Robert Green Ingersoll
A TRIBUTE TO ROSCOE CONKLING. Delivered before the New York State Legislature, at Albany, N.Y., May 9, 1888. ROSCOE CONKLING -- A great man, an orator, a statesman, a lawyer, a distinguished citizen of the Republic, in the zenith of his fame and power has reached his journey's end; and we are met, here in the city of his birth, to pay our tribute to his worth and work. He earned and held a proud position in the public thought. He stood for independence, for courage, and above all for absolute integrity, and his name was known and honored by many millions of his fellow-men. The literature of many lands is rich with the tributes that gratitude, admiration and love have paid to the great and honored dead. These tributes disclose the character of nations, the ideals of the human race. In them we find the estimates of greatness -- the deeds and lives that challenged praise and thrilled the hearts of men. In the presence of death, the good man judges as he would be judged. He knows that men are only fragments -- that the greatest walk in shadow, and that faults and failures mingle with the lives of all. In the grave should be buried the prejudices and passions born of conflict. Charity should hold the scales in which are weighed the deeds of men. Peculiarities, traits born of locality and surroundings -- these are but the dust of the race -- these are accidents, drapery, clothes, fashions, that have nothing to do with the man except to hide his character. They are the clouds that cling to mountains. Time gives us clearer vision. That which was merely local fades away. The words of envy are forgotten, and all there is of sterling worth remains. He who was called a partisan is a patriot. The revolutionist and the outlaw are the founders of nations, and he who was regarded as a scheming, selfish politician becomes a statesman, a philosopher, whose words and deeds shed light. Fortunate is that nation great enough to know the great. When a great man dies -- one who has nobly fought the battle of a life, who has been faithful to every trust, and has uttered his highest, noblest thought -- one who has stood proudly by the right in spite of jeer and taunt, neither stopped by foe nor swerved by friend -- in honoring him, in speaking words of praise and love above his dust, we pay a tribute to ourselves. Bank of Wisdom Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201 6 A TRIBUTE TO ROSCOE CONKLING. How poor this world would be without its graves, without the memories of its mighty dead. Only the voiceless speak forever. Intelligence, integrity and courage are the great pillars that support the State. Above all, the citizens of a free nation should honor the brave and independent man -- the man of stainless integrity, of will and intellectual force. Such men are the Atlases on whose mighty shoulders rest the great fabric of the Republic. Flatterers, cringers, crawlers, time-servers are the dangerous citizens of a democracy. They who gain applause and power by pandering to the mistakes, the prejudices and passions of the multitude, are the enemies of liberty. When the intelligent submit to the clamor of the many, anarchy begins and the Republic reaches the edge of chaos. Mediocrity, touched with ambition, flatters the base and calumniates the great, while the true patriot, who will do neither, is often sacrificed. In a government of the people a leader should be a teacher -- he should carry the torch of truth. Most people are the slaves of habit -- followers of custom -- believers in the wisdom of the past -- and were it not for brave and splendid souls, "the dust of antique time would lie unswept, and mountainous error be too highly heaped for truth to overpeer." Custom is a prison, locked and barred by those who long ago were dust, the keys of which are in the keeping of the dead. Nothing is grander than when a strong, intrepid man breaks chains, levels walls and breasts the many-headed mob like some great cliff that meets and mocks the innumerable billows of the sea. The politician hastens to agree with the majority -- insists that their prejudice is patriotism, that their ignorance is wisdom; -- not that he loves them, but, because he loves himself. The statesman, the real reformer, points out the mistakes of the multitude, attacks the prejudices of his countrymen, laughs at their follies, denounces their cruelties, enlightens and enlarges their minds and educates the conscience -- not because he loves himself, but because he loves and serves the right and wishes to make his country great and free. With him defeat is but a spur to further effort. He who refuses to stoop, who cannot be bribed by the promise of success, or the fear of failure -- who walks the highway of the right, and in disaster stands erect, is the only victor. Nothing is more despicable than to reach fame by crawling, -- to position by cringing. When real history shall be written by the truthful and the wise, these men, these kneelers at the shrines of chance and fraud, these brazen idols worshiped once as gods, will be the very food of scorn, while those who bore the burden of defeat, who earned and kept their self-respect, who would not bow to man or men for place or power, will wear upon their brows the laurel mingled with the oak. Bank of