WESTERN SOCIETY OF THE ARMY OF THE POTOMAC BANQUET.
by Robert G. Ingersoll
Chicago, January 31, 1894.
FIRST of all, I wish to thank you for allowing me to be present. Next, I wish to congratulate you that you are all alive. I congratulate you that you were born in this century, the greatest century in the world’s history, the greatest century of intellectual genius and of physical, mental and moral progress that the world ever knew. I congratulate you all that you are members of the Army of the Potomac. I believe that no better army ever marched under the flag of any nation. There was no difficulty that discouraged you; no defeat that disheartened you. For years you bore the heat and burden of battle; for years you saw your comrades torn by shot and shell, but wiping the tears from your cheeks you marched on with greater determination than ever to fight to the end.
To the Army of the Potomac belong: the eternal honor of having obtained finally the sword of Rebellion. I congratulate you because you fought for the Republic, and I thank you for your courage. For by you the United States was kept on the map of the world, and our flag was kept floating. If not for your work, neither would have been there. You removed from it the only stain that was ever on it. You fought not only the battle of the Union, but of the whole world.
I congratulate you that you live in a period when the North has attained a higher moral altitude than was ever attained by any nation. You now live in a country which believes in absolute freedom for all. In this country any man may reap what he sows and may give his honest thought to his fellow-men. It is wonderful to think what this Nation was before the Army of the Potomac came into existence. It believed in liberty as the convict believer in liberty. It was a country where men that had honest thoughts were ostracized. I thank you and your courage for what we are. Nothing ennobles a man so much as fighting for the right. Whoever fights for the wrong wounds himself. I believe that every man who fought in the Union army came out a stronger and a better and a nobler man.
I believe in this country. I am so young and so full of enthusiasm that I am a believer in National growth. I want this country to be territorial and to become larger than it is. I want a country worthy of Chicago. I want to pick up the West Indies, take in the Bermudas, the Bahamas and Barbados. They are our islands. They belong to this continent and it is a piece of impudence for any other nation to think of owning them. We want to grow. Such is the extravagance of my ambition that I even want the Sandwich Islands. They say that these islands are too far away from us; that they are two thousand miles from our shores. But they are nearer to our shores than to any other. I want them. I want a naval station there. I want America to be mistress of the Pacific. Then there is another thing in my mind. I want to grow North and South. I want Canada — good people — good land. I want that country. I do not want to steal it, but I want it. I want to go South with this Nation. My idea is this: There is only air enough between the Isthmus of Panama and the North Pole for one flag. A country that guarantees liberty to all cannot be too large. If any of these people are ignorant, we will educate them; give them the benefit of our free schools. Another thing — I might as well sow a few seeds for next fall. I have heard many reasons why the South failed in the Rebellion, and why with the help of Northern dissensions and a European hatred the South did not succeed. I will tell you. In my judgment, the South failed, not on account of its army, but from other conditions. Luckily for us, the South had always been in favor of free trade.
Secondly — The South raised and sold raw material, and when, the war came it had no foundries, no factories, and no looms to weave the cloth for uniforms; no shops to make munitions; of war, and it had to get what supplies it could by running the blockade. We of the North had the cloth to clothe our soldiers, shops to make our bayonets; we had all the curious wheels that invention had produced, and had labor and genius, the power of steam, and the water to make what we needed, and we did not require anything from any other country. Suppose this whole country raised raw material and shipped it out, we would be in the condition that the South was. We want this Nation to be independent of the whole world. A nation to be ready to settle questions of dispute by war should be in a condition of absolute independence. For that reason I want all the wheels turning in this country, all the chimneys full of fire, all the looms running, the iron red hot everywhere. I want to see all mechanics having plenty of work with good wages and good homes for their families, good food, schools for their children, plenty of clothes, and enough to take care of a child if it happens to take sick. I am for the independence of America, the growth of America physically, mentally, and every other way. The time will come when all nations combined cannot take that flag out of the sky. I want to see this country so that if a deluge sweeps every other nation from the face of the globe we would have all we want made right here by our factories, by American brain and hand.
I thank you that the republic still lives. I thank you that we are all lovers of freedom, I thank you for having helped establish a Government where every child has an opportunity, and where every avenue of advancement is open to all.