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Source: Notable Speeches by Notable Speakers of the Greater West
Source type: book
Document type: public address
Document title: “Our Untimely Dead”
Author(s): Short, Frank H.
Editor(s): Wagner, Harr
Publisher: Whitaker and Ray Company
Place of publication: San Francisco, California
Year of publication: 1902
Pagination: 126-35

 
Citation
Short, Frank H. “Our Untimely Dead.” Notable Speeches by Notable Speakers of the Greater West. Ed. Harr Wagner. San Francisco: Whitaker and Ray, 1902: pp. 126-35.
 
Transcription
full text of address; excerpt of book
 
Keywords
Frank H. Short (public addresses); Abraham Lincoln; William McKinley; McKinley assassination (personal response); Rutherford B. Hayes.
 
Named persons
James G. Blaine; Roscoe Conkling; James A. Garfield; Lucy Hayes; Rutherford B. Hayes; Abraham Lincoln; William McKinley; George Washington.
 
Notes
From page 126: Frank H. Short, of Fresno, California, represents the highest type of the lawyer. His attitude on legal questions is characterized by a spirit of equity, and his attitude on public questions is free from the dominant spirit of commercialism. His addresses on public occasions have been numerous. He is an excellent extemporaneous speaker.

The address below is accompanied in the book by a photograph of the author.

From title page: Edited by Harr Wagner, Author of Pacific History Stories, Pacific Nature Stories, New Pacific School Geography, Patriotic Quotations, Current History, etc.
 
Document

 

Our Untimely Dead

     [Delivered at San José, California, in 1902.]

     THE attribute of the human race that has most distinguished it in all times and in all ages, is respect for its ancestors and hope for its posterity. The generation that shows little respect for the history, teachings, and precepts, the fame and memory, of its ancestors, is a generation deserving to be, and likely to be, forgotten and despised by posterity. Respect for those that have preceded us, hope for those that are to follow, are the characteristics that tend to elevate mankind above the beasts, and ally humanity nearest to the gods. Without this influence prevailing in a controlling degree, nothing good could long survive; no evil could be destroyed.
     Six men have been nominated by the Republican party and elevated to the office of President of the United States, and of these six men, exactly one half have been, during their terms of office, assassinated. This is a record, times and conditions considered, unparalleled in the history of the world. This extraordinary situation does not seem to have had its origin in any defined cause or condition, but appears to have come about by a concurrence of disconnected viciousness and exceptional misfortune.
     In the Old World, few attempted assassinations have succeeded. The attempts far exceed those in this country; and while there an assassin usually misses a tyrant, here he seems never to fail in his attempt to kill a benefactor of mankind. [126][127]
     While much will be attempted, little will be accomplished by means of the direct operation of law. An assassin of this class is invariably immune to reason, impervious to shame or disgrace, incapable of fear of death, in the sense that such fear restrains crime. He glories in things dishonorable to all honorable men; as his disgrace is deepened as his dishonor is more widely known, the self-glorification of such misconceived libels on the name of the human race proportionately increases. Obviously, such remedies as can be used should be rigorously applied. All possible precautions should be taken both against the sources as well as the substance of anarchy. But such laws, and such laws only, as are strictly consistent with our constitution and form of government will be found most efficient. Any laws or procedure going beyond these ancient and defined boundaries will be found inefficient, and in the end retroactive and injurious.
     These three men—Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley—were peculiarly the type and character of men that, even from an assassin’s point of view, did not justify assassination. Each had been advanced from the ranks of toil by the suffrages of his countrymen. Each, in his own way, but in an unusual degree, was kind, considerate, loving, gentle, and forgiving. It is true that during the administration of Abraham Lincoln the country was engaged in one of the most fearful and lamentable wars that ever afflicted any people. But what could have better illustrated the man, his real spirit and love of peace, than the closing words of his first inaugural address?
