“Declamation—Relief For Chicago,” by Edward Everett Hale (from Robert Merry’s Museum, November 1871; pp. 239-240)
[These eloquent remarks were made in Faneuil Hall, at a public meeting called by the city authorities of Boston for the purpose of organizing a movement for the relief of the sufferers by the great Chicago conflagration.]
Mr. Mayor and Gentlemen: It is but a single word I have to say here. I have simply to remind you that this is no mere matter of bounty in which we are engaged. I have to remind you that these people, by their munificence, by their generosity, by their public spirit, have made us debtors to them all.
There is not a man here the beef upon whose table yesterday was not cheaper because the people of that city which is now in ruins laid out that wonderful system of stock yards which is now the admiration of us all. There is not a man here the bread upon whose table to-day is not the cheaper and the better because this people invented and created that marvellous system for the delivery of grain which is the model and pattern now for the whole world. And remember that they were in a position where they might have said they commanded a monopoly of the whole trade; in that position they have devoted themselves for a generation to the steady improvement of every means in their power, by which they could give every child of God his bread from day to day.
We call it their misfortune; it is our misfortune. We are all, as has been said, linked together in the solidarity of the nation; the loss, therefore, is no more their loss than ours. In this great campaign of peace in which we are engaged, there has fallen by this calamity one of our noblest fortresses, and its garrison are now without munitions.
It is for us at the instant to reconstruct
that fortress, and to see that its garrison are as well placed as they were before in our service. Undoubtedly it is a great enterprise; but, as our friend has said, we can trust to them for that.
We are all fond of speaking of the miracle by which there arose in the desert this great city. The rod of some prophet, you say, struck it, and this city sprang from the ground. Who was the prophet? What was the rock? It was the American people who determined that a city should be there, and that it should rightly, and wisely, and in the best way distribute the food to a world. The American people has that duty to discharge again.
I know that these numbers are large numbers. I know that when we read in the newspaper of the destruction of a hundred millions of property, those figures are so large that we can hardly comprehend them. But the providence of God has brought us to deal with larger figures than those; and when, now not many years ago, it became necessary for the country to spend in every year, not a hundred millions, but thousands on thousands of millions of dollars in an enterprise which God gave this country in the duty of war, this country met its obligations. And now in a single year you have, as I said, to reconstruct one of the fortresses of peace; and do not fear that this country will be backward in its duty. In the discharge of that service, our first thought is, that the noble pioneers in the duty that God has placed in their hands shall not want for food, and that by telegraph and railroad they shall know that we are making to their relief; that their homeless shall have shelter, and their naked shall be clothed, and that those who for forty-eight hours have felt as if they were deserted shall know that they have friends everywhere over God’s world.
Mr. President: As God is pleased to order things in this world, there is no partial evil but from that evil is wrought out universal good. These flames of the prairies, which our friends have seen in their western horizon sometimes, sweeping over them in the desolation of autumn, only bring to them the blossoms and richness of the next spring and summer.
I can well believe that on that terrible night of Sunday, and all through the horrors of yesterday, as those noble people, as those gallant workmen, threw upon the flames the white streams which their magnificent water-works—the noblest that America has seen—enabled them to hurl upon their enemy—we must imagine that they thought their labor fruitless when they saw those streams of water that were poured into the molten mass fall with an idle hiss, rise innocuous in vapor, and melt into the heavens—they must have thought that their labor was wasted; but we cannot doubt that, in the wisdom of Him who has ordained that all evil shall work out its own end, these same waters furnished the vapors that were gathered together for the magnificent tempest of last night, which, falling upon those embers, has made Chicago habitable to-day.
See that the lesson for this community, see that the lesson for us here is this, that the horror with which we read the despatches of yesterday shall send us out to the ministries of faith, of bounty, of benevolence to-day.