Home  »  A Library of American Literature  »  The Grecian Struggle for Independence

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 Grecian Struggle for Independence

By Henry Clay (1777–1852)

[Speech on the Greek Revolution. 1824.—The Life and Speeches of Henry Clay. 1843.]

SURELY, sir, we need no long or learned lectures about the nature of government, and the influence of property or ranks on society. We may content ourselves with studying the true character of our own people; and with knowing that the interests are confided to us of a nation capable of doing and suffering all things for its liberty. Such a nation, if its rulers be faithful, must be invincible. I well remember an observation made to me by the most illustrious female of the age, if not of her sex. All history showed, she said, that a nation was never conquered. No, sir, no united nation, that resolves to be free, can be conquered. And has it come to this? Are we so humbled, so low, so debased, that we dare not express our sympathy for suffering Greece; that we dare not articulate our detestation of the brutal excesses of which she has been the bleeding victim, lest we might offend some one or more of their imperial and royal majesties? If gentlemen are afraid to act rashly on such a subject, suppose, Mr. Chairman, that we unite in an humble petition, addressed to their majesties, beseeching them, that of their gracious condescension, they would allow us to express our feelings and our sympathies. How shall it run? “We, the representatives of the free people of the United States of America, humbly approach the thrones of your imperial and royal majesties, and supplicate that, of your imperial and royal clemency—” I cannot go through the disgusting recital; my lips have not yet learned to pronounce the sycophantic language of a degraded slave! Are we so mean, so base, so despicable, that we may not attempt to express our horror, utter our indignation, at the most brutal and atrocious war that ever stained earth or shocked high heaven? at the ferocious deeds of a savage and infuriated soldiery, stimulated and urged on by the clergy of a fanatical and inimical religion, and rioting in all the excesses of blood and butchery, at the mere details of which the heart sickens and recoils?

If the great body of Christendom can look on calmly and coolly, whilst all this is perpetrated on a Christian people, in its own immediate vicinity, in its very presence, let us at least evince, that one of its remote extremities is susceptible of sensibility to Christian wrongs, and capable of sympathy for Christian sufferings; that in this remote quarter of the world, there are hearts not yet closed against compassion for human woes, that can pour out their indignant feelings at the oppression of a people endeared to us by every ancient recollection, and every modern tie. Sir, attempts have been made to alarm the committee, by the dangers to our commerce in the Mediterranean; and a wretched invoice of figs and opium has been spread before us to repress our sensibilities and to eradicate our humanity. Ah! sir, “what shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul,” or what shall it avail a nation to save the whole of a miserable trade, and lose its liberties?…

But, sir, it is not for Greece alone that I desire to see this measure adopted. It will give to her but little support, and that purely of a moral kind. It is principally for America, for the credit and character of our common country, for our own unsullied name, that I hope to see it pass. Mr. Chairman, what appearance on the page of history would a record like this exhibit? “In the month of January, in the year of our Lord and Saviour, 1824, while all European Christendom beheld, with cold and unfeeling indifference, the unexampled wrongs and inexpressible misery of Christian Greece, a proposition was made in the Congress of the United States, almost the sole, the last, the greatest depository of human hope and human freedom, the representatives of a gallant nation, containing a million of freemen ready to fly to arms, while the people of that nation were spontaneously expressing its deep-toned feeling, and the whole continent, by one simultaneous emotion, was rising, and solemnly and anxiously supplicating and invoking high heaven to spare and succor Greece, and to invigorate her arms in her glorious cause, whilst temples and senate-houses were alike resounding with one burst of generous and holy sympathy; in the year of our Lord and Saviour, that Saviour of Greece and of us; a proposition was offered in the American Congress to send a messenger to Greece, to inquire into her state and condition, with a kind expression of our good wishes and our sympathies—and it was rejected!” Go home, if you can; go home, if you dare, to your constituents, and tell them that you voted it down; meet, if you can, the appalling countenances of those who sent you here, and tell them that you shrank from the declaration of your own sentiments; that you cannot tell how, but that some unknown dread, some indescribable apprehension, some indefinable danger, drove you from your purpose; that the spectres of cimiters, and crowns, and crescents, gleamed before you and alarmed you; and that you suppressed all the noble feelings prompted by religion, by liberty, by national independence, and by humanity. I cannot bring myself to believe that such will be the feeling of a majority of the committee. But, for myself, though every friend of the cause should desert it, and I be left to stand alone with the gentleman from Massachusetts, I will give to his resolution the poor sanction of my unqualified approbation.