Presentation of the Memorial Arch to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

June 19, 1917
Library of Congress

Honorable Champ Clark, 36th Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, presents the Memorial Arch to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania at Valley Forge Park on June 19, 1917. 


Photo of the National Memorial Arch at Valley Forge National Historic Park. Library of Congress

Governor Brumbaugh, President Sayen, Ladies and Gentlemen:

We stand today on ground hallowed by the unspeakable sufferings of as true a band of patriots as ever lived. We are assembled here to pay a tardy tribute to the deeds of a portion of the brave men who made us free. The story of Valley Forge is one of the most heroic and beyond all question the most pathetic chapter in the history of American armies. It required more courage and fortitude to freeze and starve in the cantonments here during the awful winter of 1777–78 than it did to charge the British Regulars in the open field or to assault them in the redoubts at Yorktown. Here in the winter of discontent our fortunes sank to the lowest point, but from this place Washington went forth conquering and to conquer and to become the foremost man of all the world.

By one of those strange accidents which puzzle even the philosophers, one of the best and most appreciative histories of the American Revolution ever written is by Sir George Otto Trevelyan, an Englishman, the nephew and biographer of Lord Macaulay. Describing Washington's encampment here, he says:

“That little village (Valley Forge), clustered at the bottom of a deep ravine, gave a name to what, as time goes on, bids fair to be the most celebrated encampment in the world's history.”

His prophecy has come true. It is the most famous encampment on the surface of the globe.

His accounts of that dreadful winter at Valley Forge is as graphic a piece of historical writing as can be found in the libraries of the world. It # too long, however, to be quoted here in full. One brief excerpt must suffice.

Speaking most feelingly of the foul slanders circulated about Washington while amid unparalleled horrors he was trying to secure for his ragged and hungry soldiers here the clothing, the food, and the medicine absolutely necessary to keep soul and body together, he says:

“Depressed and anxious, he was not perturbed out of measure, inasmuch as he believed himself to be in direct relations with an authority which was superior to Congress. The old ironmaster of Valley Forge, with whom he lodged, used to relate that one day, while strolling up the creek, he found the general's horse fastened to a sapling. Searching around he saw Washington in a thicket by the roadside on his knees in prayer, with tears running down his cheeks. The honest man, who was a Quaker preacher, “felt that he was upon holy ground, and withdrew unobserved. On re turning home he told his wife that the Nation would surely survive its troubles, because if there was anyone on earth that the Lord would listen to it was George Washington.”

Abraham Lincoln once said:

“I should be the most presumptuous blockhead upon this footstool if I for one day thought I could discharge the duties which have come upon me since I came into this place without the aid and enlightenment of One who is wiser and stronger than all others. I have always taken counsel of the Almighty, and referred to him my plans, and have never adopted a course without being assured of this approbation.”

And who will have the temerity to say that Washington's prayers were not answered? I have always thought that “The Father of His Country” kneeling in the snowy woods of Valley Forge praying for the health and lives of his famishing little band of heroes and for the freedom of his country deserves to be placed on immortal canvas by a master hand.

So far as I know, the piety of Alfred Lord Tennyson has never been exploited by his biographers among his claims to our regards. Nevertheless he wrote these beautiful lines:

“More things are wrought by prayer

Than this world dreams of. Wherefore, let thy voice Rise like a fountain for me night and day.

For what are men better than sheep or goats

That nourish a blind life within the brain,

If, knowing God, they lift not hands of prayer

Both for themselves and those who call them friend? For so the whole round world is every way

Bound by gold chains about the feet of God.”

 The Constitutional Convention was the wisest set of men that ever met under one roof. The most sensible thing they did was to divide the governmental machinery of this country into three separate departments. Then next wisest thing was to divide the Congress into two branches. Some lady asked George Washington at a great dinner what the Senate was created for, and why they had two legislative branches instead of only one. He said that the Senate would perform the same function for legislation that a saucer did for tea; that they pour the hot tea of the House into the saucer of the Senate to cool off. Evidently General Washington was not up to date in pink-tea etiquette or he would not have said anything about pouring tea into a saucer. I have sometimes thought that in these latter days it is the hot Senate tea that needs cooling off. 

