Fourscore and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation—or any nation so conceived and so dedicated—can long endure.
We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We are met to dedicate a portion of it as the final resting-place of those who have given their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow, this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our power to add or to detract. The world will very little note nor long remember what we say here; but it can never forget what they did here.
It is for us, the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work they have thus far so nobly carried on. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us: that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion; that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that the nation shall, under God, have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
Mr. President, I am here by command of silent lips to speak once and for all upon the Cuban situation. I shall endeavor to be honest, conservative, and just. I have no purpose to stir the public passion to any action not necessary and imperative to meet the duties and necessities of American responsibility, Christian humanity, and national honor. I would shirk this task if I could, but I dare not. I cannot satisfy my conscience except by speaking, and speaking now.
I went to Cuba firmly believing that the condition of affairs there had been greatly exaggerated by the press, and my own efforts were directed in the first instance to the attempted exposure of these supposed exaggerations. There has undoubtedly been much sensationalism in the journalism of the time, but as to the condition of affairs in Cuba, there has been no exaggeration, because exaggeration has been impossible.
Under the inhuman policy of Weyler not less than four hundred thousand self-supporting, simple, peaceable, defenseless country people were driven from their homes in the agricultural portions of the Spanish provinces to the cities, and imprisoned upon the barren waste outside the residence portions of these cities and within the lines of intrenchment established a little way beyond. Their humble homes were burned, their fields laid waste, their implements of husbandry destroyed, their live stock and food supplies for the most part confiscated. Most of the people were old men, women, and children. They were thus placed in hopeless imprisonment, without shelter or food. There was no work for them in the cities to which they were driven. They were left with nothing to depend upon except the scanty charity of the inhabitants of the cities and with slow starvation their inevitable fate....
The pictures in the American newspapers of the starving reconcentrados are true. They can all be duplicated by the thousands.
I never before saw, and please God I may never again see, so deplorable a sight as the reconcentrados in the suburbs of Matanzas.
I can never forget to my dying day the hopeless anguish in their despairing eyes. Huddled about their little bark huts, they raised no voice of appeal to us for alms as we went among them....
Men, women, and children stand silent, famishing with hunger.
Their only appeal comes from their sad eyes, through which one looks as through an open window into their agonizing souls.
The government of Spain has not appropriated and will not appropriate one dollar to save these people. They are now being attended and nursed and administered to by the charity of the United States. Think of the spectacle! We are feeding these citizens of Spain; we are nursing their sick; we are saving such as can be saved, and yet there are those who still say it is right for us to send food, but we must keep hands off. I say that the time has come when muskets ought to go with the food.
We asked the governor if he knew of any relief for these people except through the charity of the United States. He did not. We asked him, "When do you think the time will come that these people can be placed in a position of self-support?" He replied to us, with deep feeling, "Only the good God or the great government of the United States will answer that question." I hope and believe that the good God by the great government of the United States will answer that question.
I shall refer to these horrible things no further. They are there. God pity me, I have seen them; they will remain in my mind forever— and this is almost the twentieth century. Christ died nineteen hundred years ago, and Spain is a Christian nation. She has set up more crosses in more lands, beneath more skies, and under them has butchered more people than all the other nations of the earth combined. Europe may tolerate her existence as long as the people of the Old World wish. God grant that before another Christmas morning the last vestige of Spanish tyranny and oppression will have vanished from the Western Hemisphere!...
The time for action has come. No greater reason for it can exist tomorrow than exists to-day. Every hour's delay only adds another chapter to the awful story of misery and death. Only one power can intervene—the United States of America. Ours is the one great nation in the world, the mother of American republics. She holds a position of trust and responsibility toward the peoples and affairs of the whole Western Hemisphere. It was her glorious example which inspired the patriots of Cuba to raise the flag of liberty in her eternal hills. We cannot refuse to accept this responsibility which the God of the universe has placed upon us as the one great power in the New World. We must act! What shall our action be? Against the intervention of the United States in this holy cause there is but one voice of dissent; that voice is the voice of the moneychangers.
They fear war! Not because of any Christian or ennobling sentiment against war and in favor of peace, but because they fear that a declaration of war, or the intervention which might result in war, would have a depressing effect upon the stock market. Let them go. They do not represent American sentiment; they do not represent American patriotism. Let them take their chances as they can. Their weal or woe is of but little importance to the liberty-loving people of the United States. They will not do the fighting; their blood will not flow; they will keep on dealing in options on human life. Let the men whose loyalty is to the dollar stand aside while the men whose loyalty is to the flag come to the front.
Mr. President, there is only one action possible, if any is taken; that is, intervention for the independence of the island. But we cannot intervene and save Cuba without the exercise of force, and force means war; war means blood. The lowly Nazarene on the shores of Galilee preached the divine doctrine of love, "Peace on earth, good will toward men." Not peace on earth at the expense of liberty and humanity. Not good will toward men who despoil, enslave, degrade, and starve to death their fellow-men. I believe in the doctrine of Christ. I believe in the doctrine of peace; but, Mr. President, men must have liberty before there can come abiding peace.
Intervention means force. Force means war. War means blood. But it will be God's force. When has a battle for humanity and liberty ever been won except by force? What barricade of wrong, injustice, and oppression has ever been carried except by force? Force compelled the signature of unwilling royalty to the great Magna Charta; force put life into the Declaration of Independence and made effective the Emancipation Proclamation; force beat with naked hands upon the iron gateway of the Bastile and made reprisal in one awful hour for centuries of kingly crime; force waved the flag of revolution over Bunker Hill and marked the snows of Valley Forge with blood-stained feet; force held the broken line of Shiloh, climbed the flame-swept hill at Chattanooga, and stormed the clouds on Lookout Heights; force marched with Sherman to the sea, rode with Sheridan in the valley of the Shenandoah, and gave Grant victory at Appomattox; force saved the Union, kept the stars in the flag, made "niggers" men. The time for God's force has come again.
Let the impassioned lips of American patriots once more take up the song:— "In the beauty of the lilies, Christ was born across the sea.
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me; As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free.
While God is marching on." Others may hesitate, others may procrastinate, others may plead for further diplomatic negotiation, which means delay; but for me, I am ready to act now, and for my action I am ready to answer to my conscience, my country, and my God.
—JAMES MELLEN THURSTON..
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