Wisdom Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201 7 A TRIBUTE TO ROSCOE CONKLING. Roscoe Conkling was a man of superb courage. He not only acted without fear, but he had that fortitude of soul that bears the consequences of the course pursued without complaint. He was charged with being proud. The charge was true -- he was proud. His knees were as inflexible as the "unwedgeable and gnarled oak," but he was not vain. Vanity rests on the opinion of others -- pride, on our own. The source of vanity is from without -- of pride, from within. Vanity is a vane that turns, a willow that bends, with every breeze -- pride is the oak that defies the storm. One is cloud -- the other rock. One is weakness -- the other strength. This imperious man entered public life in the dawn of the reformation -- at a time when the country needed men of pride, of principle and courage. The institution of slavery had poisoned all the springs of power. Before this crime ambition fell upon its knees, -- politicians, judges, clergymen, and merchant -- princes bowed low and humbly, with their hats in their hands. The real friend of man was denounced as the enemy of his country -- the real enemy of the human race was called a statesman and a patriot. Slavery was the bond and pledge of peace, of union, and national greatness. The temple of American liberty was finished -- the auction-block was the corner-stone. It is hard to conceive of the utter demoralization, of the political blindness and immorality, of the patriotic dishonesty, of the cruelty and degradation of a people who supplemented the incomparable Declaration of Independence with the Fugitive Slave Law. Think of the honored statesmen of that ignoble time who wallowed in this mire and who, decorated with dripping filth, received the plaudits of their fellow-men. The noble, the really patriotic, were the victims of mobs, and the shameless were clad in the robes of office. But let us speak no word of blame -- let us feel that each one acted according to his light -- according to his darkness. At last the conflict came. The hosts of light and darkness prepared to meet upon the fields of war. The question was presented: Shall the Republic be slave or free? The Republican party had triumphed at the polls. The greatest man in our history was President elect. The victors were appalled -- they shrank from the great responsibility of success. In the presence of rebellion they hesitated -- they offered to return the fruits of victory. Hoping to avert war they were willing that slavery should become immortal. An amendment to the Constitution was proposed, to the effect that no subsequent amendment should ever be made that in any way should interfere with the right of man to steal his fellow-men. This, the most marvelous proposition ever submitted to a Congress of civilized men, received in the House an over-whelming majority, and the necessary two-thirds in the Senate. The Republican party, in the moment of its triumph, deserted every principle for which it had so gallantly contended, and with the trembling hands of fear laid its convictions on the altar of compromise. Bank of Wisdom Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201 8 A TRIBUTE TO ROSCOE CONKLING. The Old Guard, numbering but sixty-five in the House, stood as firm as the three hundred at Thermopylae. Thaddeus Stevens -- as maliciously right as any other man was ever wrong -- refused to kneel. Owen Lovejoy, remembering his brother's noble blood, refused to surrender, and on the edge of disunion, in the shadow of civil war, with the air filled with sounds of dreadful preparation, while the Republican party was retracing its steps, Roscoe Conkling voted No. This puts a wreath of glory on his tomb. From that vote to the last moment of his life he was a champion of equal rights, staunch and stalwart. From that moment he stood in the front rank. He never wavered and he never swerved. By his devotion to principle -- his courage, the splendor of his diction, -- by his varied and profound knowledge, his conscientious devotion to the great cause, and by his intellectual scope and grasp, he won and held the admiration of his fellow-men. Disasters in the field, reverses at the polls, did not and could not shake his courage or his faith. He knew the ghastly meaning of defeat. He knew that the great ship that slavery sought to strand and wreck was freighted with the world's sublimest hope. He battled for a nation's life -- for the rights of slaves -- the dignity of labor, and the liberty of all. He guarded with a father's care the rights of the hunted, the hated and despised. He attacked the savage statutes of the reconstructed States with a torrent of invective, scorn and execration. He was not satisfied until the freed man was an American Citizen -- clothed with every civil right -- until the Constitution was his shield -- until the ballot was his sword. And long after we are dead, the colored man in this and other lands will speak his name in reverence and love. Others wavered, but he stood firm; some were false, but he was proudly true -- fearlessly faithful unto death. He gladly, proudly grasped the hands of colored men who stood with him as makers of our laws, and treated them as equals and as friends. The cry of "social equality" coined and uttered by the cruel and