On This Day: Hugh M. Brackenridge Delivers an Eulogium

by / / History

On July 5, 1779, Hugh M. Brackenridge delivers an Eulogium to those gathered in Pennsylvania to honor those who have fallen during the Revolutionary War:

“IT is the high reward of those who have risked their lives in a just and necessary war, that their names are sweet in the mouths of men, and every age shall know their actions. I am happy in having it in my power, before a polite assembly, to express what I think of those who have risked their lives in the war of America. I know my abilities rise not to a level with so great a subject, but I love the memory of the men, and it is my hope that the affection which I feel, will be to me instead of genius, and give me warm words to advance their praises.

“I CONCEIVE it as the first honour of these men, that before they engaged in the war, they saw it to be just and necessary. They were not the vassals of a proud chieftain, rousing them, in barbarous times, by the blind impulse of attachment to his family, or engaging them to espouse his quarrel, by the music and entertainments of his ball. They were themselves the chieftains of their own cause, highly instructed in the nature of it, and, from the best principles of patriotism, resolute to defend it. They had heard the declaration of the court and parliament of Great-Britain, claiming the authority of binding them in all cases whatsoever. They had examined this claim, and found it to be, as to its foundation, groundless, as to its nature, tyrannical, and as to its consequences, ruinous to the peace and happiness of both countries. On this clear apprehension and decided judgment of the cause, ascertained by their own reason, and collected from the best writers, it was the noble purpose of their minds to stand forth in its defence.

“THESE brave men were not soldiers by profession, bred to arms, and from a habit of military life attached to it. They were the mechanics of the city, the merchants of the counting-house, the youths engaged in literary studies, and the husbandmen the peaceful cultivators of the soil. Happy in the sociability and conversation of the town, the simplicity and innocence of the country village, the philosophic ease of academic leisure, and the sweets of rural life, they wished not a change of these scenes of pleasure, for the dangers and calamities of war. It was the pure love of virtue and of freedom, burning bright within their minds, that alone could engage them to embark in the bold and perilous undertaking.

“THESE brave men were not unacquainted with the circumstances of their situation, and their unprepared state for war. Not a bayonet was anvilled out, not a fire-arm manufactured, and scarcely a charge for a fire-arm was in their possession. No redoubt was cast up to secure the city, no fort was erected to resist invasion, no gun mounted on the deck of any vessel, and no vessel launched upon the stream of any river.

“THE power of Britain, on the other hand, was well known, and by the lightning of her orators, in a thousand writings and harangues, had been thrown, in full force, upon their minds. They were taught to believe her (what indeed she was) old in arts and in arms, and enriched with the spoils of a thousand victories derived from the ancient captains and the heroes of her isle. Embraced by the ocean as her favourite, her commerce was extensive, and she sent out her ships of war to every sea. Her thunder was heard in the East-Indies and the West, and no fort or battery on the shore had been proof to her assault. Abounding in men, her armies were in full force, her fleets were compleatly manned, her discipline was regular, and the spirit of her enterprize by sea and land, had, in most cases, insured her success.

“THE idea of resistance to the power of Britain was indeed great; but the mighty soul of the patriot drank it in, and, like the eagle on the summit of the mountain, collected magnanimity from the very prospect of the height to which he meant to soar. Like the steed, who swallows the distant ground with his fierceness he attempted the career, and poured himself upon the race.

“THE patriot quits his shop, his farm, his office, and his counting-house, and with every hope and every anxious thought prepares himself for war. The materials of gun-powder are extracted from the earth; the bayonet is anvilled out; the fire arm is manufactured in the shop; the manual exercise is taught; the company is formed in battalion; the battalion is instructed to manoeuvre on the field; the brigade is drawn forth; and the standard of defiance is planted on the soil.

“FOR what cause did these brave men sacrifice their lives? For that cause which, in all ages, has engaged the hopes, the wishes, and endeavours of the best men, the cause of Liberty. LIBERTY! thou art indeed valuable; the source of all that is good and great upon the earth! For thee, the wise and the brave of every age have contended. For thee, the patriot of America has drawn his sword, and has fought, and has fallen.

“SONS, whose heroic fathers have early left you, and, in the conflict of the war, have mixed with departed heroes; be congratulated on the fair inheritance of fame which you are entitled to possess. If it is at all lawful to array ourselves in borrowed honour, surely it is best drawn from those who have acted a distinguished part in the service of their country. If it is at all consistent with the feelings of philosophy and reason to boast of lineal glory, surely it is most allowable in those who boast of it as flowing from truly patriot ancestors. We shall despise the uninstructed mind of that man who shall obtrude upon our ears the idea of a vain ancestral honour; but we shall love the youth, and transfer to him the reputation of his father, who, when the rich and haughty citizen shall frown upon him as ignobly descended, shall only say with modesty.

“I had a father who has fallen in the service of his country.”

Read the entire eulogium at the Evans Early American Imprint Collection.