     “In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow-countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The government will not assail you; you can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath registered in heaven to destroy the government; while I shall have the most solemn one to ‘preserve, protect, and defend it.’
     “I am loath to close; we are not enemies, but friends; we must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this proud land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.” [127][128]
     If this people and this nation had existed only to give birth to Abraham Lincoln, each would have justified its existence. So long as history shall endure, he will stand as an unanswerable contradiction to all who claim or assume that rank or station, opportunities, or even special preparation, are essential to the greatest usefulness and success in a position of the greatest possible responsibility and honor. No civilized man ever came into the world in greater loneliness or poverty. He was born upon the border, and grew up along the ragged edges of civilization. Without schools or churches, except of the poorest and the rudest, wholly without the supposed broadening influences of travel, knowing only the advantages of that university of the outside world, that college common to all of the American people, he showed himself the equal in skill, patience, endurance, and true statesmanship of any man of any age or country. When others, whose radical and sectional course had brought the country to the verge of war and separation, recoiled in alarm from the responsibility of the danger they had created, he alone of all the leaders never faltered. In all that pertained to the bonds of affection that should have united his distracted countrymen, in the memories of the past, in the common interest of all, in everything that tended toward peace and to avert war, he was vine and flower. But in the performance of his duty as he saw it, in his adherence to his official oath, in the preservation of the Union as he found it, he was rock and oak. In simplicity, in high character, in the possession of that characteristic we call humanity or human nature, he was the greatest character of all history. Many of the great orations of the world have been preserved. Two of these are each, many times over, shorter than any of the others. Both of these were productions of Lincoln,—his second inaugural and his Gettysburg address.
     Lincoln belonged to the rare class of statesmen who are willing to sow that others may reap. In his administration we lost hundreds of thousands of our bravest and best sons. One half of the shipping commerce of the country blocked the other until both were destroyed. Our great agricultural resources were laid in ruins over nearly half of the country. The national debt multiplied and grew into hundreds of millions. [128][129] Neither he nor his immediate generation was permitted to harvest the results of their sacrifice and loss. In the estimation of many alleged statesmen of to-day, the man who would sacrifice so much for a mere principle should not be recognized as a statesman. But none of these same men would dare question the wise statesmanship of Abraham Lincoln.
     Greed and avarice must have their reward to-day, but truth and honor, undisturbed, await the verdict of posterity and the coming of God Almighty’s own and better to-morrow. Abraham Lincoln was the chief figure in the fiercest and most unrelenting struggle that ever divided the people of any country. While in all things he was unyielding in the preservation of the Union, struggling always toward the light, and always to do the right as God gave him to see the right, no man was ever more resolute, firm, and determined, yet no man was ever more kind and generous, sympathetic and forgiving. His greatest love was his love of truth. His only enemies were the enemies of his country. He recoiled with aversion and gentleness from offending any person. He would oppose and offend all mankind in defense of a principle. And so it has come to be true that he is beloved by all men everywhere; his greatness grows with the receding years, for us and for all future generations.

