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Robert Green Ingersoll
THE POLICE CAPTAINS' DINNER. New York, January, 21, 1888. TOAST. Duties and Privileges of the Press. ONLY a little while ago, the nations of the world were ignorant and provincial. Between these nations there were the walls and barriers of language, of prejudice, of custom, of race and of religion. Each little nation had the only perfect form of government -- the only genuine religion -- all others being adulterations or counterfeits. Bank of Wisdom Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201 15 THE POLICE CAPTAINS' DINNER. These nations met only as enemies. They had nothing to exchange but blows -- nothing to give and take but wounds. Movable type was invented, and "civilization was thrust into the brain of Europe on the point of a Moorish lance." The Moors gave to our ancestors paper, and nearly all valuable inventions that were made for a thousand years. In a little while, books began to be printed -- the nations began to exchange thoughts instead of blows. The classics were translated. These were read, and those who read them began to imitate them -- began to write themselves; and in this way there was produced in each nation a local literature. There came to be an exchange of facts, of theories, of ideas. For many years this was accomplished by books, but after a time the newspaper was invented, and the exchange increased. Before this, every peasant thought his king the greatest being in the world. He compared this king -- his splendor, his palace -- with the peasant neighbor, with his rags and with his hut. All his thoughts were provincial, all his knowledge confined to his own neighborhood -- the great world was to him an unknown land. Long after papers were published, the circulation was small, the means of intercommunication slow, painful, few and costly. The same was true in our own country, and here, too, was in a great degree, the provincialism of the Old World. Finally, the means of intercommunication increased, and they became plentiful and cheap. Then the peasant found that he must compare his king with the kings of other nations -- the statesmen of his country with the statesmen of others -- and these comparisons were not always favorable to the men of his own country. This enlarged his knowledge and his vision, and the tendency of this was to make him a citizen of the world. Here in our own country, a little while ago, the citizen of each State regarded his State as the best of all. To love that State more than all others, was considered the highest evidence of patriotism. The Press finally informed him of the condition of other States. He found that other States were superior to his in many ways -- in climate, in production, in men, in invention, in commerce and in influence. Slowly he transferred the love of State, the prejudice of locality -- what I call mud patriotism -- to the Nation, and he became an American in the best and highest sense. This, then, is one of the greatest things to be accomplished by the Press in America -- namely, the unification of the country -- the destruction of provincialism, and the creation of a patriotism broad as the territory covered by our flag. Bank of Wisdom Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201 16 THE POLICE CAPTAINS' DINNER. The same ideas, the same events, the same news, are carried to millions of homes every day. The result of this is to fix the attention of all upon the same things, the same thoughts and theories, the same facts -- and the result is to get the best judgment of a nation. This is a great and splendid object, but not the greatest. In Europe the same thing is taking place. The nations are becoming acquainted with each other. The old prejudices are dying out. The people of each nation are beginning to find that they are not the enemies of any other. They are also beginning to suspect that where they have no cause of quarrel, they should neither be called upon to fight, nor to pay the expenses of war. Another thing: The kings and statesmen no longer act as they formerly did. Once they were responsible only to their poor and wretched subjects, whose obedience they compelled at the point of the bayonet. Now a king knows, and his minister knows, that they must give account for what they do to the civilized world. They know that kings and rulers must be tried before the great bar of public opinion -- a public opinion that has been formed by the facts given to them in the Press of the world. They do not wish to be condemned at that great bar. They seek not only not to be condemned -- not only to be acquitted -- but they seek to be crowned. They seek the applause, not simply of their own nation, but of the civilized world. There was for uncounted centuries a conflict between civilization and barbarism. Barbarism was almost universal, civilization local. The torch of progress was then held by feeble hands, and barbarism extinguished it in the blood of its founders. But civilizations arose, and kept rising, one after another, until now the great Republic holds and is able to hold that torch against a hostile world. By its Invention, by its weapons of war, by its intelligence, civilization became capable of protecting itself, and there came a time when in the struggle between civilization and barbarism the world passed midnight. Then came another struggle, -- the struggle between the people and their rulers. Most peoples sacrificed their liberty through gratitude to some great soldier who rescued them from the arms of the barbarian. But there came a time when the people said: "We have a right to govern ourselves." And that conflict has been waged for centuries. And I say, protected and corroborated by the flag of the greatest of all Republics, that in that conflict the world has passed midnight. Despotisms were softened by parliaments, by congresses -- but at last the world is beginning to say: "The right to govern rests upon the consent of the governed. The power comes from the people -- not from kings. It belongs to man, and should be exercised by man." Bank of Wisdom Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201 17 THE POLICE CAPTAINS' DINNER. In this conflict we have passed midnight. The world is destined to be republican. Those who obey the laws will make the laws. Our country -- the United States -- the great Republic - owns the fairest portion of half the world. We have now sixty millions of free people. Look upon the map of our country. Look upon the great valley of the Mississippi -- stretching from the Alleghenies to the Rockies. See the great basin drained by that mighty river. There you will see a territory large enough to feed and clothe and educate five hundred millions of human beings. This country is destined to remain as one. The Mississippi River is Nature's protest against secession and against division. We call that nation civilized when its subjects submit their differences of opinion, in accordance with the forms of law, to fellow-citizens who are disinterested and who accept the decision as final. The nations, however, sustain no such relation to each other. Each nation concludes for itself. Each nation defines its rights and its obligations; and nations will not be civilized in respect of their relations to each other, until there shall have been established a National Court to decide differences between nations, to the judgment of which all shall bow. It is for the Press -- the Press that photographs the human activities of every day -- the Press that gives the news of the world to each individual -- to bend its mighty energies to the unification and the civilization of mankind; to the destruction of provincialism, of prejudice -- to the extirpation of ignorance and to the creation of a great and splendid patriotism that embraces the human race. The Press presents the daily thoughts of men. It marks the progress of each hour, and renders a relapse into ignorance and barbarism impossible. No catastrophe can be great enough, no ruin wide-spread enough, to engulf or blot out the wisdom of the world. Feeling that it is called to this high destiny, the Press should appeal only to the highest and to the noblest in the human heart. It should not be the bat of suspicion, a raven, hoarse with croaking disaster, a chattering jay of gossip, or a vampire fattening on the reputations of men. It should remain the eagle, rising and soaring high in the cloudless blue, above all mean and sordid things, and grasping only the bolts and arrows of justice. Let the Press have the courage always to defend the right, always to defend the people -- and let it always have the power to clutch and strangle any combination of men, however intellectual or cunning or rich, that feeds and fattens on the flesh and blood of honest men. Bank of Wisdom Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201 18 THE POLICE CAPTAINS' DINNER. In a little while, under our flag there will be five hundred millions of people. The great Republic will then dictate to the world -- that is to say, it will succor the oppressed -- it will see that justice is done -- it will say to the great nations that wish to trample upon the weak: "You must not -- you shall not -- strike." It will be obeyed. All I ask is -- all I hope is -- that the Press will always be worthy of the great Republic. END