the base, was to him the expression of a great and splendid truth. He knew that no man can be the equal of the one he robs -- that the intelligent and unjust are not the superiors of the ignorant and honest -- and he also felt, and proudly felt, that if he were not too great to reach the hand of help and recognition to the slave, no other Senator could rightfully refuse. We rise by raising others -- and he who stoops above the fallen, stands erect. Nothing can be grander than to sow the seeds of noble thoughts and virtuous deeds -- to liberate the bodies and the souls of men -- to earn the grateful homage of a race -- and then, in life's last shadowy hour, to know that the historian of Liberty will be compelled to write your name. Bank of Wisdom Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201 9 A TRIBUTE TO ROSCOE CONKLING. There are no words intense enough, -- with heart enough -- to express my admiration for the great and gallant souls who have in every age and every land upheld the right, and who have lived and died for freedom's sake. In our lives have been the grandest years that man has lived, that Time has measured by the flight of worlds. The history of that great Party that let the oppressed go free -- that lifted our nation from the depths of savagery to freedom's cloudless, heights, and tore with holy hands from every law the words that sanctified the cruelty of man, is the most glorious in the annals of our race. Never before was there such a moral exaltation -- never a party with a purpose so pure and high. It was the embodied conscience of a nation, the enthusiasm of a people guided by wisdom, the impersonation of justice; and the sublime victory achieved loaded even the conquered with all the rights that freedom can bestow. Roscoe Conkling was an absolutely honest man. Honesty is the oak around which all other virtues cling. Without that they fall, and groveling die in weeds and dust. He believed that a nation should discharge its obligations. He knew that a promise could not be made often enough, or emphatic enough, to take the place of payment. He felt that the promise of the Government was the promise of every citizen -- that a national obligation was a personal debt, and that no possible combination of words and pictures could take the place of coin. He uttered the splendid truth that "the higher obligations among men are not set down in writing signed and sealed, but reside in honor." He knew that repudiation was the sacrifice of honor -- the death of the national soul. He knew that without character, without integrity, there is no wealth, and that below poverty, below bankruptcy, is the rayless abyss of repudiation. He upheld the sacredness of contracts, of plighted national faith, and helped to save and keep the honor of his native land. This adds another laurel to his brow. He was the ideal representative, faithful and incorruptible. He believed that his constituents and his country were entitled to the fruit of his experience, to his best and highest thought. No man ever held the standard of responsibility higher than he. He voted according to his judgment. his conscience. He made no bargains -- he neither bought nor sold. To correct evils, abolish abuses and inaugurate reforms, he believed was not only the duty, but the privilege, of a legislator. He neither sold nor mortgaged himself. He was in Congress during the years of vast expenditure, of war and waste -- when the credit of the nation was loaned to individuals -- when claims were thick as leaves in June, when the amendment of a statute, the change of a single word, meant millions, and when empires were given to corporations. He stood at the summit of his power -- peer of the greatest -- a leader tried and trusted. He had the tastes of a prince, the fortune of a peasant, and yet he never swerved. No corporation was great enough or rich enough to purchase him. His vote could not be bought "for all the sun sees, or the close earth wombs, or the profound seas hide." His hand was never touched by Bank of Wisdom Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201 10 A TRIBUTE TO ROSCOE CONKLING. any bribe, and on his soul there never was a sordid stain. Poverty was his priceless crown. Above his marvelous intellectual gifts -- above all place he ever reached, -- above the ermine he refused, -- rises his integrity like some great mountain peak -- and there it stands, firm as the earth beneath, pure as the stars above. He was a great lawyer. He understood the frame-work, the anatomy, the foundations of law; was familiar with the great streams and currents and tides of authority. He knew the history of legislation -- the principles that have been settled upon the fields of war. He knew the maxims, -- those crystallizations of common sense, those hand-grenades of argument. He was not a case-lawyer -- a decision index, or an echo; he was original, thoughtful and profound. He had breadth and scope, resource, learning, logic, and above all, a sense of justice. He was painstaking and conscientious -- anxious to know the facts -- preparing for every attack, ready for every defence. He rested only when the end was reached. During the contest, he neither sent nor received a flag of truce. He was true to his clients -- making their case his. Feeling responsibility, he