George Washington's name is inseparably connected in the most intimate way with Valley Forge. Highly as we esteem him, I do not believe that we appreciate him adequately even yet. Valuable and momentous as was his conduct as Commander-in-Chief of our Revolutionary armies and President of the United States, in my judgment he rendered more service to his country and the cause of human liberty as President of the Constitutional Convention than he did as soldier or President. If it had not been for his commanding influence, the chances are that no Constitution would have been agreed upon, and if it had not been an absolute certainty that he would be the first President, the Constitution would never have been ratified. His name liveth evermore and his fame will increase as the years steal into the centuries. I think perhaps the most magnificent eulogy ever pronounced upon him is in one stanza of Lord Byron's Ode to Napoleon:

“Where may the wearied eye repose, When gazing on the great;

Where neither guilty glory glows, Nor despicable state?

Yes; one—the first—the last—the best– The Cincinnatus of the West,

Whom envy dared not hate, Bequeath'd the name of Washington, To make man blush there was but one.”

This Republic is the first really great Republic that ever existed on the face of the earth. We talk about the Republics of Greece and Rome, and the rest of them. They were simply aristocratic oligarchies. The intricate, delicate, and elaborate scheme of checks and balances in our system of government is what has preserved it to the present day, and what will preserve it, let us hope, for all time to come.

The idea of free government is not new. We did not originate it. We have developed it and put it into practice. It has been the dream of men from a time whereof the memory of man runneth not to the contrary. Whoever wrote the Shakespeare plays put these words into the mouth of Brutus in his speech defending himself for the assassination of Caesar:

“Here comes his body mourned by Mark Anthony; who though he had no hand in his death, shall receive the benefit of his dying, a place in the Commonwealth; as which of you shall not?”

There is the case in a nutshell, the essence of representative government— “a place in the Commonwealth.”

The legislative body in every free country is the most important of the three branches—legislative, judicial, and executive. We come from the people, we represent the people, and we reflect the will of the people. I undertake to say without fear of successful contradiction that when the American people make up their minds that they want a thing the Congress will grant it to them as soon as it finds out that the people desire it. The Congress of the United States is the greatest legislative body in all history, and I take pride in that fact. Yet every evil-disposed person in the land can find some slander to utter about the American Congress. If the House takes time enough to discuss an important measure, these slanderers savagely assail it for being too slow. If the House puts in overtime and hurries a bill through, these same malignants fiercely denounce it for sending half-baked measures to the Senate. They revel in such foul work. For instance, the House was abused and denounced because we discussed for two days instead of one a bill providing for the issue of $7,000,000,000 in bonds—far and away the biggest money bill ever passed since the dawn of creation. Think of that—in two days! And then remember that all the property in America—real, personal, and mixed—was estimated at only $16,000,000,000 in1861. I hope and pray that these impatient and palpitating superpatriots who belabored us for consuming two whole days in providing for seven billion of bonds will be equally impatient and anxious to get an opportunity to help pay them when due. It puzzled me a long time to find out why certain people who could pass a great tariff bill overnight or enact any other great measure while you wait did not get into Congress and do those things. Finally one of them came into my room one day and was intimating that we were a lot of chuckleheads, and I said to him, “It has always surprised me that men like you, who know everything, who can do everything without any consideration or deliberation, do not break into Congress and do it.” He said, “Well, everybody does not want to come to Congress.” I replied, “There are not 5000 men in America who would not come to one House or the other of Congress if they could get there. I will tell you why you do not come into Congress. You do not come down here because you cannot get votes enough.”

No right-thinking man objects to fair, honest, intelligent criticism. That is wholesome and altogether proper, but abuse, ridicule, and slander are very different things from criticism and do immense damage, because they have a tendency to bring our whole system of representative government into disrepute, thereby snapping its very foundations.

At this very moment when the country is engaged in the most stupendous war in all the bloody annals of mankind the Congress is doing its duty, its whole duty—man fully, industriously, and patriotically to bring it to a speedy and triumphant conclusion—as all good citizens hope most fervently that it may be brought. Representatives and Senators not only vote unheard-of-sums of money for the prosecution of the war, but to the limit of their financial ability they contribute to the cause by purchasing bonds to foot the bills. Representatives and Senators not only voted other men's sons into the army, but they send their own sons to fight—perchance to die—for the starry banner of the Republic.

There is not even a shadow of doubt that the Congress will vote every man and every dollar needed in this titanic world struggle into which we have entered, for we have solemnly pledged all the immense and various resources of this puissant Nation in that behalf.

