! feel not offended in your proud power of to-day, when I say that independence would not then have been achieved without the aid of France.

Since that time, France has been twice a Republic, and changed its constitutions thirteen times; and, though thirty-six millions strong, it has lost every foot of land on the continent of America, and at home it lies prostrated beneath the feet of the most inglorious usurper that ever dared to raise ambition’s bloody seat upon the ruins of liberty. And your Republic? It has grown a giant of power. And Ohio? out of the ruins of a trading-house into a mighty commonwealth of two millions of free and happy men, who shout out with a voice like the thunderstorm, to the despots of the Old World, “ye shall stop in your ambitious way before the power of freedom, ready to protect the common laws of all humanity.”

What a glorious triumph of your institutions over the principles of CENTRALIZED government!

Oh! may all the generations yet unborn, and all the millions who will yet gather in this New World of the West, which soon will preponderate in the scale of the Union, where all the west weighed nothing fifty years ago may they all ever and ever remember the high instruction which the Almighty has revealed in this parallel of different results.

Sir, you say that Ohio can show no battle field connected with recollections of your own glorious revolution. Let me answer, that the whole West is a monument, and Cincinnati the fair cornice of it. If your eastern sister States have instructed the world how nations become independent and free, the West shows to the world what a nation once independent and really free can become.

Allow me to declare, that by standing before the world as such an instructive example, you exercise the most effective revolutionary propaganda; for if the mis-result of French revolutions discourage the nations from shaking off the ‘oppressors’ yoke, your victory, and still more, your unparalleled prosperity, has encouraged oppressed nations to dare what you dared.

Egotists and hypocrites may say that you are not responsible for it; you have bid nobody to follow you: and it may be true that you are not responsible before a tribunal. Still, you are sufficiently free not to feel offended by a true word; therefore I say you are responsible before your own conscience, for, your example having started a new doctrine, the teacher of a new doctrine is morally bound not to forsake his doctrine when assailed in the person of his disciples.