"Let it be told to the future world that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive, that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger came forth to meet it."(From the journal of Dr. Albigence Waldo, who was attending to the sick at Valley Forge, himself fretting the hot in-tent smoke, relieved only by the "cold and piercing wind": "Though this may be contradicted by many, impartial truth in future history will clear up these points, and reflect lasting honor on the wisdom and prudence of General Washington." ) Of course, the call to service line of JFK that the TV news analysts had been running over and over in anticipation of Pres. Obama's inaugural --"Ask not what your country can do for you..."--has its genetic beginnings in
Theodore Parker’s “A Sermon for Merchants,” from 1846:
"Remember your opportunities—such as no men ever had before. God and man alike call on you to do your duty. Elevate your calling still more; let its nobleness appear in you. Scorn a mean thing. Give the world more than youParker was a Transcendentalist, speaking at a time of economic collapse (prices and credit had big trouble after a wheat bubble). The Transcendentalists were all looking to apply the lessons of the Revolution, or even the idea of being revolutionary to their contemporary then reform-thirsty American life. A great thing about President Obama's speech was that he linked vast poetic change in the word to the prosaic tasks of everyday life, to in his words, "the parents willingness... to nurture a child that finally decides our fate." This was very Transcendentalist, especially amongst the Transcendentalists represented by Thoreau. Thoreau looked at abolition as an issue not just facing new territories coming into statehood, such as Kansas, but as a practical everyday issue that could be attended to locally, rather than with a protest about a far away place. From Slavery in Massachussets, a great and fiery political speech that of course belies the idea of a quiet, in-his-cabin Thoreau:
take. You are to serve the nation not it you; to build the church not make it a den of thieves, nor allow it to apologize for your crime, or sloth."
I lately attended a meeting of the citizens of Concord, expecting, as one among many, to speak on the subject of slavery in Massachusetts; but I was surprised and disappointed to find that what had called my townsmen together was the destiny of Nebraska, and not of Massachusetts, and that what I had to say would be entirely out of order. I had thought that the house was on fire, and not the prairie; but though several of the citizens of Massachusetts are now in prison for attempting to rescue a slave from her own clutches, not one of the speakers at that meeting expressed regret for it, not one even referred to it. It was only the disposition of some wild lands a thousand miles off which appeared to concern them. The inhabitants of Concord are not prepared to stand by one of their own bridges, but talk only of taking up a position on the highlands beyond the Yellowstone River. Our Buttricks and Davises and Hosmers are retreating thither, and I fear that they will leave no Lexington Common between them and the enemy. There is not one slave in Nebraska; there are perhaps a million slaves in Massachusetts.
--i.e., the work is at hand.