Speech by Fitzhugh Lee

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Speech by Govenor Fitzhugh Lee of Virginia  (1887) 
by Fitzhugh Lee
Spoken on September 17, 1887


MR. CHAIRMAN AND GENTLEMEN OF THE HIBERNIAN SOCIETY :—I am very glad, indeed, to have the honor of being present in this Society once more ; as it was my good fortune to enjoy a most pleasant visit here and an acquaintance with the members of your Society last year. My engagements were such to-day that I could not get here earlier; and just as I was coming in Governor Beaver was making his excuses because, as he said, he had to go to pick up a visitor whom he was to escort to the entertainment to be given this evening at the Academy of Music. I am the visitor whom Governor Beaver is looking for. He could not capture me during the war, but he has captured me now. I am a Virginian and used to ride a pretty fast horse, and he could not get close enough to me. [Laughter.]

By the way, you have all heard of " George Washington and his little hatchet." The other day I heard a story that was a little variation upon the original, and I am going to take up your time for a minute by repeating it to you. It was to this effect: Old Mr. Washington and Mrs. Washington, the parents of George, found on one occasion that their supply of soap for the use of the family at Westmoreland had been exhausted, and so they decided to make some family soap. They made the necessary arrangements and gave the requisite instructions to the family servant. After an hour or so the servant returned and reported to them that he could not make that soap. " Why not," he was asked, " haven't you all the materials ? " " Yes," he replied, " but there is something wrong." The old folks proceeded to investigate, and they found they had actually got the ashes of the little cherry tree that George had cut down with his hatchet, and there was no lye in it. [Laughter.]

Now, I assure you, there is no " lie " in what I say to you this afternoon, and that is, that I thank God for the sun of the Union which, once obscured, is now again in the full stage of its glory; and that its light is shining over Virginia as well as over the rest of this country. We have had our differences. I do not see, upon reading history, how they could well have been avoided, because they resulted from different constructions of the Constitution, which was the helm of the ship of the Republic. Virginia construed it one way. Pennsylvania construed it in another, and they could not settle their differences; so they went to war, and Pennsylvania, I think, probably got a little the best of it. [General laughter.]

The sword, at any rate, settled the controversy. But that is behind us. We have now a great and glorious future in front of us, and it is Virginia's duty to do all that she can to promote the honor and glory of this country. We fought to the best of our ability for four years ; and it would be a great mistake to assume that you could bring men from their cabins, from their ploughs, from their houses and from their families to make them fight as they fought in that contest unless they were fighting for a belief. Those men believed that they had the right construction of the Constitution, and that a State that voluntarily entered the Union could voluntarily withdraw from it. They did not fight for Confederate money. It was not worth ten cents a yard. They did not fight for Confederate rations—you would have had to curtail the demands of your appetite to make it correspond with the size and quality of those rations. They fought for what they thought was a proper construction of the Constitution. They were defeated. They acknowledged their defeat. They came back to their father's house, and there they are going to stay. But if we are to continue prosperous, if this country, stretching from the Gulf to the lakes and from ocean to ocean, is to be mindful of its own best interests, in the future, we will have to make concessions and compliances, we will have to bear with each other and to respect each other's opinions. Then we will find that that harmony will be secured which is as necessary for the welfare of States, as it is for the welfare of individuals. [Applause.]

I have become acquainted with Governor Beaver—I met him in Richmond. You could not make me fight him now. If I had known him before the war, perhaps we would not have got at it. If all the Governors had known each other, and if all the people of different sections had been known to each other, or had been thrown together in business or social communication, the fact would have been recognized at the outset, as it is to-day, that there are just as good men in Maine as there are in Texas, and just as good men in Texas as there are in Maine. Human nature is everywhere the same ; and when intestine strifes occur, we will doubt, less always be able by a conservative, pacific course to pass smoothly over the rugged, rocky edges, and the old Ship of State will be brought into a safe, commodious, Constitutional harbor with the flag of the Union flying over her, and there it will remain. [Applause.]