listened patiently to details, and to his industry there were only the limits of time and strength. He was a student of the Constitution. He knew the boundaries of State and Federal jurisdiction, and no man was more familiar with those great decisions that are the peaks and promontories, the headlands and the beacons, of the law. He was an orator,-logical, earnest, intense and picturesque. He laid the foundation with care, with accuracy and skill, and rose by "cold gradation and well balanced form" from the corner-stone of statement to the domed conclusion. He filled the stage. He satisfied the eye -- the audience was his. He had that indefinable thing called presence. Tall, commanding, erect -- ample in speech, graceful in compliment, Titanic in denunciation, rich in illustration, prodigal of comparison and metaphor -- and his sentences, measured and rhythmical, fell like music on the enraptured throng. He abhorred the Pharisee, and loathed all conscientious fraud. He had a profound aversion for those who insist on putting base motives back of the good deeds of others. He wore no mask. He knew his friends -- his enemies knew him. He had no patience with pretence -- with patriotic reasons for unmanly acts. He did his work and bravely spoke his thought. Sensitive to the last degree, he keenly felt the blows and stabs of the envious and obscure -- of the smallest, of the weakest -- but the greatest could not drive him from conviction's field. He would not stoop to ask or give an explanation. He left his words and deeds to justify themselves. He held in light esteem a friend who heard with half believing ears the slander of a foe. He walked a highway of his own, and kept the company of his self-respect. He would not turn aside to avoid a foe -- to greet or gain a friend. Bank of Wisdom Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201 11 A TRIBUTE TO ROSCOE CONKLING. In his nature there was no compromise. To him there were but two paths -- the right and wrong. He was maligned, misrepresented and misunderstood -- but he would not answer. He knew that character speaks louder far than any words. He was as silent then as he is now -- and his silence, better than any form of speech, refuted every charge. He was an American -- proud of his country, that was and ever will be proud of him. He did not find perfection only in other lands. He did not grow small and shrunken, withered and apologetic, in the presence of those upon whom greatness had been thrust by chance. He could not be overawed by dukes or lords, nor flattered into vertebrate-less subserviency by the patronizing smiles of kings. In the midst of conventionalities he had the feeling of suffocation. He believed in the royalty of man, in the sovereignty of the citizen, and in the matchless greatness of this Republic. He was of the classic mould -- a figure from the antique world. He had the pose of the great statues -- the pride and bearing of the intellectual Greek, of the conquering Roman, and he stood in the wide free air as though within his veins there flowed the blood of a hundred kings. And as he lived he died. Proudly he entered the darkness -- or the dawn -- that we call death. Unshrinkingly he passed beyond our horizon, beyond the twilight's purple hills, beyond the utmost reach of human harm or help -- to that vast realm of silence or of joy where the innumerable dwell, and he has left with us his wealth of thought and deed -- the memory of a brave, imperious, honest man, who bowed alone to death. **** **** Electronic Publishing can defeat censorship. The Bank of Wisdom Inc. is a collection of the most thoughtful, scholarly and factual books. These computer books are reprints of suppressed books and will cover American and world history; the Biographies and writings of famous persons, and especially of our nations Founding Fathers. They will include philosophy and religion. all these subjects, and more, will be made available to the public in electronic form, easily copied and distributed, so that America can again become what its Founders intended -- The Free Market-Place of Ideas. The Bank of Wisdom is always looking for more of these old, hidden, suppressed and forgotten books that contain needed facts and information for today. If you have such books please contact us, we need to give them back to America. Bank of Wisdom Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201 12
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Reproducible Electronic Publishing can defeat censorship.
The Bank of Wisdom is a collection of the most thoughtful, scholarly and factual books. These computer books are reprints of suppressed books and will cover American and world history; the Biographies and writings of famous persons, and especially of our nations Founding Fathers. They will include philosophy and religion. all these subjects, and more, will be made available to the public in electronic form, easily copied and distributed, so that America can again become what its Founders intended --
The Free Market-Place of Ideas.
The Bank of Wisdom is always looking for more of these old, hidden, suppressed and forgotten books that contain needed facts and information for today. If you have such books please contact us, we need to give them back to America.
Bank of Wisdom
Louisville, KY 40201