• Rifle Regiment arriving at Belle Point, 1817. Artwork by Michael Haynes

    Fort Smith

    National Historic Site AR,OK

Parker's Centennial Oration July 4, 1876

Just over a year after Isaac Parker took the bench in Fort Smith as federal judge, he was the keynote speaker at the city of Fort Smith's commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Unabashedly patriotic, this speech varies greatly from the majority of speeches given by the Judge within the domain of the court. The president referred to at the beginning of the speech was the person who organized the centennial activities in Fort Smith.


Delivered at the Centennial Celebration, at Fort Smith, Arkansas, July 4th, 1876.

MR. PRESIDENT, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN. - It was just about this hour one hundred years ago that the Fathers proclaimed the Declaration of American Freedom. What a grand sight it is to see forty millions of people shouting at this hour, All hail, mighty day! All hail to the sister States as they stand with joined hands around our country's altar, placing thereon the oblations of their faith in the government of our common country. Let us, one and all, say forever, all hail, United States of America!

Need I tell you that when yonder sun sinks to rest behind the golden ribbed mountains of our Pacific coast there will have closed the grandest cycle of years in the history of the world? Need I remind you that the experiment in behalf of the rights of man of one hundred years ago is to-day, by the whole world, recognized as the greatest achievement of history? That the work of the fathers in bringing into existence a great government, and the work of their children in preserving and perpetuating the principles of right, upon which the same is founded is now by the whole world eulogized in the unmatched eloquence of a grand achievement. Why, at this very hour the poet and the painter, the mechanic and the artisan of the civilized world have placed at the very base of the altar of liberty the fruits of their genius and the productions of their skill as peace-offerings, in recognition of the full fruition of the hopes of those who were the founders of the Republic. To-day the sovereign and the subject, the lord and the peasant of the old world stand beneath the very roof tree of the temple of liberty, and recognize the principle of American freedom and American equality. As to those whose deeds we this day celebrate, whose achievements we here and now commemorate, the world will little note, nor long remember the feeble utterances we this day may make in their praise, but their fame will be as enduring as the great principles they exemplified by their deeds, and by their efforts brought into active existence. Everything in science, art, and nature will be ever tributary to their expanding renown.

"The winds shall murmur of their names,
The woods be peopled with their fame;
The meanest rill, the mightiest river,
Roll mingling with their fame forever."

We read that after the children of Israel had escaped from the most galling bondage in Egypt, and after the Lord of hosts had triumphed gloriously over those who despised the sentiment "that all men are created free and equal," and the horse and rider had been thrown into the sea, and after right had prevailed over might in the very morning of the world, and those who had escaped from the thralldom of the Egyptian task-masters had sung their songs of joy on the banks of their deliverance, the great law-giver Moses received from the Deity, not only that higher law upon which is based the Christian's faith, but also that higher law upon which all civilized nations have directly, or indirectly recognized as the one by which the world can be governed. It was then that the command which I have read to you, came pure and spotless from the mouth of God and awful thunders of Sinai, commanding him to "hallow the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout all the land, and unto all the inhabitants thereof."

We in this age of the world fully recognize the fact that the principle of this command has its seat and center in the mind of the Deity, and its mission is the harmony of the universe, and because it became known of men as being the will of God, you and I, together with the people of this whole land, in obedience to what has become a time honored custom, not only here, but wherever floats the flag of the free, and also in obedience to a sense of patriotic duty, quit the field and the anvil, the workshop and the counter, the busy marts of commerce and the flaming forge, the noise and bustle and heat of the city, as well as the quiet of the country home, to assemble around the altars of American liberty, and place thereon the oblations of our faith in "a government of the people, by the people, and for the people," pledging our troth anew to those eternal rights of man proclaimed by the fathers, when they one hundred years ago to-day hurled in the very face of despotism the immortal declaration.

He who does not recognize the finger of God in this work, must most certainly be forgetful of the fact that he alone holds in the hollow of his hand the destiny of nations; marking out and controlling that destiny with the same unerring certainty with which the Star of Bethlehem guided the wise men of the East to the lowly cradle of Him who became as man, that the children might be free.

It can truly be said that it is well for us, upon the annual return of this, our National Anniversary, to hang our banner on the outer wall, to forget all political differences for the time being; sink the partisan in the patriot, and join hands around our country's altar. Here we can ponder over the trials and sacrifices endured by the officers and soldiers of the Continental army who achieved our Independence. We can reflect over the terrible dangers which were incurred by the brave, and good men who framed and adopted the Declaration of Independence which brought forth upon this Continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the idea that all men are created equal.

Since the treaty of peace between the Colonies and England, the limits of the Republic have been enlarged and fixed by the treaties of cession in 1803 with Napoleon, as first Consul of the French Republic; that of 1819 with Spain; by the admission in 1846 of Texas; by the treaty of limits of that year with Great Britain, fixing the dividing line between the Territory of Oregon and the British Possessions; by the treaties of 1848 and 1853, with Mexico, and the treaty of 1857 with Alexander II, the Emperor of all of the Russias. By these treaties of cession the area of the United States of America has been increased to eight times its original extent, covering nearly 4,000,000 of square miles of territory.

