Extols the Virtues of Kansas
1893 — Columbian Exposition, Chicago IL
He that can paint a picture in marvelous beauty, that can pencil a landscape tinted with the glory of the dawn, that can strike a harp and make its responsive chords burst into a glad melody of song, that can tint a rainbow, give glory to the flowers, sublimity to the sea, majesty to the landscape and with the hand of Liszt bring melody from pattering rain and whispering breeze, evolve the music of the spheres from rustling corn and billowy wheat, may hope to picture Kansas, that old land which men call new.
Before Athens was, or Rome was born, the creeping tides, the rolling breakers, the terror of the tempest, the savagery of the storm, the star-gemmed waves of mighty ocean beat and surged upon her prairie bosom. Speculation as to tat time brings us into fellowship with the ages.
What strange sea monsters sported on the wave; what flora; rank, luxuriant, giant palms and somber cypress, nodded on its marshy shore; what white-winged sails or strangely built caravels rocked upon its tide, we may not tell. We question the ages, but few hear the voice which makes reply. We ask the skies and they are dumb. If nature has kept a record of buried continents, dying stars and worlds decayed, of the birth of islands, the emerging of continents from the shoreless sea, her book of lore is closed save to a few.
The past with its atmosphere of floating mist, its clouds of dust, its long dark night, its shoreless expanse of ocean, its convulsions and its cataclysm, has left us dawn and sunset, opened bud, perfected flower, sea and sky, teeming soil, vernal leagues of sun and dew, where the footsteps of angels and the waving of heavenly wings are heard in the rustling corn and the miles and miles of billowy grain. Where night and morning repeat the story of the Resurrection, and spring and autumn write prophecy of immorality on wind-swept plains and sunkissed leagues of rain-thrilled soil.
Strange monsters crawled and swam, jungle serpents and treacherous wild beasts lived and died . . . the tepee of the warrior to the “Pioneer Civilization,” the white canvassed schooner of the prairies; the emigrant wagon train plodding toward the setting sun, gave way in turn to the iron horse that with steaming breath and wild halloo awoke the echoes from their slumbers, speeding across the trackless prairies toward farthest limits of the day; and westward, westward evermore God’s grand pathfinder plows its way, and Kansas, the geographical center of the Union, the geographical center of the world, with no stain upon her garments, redeemed and consecrated by freedom’s baptismal blood, purified and strengthened by chrismal oil of sacrifice, stands preeminent and glorified in the closing hours of the nineteenth century; bearing aloft the torch that already gilds the mountaintops of the Old World; teaching humanity that which makes tyrants tremble and the worn-out monarchies and crumbling crowns of Europe come to marvel and to learn.
Evolution that brought a rich land from the salt marsh of the ocean and transformed slime and mud of the great basin into snowy bloom, golden grain, laid its magic wand upon the people, and Kansans are typical of the growth and improvement and elevation of the world. They are descendants of those
Who crossed the prairies as of old
Our fathers crossed the sea,
To make the West, as they the East
The homeland of the free.
Their ancestors died for freedom, and they themselves are the ambassadors of liberty, the architects and builders of the temple of human rights; the constructors and interpreters of the reverence for God, reverence for man, reverence for women, reverence for law – and upon these four pillars rests the Republic of the United States. They are the most God-fearing, law-abiding, liberty-loving, intelligent people of the earth. A schoolhouse dots every valley, a university of learning crowns every hill. Their school system is based upon the doctrine that each child is entitled to an education, and the state, like a fostering mother, wraps about her children the arms of love, and the wild beast of drunkenness hides from the light of day.
Nature has designed Kansas as debatable ground. The soft south winds, flower-laden, enervating, come stealing from the gulf along our plains and are meet by the sturdy western winds that blow straight and strong from the battlements of God, the wondrous Rockies, and ever on our prairies they struggle fro supremacy, typical of the warring forces of freedom and slavery, that have made Kansas the amphitheater of human progress and attracted to her the attention of the world.
The immensity of space, the vast illimitable sweep of prairie, the winds that play now high and loud, and now soft and low, across the undulating bosom of the caravanless plains, all, all speak of freedom. Her sacred fires burn in every heart, and, like a furnace blast, sweep through her borders. Let slavery in any form lift its hydra head, and Kansas speaks, and the world listens, for she never speaks in vain.
Should the lion of tyranny invade our soil, we diet him on freedom, give him solid food, labeled “exact justice to all; special privileges to none,” and he has no alternative but to digest or die. For us the gates of opportunity are swinging wide, and the eternal sea is scarce wide enough for Kansas sails, and the skies of the land of summer are fluttering with wings of our boundless hope.
Wander we east or west, our thought ever reverts to our well-loved prairie state, and sooner or later our wandering feet return for we love our land with that constancy of which our loyal sunflower is emblematical.
For the heart that has truly loved never forgets,
But as truly loves on to the close
As the sunflower turns on her god when he sets,
The same look which she turned when she rose.
Because of the vastness of our inheritance, the boundless scope of our ambitions, we sometimes seem to jostle one another on our onward and upward way, but let outside influence interfere, and we remember at once that we are Kansans, and to be a “Kansan is greater than to be a king.”
The freshness of the early dawn is cooling our faces; the rosy clouds and golden light of sunrise just before us. Our sorrows vanish like the Kansas snows and leave no trace. Should enemies assail us, their force is as quickly spent as the Kansas storms. The principles of patriotism and valor and integrity permeates every Kansas heart, and they are as staunch, as tried and true as our Kansas soil that the sunshine and rain have kissed into teaming life and power.
Patrick Henry pled for liberty; Washington fought for it; the philosophy of Jefferson perpetuated it; but Kansans live it.
The grandeur and vastness of our prairies sweeping free has lifted us into broader, grander life, and with Kansas preaching popular government, and Kansas in the council halls of the nation, Kansas at the helm of state, the waves of tyranny shall beat and surge in vain, and all the kings of the world and all their blood-fed armies cannot reverse the wheels of human progress.
From Kansas shall come the fulfillment of scripture. Up from her plains, baptized with the blood of martyrs, shall come the prophet Ezekiel’s vision, that breathing upon the dry bones of the world’s oppressed will clothe them with new life, resurrecting the wisdom of the seers, the justice of Christ, and all humanity will enjoy the liberty which the winds of Kansas forever play on Aeolian harps, and all the world shall come up the path which we have blazed and bask in the light which we have kindled and kings shall be no more, and the world will not tolerate hungry poor or idle rich; neither shall be found tyrants, small or great, but they who obey the divine injunction to earn their bread in the sweat of their face honest toilers shall constitute a state.
Source: Women at the Podium: Memorable Speeches in History. ed. S. Michele Nix (New York: Harper Resources) pp. 78-82.