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I am the humblest member. But I considered the great debt we have been under to you for the loan of many of your most accomplished speakers: of Curtis, whose diction is chaste as the snows of his own New England, while his zeal for justice is as fervid as her July sun; of Depew, who, as I listen to him, makes me believe that the doctrine of transmigration is true, and that in a former day his soul occupied the body of one of the Puritan fathers, and that for some lapse he was compelled to spend a period of time in the body of a Hollander [laughter); of Beaman,* one of the lights of your bar; of Evarts, who, whether as statesman or as orator, delights in making historic periods. And this year you have favored us with General Porter,whom we have been trying to capture for our annual dinner, it seems to me, ever since the Mayflower entered Plymouth Bay.
We have condoled with these honored guests as they with tears have told us of their pitiful lot, have narrated to us how, when they might have been tilling the soil (or what passes for soil) of the New Hampshire hills, shearing their lambs, manipulating their shares (with the aid of ploughhandles), and watering their stock at the nearest brook, and might have been on speaking acquaintance with the Ten Commandments and have indulged a hope of some day going to heaven, and possibly to Boston (laughter]—on the other hand, a hard fate has compelled them to be millionaires, living in palaces on Murray Hill, to confine their agricultural operations to the Swamp, and to eke out a precarious livelihood by buying what they do not want and selling what they have not got. [Laughter and applause.] Remembering this debt, I thought that it was at least due to you that, in recognition of your courtesy, I should come over and confess judgment, and put you out of suspense by telling you at once that the assets will not pay for the expenses of distribution. The best I can do is to make you a preferred creditor. [Laughter.] I have heard that an Israelite without guile, doing business down in Chatham Street, called his creditors together, and offered them in settlement his note for ten per cent. on their claims, payable in four months. His brother, one of the largest creditors, rather " kicked "; but the debtor took him aside and said, “ Do not make any
* Charles Cotesworth Beaman. Horace Porter.
objections, and I will make you a preferred creditor.” [Laughter and applause.] So the proposal was accepted by all. Presently, the preferred brother said, “Well, I should like what is coming to me." “Oh," was the reply, “you won't get anything; they won't any of them get anything." “But I thought I was a preferred creditor."
So you are. These notes will not be paid when they come due; but it will take them four months to find out that they are not going to get anything. But you know it now; you see you are preferred.” [Renewed laughter.]
In casting about for a subject (in case I should unhappily be called on to occupy your attention for a moment), I had thought on offering a few observations upon Plymouth Rock; but I was deterred by a weird and lurid announcement which I saw in your papers, appearing in connection with the name of an eminent clothing dealer, which led me to apprehend that Plymouth Rock was getting tired. (Laughter.] The announcement read, “ Plymouth Rock pants!” I presumed that Plymouth Rock was tired in advance, at the prospect of being trotted out once more, from the Old Colony down to New Orleans, thence to San Francisco, thence to the cities of the unsalted seas, and so on back to the point of departure. [Great laughter.] Upon fuller examination, I found that the legend read, “ Plymouth Rock pants for $3.” It seemed to me that, without solicitation on my part, there ought to be public spirit enough in this audience to make up this evening the modest sum which would put Plymouth Rock at ease. [Great laughter.]
As I look along this board, Mr. President, and gaze upon these faces radiant with honesty, with industry, with wisdom, with benevolence, with frugality, and, above all, with a contented and cheerful poverty, I am led to ask the question, suggested by the topic assigned me in the programme, “Why are we New Englanders so unpopular?” Why those phrases, always kept in stock by provincial orators and editors," the mean Yankees,” “the stingy Yankees,” “the close-fisted Yankees,” “the tin-peddling Yankees,” and, above all, the terse and condensed collocation, “those ddthose blessed Yankees,” the blessing being comprised between two d's, as though conferred by a benevolent doctor of divinity. (Laughter.] I remember in the olden
time, in the years beyond the flood, when the Presidential office was vacant and James Buchanan was drawing the salary, at a period before the recollection of any one present except myself, although possibly my esteemed friend, your secretary, Mr. Hubbard, may have heard his grandparents speak of it as a reminiscence of his youth, there was a poem going about, descriptive of the feelings of our brethren living between us and the Equator, running somewhat thus:
“ 'Neath the shade of the gum-tree the Southerner sat,
A-twisting the brim of his palmetto hat,
Oh! for a nigger, and oh! for a whip;
Oh! for a crack at a Yankee school-teacher.'