This is a fitting occasion to discuss fundamental principles briefly. How many new propositions do you suppose our system of Government rests on? Only three. There are two of them in the Declaration of Independence and one in the Constitution. “All men are created equal.” That is one of them. “All governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.” That is two, and they form the basis of republican institutions. The third one is—hardly anybody ever reads it, more's the pity— the preamble to the Constitution, one of the finest sentences ever written, and one of the most comprehensive:

“We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the c o m mon defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

There it all is. That is our chart and our creed. What courtship is to marriage, what the flower is to the fruit, what youth is to manhood, what hope is to fruition, that is what the Declaration of Independence is to the Constitution of the United States. Since Washington on Yorktown's blood-stained heights made good Jefferson's declaration thrones have been crumbling, crowns have been tumbling, and dynasties have been fleeing for their lives.

When our fathers proclaimed this Republic at Philadelphia on the 4th day of July, 1776, there was only one other Republic in the wide, wide world—Switzerland—and the fathers were not certain that this one would live until Christmas. It was an even break whether it would or not. Now, thanks be to Almighty God, there are Republics in this world. In a very large sense we made them, everyone. Mark Twain, the greatest Missourian that ever lived and the greatest literary American that ever lived, once said: “Blessed be the man who bloweth his own horn, lest it be not blown.”

 That dictum of the great Missouri philosopher—for he was more philosopher than humorist—applies to nations as well as to individuals. We did it—not by the mailed hand, not by conquering armies. We did it by the wholesomeness of our example, by teaching all creation the glorious truth that men can govern themselves. Why, before that it was supposed that power descended from on high and lighted on the heads of a few tall men, and then a little of it trickled down to the great body of the people below. We reversed all that. We make it begin at the bottom and like the sap in the trees in the springtime go up, and it will go up forever.

Not a single one of these South American or Central American Republics could have existed six months if it had not been for us. Some of them can walk alone now, but in their infancy, we protected them while they were learning to walk. We gave them a breathing spell in which to wax strong. We gave them a chance to live and to work out their own destiny. What did it? The Monroe doctrine. What is it? The simplest proposition ever put into print—that we would regard the establishment of its system of government by any European nation in this hemisphere as an unfriendly act. That was a modest declaration. We were a modest people then. We have outgrown our modesty, and the Monroe doctrine has grown with our growth and strengthened with our strength, until today it is this: That for political purposes we hereby take the entire Western Hemisphere under the shadow of our wing. That is the Monroe doctrine. We do not covet their territory or their land or anything else that is theirs. We propose that they shall be free, because we intend to remain free ourselves; and we bid them a hearty Godspeed in developing themselves into puissant republics.

Certain dilettante writers and speakers who say the Monroe doctrine is played out are mistaken. They do not know what they are talking about. We will strengthen it and preserve it. It is the political life preserver of the Western World. I like to say a good thing about a Republican when I can find one who deserves it. I love to think about what one Republican Secretary of State did under the Monroe doctrine, William H. Seward, a great man, Governor of New York, Senator of the United States, and Secretary of State under Lincoln and Johnson, who came very near being President in 1860.

During our Civil War we did not have time to attend to anybody else's business. We had hardly enough to attend to our own.

Louis Napoleon, the nephew of his uncle, the Emperor of the French, the mightiest monarch then on earth, with his arms glittering from China to Peru, concluded it was a good time to smash the Monroe doctrine, sent over the Archduke Maximilian, set him up on a tinsel imperial throne, clapped a tinsel imperial crown on his head, and backed him up with 80,000 French bayonets under Marshal Bazaine. They were getting along tip top until we made peace among ourselves. Immediately William H. Seward, Secretary of State, sent word to Louis Napoleon that it was high time to get out of Mexico, and not to stand on the order of his going—and he went like Satan was after him.

That is what a Republican Secretary of State did. Nobody ever tried to violate the Monroe doctrine after that until Great Britain undertook to steal a piece of Venezuela, and Grover Cleveland shook his fist in the face of the British lion and forbade him to put his paw on Venezuela, and he kept it off. That is what a Democratic President did. From that day to this nobody has ever tried to infringe on the Monroe doctrine. Those are two of the proudest chapters in our history—one written by a Republican Secretary of State, the other by a Democratic President.

A great many people make a mistake as to where the line of demarcation is between a free country and a despotism. It is as plain as the nose on your face when once correctly stated. Most people think if there is a hereditary head to the government, it is necessarily a despotism; if there is an elective head, it is necessarily free. That has nothing in the world to do with it—not a thing. A country can be just as free with a hereditary head as it can be with an elective president, provided it has the right sort of constitution. I will tell you, where the line of demarcation is. Any country that has a legislative body which controls the purse strings thereof is free, and if it has not it is not free. Out West where I live-I do not know whether it has percolated to the East or not—there is a homely saying that “Money makes the mare go.”