“Though round his breast the rolling clouds of war are spread,
Eternal sunshine settles on his head.”

     Following not long after Lincoln, came Garfield,—a soldier, in his youth, in the Civil War. Entering early in life the House of Representatives, he grew into commanding influence in legislation. It was not an accident that he was chosen as a compromise candidate in the great struggle between the forces of Conkling and Blaine; it was because he was a man of infinite labor. Born only a little higher in the social and financial scale than Lincoln, he had made his way forward and upward by merit alone. In counsel he was safe and wise; in action he was strong and successful; in debate, if second to any, it was only to Blaine and Conkling. He came to the Presidency full of strength, hope, and courage. His Cabinet is memorable for its brilliancy. But even before preliminary disputes could be [129][130] settled, and the great work for which he and his great advisers were so well equipped could even be well begun, he, too, was shot wantonly and wickedly by a man half mad, half-devil. Between the paths of hope and the portals of death he lingered for weary weeks. He, too, passed in his prime to the great beyond.
     His eulogy was pronounced by Blaine, his great Secretary of State,—Blaine, whose illuminated intelligence lighted the way for statesmen of his own and succeeding generations,—Blaine, also, too soon to follow his illustrious friend. Our language contains no passage more beautiful than this great man’s sweet and touching tribute to the character and virtues of his dead friend. Garfield was in all things an admirable man; he saw the brightest and the best of life; he gave courage; he inspired hope; he brought good cheer; he inspired confidence; and he was taken all too soon for the good of his country and his countrymen.
     William McKinley,—it seems but yesterday that he was with us, the leader of leaders, and the controlling force in all our great and momentous struggles with the problems that oppressed and vexed us then, and will continue to engross the attention of succeeding generations.
     William McKinley, the soldier boy who went to the front in the Civil War and came home as, and ever remained, Major McKinley. Soldier, Congressman, Governor, and President, long and faithfully he served his country. He was a man of few, surprisingly few, animosities. Yielding that others might yield, with a magician’s skill in compassing results, he grew, never suddenly or even rapidly, but steadily. From the first year he entered public life he gained in strength and influence, until at the time of his death he stood in a position of such extraordinary influence and command, that about the only limit to what he could achieve was what his discretion and judgment would not permit him to ask. In all his personal traits he was kind and gentle. He was married in his youth to a brilliant and beautiful woman, but on the very threshold of their life together she was stricken with an incurable affliction. No wife ever had a more gentle, faithful, or devoted husband. No cares of state, or labors of his own, or demands of others, [130][131] could ever distract him from the most detailed and devoted attention to her every wish and want.
     Many a man, wise in his own conceit, scoffing at the faith of his fathers, and ridiculing the custom of his ancestors, might easily discover a needed rebuke in the life and death of William McKinley. Nor is he alone in exemplifying these virtues.
     It is perhaps more usual that a man like President Hayes should be devoted to his wife, for she was helpful in a womanly way, and exercised almost a controlling influence in his life. She preceded him but a little while, and in the intervening time he seemed to regard but little the passing of time or the occurring of events; and although his had also been an illustrious career, and though he too had been a soldier and a general in the Civil War, a member of Congress, governor of his native state, and chief magistrate of his country, in his last hours his mind did not revert to his many earthly honors; he thought not of the times when he had been general, Congressman, Governor, President, but his mind reached forward to his faithful, loving companion in the just beyond, and he murmured as he passed away, “Lay me by Lucy’s side.” Such great lessons should not be lost nor forgotten. They teach the lesson that affection does not perish with youth, but continues with the years, and the real love of a real life grows brighter and brighter as the end comes on, like the increased glory of the setting sun.
     The assassination of President McKinley was as atrocious as any act could possibly be. All his life he had been a kind man, striving not to give offense to any one, and to work no injury even to his enemies. His chief purpose in life seemed to be to labor from day to day for the peace, prosperity, and well-being of his people; to harvest for them to-day, with as little loss and sacrifice as possible, the greatest possible return for their labor and industry. He was apparently entirely without malice. He was a guest at a great national exposition exemplifying peace, comity, and commerce. With democratic simplicity he mingled with his fellow-citizens. Himself childless, he loved the patter of little feet and the prattle of childish voices. He stood with his hands on the head of a sweet and smiling child, looking for a moment with love and tenderness [131][132] on her innocent face. It was thus and at this moment that a misborn, calloused human brute found it in his depraved nature, not in his heart,—he could not have had a heart,—to shoot him to death. No act ever exceeded in atrocity the “deep damnation of his taking off.” It will be a long time before his countrymen will fully recover from the rude shock of an act at once so unexpected and so vile.
     There are many things we can never understand. Perhaps McKinley’s last words express it as well as any words ever can. “It is God’s will and way.” Looking back over the lives of these three men, their untimely and inexplicable assassination, reverting to the history of our country, in which they comprehend so large a part, observing all the miracles of war and peace and progress that have been wrought, we say, Surely, it is God’s will and way. Mankind could never have wrought so well and so wisely. As we strive to look beyond through the oppressive problems of our day and hour, and realize the supreme confidence that possesses the successful and progressive thoughtless, the overwhelming doubts and deep oppressions of those that seek to reckon and divine whither it all tends, we would gladly solve it if we might, by saying, May God’s will and way, to which they appealed, afford as safe and sure a guide for us and for our children as it furnished to our fathers.
