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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

The American Idea

By Chauncey Mitchell Depew (1834–1928)

[Oration at the Reunion of the Army of the Potomac, 22 June, 1887.]

IF it be true that the transmittible property of the world accumulated during the last twenty-five years equals all the gains from the birth of Christ to the beginning of the present century, then much of it has been made by this favored nation, which for sixteen hundred years had no existence, and was not an appreciable factor in the divisible property of the earth at the close of the Christian calculation. These unparalleled results can be protected and continued only by the spirit represented by your sacrifices and inspiring your victories—the spirit of patriotism. This is a republic, and neither Mammon nor Anarchy shall be king. The American asks only for a fair field and an equal chance. He believes that every man is entitled for himself and his children to the full enjoyment of all he honestly earns. But he will seek and find the means for eradicating conditions which hopelessly handicap him from the start. In this contest he does not want the assistance of the red flag, and he regards with equal hostility those who march under that banner and those who furnish argument and excuse for its existence….

Thirty years ago Macaulay wrote a letter to an eminent citizen of New York which carries to the reader the shock of an electric battery. In it he declares that our institutions are not strong enough to stand the strain of crowded populations and social distress, and that our public lands furnish the only escape from anarchy. With the opening of the next century, thirteen years hence, they will all be occupied, and at the first industrial disturbance which throws large masses of men out of employment we must meet the prediction of the famous historian. If Macaulay had witnessed the sublime response of the people to President Lincoln’s call for troops to suppress rebellion and save the Union, it would have cleared his vision and modified his judgment. Nevertheless, the exhaustion of the public domain and the disappearance forever of the unbought homestead present part of Macaulay’s problem. The ranks of anarchy and riot number no Americans. The leaders boldly proclaim that they come here, not to enjoy the blessings of our liberty and to sustain our institutions, but to destroy our government and dethrone our laws, to cut our throats and divide our property. Dissatisfied labor furnishes the opportunity to preach their doctrines and mobs to try their tactics. Their recruiting officers are active in every city in Europe, and for once despotic governments give them accord and assistance in securing and shipping to America the most dangerous elements of their populations. The emigrants arriving this year will outnumber the people of several States and of every city in the country but three, and if some mighty power should instantly depopulate Maine or Connecticut or Nebraska or Buffalo, Cleveland, Detroit, and New Haven combined, with their culture, refinement, and varied professional, mechanical, and industrial excellence and enlightened government, and suddenly substitute these people, we could quickly estimate the character and value of this contribution to our institutions and wealth. The emigrants of the past have been of incalculable benefit to a country which needed settlers for its lands, and skilled and unskilled labor for its towns, and among them have been men who have filled and adorned the highest positions of power and trust. The officers of the Government report that there is a falling off of over seventy per cent. of farmers, mechanics, and trained workers, and their places are occupied by elements which must drift into and demoralize labor centres already overstocked and congested, or fill the highways and poor-houses. We do not wish to prohibit immigration, but our laws should be rigidly revised so that we may at least have some voice in the selection of our guests. We cannot afford to become the dumping-ground of the world for its vicious or ignorant or worthless or diseased. We will welcome, as always, all patriots fleeing from oppression, all who will contribute to the strength of our Government and the development of our resources, and we will freely grant to all who become citizens equal rights and privileges under the laws and in making them with the soldiers who saved the Republic, but no more. There is room in this country for only one flag, and “Old Glory” must head the procession or it cannot march.