Plymouth Oration (Abridged)
in relation to our ancestors and our posterity, we are assembled on this memorable
spot, to perform the duties which that relation and the present occasion impose
We have come to this Rock, to record here our homage for our Pilgrim
Fathers; our sympathy in their sufferings; our gratitude for their labors; our
admiration of their virtues; our veneration for their piety; and our attachment
to those principles of civil and religious liberty, which they encountered the
dangers of the ocean, the storms of heaven, the violence of savages, disease,
exile, and famine, to enjoy and to establish.
And we would leave here, also, for
the generations which are rising up rapidly to fill our places, some proof that
we have endeavored to transmit the great inheritance unimpaired; that in our
estimate of public principles and private virtue, in our veneration of religion
and piety, in our devotion to civil and religions liberty, in our regard for
whatever advances human knowledge or improves human happiness, we are not
altogether unworthy of our origin.
a local feeling connected with this occasion, too strong to be resisted; a sort
of genius of the place, which inspires and awes us. We feel that we are on the
spot where the first scene of our history was laid; where the hearths and altars
of New England were first places; where Christianity, and civilization, and
letters made their first lodgement, in a vast extent of country, covered with a
wilderness, and peopled by roving barbarians.
We are here, at the season of the
year at which the event took place. The imagination irresistibly and rapidly
draws around us the principal features and the leading characters in the
original scene. We cast our eyes abroad on the ocean, and we see where the
little bark, with the interesting group upon its deck, made its slow progress to
the shore. We look around us, and behold the hills and promontories where the
anxious eyes of our fathers first saw the places of habitation and of rest. We
feel the cold which benumbed, and listen to the winds which pierced them.
Beneath us is the Rock, on which New England received the feet of the Pilgrims.
We seem even to behold them, as they struggle with the elements, and, with
toilsome efforts, gain the shore. We listen to the chiefs in council; we see the
unexampled exhibition of female fortitude and resignation; we hear the
whisperings of youthful impatience, and we see, what a painter of our own has
also represented by his pencil, chilled and shivering childhood, houseless, but
for a mother's arms, couchless, but for a mother's breast, till our own blood
The mild dignity of CARVER and of BRADFORD; the decisive and
soldier-like air and manner of STANDISH; the devout BREWSTER; the enterprising ALLERTON; the general firmness and thoughtfulness of the whole band; their
conscious joy for dangers escaped; their deep solicitude about danger to come;
their trust in Heaven; their high religious faith, full of confidence and
anticipation; all of these seem to belong to this place, and to be present upon
this occasion, to fill us with reverence and admiration...
nature and constitution of society and government in this country are
interesting topics, to which I would devote what remains of the time allowed to
See also "Plymouth Oration" (Unabridged)
Of our system of government the first thing to be said is, that
it is really and practically a free system. It originates entirely with the
people and rests on no other foundation than their assent. To judge of its
actual operation, it is not enough to look merely at the form of its
construction. The practical character of government depends often on a variety
of considerations, besides the abstract frame of its constitutional
Among these are the condition and tenure of property; the laws
regulating its alienation and descent; the presence or absence of a military
power; an armed or unarmed yeomanry; the spirit of the age, and the degree of
general intelligence. In these respects it cannot be denied that the
circumstances of this country are most favorable to the hope of maintaining a
government of a great nation on principles entirely popular.
In the absence of
military power, the nature of government must essentially depend on the manner
in which property is holden and distributed. There is a natural influence
belonging to property, whether it exists in many hands or few; and it is on the
rights of property that both despotism and unrestrained popular violence
ordinarily commence their attacks. Our ancestors began their system of
government here under a condition of comparative equality in regard to wealth,
and their early laws were of a nature to favor and continue this equality.
republican form of government rests not more on political constitutions, than on
those laws which regulate the descent and transmission of property. Governments
like ours could not have been maintained, where property was holden according to
the principles of the feudal system; nor, on the other hand, could the feudal
constitution possibly exist with us.
Our New England ancestors brought hither no
great capitals from Europe; and if they had, there was nothing productive in
which they could have been invested. They left behind them the whole feudal
policy of the other continent. They broke away at once from the system of
military service established in the Dark Ages, and which continues, down even to
the present time, more or less to affect the condition of property all over
They came to a new country.
There were, as yet, no lands yielding rent,
and no tenants rendering service. The whole soil was unreclaimed from barbarism.
They were themselves, either from their original condition, or from the
necessity of their common interest, nearly on a general level in respect to
property. Their situation demanded a parceling out and division of hte lands,
and it may be fairly said, that this necessary ace fixed the future frame and
form of their government.
The character of their political institutions was
determined by the fundamental laws respecting property. The laws rendered
estates divisible among sons and daughters. The right of primogeniture, at first
limited and curtailed, was afterwards abolished. The property was all freehold.
The entailment of estates, long trusts, and the other processes for fettering
and tying up inheritances, were not applicable to the condition of society, and
seldom made use of.
principle of a free and popular government would seem to be, so to construct it
as to give to all, or at least to a very great majority, an interest in its
preservation; to round it, as other things are rounded, on men's interest.
stability of government demands that those who desire its continuance should be
more powerful than those who desire its dissolution.