     Our highest loyalty to our party requires that we shall insist that it shall be right, not right as we severally shall captiously assume the right, but right consistent with the fundamental principles of our government and the genius of our institutions,—right as prescribed by the constitution, by the Declaration of Independence,—right as tested by our first platform of principles; by the life, character, and teachings of Abraham Lincoln. That party would not be on the right course, or really strong, that could not safely permit its members to adopt this motto, “My party—may she always be right; but always my country.”
     We have in all parties too much party servility and too little party loyalty; too many men extolling the party spirit, dreaded by Washington, ready to deny the liberty of speech or action within the party, absolutely essential to good citizen- [132][133] ship, but who would turn and rend the party all too soon if the inducement or consideration for party service were to be removed. Ideals, correct principles, the hearts, consciences, and affections of men, have always governed in the end. A generation may tarry for a little while by the fleshpots of Egypt, but they always grow weary of such low living, and struggle on to better and higher things.
     In my youth I spent many years far out on the boundless prairies of the mighty and then undeveloped West. I have seen the clouds gather, and the night fall dark and impenetrable. There was no guiding path upon the earth below or in the heavens above. All that could be done was to watch and wait. Wait, and the darkest night will end; wait, and the blackest clouds will pass away; watch and wait, and the north star always comes once more in view.
     The most skillful mariner on the most tranquil seas is hopelessly lost but for the guidance of the compass and the star; by their unvarying direction and kindly light the most tempestuous and dangerous seas are navigated; and so we in times of peace and prosperity may be in infinitely greater danger than in times of war, if we be not mindful of the compass that pointed the way in peace and war for those that have preceded us, and if we do not guide the ship of state by the constitution so wisely set before us,—the guiding star for us and for all succeeding generations.
     We have founded here a new government and a new order of things, founded upon the will and control of all the people. Thus far we have succeeded beyond the dreams of our fathers. We have, by the counsel, the labor, and the energy of all the people, set the high mark for all things progressive,— in the dissemination of learning; in practical science; in inventions and discoveries; in the greatest good to the greatest number; in average benefits to the average man. In ways and methods we may be subject to severe, perhaps harsh, criticism, but in results contributing to the happiness of all that think, and labor, and strive, we have, in a way quite wonderful, distanced all past efforts of all the generations of mankind.
     In the midst of success and prosperity it is only needful to keep in mind the causes that have contributed to and produced [133][134] our pre-eminence. What we have accomplished is not the result of any peculiar advantages, conditions, inventions, or discoveries, half as much as it is the result of the greatest average of intelligence, energy, character and opportunity, patriotism and courage, that has inspired our people. It is the result of a union of mind and purpose, and equal incentive and equal opportunity. American citizenship and American manhood have produced our inventions and riches and developed our resources. All that is required is, that we do not forget the cause and worship the effect. Preserve the equality, hope, manliness, and courage of the average man. Keep forever inviolate the principle, in theory and practice, that all men are created free and equal. A government so conducted is founded and based upon eternal truth, and as surely as truth shall survive, so equally true it is that a government so conducted and maintained shall perpetually survive. That governments founded upon error and maintained by force have always fallen to decay, is no proof or precedent that a government of all of the people for all of the people shall not continue all of the time.
     If it were an honor to be a citizen of Sparta or Athens or Rome, how infinitely greater it is to be a citizen of the American republic!
     Such equal citizenship is at once so responsible, so honorable, that no place or station, or office or riches, can add to it, and there ought never to be any place or station or wealth in this country that could add any preference or dignity to simple citizenship. Any man whose heart is not responsive to this sentiment is drifting from the morning of true Americanism. Our position as Republicans but adds to our responsibility as citizens. Ours is the greatest political organization in its past achievements and in its present strength that ever existed in any age or country. This is not boastful, because it is truthful. It should not inspire us with vanity, but should impress us with our responsibility.
     Never again in the history of the world can there be spread out before any people such an imperial domain as that subjugated by our race. No other race can ever excel in worth or virtue those ancestors of ours, who possessed the courage to liberate themselves from others, a rectitude equal to the [134][135] task of self-subjugation, and an energy that has turned a wilderness of wastes and woods into a wilderness of cities and of homes,—a race that wrested the scepter from tyrants and the lightning from the clouds,—a race that gave freedom to mankind, and as a recompense harnessed and enslaved the elements to infinitely greater toil and usefulness. If such a people, upon such a domain, could not found a government of the people and for the people and by the people that could long endure, by what stretch of the imagination or dream of philosophy shall mankind ever again be induced to strive or hope?
     This understood and considered, we are not upon trial for the Republican party, not for this nation or the union of states, not for a generation, or even a race, but we are upon trial for human liberty, equality, self-government for mankind and for all time. Let us hope that it shall be God’s will and way that those we mourn to-day as our untimely dead, with others whose worth and service have adorned the history of our party to such a degree that, having passed beyond and above us, they belong to our country and to mankind; shall from the battlements above forever look down upon the nation and the people that they served and loved so well, and may they ever see their countrymen free, equal, and untrammeled, and this nation moving on its destined and designed course, that, seeing, they may know that they lived not, labored not, neither died, in vain.

 

 


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