Mothers of the Revolution
July 4, 1853 — Harford NY
. . . But while our physical progress has been such as may well excite our wonder, and call forth the admiration of the world, may we not claim also that in that higher and nobler sense, the development of the intellectual, moral, and religious portions of man’s nature, our country stands first among the nations of the world? Not that we are without our sins, both individual and national. Alas! we have too many of both to answer for, and one of these to which I shall presently call your attention, we have come here this day to consider. But yet, I repeat, that while this is so, the people of the United States stand this day before the world first in intelligence, first in moral worth, first in religious freedom, and first in all those qualities which tend to elevate and humanize the race. Here the press is free — here religion is free — here the school house stands open to all, ad heaven grant that it may ever do so, despite all the machinations of a foreign hierarchy. Here too, mind is comparatively free, and here the freedom of speech is more generally recognized than in any other country. The door to an honorable livelihood stands open to a greater number, and the rewards of labor are more certain and ample than elsewhere. We have no overshadowing aristocracy, save it be the aristocracy of the slaveholder, to eat up the earnings, and to fatten upon the hard toil of the honest laborer. We have here no established church to force obedience to its teachings, no inquisition to tear the limbs and burn the bodies of those who will not bow before its mandates. We have no kings, and queens, and royal households, to be dressed up in state gee-gaws to be paid for by the hard toil of honest labor. From all these things we are exempt, and God grant that we may ever remain so!
Again our country is a propagator of free principles over the whole world — whether or not we practice them at home. Since the American Revolution there has been an immense change in the right direction in the condition of almost every civilized people on the globe! Not that republican institutions are everywhere established, but the people are being prepared more and more for their advent, and for the ushering in of that glorious day when the cords of despotism shall be loosed, and the world redeemed from the iron rule of kings and emperors. The patriots of Italy, of Hungary, and of France will not forever furnish food for the gallows, but the time will come when their oppressors will call upon the mountains of the earth to hide them from the wrath of their offended, and long-abused and downtrodden people. Meantime our country stands forth — notwithstanding all its faults — the brightest star in the political firmament of the universe, a beacon light to all nations, pointing the way to that freedom of thought and action which are one day to be the common heritage of all nations.
I have said that notwithstanding we have so much to glory in, as a people and a nation, both in the history of the past and the wonderful events of the present, in which as a people, we are so actively engaged, we still have many national and individual sins for which to mourn and for the suppression of which it is our duty to labor. Of these, I will now allude to but two, viz. slavery and intemperance. And of these two, one of them is confined to a single section of our country and is therefore sectional in its character, but by no means sectional in its hearings. No, far otherwise. Slavery exercises a powerful — may I not say a controlling — influence over our legislation and our habits of thought. The press, the pulpit, the legislation of the country are more or less moulded by it. But may we not hope that this influence is becoming less and less, the more it is considered and discussed? May we not hope that it will be compelled to yield finally, and that at no distant day, before the powerful influence which free institutions are bringing to bear against it? The opinions of the civilized world, and what is more, the fundamental principles of our free form of government and the pure teachings of the Bible are against it, and before all these it must ere long go down. How this end is to be brought about I know not, but I have faith to believe that God will in his own good time, and that speedily, work out, through human instrumentality, the redemption of the sons and daughters of Africa from their present position of degrading vassalage.
The other great national sin to which I have made reference is neither sectional in its character or influence. On the contrary, it prevails more or less generally over every part of the country, and in the fearful catalogue of crimes and offense against both divine and human laws which everywhere flow from it, all classes are more or less implicated. I refer now to intemperance — that terrible evil that so deeply afflicts humanity — and to devise ways and means for the overthrow of which, I trust is the chief motive that has brought together the large assembly I now see around me. For no greater cause than the taxation of property our fathers declared a war against the mother country. Nobly they withstood all aggression and fought manfully for their rights, but we their children are subjected to a tax a thousand fold greater than were they, and yet we have not had enough of their spirit to wage a war of extermination against the tyrant which not only deprives us of property, but of children and friends — of home, happiness, and heaven. This foe is more to be dreaded than was that against which the men of ’76 arose in rebellion, and my friends I am happy in being here to join my counsels with yours on this consecrated day, int eh great purpose of driving this fearful enemy to our nation’s happiness and prosperity from the land . . .
My sisters, it is an uncommon thing for one of our sex to deliver a Fourth of July oration. Perhaps until the present day such a thing was never heard of. I have no apology to make for being an innovator on long-established custom — for none is necessary. I have already shown that woman has a right, and a solemn duty is upon her, to labor in whatever sphere her own conscience or the voice of suffering humanity calls her. We hear and read a great deal of the toil, the sufferings, and the sacrifices of the fathers of the revolution. Heaven forbid that I should say one word to dim their glories, or to lessen the reverence and respect in which the memory of their heroic deeds is held by their descendants!
