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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 Great Experiment

By Edward Everett (1794–1865)

[Born in Dorchester, Mass., 1794. Died in Boston, Mass., 1865. Oration on Literature in America. 1824. From Orations and Speeches by Edward Everett. 1850–68.]

WE are summoned to new energy and zeal, by the high nature of the experiment we are appointed in providence to make, and the grandeur of the theatre on which it is to be performed. At a moment of deep and general agitation in the Old World, it pleased Heaven to open this last refuge of humanity. The attempt has begun, and is going on, far from foreign corruption, on the broadest scale, and under the most benignant prospects; and it certainly rests with us to solve the great problem in human society; to settle, and that forever, the momentous question,—whether mankind can be trusted with a purely popular system of government.

One might almost think, without extravagance, that the departed wise and good, of all places and times, are looking down from their happy seats to witness what shall now be done by us; that they who lavished their treasures and their blood, of old, who spake and wrote, who labored, fought, and perished, in the one great cause of Freedom and Truth, are now hanging from their orbs on high, over the last solemn experiment of humanity. As I have wandered over the spots once the scene of their labors, and mused among the prostrate columns of their senate houses and forums, I have seemed almost to hear a voice from the tombs of departed ages; from the sepulchres of the nations which died before the sight. They exhort us, they adjure us, to be faithful to our trust. They implore us by the long trials of struggling humanity; by the blessed memory of the departed; by the dear faith which has been plighted, by pure hands, to the holy cause of truth and man; by the awful secrets of the prison houses, where the sons of freedom have been immured; by the noble heads which have been brought to the block; by the wrecks of time, by the eloquent ruins of nations, they conjure us not to quench the light which is rising on the world.