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DELIVERED AT WINDIAM CENTRE, GREENE COUNTY, N.Y.,
JULY 4, 1859,
BY THE LATE
COL. WILLIAM A. JACKSON,
OF THE EIGHTEENTH REGIMENT OF NEW-YORK VOLUNTEERS.
It has been said, Fellow-citizens, that as nation, we have no history. But when I read of the enterprize, the courage, the determination which peculiarly characterize the colonization of our land; and when to-day, in looking about me, I perceive the wonderful results that have been accomplished since the Saxon arm began the conflict with primeval nature on our own shores, I am persuaded that no other chapter in the history of the world presents so splendid a phase of human development.
Our history does not offer the reader the eventful succession of a long and brilliant monarchy : it has no feudal and chivalric period, no grand armada, no Waterloo ; but it records the patient endurance, the heroic suffering, the God-given energy and will which have upreared a mighty empire. It records the story of a revolution, which marked a new era in the progress of the race; it writes, on the page of heroes, the names of thousands whose brave hearts beat for humanity.
The contemplation of these facts in our history should give us great pride. From these we can learn what it is to be American citizens in the full and proper sense. They offer us example and advice. Let us ask ourselves what is American citizenship; what the position, the duties, the rewards. To be a citizen of this free land implies sovereignty; not domination over a crushed people, not the unbridled license of one against the fettered liberties of all others, but the sovereignty over self, the freedom of untrammelled utterance, the privilege of a voice in the creation of the laws which govern.
The political condition of the American citizen is anomalous, in the present condition of the world. The causes that make it thus are written in our revolution, in our constitution, in our political system. And because it is anomalous, because the American citizen is the sole representative of the principle of self-government, because to his care history has bequeathed the priceless ideas asserted and established by patriots at Athens and at Rome, because from buried ages comes the warning voice of the Forum and the Capitol, because humanity sends from the old world its wail of lamentation, should each citizen feel himself the exponent of the system under which he lives, and so act by voice and vote as to strengthen its power for good. The position of the American citizen, then, is one of great responsibility. A Providence in history has made him a prominent figure in the world's drama. He is looked upon and envied, because he is free. He possesses every right which man can ask. It is not then merely his pleasure to enjoy his freedom and his rights, but his duty to prove them worthy of enjoyment by strengthening and defending them, by preserving their purity, and thus giving them a voice of moral strength which shall speak like the voice of prophecy to the nations of the earth.
Oh the responsibility of freedom! Do the men of America feel it? Do they properly remember, on this our Nation's great festival, the occasion and the means that gave it birth? Do they remember that they possess their liberty in trust? Do they remember that they should render it with increase to their children? Do they bear in mind that the magnitude of a blessing is a measure of responsibility ? Let every man write over his hearthstone, “Where much is given, much will be required.”