Massachusetts Reform Club Speech (1885-04-24; Phelps)

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Boston: Boston Daily Advertiser, page *. From the Boston Daily Advertiser of April 25, 1885. Speech of April 24 at an honorary dinner for Carl Schurz given by the Massachusetts Reform Club.

Mr. Phelps said:—

I cannot thank you, Mr. President and gentlemen, for this cordial welcome—all the more generous because it is so poorly deserved. You make me sorry to go away from the country, which is the only one, I believe, on the earth in which such a company as this can be gathered in one night around one table. [Applause.] I am fortunate in having been able unexpectedly to accept your kind invitation and be here tonight. It is a pleasure to me to look you in the face. It is a great pleasure to me to testify the great respect that I entertain for your distinguished guest, to whom this dinner is specially and most properly offered. [Applause.] The reception which you have given him is not more honorable to him, in my judgment, than it is to you. I have listened with the delight with which you have listened to the eloquent and statesmanlike speech which he has given you, and it has delighted me to see that every eloquent word has touched an answering chord of every man present. [Applause.]

There is no cause, in my judgment, that engages the attention of the American people, there is no object or purpose that is so high, that is so closely connected with the future happiness and prosperity of this country as this very matter of civil service reform. [Applause.] If this be the last word that I have opportunity to say to my countrymen before I leave, let me say that. [Applause.] Let me say, likewise, another thing. There is no living cause today, in my opinion, that is so absolutely certain of permanent success, or being backed up, accepted and adopted by the American people as this. [Applause and cries of “Good!”] No man that believes, as I believe, in the destiny of this great country,—the country that is to offer an asylum for all humanity that needs an asylum, that is to bring forth a race that is to incorporate into itself all races, as your language incorporates into itself all languages,—no man that has that faith believes that this country is going to perish for need of an adequate government. Yet it would perish for need of an adequate government unless its channels could be purified and its character elevated and ennobled. I cannot believe, when I see before me so many young men as I see tonight,—whose hearts are in this great work, who are going to carry it forward through many a summer that I shall not see,—I cannot believe that it is going to perish, and I do not believe it. [Applause.] It is not becoming, gentlemen, in me, under the circumstances in which I am placed, to say much about the present administration of your government. But it is impossible to allude to the subject without considering to some extent what is now going on. I believe—and I think I am not mistaken—that the American people are finding out that it is the sole object and purpose of the present administration of the government to purify its public service [applause], to obliterate, as far as it is in the power of any one administration to obliterate, the idea that the public service is to be made over as a reward to those who have corrupted it [applause], turning the public offices of this country into the conditions which Dr. Johnson in one of his definitions applied to a pension—“a reward given to a state hireling for betraying his country.” [Laughter and applause.] Now, nothing in all the eloquent remarks of our distinguished friend pleased me more than his eloquent and just and charitable observations in regard to those mistakes that are inevitable. It certainly would not become me to say that the administration was not liable to make mistakes. [Laughter.] I have been told by some of the newspapers of the best class that I am one of the most conspicuous examples. [Applause.] Nevertheless, it remains to be said that there is one thing worse than a mistake, and that is a crime; and there is no greater crime that I know of than that which debauches the public service of this country. [Applause.]

It is not my intention, gentlemen, to make a speech. You know as well as I do that the first lesson the diplomatist has to learn is that while speech is silver silence is golden, and you will sympathize, I am sure, in my effort to hold my tongue. [Laughter and applause.] From what allusion has been made by your chairman to the duty upon which I am about to set out, I know very well, as you know, that I cannot expect to make good the place of that distinguished citizen of Boston who now fills that post and has filled it in such a manner that the office does not honor him; he has honored the office. [Applause and cries of “Good!”] And let me say with respect to Mr. Lowell, since I have alluded to him, and since I have heard some criticism on that point from those who do not know him, that one of the chiefest elements in the great success which he has attained is that he has been first and last and all the time, an American. [Applause and cries of “Good!”] and those who are undertaking to criticise him in that repect are, in my humble judgment, talking about what they do not understand. [Applause.] I very much mistake the character of the English people if it is not true that a man would utterly fail to commend himself to their consideration and their respect, unless he stood by the colors, and the country that he was sent to represent. [Applause and cries of “good!”] They are not accustomed to applaud the man that deserts his country; they applaud the man that stands by it. And, in the very great acceptance which Mr. Lowell has found in that country, I find the strongest evidence that he has done his duty as an American citizen. [Applause.] And now for myself in taking leave of you, gentlemen, I have only to say that while silver and gold I have none, such as I have I will give you. It may not be much. Renewing to you my thanks, gentlemen, for this very kind reception, I am compelled now, by another engagement, very reluctantly to bid you good night. [Great applause.]

This work was published before January 1, 1926, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.