Like most veterans of the Civil War, go here to read about his service, Archbishop John Ireland had a deep love of this nation. The following is a speech on patriotism that he delivered to the New York Commandery of the Loyal League on April 4, 1894. His speech is completely out of step with the popular sentiments of our day that tend to view patriotism, at best, with suspicion and that take for granted freedom hard won by the blood of prior generations. I find myself much closer to agreement with the Archbishop than I do with the zeitgeist in which we find ourselves.
Patriotism is love of country, and loyalty to its life and weal—love tender and strong, tender as the love of son for mother, strong as the pillars of death; loyalty generous and disinterested, shrinking from no sacrifice, seeking no reward save country’s honor and country’s triumph.
Patriotism! There is magic in the word. It is bliss to repeat it. Through ages the human race burnt the incense of admiration and reverence at the shrines of patriotism. The most beautiful pages of history are those which recount its deeds. Fireside tales, the outpourings of the memories of peoples, borrow from it their warmest glow.
Poets are sweetest when they re-echo its whisperings; orators are most potent when they thrill its chords to music.
Pagan nations were wrong when they made gods of their noblest patriots. But the error was the excess of a great truth, that heaven unites with earth in approving and blessing patriotism; that patriotism is one of earth’s highest virtues, worthy to have come down from the atmosphere of the skies.
The exalted patriotism of the exiled Hebrew exhaled itself in a canticle of religion which Jehovah inspired, and which has been transmitted, as the inheritance of God’s people to the Christian Church:
“Upon the rivers of Babylon there we sat and wept, when we remembered Sion.—If I forget thee, 0 Jerusalem, let my right hand be forgotten. Let my tongue cleave to my jaws, if I do not remember thee, if I do not make Jerusalem the beginning of my joy.”
The human race pays homage to patriotism because of its supreme value. The value of patriotism to a people is above gold and precious stones, above commerce and industry, above citadels and warships. Patriotism is the vital spark of national honor; it is the fount of the nation’s prosperity, the shield of the nation’s safety. Take patriotism away, the nation’s soul has fled, bloom and beauty have vanished from the nation’s countenance.
The human race pays homage to patriotism because of its supreme loveliness. Patriotism goes out to what is among earth’s possessions the most precious, the first and best and dearest—country—and its effusion is the fragrant flowering of the purest and noblest sentiments of the heart.
Patriotism is innate in all men; the absence of it betokens a perversion of human nature; but it grows its full growth only where thoughts are elevated and heart-beatings are generous.
Next to God is country, and next to religion is patriotism. No praise goes beyond its deserts. It is sublime in its heroic oblation upon the field of battle. “Oh glorious is he,” exclaims in Homer the Trojan warrior, “who for his country falls!” It is sublime in the oft-repeated toil of dutiful citizenship. “Of all human doings,” writes Cicero, “none is more honorable and more estimable than to merit well of the commonwealth.”
Countries are of divine appointment. The Most High “divided the nations, separated the sons of Adam, and appointed the bounds of peoples.” The physical and moral necessities of God’s creatures are revelations of his will and laws. Man is born a social being. A condition of his existence and of his growth of mature age is the family. Nor does the family suffice to itself. A larger social organism is needed, into which families gather, so as to obtain from one another security to life and property and aid in the development of the faculties and powers with which nature has endowed the children of men.
The whole human race is too extensive and too diversified in interests to serve those ends: hence its subdivisions into countries or peoples. Countries have their providential limits—the waters of a sea, a mountain range, the lines of similarity of requirements or of methods of living. The limits widen in space according to the measure of the destinies which the great Ruler allots to peoples, and the importance of their parts in the mighty work of the cycles of years, the ever-advancing tide of humanity’s evolution.
The Lord is the God of nations because he is the God of men. No nation is born into life or vanishes back into nothingness without his bidding. I believe in the providence of God over countries as I believe in his wisdom and his love, and my patriotism to my country rises within my soul invested with the halo of my religion to my God.
More than a century ago a trans-Atlantic poet and philosopher, reading well the signs, wrote:
“Westward the course of empire takes its way.
The first four acts already past,
A fifth shall close the drama with the day;
Time’s noblest offspring is the last.”
Berkeley’s prophetic eye had descried America. What shall I say, in a brief discourse of my country’s value and beauty, of her claims to my love and loyalty? I will pass by in silence her fields and forests, her rivers and seas, the boundless riches hidden beneath her soil and amid the rocks of her mountains, her pure and health-giving air, her transcendent wealth of nature’s fairest and most precious gifts. I will not speak of the noble qualities and robust deeds of her sons, skilled in commerce and industry, valorous in war, prosperous in peace. In all these things America is opulent and great: but beyond them and above them in her singular grandeur, to which her material splendor is only the fitting circumstance.
America born into the family of nations in these latter times is the highest billow in humanity’s evolution, the crowning effort of ages in the aggrandizement of man. Unless we take her in this altitude, we do not comprehend her; we belittle her towering stature and conceal the singular design of Providence in her creation.
When the fathers of the republic declared “that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” a cardinal principle was enunciated which in its truth was as old as the race, but in practical realization almost unknown.
Slowly, amid sufferings and revolutions, humanity had been reaching out toward a reign of the rights of man. Ante-Christian paganism had utterly denied such rights. It allowed nothing to man as man; he was what wealth, place, or power made him. Even the wise Aristotle taught that some men were intended by nature to be slaves and chattels. The sweet religion of Christ proclaimed aloud the doctrine of the common fatherhood of God and the universal brotherhood of men.
Eighteen hundred years, however, went by, and the civilized world had not yet put its civil and political institutions in accord with its spiritual faith. The Christian Church was all this time leavening human society and patiently awaiting the promised fermentation. This came at last, and it came in America. It came in a first manifestation through the Declaration of Independence; it came in a second and final manifestation through President Lincoln’s Proclamation of Emancipation.
In America all men are civilly and politically equal; all have the same rights; all wield the same arm of defense and of conquest, the suffrage; and the sole condition of rights and of power is simple manhood.
Liberty is the exemption from all restraint save that of the laws of justice and order; the exemption from submission to other men, except as they represent and enforce those laws. The divine gift of liberty to man is God’s recognition of his greatness and his dignity. The sweetness of man’s life and the power of growth lie in liberty. The loss of liberty is the loss of light and sunshine, the loss of life’s best portion. Humanity, under the spell of heavenly memories, never ceased to dream of liberty and to aspire to its possession. Now and then, here and there, its refreshing breezes caressed humanity’s brow. But not until the republic of the West was born, not until the Star-Spangled Banner rose toward the skies, was liberty caught up in humanity’s embrace and embodied in a great and abiding nation.
In America the government takes from the liberty of the citizen only so much as is necessary for the weal of the nation, which the citizen by his own act freely concedes. In America there are no masters, who govern in their own rights, for their own interests, or at their own will. We have over us no Louis XIV, saying: “L’etat, c’est moi;” no Hohenzollern, announcing that in his acts as sovereign he is responsible only to his conscience and to God.
Ours is the government of the people, by the people, for the people. The government is our organized will.
There is no state above or apart from the people. Rights begin with and go upward from the people. In other countries, even those apparently the most free, rights begin with and come downward from the state; the rights of citizens, the rights of the people, are concessions which have been painfully wrenched from the governing powers.
With Americans, whenever the organized government does not prove its grant, the liberty of the individual citizen is sacred and inviolable. Elsewhere there are governments called republics; universal suffrage constitutes the state; but, once constituted, the state is tyrannous and arbitrary, invades at will private rights, and curtails at will individual liberty. One republic is liberty’s native home—America.