The watchword of the people of the older States, and of the old world was,

"To the west, to the west, the land of the free,
Where our mighty rivers roll down to the sea;
Where a man is a man, if but willing to toil,
Where he is a freeman, if willing to gather the fruits of the soil."

No era of the history of the world presents such evidences of the march of empire; of the material development of a country, and the intellectual, social and moral advancement of its people, as does ours. Truly we have a history that is the very miracle of history. Into our young life, one hundred years long, are crowded a constellation of epochs enough to make resplendent with glory whole centuries of common years. From thirteen States represented by thirteen stars upon our banner, we have increased until the constellation representing the grand sisterhood of States covers the whole of the Heaven-lit blue of that flag. The colonies were weak, and they were looked upon with contempt by the despotism of Europe.
In the success of our fathers, they saw the success of the people, and they knew right well that that success meant their ultimate downfall. But how the scene has changed; there is not a power on earth that does not to-day court the favor of the Government of the United States. We are now known and honored throughout the world. There was a time in the history of Rome, when to say "I am a Roman citizen," insured personal liberty and protection throughout the then civilized world; but he who can now say "I am an American citizen," finds in that sentence a magic power which will protect him all around the globe. Truly we can now say,

"Where breathes the foe but falls before us,
With freedom's soil beneath our feet and freedom's banner
streaming o'er us.

It is useless for me to dwell upon our progress as a nation, because it is written upon every page of our history; it is manifest in everything we see around us. The confines of civilization has step by step moved westward, crossing great rivers and vast prairies and plains, and dense forests, and ascending mighty mountains until it planted the church and school-house, the warp and woof of our American Union, upon the golden sands of the Pacific slope, and sent our messengers of commerce, spreading their white wings on old ocean's bosom bearing our civilization far away to Asia, telling the people of that land that there is a land beyond the sea, where every man is free.
Fifty years ago there was not a railroad in the United States. Now we have more than seventy thousand miles. Now these arteries of commerce penetrate the whole body of the nation, binding it together more closely with bands of iron. Thirty-three years ago, there was not a telegraph line in the United States. But the little thread of wire placed as a timid experiment between Washington City and Baltimore grew and lengthened and multiplied with almost the rapidity of the electric current that darted along its iron nerves, until within our lifetime, continent has been bound unto continent, hemisphere answers through ocean's depths unto hemisphere. Yea, since that time we have spanned old ocean and girdled the whole earth with the tamed lightnings of heaven, thus bringing all nations together, and more directly under the influence of that power which is the grand seat of liberty, the United States of America, and teaching all nations that sentiment in which we believe, which was contained in the declaration thundered forth from amidst Mar's hill by Paul, when he said, "of one blood are all nations created to dwell on the face of the earth forever." Great cities have sprung up everywhere over this bright and beautiful land. Prosperous villages are now dotted over it like the stars in the heavens. Its valleys and mountain slopes are covered with the homes of freemen. Now

"Toil swings the ax, and forests bow,
The fields break out in radiant bloom.
Rich harvests smile behind the plow,
And cities cluster round the loom."

We have had our troubles as a nation. Our domestic war passed over this fair land, leaving its mark on each brow, its shadow in each household. But, thank God, that is over now. Sweet peace blesses the whole land, and slavery, the cause of the war, is no more a part of the system. Whatever may have been our opinions in the past, we all breathe free and rejoice that it is gone. Yes, we now, one and all, gladly shout forth the grand sentiment, "there treads not a slave on the soil of free America." We could not help it. It came to us as one of the defects of our system. Now, every man, woman and child is raised to the dignity of an American freeman, and we all, from the Kennebec to the Rio Grande, from the Santee to the far off Oregon rejoice that it is so. Yes, we rejoice that yonder banner, from the time that it greets the morning sunlight until it kisses the last rays of the setting sun, protects all alike; that it is the symbol of liberty, the shield and protection of American citizenship. That bright, triumphant banner of liberty now floats proudly over every foot of American soil.

The perpetuity of our institutions, if we are true to our ancestry, to ourselves and to posterity, is forever established. Our great rivers, in all their long, majestic course to the sea, will pass through but one country. Our ocean bounds will be but the boundaries of one nation. We are truly one people, one nation, with one government, one system of laws, one and the same country, bound together by a common interest, a common ancestry, and united, as I trust we are to be, when the scars of the war shall have entirely healed, by the silver cords of love and affection for each other. We worship the same God, according to the dictated of our own conscience. We ought to be seeking the one common end - the happiness of our people, and the greatness and glory of our land. The down-trodden of every race have an interest in us. The oppressed of Ireland look upon our flag as they see it streaming from the masthead of some merchantman in their harbors across the sea, and sigh for a home in the bright land of hope that sends forth that banner. The oppressed of England, looking upon it, remember the pilgrim fathers flying from English tyranny to plant that banner beyond blue ocean's wintry waves, and wish the liberty that banner guarantees may be theirs too. The Italian refugee hails it in a foreign port, and breathes a prayer that the flag of Italy may sometime Insure to Italians that liberty which the flag of America guarantees to Americans.