Why does the world minify our intelligence by depreciating our favorite article of diet, and express the ultimate extreme of mental pauperism by saying of him on whose intellect they would heap contempt, “He doesn't know beans "? (Laughter.] And it is within my recollection that there was a time when it was proposed to reconstruct the Union of the States, with New England left out. Why, I repeat it, the intense unpopularity of New England?
For one thing, it seems to me, we are hated because of our virtues; we are ostracized because men are tired of hearing about “New England, the good.” The virtues of New England seem to italicize the moral poverty of mankind at large. The fact that the very first act of our foremothers, even before the landing was made, two hundred and sixty-nine years ago, was to go on shore and do up the household linen, which had suffered from the voyage of ninety days, is a perpetual reproof to those nations among whom there is a great opening for soap, who have a great many saints' days, but no washing day. [Laughter and applause.] When men nowadays are disposed to steal a million acres from the Indians, it detracts from their enjoyment to read what Governor Josiah Winslow wrote in 1676: “I
think I can clearly say that, before the present troubles broke out, the English did not possess one foot of land in this colony but what was fairly obtained by honest purchase of the Indian proprietors.” When our fellow-citizens of other States look at their public buildings, every stone in which tells of unpaid loans; when they remember how they have scaled and scaled the unfortunate people who were guilty of the crime of having money to lend, until the creditors might be considered obnoxious to the Mosaic law, which looked with disfavor upon scaleless fish, it is naturally aggravating to them to remember that, at the close of King Philip's war, Plymouth Colony was owing a debt more than equal to the personal property of the colony, and that the debt was paid to the last cent [applause]; to remember the time, not very far gone by, when the Bay State paid the interest on her bonds in gold, though it cost her two hundred and seventy-six cents on every dollar to do it, and when it was proposed to commend the bonds of the United States to the bankers of the world by placing upon them the indorsement of Massachusetts [applause]; to remember that never has New England learned to articulate the letters that spell the word “Repudiation.” [Great applause.]
To those members of the human family who are disposed to entertain too high an estimate of themselves there is something aggravating in the extreme humility and sensitive self-depreciation of the real New Englander.
And the virtues of New England are all the more offensive because they are exhibited in such a way as to take from her enemies the comfort that grows out of a grievance. Said a Chicago wife, “ It is real mean for Charlie to be so good to me; I want to get a divorce and go on the stage; but he is so kind I cannot help loving him, and that is what makes me hate him so." When there comes the news that some far-off region is desolated by fire, or flood, or tempest, or pestilence, the first thing is a meeting in the metropolis of New England, and the dispatching of food and funds and physicians and nurses; and the relieved sufferers are compelled to murmur, “Oh, dear, it is too bad! We want to hate them, and they won't let us.” [Applause.]
One can manage to put up with goodness, however, if it is not too obtrusive. The honored daughter of Connecticut,
the author of “Uncle Tom" and " Dred," now in the peaceful evening of her days,* has said, “What is called goodness is often only want of force.” A good man, according to the popular idea, is a man who doesn't get in anybody's way. But the restless New Englanders not only have virtues, but they have convictions which are perpetually asserting themselves in the most embarrassing manner. [Applause.) I pass over the time, two centuries ago, when Cromwell and Hampden, those New Englanders who have never seen New England, made themselves exceedingly offensive to Charles I, and gave him at last a practical lesson touching the continuity of the spinal column.
Later, when our fellow-citizens desired to “wallop their own niggers,” and to carry the patriarchal institution wherever the American flag went, they were naturally irritated at hearing that there was a handful of meddling fanatics down in Essex County who, in their misguided and malevolent ingenuity, had invented what they called liberty and human rights. [Applause.) Presently, when it was proposed (under the inspiration of a man recently deceased, who will stand in history as a monument to the clemency and magnanimity of a great and free people) to break up the Union in order to insure the perpetuity of slavery, then a man, plain of speech, rude of garb,t descended from the Lincolns of Hingham, in Plymouth County, sounded a rally for Union and freedom [tremendous applause]; and, hark! there is the tramp, tramp of the fishermen from Marblehead; there are the Connecticut boys from old Litchfield; and there is the First Rhode Island; and there are the sailors from Casco Bay; and the farmers' sons from old Coos, and from along the Onion River, their hearts beating with the enthusiasm of liberty, while their steps keep pace with the drum-beat that salutes the national flag. [Applause.) And, see! is that a thunder-cloud in the North? No, it is the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts, made up of American citizens of African descent, officered by the best blood of Suffolk, and at their head Robert G. Shaw, going down to die in the trenches before Fort Wagner. And there is the man whom a kindly Providence yet spares to us, descended from the
* Harriet Beecher Stowe, died July 1, 1896.