Garfield’s Speech: Soldier’s Monument Dedication, Painesville, Ohio

On July 3, 1880, Congressman James A. Garfield of Ohio-then the Republican Party’s candidate for President of the United States-traveled about seven miles from his Mentor, Ohio home to the neighboring town of Painesville.  There he delivered the keynote address at the ceremony dedicating a new Soldier’s Monument in Painesville Memorial Park.  The monument still stands in Painesville’s town square today, nearly 140 years later.

Garfield was a Union Civil War veteran himself, having commanded the 42nd Ohio Volunteers and then an infantry brigade before serving as the Army of the Cumberland’s chief of staff.  He was present at such battles as Middle Creek, Shiloh, Corinth, and Chickamauga.  He left the army in late 1863 to take a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, remaining there until his election to the presidency in November 1880.  He was shot by an assassin just four months into his presidency.

GenGarfieldStanding

Brigadier General James A. Garfield, ca. 1862-63.  (Library of Congress)

Garfield’s speech at the Painesville Soldier’s Monument dedication:

“Fellow citizens: I cannot fail to respond on such an occasion, in sight of such a monument to such a cause, sustained by such men. While I have listened to what my friend has said, two questions have been sweeping through my heart. One is, ”What does the monument mean?” and the other, “What will the monument teach?’ Let me try and ask you for a moment, to help me answer what does the monument mean? Oh! The monument means a world of memories, a world of deeds, and a world of tears, and a world of glories.

You know, thousands know, what it is to offer up your life to the country, and that is no small thing, as every soldier knows.  Let me put the question to you: For a moment suppose your country in the awfully embodied form of majestic law, should stand above you and say: ‘I want your life. Come up here on the platform and offer it.’ How many would walk up before that majestic presence and say, ‘Here I am, take this life and use it for your great needs.’? And yet almost two millions of men made that answer, and a monument stands yonder to commemorate their answer. That is one of its meanings. But, my friends, let me try you a little further. To give up life is much, for it is to give up wife, and home, and child, and ambition. But let me test you this way further. Suppose this awfully majestic form should call out to you, and say, ‘I ask you to give up health and drag yourself, not dead, but half alive, through a miserable existence for long years, until you perish and die in your crippled and hopeless condition. I ask you to volunteer to do that,’ and it calls for a higher reach of patriotism and self-sacrifice; but hundreds of thousands of you soldiers did that. That is what the monument means also. But let me ask you to go one step further. Suppose your country should say, ‘Come here, on this platform, and in my name, and for my sake, consent to be idiots. Consent that your very brain and intellect shall be broken down into hopeless idiocy for my sake.’ How many could be found to make that venture? And yet there are thousands, and that with their eyes wide open to the horrible consequences, obeyed that call.

PresidentGarfield

James Abram Garfield, 20th President of the United States.  This photo was taken either just before or during Garfield’s brief (March-September 1881) presidency.  (Library of Congress)

And let me tell how one hundred thousand of our soldiers were prisoners of war, and to many of them when death was stalking near, when famine was climbing up into their hearts, and idiocy was threatening all that was left of their intellects, the gates of their prison stood open every day, if they would quit, desert their flag and enlist under the flag of the enemy; and out of one hundred and eighty thousand not two percent ever received the liberation from death, starvation and all that might come to them; but they took all these horrors and all these sufferings in preference to going back upon the flag of their country and the glory of its truth. Great God! Was ever such measure of patriotism reached by any men on this earth before? That is what your monument mans. By the subtle chemistry that no man knows, all the blood that will be shed by our brethren, all the lives that were devoted, all the grief that was felt, at last crystallized itself into granite rendered immortal, the great truth for which they died, and it stands there today, and that is what your monument means.
Now, what does it teach? What will it teach? Why, I remember the story of one of the old conquerors of Greece, who, when he had traveled in his boyhood over the battle-fields where Miltiades had won victories and set up trophies, returning said:
‘The trophies of Miltiades will never let me sleep.’ Why? Something had taught him from the chiseled stone a lesson that he could never forget; and, fellow citizens, that silent sentinel, that crowned granite column, will look down upon the boys that will walk these streets for generations to come, and will not let them sleep when their country calls them. More than from the bugler on the field, from his dead lips will go out a call that the children of Lake County will hear after the grave has covered us and our immediate children. That is the teaching of your monument. That is its lesson, and it is the lesson of endurance for what we believe, and it is the lesson of sacrifices for what we think- the lesson of heroism for what we mean to sustain- and the lesson cannot be lost to a people like this. It is not a lesson of revenge; it is not a lesson of wrath; it is the grand, sweet, broad lesson of the immortality of the truth that we hope will soon cover, as the grand Shekinah of light and glory, all parts of this Republic, from the lakes to the gulf.

PainesvilleOHvets_monument

Soldier’s Monument in downtown Painesville, Ohio, dedicated July 3, 1880.  Republican presidential candidate James A. Garfield was the keynote speaker at the dedication ceremony.  (Author photo)

I once entered a house in old Massachusetts, where, over its doors, were two crossed swords. One was the sword carried by the grandfather of its owner on the field of Bunker Hill, and the other was the sword carried by the English grand-sire of the wife, on the same field, and on the other side of the conflict. Under those crossed swords, in the restored harmony of domestic peace, lived a happy, and contented, and free family, under the light of our republican liberties. I trust the time is not far distant when, under the crossed swords and the locked shields of Americans North and South, our people shall sleep in peace, and rise in liberty, love, and harmony under the union of our flag of the Stars and Stripes.”

 

-Todd Arrington, Site Manager

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