This power, of course, is
not always to be measured by mere numbers. Education, wealth, talents, are all
parts and elements of the general aggregate of power; but numbers, nevertheless,
constitute ordinarily the most important consideration, unless, indeed, there be
a military force in the hands of the few, by which they can control the many.
this country we have actually existing systems of government, in the maintenance
of which, it should seem, a great majority, both in numbers and in other means
of power and influence must see their interest. But this state of things is not
brought about solely by written political constitutions, or the mere manner of
organizing government; but also by the laws which regulate the descent and
transmission of property. The freest government, if it could exist, would not be
long acceptable, if the tendency of the laws were to create a rapid accumulation
of property in few hands, and to render the great mass of the population
dependent and penniless.
In such a case, the popular power would be likely to
break limit and control the exercise of popular power. Universal suffrage, for
example, could not long exist in a community where there was great inequality of
property. The holders of estates would be obliged, in such case, in some way to
restrain the right of suffrage, or else such right of suffrage would, before
long, divide the property. In the nature of things, those who have not property,
and see their neighbors possess much more than they think them need, cannot be
favorable to laws made for the protection of property. When this class becomes
numerous, it glows clamorous. It looks on property as its prey and plunder, and
is naturally ready, at all times, for violence and revolution.
seem, then, to be the part of political wisdom to found government on property;
and to establish such distribution of property, by the laws which regulate its
transmission and alienation, as to interest the great majority of society in the
support of the government. This is, I imagine, the true theory and the actual
practice of our republican institutions...
it my duty on this occasion to suggest, that the land is not yet wholly free
from the contamination of a traffic, at which every feeling of humanity must for
ever revolt -- I mean the African slave-trade. Neither public sentiment, nor the
law, has hitherto been able entirely to put an end to this odious and abominable
At the moment when God in his mercy has blessed the Christian world with
a universal peace, there is reason to fear, that, to the disgrace of the
Christian name and character, new efforts are making for the extension of this
trade by subjects and citizens of Christian states, in whose hearts there dwell
no sentiments of humanity or of justice, and over whom neither the fear of God
nor the fear of man exercises a control.
In the sight of our law, the African
slave-trader is a pirate and a felon; and in the sight of Heaven, an offender
beyond the ordinary depth of human guilt.
There is no brighter page of our
history, than that which records the measures which have been adopted by the
government at an early day, and at different times since, for the suppression of
this traffic; and I would call on all the true sons of New England to cooperate
with the laws of man, and the justice of Heaven.
If there be, within the extent
of our knowledge or influence, any participation in this traffic, let us pledge
ourselves here, upon the rock of Plymouth, to extirpate and destroy it.
not fit that the land of the Pilgrims should bear the shame longer. I hear the
sound of the hammer. I see the smoke of the furnaces where manacles and fetters
are still forged for human limbs. I see the visages of those who by stealth and
at midnight labor in this work of hell, foul and dark, as may become the
artificers of such instruments of misery and torture. Let that spot be purified,
or let it cease to be of New England. Let it be purified, or let it be set aside
from the Christian world; let it be put out of the circle of human sympathies
and human regards, and let civilized man henceforth have no communion with it....
hours of this day are rapidly flying, and this occasion will soon be passed.
Neither we nor our children can be expected to behold its return. They are in
the distant regions of futurity, they exist only in the all-creating power of
God, who shall stand here a hundred years hence, to trace, through us, their
descent from the Pilgrims and to survey, as we have now surveyed, the progress
of their country, during the lapse of a century. We would anticipate their
concurrence with us in our sentiments of deep regard for our common ancestors.
We would anticipate and partake the pleasure with which they will then recount
the steps of New England's advancement. On the morning of that day, although it
will not disturb us in our repose, the voice of acclamation and gratitude,
commencing on the Rock of Plymouth, shall be transmitted through millions of the
sons of the Pilgrims, till it lose itself in the murmurs of the Pacific seas.
leave for consideration of those who shall then occupy our places, some proof
that we hold the blessings transmitted from our fathers in just estimation; some
proof of our attachment to the cause of good government, and of civil and
religious liberty; some proof of a sincere and ardent desire to promote every
thing which may enlarge the understandings and improve the hearts of men.
when, from the long distance of a hundred years, they shall look back upon us,
they shall know, at least, that we possessed affections, which, running backward
and warming with gratitude for what our ancestors have done for our happiness,
run forward also to our posterity, and meet them with cordial salutation, ere
yet they have arrived on the shore of being.
then, ye future generations!
We would hail you, as you rise in your long
succession, to fill the places which we now fill, and to taste the blessings of
existence where we are passing, and soon shall have passed, our own human
We bid you welcome to this pleasant land of the fathers.
We bid you
welcome to the healthful skies and the verdant fields of New England.
your accession to the great inheritance which we have enjoyed.
We welcome you to
the blessings of good government and religious liberty.
We welcome you to me
treasures of science and the delights of learning.
We welcome you to the
transcendent sweets of domestic life, to the happiness of kindred, and parents,
We welcome you to the immeasurable blessings of rational
existence, the immortal hope of Christianity, and the light of everlasting
Original Text Source: https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Webster%27s_Plymouth_Oration
Also in this database:
"Plymouth Oration" (Unabridged)
Page Updated: 11/25/22
Also in this database:
"Plymouth Oration" (Unabridged)
Page Updated: 11/25/22
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