July 4, 2012, will likely see many Americans partaking in backyard barbeques and enjoying fireworks displays. However, generations of earlier Americans celebrated Independence Day in a different way: with a sermon.
On this day two hundred years ago, the young United States was preparing itself to go to war yet again with a world superpower, Great Britain. In Washington, renowned orator Daniel Webster delivered an impassioned anti-war address on the subject. The war, he argued, would damage American business and place American liberty in peril:
Under these circumstances we believe that the War, “instead of elevating will depress the national character; instead of securing, it will endanger our rights; instead of improving, it will prejudice our best interests.”
If there be any among us so infatuated, or so stupified [sic], as not to shudder at the prospect of a French Alliance, let them come and behold the nations that lie mangled and bleeding at the foot of the Tyrant’s throne, in a mixture of moral and political ruin.
Webster’s speech is one of the 450+ sermons and addresses that are now preserved in the Fourth of July Orations Collection in Special Collections. Spanning 1791 to 1925, the collection documents the issues and debates that mattered to the American people across a broad span of our history.
The collection is completely digitized. It is available online at the University of Missouri Digital Library, and also in traditional format in the Special Collections Reading Room.