 Money also makes the Government go, and if the Congress should refuse to appropriate the money to run this Government it would stand stock-still at midnight on the 30th day of next June. Patriots would not run it, most of them, without pay. It makes no difference what we call it. We dominate our legislative body the Congress. When people get mad at the Congress and cannot find anything else mean to say, they say we talk too much. Well, I used to be rather inclined to think sometimes that the Senate does talk too much, but I have somewhat changed my notion about that. There should be some place in this Government where a thing can be really and thoroughly and minutely discussed. Of course discussion and debate should not be extended so as to obstruct meritorious legislation which the people want. Those who growl about the Congress talking too much had better get out their dictionary and study it a little. What do you suppose the word “parliament” means in the dictionary sense? Whether we are enamored of the English or not, that is the oldest legislative body in the world. It literally means “a talking body.” Bless your souls, that is what it was elected for—to talk; not to indulge in foolish talk, but to talk about the principles of government, the business of the country, and things like that. In France it is called the Assembly, in Germany the Reichstag, in Scandinavia the Storthing, and down in Bulgaria it is the Sobranje. In Russia, which is an inchoate Republic, they call it the Duma. The idea of representative government will grow and spread like the mustard tree of the Bible until there will not be a monarch in any civilized country in God's footstool.

What a fine thing it is to be an American—how glorious, how inspiring! Those of you who read the Holy Scriptures—and I hope you all do– remember that after Paul had been bound the chief captain ordered the centurion to take him away and scourge him. Paul executed a skillful flank move on him. Of course I am giving a free translation. I have always believed that Paul would have made one of the most masterful politicians and lawyers that ever lived. Paul said to the centurion who was about to scourge him, “Is it lawful to scourge a Roman citizen?” That question scared the centurion half to death. He rushed off to the chief captain as hard as he could clatter, and said, “You had better be careful; that man is a Roman citizen,” which startled the chief captain greatly—startled him so that Paul was not scourged.

When that transaction took place Rome was mistress of the civilized World.

The power and dignity inherent in Roman citizenship were demon started by the terror which seized those who intended to scourge him before he invoked the protection of that citizenship.

It was a great boon to be a Roman citizen when Rome was in the plenitude of imperial power, but it is a far greater boon to be a plain American citizen, heir of all the ages.

Our mission in the world has been to vindicate by our practice and achievements our theory of “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” -

On divers questions we are “distinct as the billows, yet we are one as the sea” when the honor, the safety, the prosperity, and the glory of the Republic are at stake.

We divide into parties on domestic issues, which is well, but our political contentions cease absolutely at low-water mark. Beyond that we are one people, with one heart, one soul, one hope, one country, one flag—ready, if needs be, to face a world in arms.

It is said that republics are ungrateful; but by erecting this magnificent memorial arch to Washington and his soldiers the Congress demon strates to all the world that we hold in most grateful recollection the men who suffered and died here 139 years ago in order that our feeble infant Republic might live. How amazingly she has grown. God be praised! Grown from a narrow strip along the Atlantic to continental pro portions. Grown from being the weakest among the nations into the richest and most powerful! The free institutions which have enabled us to grow into what we are we owe to Washington and the patriots of seventy-six. The spirit which animated them animates their descendants today, wherever Old Glory floats. They created this mighty Republic. Our most solemn duty, our profoundest pleasure, our highest ambition is to serve it faith fully and to transmit it unimpaired to our children and our children's children to the remotest generation.

And now, Governor Brumbaugh, on behalf of the Government of the United States, I present through you as the chief magistrate of Pennsylvania to the old Keystone State this splendid memorial arch in honor of Washington and the men who made Valley Forge another shrine for freedom. May it, defying the corroding tooth of time, stand as a sign and token of our love and gratitude so long as the Schuylkill seeks the sea.

May the God of our fathers, the God who sustained Washington and his brave followers on a hundred fields of carnage and amid the horrors of Valley Forge, crowning them with complete victory at last, the God who guided the pen of Jefferson when writing the Declaration, the God who has showered his blessings upon us without stint, may He lead our feet in the paths of righteousness for the healing of the nations and the freedom of mankind even unto the uttermost ends of the earth.