July 4, 1866: An Independence day for conciliation.

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The New York Times editorial, July 4, 1866.


The National Anniversary.

Of all the nations of the earth, this alone has its birthday celebration. Of all peoples we alone can point to the day and hour when we became a recognized nationality. There are celebrations elsewhere, and days of annual observance. The birthdays of monarchs, the memories of battles won or conspiracies defeated, the martyrdom of saints, the building of temples — these have their appropriate ceremony on each recurring anniversary. But they are of limited significance. An artillery salute and morning reception, a ridiculous pageant, a few additional genuflexions before an altar and a few words counted on a rosary, are all that they call forth. By such the popular heart is untouched. There is on their account no national holiday. There is no general rejoicing among the people.

Independence Day is ceasing to be so much a point from which we are to look back upon a long series of trials and achievements, as a point from which we should look forward with wise consideration at what we may by our own acts become or in what by our own short- comings we may fail. The great central idea associated with the day is that of the defense and preservation of the Union. Every flag that waves to-day is an emblem of that Union and its greatness; every cannon that thunders forth its salute to that flag bids us beware how we permit it to be stained by factious dissensions. The unity that we have fought for must be perfected.

It is for us all to remember today that our war has scarcely ended, when a new and equally terrible affliction has commenced its desolation of some of the fairest parts of Europe. As we write the news comes of two millions of men in arms just commencing their work of mutual slaughter. [The Austro-Prussian or Seven Weeks’ War began June 14, 1866.] The Powers between whom this contest has arisen are our friends, and with our self-congratulations must be joined the feeling of sorrow for the trials which they will have to undergo. The thought, too, arises of how great a contrast there is between our war and theirs. We fought for Union and for freedom, they have drawn the sword for conquest and dynastic interests. There can be but a mutual weakening of each other among them; we, on the other hand, have consolidated our nation by the blood of patriots. Their progress must be arrested for a time, and may be for centuries; out of our struggle we came stronger and better equipped than ever for the efforts toward advancement in all that dignifies a people.

The day suggests to us to strive for a Union not only of territory, but of hearts. The flag should not only cover but be beloved by all who own its sway. Independence Day is no less the inheritance of the North than of the South, and we must take care not to perpetuate fraternal strife between its folds. The true policy for all is the encouragement of affection and confidence in every section of the Union. None so sincerely honor this country, or so truthfully celebrate its festival, as those who hold out the hand of generous friendship toward those who have erred from their ways and have returned. On a day like this we can afford to forget the differences of the past; in the days to come we can equally afford to let those differences be forever buried. The lesson to be learned is how to forgive and to put away all uncharitableness, and when it is learned and acted upon, the Fourth of July will bring with it no regrets that there may be some who have no welcome for its coming. There will be orators today for whom the victories of our armies and the valor of our soldiers will be somewhat trite, and for whom still less the annual fling at insincerity abroad, or even a glowing tribute to the memory of the Fathers, is the only theme for an oration. But there is for them a nobler, higher subject upon which they may dilate. They may tell the people that we are now passing through a trial of our honor and fair fame; that we are offered the chance of being as magnanimous in peace as brave in war; that there is before us the task of healing wounds that yet bleed, and of proving that since we have laid aside the sword we have not laid aside our manhood too. They may tell the people that the Union is saved, but that a further victory is to be gained — one over prejudice and faction; they may exhort the people to show that they are not afraid of antagonists whom they have conquered, and that they believe in the reality of that Union for which they have sacrificed so much.

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