The liberty-loving German, loving liberty for himself, and all the world besides, now points to our banner as the fulfilment of his prophecy, that those who fight for liberty will win the battle. The poor Frenchman, when he looks around him and beholds the ruin and desolation of his fair vine-clad France, ruined by that despotism which has hurled its course upon the people from a French throne, remembers Lafayette, looks upon our banner and hopes his France will yet be free. The lovers of liberty in Spain point to our banner, and shout for a government like ours.

And the people of Canada, and of Cuba - the queen of the Antilles, standing away out among the dashing waves of the Atlantic, and San Domingo and all the Islands on the American Continent, are even now wishing for the time when they can call our flag their own. And who shall hinder them? Who shall stand in the way of the march of our manifest destiny? Who shall be so unreasonable as to say to these countries and these islands which are even now trembling within the grasps of monarchs or being crushed out by the heel of despotism, you shall not become a part of us? I trust none.

One hundred long years have passed since the war of independence in this land waged for the rights of freemen, burst upon the country, and that one hundred years are crowded full of the most glorious memories of a national life, and the most touching, sweetest and saddest memories that our hearts cherish. The patriot fathers are gathered to their long homes. We kneel by their graves and utter a prayer for their spirits fled. We honor their deeds; we worship their memories. We plant above their graves the willow and the laurel, and we feel that blood like this

"For liberty shed so holy is
It would not stain the purest rill
That sparkles among the bowers of bliss.
Oh! If there be on this earthly sphere
A boon, an offering Heaven holds dear,
'Tis the last libation liberty draws
From the heart that bleeds and breaks in her cause."

We as citizens of this Republic must not forget that we have duties to perform - solemn, high, imperative duties. We must bear in mind that eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. We must remain as faithful sentinels on the watchtower of freedom, guarding well the portals of liberty, ever bearing in mind that

"Freedom's battle once begun,
Bequeathed by bleeding sire to son,
Though baffled oft, is ever won."

Soon, very soon, we of this generation will be gathered to the graves of our fathers. Why, there is not one of us here to-day who in the course of nature will be here one hundred years hence. The voices that now shout the praises of those whop gave us this noble heritage will be stilled in death. The hearts that beat with pulsations of pride and patriotic emotion, will be silent forever. Let us, while we are here, do our duty as well as those in the past did theirs. Let us keep manned with a brave and patriotic crew the ship of State, so that when we shall turn it over to another crew there will not be a plank, a sail, a rope, or spar out of place, and the grand old pennon of liberty will be streaming full high at the masthead. That the generations to come after us as they see her moored in the haven of safety, freighted with the dearest rights of man, will greet her with

"We know what master laid thy keel,
What workman wrought thy ribs of steel,
Who made each mast and sail and rope,
What anvils rang, what hammers beat,
In what a forge, in what a heat,
Were shaped the anchors of thy hope."

There are even yet dangers which beset our national pathway. They can only be avoided by a correct and faithful performance of our duty; by vigilant and watchful care on the part of all good citizens. Then let us retire from the celebration of this, our one hundredth national birthday with renewed faith in our institutions; with still stronger convictions in favor of the capacity of man for self-government, with a firm determination, and a high and noble resolve on our part that let come what will, that we will ever remain faithful guardians of institutions and laws which protect all alike; which secure liberty to all, no matter whether it be the opulent and powerful, or the poor and lowly. That the mailed hand of power, wielded by the whole American people, will ever protect the government of our common country, and preserve for all coming time our free institutions.

Let us resolve to hasten that day when the nations "shall learn war no more;" when the battle flags shall be furled; when the sword shall beaten into the scythe, and the cannon shall become the plowshare; when the universal brotherhood of man shall be proclaimed and recognized everywhere; when peace on earth and goodwill to men shall be the watchword among the nations; when

"All crime shall cease and ancient fraud shall fail,
Returning justice lift aloft her scale,
Peace o'er the world her olive wand extend,
And white robed innocence from heaven descend."

Then let us, as good citizens and patriots, so perform our part, that when we have passed from the stage of action, and the mystic chord of memory shall bring the minds of our posterity back to this period, and to the time when our fathers laid broad and deep the foundations of our free institutions, they can say that we preserved and transmitted to them untarnished and uncorrupted what the fathers gave to us, so that they can with the same emotion, the same truth, the same patriotic pride, and the same devotion say, as we can this day before high Heaven exclaim,

Great God, we thank Thee for this home-
This bounteous birth-land of the free;
Where wanderers from afar may come
And breathe the air of liberty.
Still may her flowers untrammeled spring,
Her harvest wave, her cities rise;
And yet, till time shall fold his wing,
Remain earth's loveliest paradise.


Originally published in: Saunders, Frederick; editor. Our National Centennial Jubilee: Orations, addresses and poems delivered on the Fourth of July, 1876. In the Several States of the Union. New York: E.B. Treat, 1877. Pages 757-764.

 

Did You Know?

Parker seated at his bench in 6th Street courtroom

The only known image of Judge Parker in his courtroom is this one from the federal courthouse on Sixth Street which dates from the 1890s. There are no photographs of the courtroom located in the former military barracks.