Wordy Fourths

In recent years, Salem has put on an amazing fireworks display for the Fourth, before that it was BIG blazing bonfires, and before that it was LONG orations–sometime competing long orations. These speeches were always given by “notable” men, sometimes from Salem, and always from Massachusetts. I went through a succession of these speeches–which used to run to an hour and more by all accounts–to try to pick out some themes beyond a general patriotism. In the first decade of the nineteenth century, it’s all about competing visions for the country by the Jeffersonian Republicans and the Federalists, a more unified message emerges with the onset of war with Britain in the next decade, and then gradually we move towards abolitionism and nativism: sometimes together. We get occasional glimpses of other aspects of celebration/commemoration in the first half of the nineteenth century (see 1808 below), but mostly what is recorded are WORDS.

Fourth of July 1804 collage

Fourth of July 1805

Fourth of July 1808

July 4 1810

_Fourth 1812 collagePrinted Independence Day Orations from Salem, and the arrangements for the Federalists’ holiday in 1808, with dinner at the “new” Assembly House: Hamilton Hall. I am wondering if the Benjamin Peirce of 1812 is the Benjamin Peirce of 1775–he would have been 74 years old.

Fourth of July 1826 I found it surprising that there was STILL animosity towards Britain more than a decade after the War of 1812 was over–this must be a reflection of the damage the war caused to Salem’s trade and position. The Reverend Henry Colman tried to smooth feathers in his 1826 oration: I am aware of the extreme and bitter diversity of opinion which prevailed among her best citizens in regard to the recent war. But at this distance of time we can view the subject calmly and weigh its merits with justice, candid minds, whatever may be their views of its expedience or management, will find it difficult to doubt that the motives in which it originated with were patriotic…..And unsuccessful as it may be deemed by any in the attainment of its avowed objects, the country came out of it, bringing new trophies of an illustrious heroism, and of a devotion to what many might reasonably deem the cause of liberty and right, worthy of those who hold alliance to the heroes of the revolution”.

Nearly twenty years later—-looking backward from my privileged perspective— it looks like we are gearing up for yet another war with Anson Burlingame’s 1854 Salem oration. Burlingame was a Massachusetts politician who was fiercely patriotic, abolitionist, and anti-Catholic all at the same time. A few years after he gave this Salem speech, he called South Carolina Congressman Preston Brooks “the vilest sort of coward” for his brutal assault on Senator Charles Sumner, after which Brooks challenged him to duel to which he himself failed to appear, thus proving Burlingame correct! His Fourth of July speech seems to be more passionately Nativist than Abolitionist, and it inspired an amazing satire, also published in 1854: Corporal Pitman’s Great Oration, Pronounced on Salem Common July 4, 1854, a speech that was never given.

Fourth 1854 collage

July 4 1854Anson Burlingame’s Salem speech, 1854, and his defense of Sumner and Massachusetts on the floor of the House of Representatives, 1856; a satire of the former by “Corporal Pitman”, which reads like it would be quite a performance.

I think the truly celebratory Fourth that we enjoy today is rooted in that of the Centennial–in which the whole city was festooned: speeches were certainly made, but the emphasis was more on actions: particularly a city-wide procession.

Fourth 1876 collage

Effusive Fourth1876 and this morning: when it was so hot we could barely stand to stay outside for the 7 (???) minutes or so it took to listen to the reading of the Declaration of Independence. I like how everyone is lining up in the shade, like soldiers.


5 responses to “Wordy Fourths

  • Carol J. Perry

    A wonderful bonfire and display was at Gallows hill when the USS Salem was commisioned. Don’t remember the speeches, probably wordy though. The mayor presented some silver –trays and such.

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  • Helen Breen

    Hi Donna,

    Thanks so much for reviewing those lofty July 4 speeches of yore – and saving us the trouble. LOL

    “I found it surprising that there was STILL animosity towards Britain more than a decade after the War of 1812 was over–this must be a reflection to the damage the war caused to Salem’s trade and position.”

    So in Henry Colman’s speech, the wounds of 1812 had still not healed in Salem. Interesting.

    Good work – hope you enjoyed the day!

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    • daseger

      Thanks Helen–since I’m not trained in American history, I try to learn about it through this blog. Learned a lot going through these speeches, but I’m definitely missing some context. I do not understand the Know Nothings.

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      • Brian Bixby

        I think I have seen Burlingame’s signature on a letter to George Boutwell (contemporary politician).

        And I’m not sure the Know Nothings understood themselves! They took over the Commonwealth’s government for one year (1855) and managed to do almost nothing.

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