The World's Famous Orations/Volume 7/On His Welcome to New York
ON HIS WELCOME TO NEW YORK
Born in 1802, died in 1894; Member of the Hungarian Diet from 1882 to 1836; imprisoned by Austria from 1837 to 1840; Minister of Finance in 1848; Governor of Hungary on the Declaration of Independence in 1849; resigned In the same year and went into exile, visiting the United States in 1851.
Let me, before I go to work, have some hours of rest upon this soil of freedom, your happy home. Freedom and home; what heavenly music in those two words! Alas! I have no home, and the freedom of my people is downtrodden. Young Giant of free America, do not tell me that thy shores are an asylum to the oppressed and a home to the homeless exile. An asylum it is; but all the blessings of your glorious country, can they drown into oblivion the longing of the heart and the fond desires for our native land? My beloved native land! thy very sufferings make thee but dearer to my heart; thy bleeding image dwells with me when I wake, as it rests with me in the short moments of my restless sleep. It has accompanied me over the waves. It will accompany me when I go back to fight over again the battle of thy freedom once more. I have no idea but thee; I have no feeling but thee.
Even here, with this prodigious view of greatness, freedom, and happiness which spreads before my astonished eyes, my thoughts are wandering toward home; and when I look over these thousands of thousands before me, the happy inheritance of yonder freedom for which your fathers fought and bled—and when I turn to you, citizens, to bow before the majesty of the United States, and to thank the people of New York for their generous share in my liberation, and for the unparalleled honor of this reception—I see, out of the very midst of this great assemblage, rise the bleeding image of Hungary, looking to you with anxiety, whether there be in the luster of your eyes a ray of hope for her; whether there be in the thunder of your huzzas a trumpet-call of resurrection. If there were no such ray of hope in your eyes, and no such trumpet-call in your cheers, then woe to Europe's oppressed nations. They will stand alone in the hour of need. Less fortunate than you were, they will meet no brother's hand to help them in the approaching giant struggle against the leagued despots of the world; and woe, also, to me. I will feel no joy even here; and the days of my stay here will turn out to be lost to my fatherland-lost at the very time when every moment is teeming in the decision of Europe's destiny.
Gentlemen, I have to thank the people, Congress, and government of the United States for my liberation from captivity. Human tongue has no words to express the bliss which I felt, when I—the downtrodden Hungary's wandering chief—saw the glorious flag of the Stripes and Stars fluttering over my head—when I first bowed before it with deep respect—when I saw around me the gallant officers and the crew of the Mississippi frigate—the most of them the worthiest representatives of true American principles, American greatness, American generosity—and to think that it was not a mere chance which cast the Star-spangled Banner around me, but that it was your protecting will—to know that the United States of America, conscious of their glorious calling, as well as of their power, declared, by this unparalleled act, to be resolved to become the protectors of human rights—to see a powerful vessel of America coming to far Asia to break the chains by which the mightiest despots of Europe fettered the activity of an exiled Magyar, whose very name disturbed the proud security of their sleep—to feel restored by such a protection, and, in such a way, to freedom, and by freedom to activity; you may be well aware of what I have felt, and still feel, at the remembrance of this proud moment of my life. Others spoke—you acted; and I was free! You acted; and at this act of yours, tyrants trembled; humanity shouted out with joy; the downtrodden people of Magyars—the downtrodden, but not broken—raised their heads with resolution and with hope, and the brilliancy of your Stars was greeted by Europe's oppressed nations as the morning star of rising liberty. Now, gentlemen, you must be aware how boundless the gratitude must be which I feel for you.
Humble as I am, God, the Almighty, has selected me to represent the cause of humanity before you. My warrant to this capacity is written in the sympathy and confidence of all who are oppressed, and of all who, as your elder brother, the people of Britain, sympathize with the oppressed—my warrant to this capacity is written in the hopes and expectations you have entitled the world to entertain, by liberating me out of my prison, and by restoring me to activity. But it has pleased the Almighty to make out of my humble self yet another opportunity for a thing which may prove a happy turning-point in the destinies of the world. I bring you a brotherly greeting from the people of Great Britain. I speak not in official character, imparted by diplomacy, whose secrecy is the curse of the world, but I am the harbinger of the public spirit of the people, which has the right to impart a direction to its government, and which I witnessed, pronouncing itself in the most decided manner, openly—that the people of England, united to you with enlightened brotherly love, as it is united in blood—conscious of your strength, as it is conscious of its own, has forever abandoned every sentiment of irritation and rivalry, and desires the brotherly alliance of the United States to secure to every nation the sovereign right to dispose of itself, and to protect the sovereign right of nations against the encroaching arrogance of despots; and leagued to you against the league of despots, to stand together, with you, godfather to the approaching baptism of European liberty.
I came not to your glorious shores to enjoy a happy rest—I came not with the intention to gather triumphs of personal distinction, but because a humble petitioner, in my country's name, as its freely chosen constitutional chief, humbly to entreat your generous aid; and then it is to this aim that I will devote every moment of my time, with the more assiduity, with the more restlessness, as every moment may bring a report of events which may call me to hasten to my place on the battle-field, where the great, and I hope, the last battle will be fought between liberty and despotism—a moment marked by the finger of God to be so near that every hour of delay of your generous aid may prove fatally disastrous to oppressed humanity. And, thus having stated my position to be that of a humble petitioner in the name of my oppressed country, let me respectfully ask: Do you not regret to have bestowed upon me the high honor of this glorious reception, unparalleled in history?
I say unparalleled in history, tho I know that your fathers have welcomed Lafayette in a similar way; but Lafayette had mighty claims to your country's gratitude. He had fought in your ranks for your freedom and independence; and, what was still more, in the hour of your need he was the link of your friendly connection with France—a connection the results of which were two French fleets of more than thirty-eight men-of-war and three thousand gallant men, who fought side by side with you against Cornwallis, before Yorktown; the precious gift of twenty-four thousands muskets; a loan of nineteen millions of dollars; and even the preliminary treaties of your, glorious peace negotiated at Paris by your immortal Franklin. I hope the people of the United States, now itself in the happy condition to aid those who are in need of aid, as itself was once in need, will kindly remember these facts; and you, citizens of New York, you will yourselves become the Lafayettes of Hungary. Lafayette had great claims to your love and sympathy, but I have none. I came a humble petitioner, with no other claims than those which the oppressed have to the sympathy of freemen who have the power to help, with the claim which the unfortunate has to the happy, and the downtrodden has to the protection of eternal justice and of human rights. In a word, I have no other claims than those which the oppressed principle of freedom has to the aid of victorious liberty.
- From his first speech after landing in America in December, 1851. After Kossuth escaped to Turkey, Austria and Russia had demanded his extradition, but Turkey, supported by France and England, refused it. In September, at the instance of England and the United States, he was liberated and taken to Gibraltar on board the United States frigate, the Mississippi, which had been sent for the purpose. From Gibraltar he sailed for England and thence came afterward to the United States.