But why, let me ask, are the mothers of the revolution forgotten? Why so seldom do we hear the devotion and constancy to the cause of struggling freedom held up as examples of patriotism worthy of the imitation of us their daughters, and you, my brothers, their sons? Ah! the reason is this, that after having suffered so much, toiled so unceasingly to achieve their independence, they failed, when the war of the revolution was over, to secure the guaranty to themselves of those rights which are the common heritage of all! Our fathers acted upon the principle of “no taxation without representation,” but although they broke from their own necks the oppressive yoke, they laid upon woman the burden they felt too heavy for themselves to bear, and placed her in the same state of vassalage in which they had been held by the mother country. She is still subjected to taxation, although wholly unrepresented in the legislation of the country and denied the rights of citizenship.
Man has hitherto supposed himself alone entitled to the rights guaranteed by the Constitution, and hence he has claimed, and we have too readily awarded him, more than his share in the glorious achievements of our revolutionary history.
But with the advancing light and knowledge of the noonday of the nineteenth century, woman is beginning to understand and man is beginning to acknowledge the true position which she should occupy.
As then it was the lot of the women of the revolution to labor for the emancipation of their country from foreign oppression, so let it be ours to labor for its redemption from the domestic foe — intemperance. And when the end shall have been achieved, we shall be prepared for the fulfillment of a higher and nobler destiny. Then our brothers, restored once more to their right minds, with a sober judgment and enlarged sense of duty, and a better appreciation of our rights, and their own, will cheerfully join with us in all honest and well directed efforts in all honest and well directed efforts for the enfranchisement of woman from the errors, the prejudices, and the wrongs of by-gone ages. Then will our rights be acknowledged in all their length and breadth, and then with him we may meet together to celebrate our national anniversary with mutual songs of rejoicing . . .
And may we not hope that our coming together at this time will be for good? — that the fires of patriotism will be revived in all our hearts, and an intense love of country be kindled upon many an altar which shall lead us to renew our labors in the noble work of redeeming our land from the blighting curse of the rum traffic?
Said a member of our legislature but a few days since on the floor of the Assembly, “if the knell of our departed liberty is ever heard in our republic, it will be amid the revels of the grog shops.”
Then against an agent so fraught with danger to our free institutions, let us all make a new declaration of independence, and like the patriots of ’78 pledge to its support our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honors. And what day could be more appropriate for the putting forth of such a declaration than that of our nation’s birthday? By each heart in this assembly such a declaration may and should be made, and let each one of us here today dedicate anew all the energies of which we are possessed to the prosecution of this second war of independence against the tyrant that now assails our liberties. Oh! that all who meet to celebrate this day, whether in the north or the south — the east or the far off west — would make such a declaration and resolve to follow it up with the zeal, devotion and self-sacrificing love of country, and forgetfulness of all personal considerations which have made immortal the names of those who declared our country free from foreign domination! Then might we justly hope that our freedom would survive the shock of ages, and that the tree of liberty planted here in this new world would extend its branches over the whole earth — blessing all people, nations and kindred. Then might we glory in the proud title of American citizens, and then might we point with feelings of exultation to the flag of our country, and with the poet exclaim,
Flag of the brave! thy folds shall fly
The sign of hope and triumph, high!
The signs of the time are auspicious. As the hearts of the people of 1776 were prepared for the Declaration of Independence, so now are the minds of the people of this day prepared for this second war of independence against the tyrant alcohol. Everywhere the conviction is becoming more and more universal that an end must be put to his destroying rule.
Within the present year, the people of Rhode Island, Vermont, and Michigan have declared themselves in favor of the law of prohibition and protection by a decisive, and in the last-named state by an overwhelming, majority. Maine and Massachusetts, where sch a law already existed, have not only denied all efforts for its repeal, but have made its provisions more effective and stringent.
New York would speak in similar tones could she be heard on this great question. On all sides, the cry is onward, onward to the rescue! And with the Maine Law for our watchword, how can we fail to triumph in a cause so holy?
Copyright 2019 by the Seneca Falls Historical Society, Seneca Falls, NY. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Source: “Mothers of the Revolution,” Bloomer, Amelia Jenks, in Hear Me Patiently: The Reform Speeches of Amelia Jenks Bloomer, ed. Anne C. Coon, (Westport: Greenwood Press), 1994, pp. 62-66.