Saturday, December 31, 2016

Democracy as the "heaven-born spirit of progress" in Gansevoort Melville's Nashville speech

Speaking of Gansevoort Melville and The Young Hickory Banner, that partisan weekly edited by Thomas Low Nichols gave a more correct version of the "Dying Douglass" passage from Gansevoort's Nashville speech than did many other newspapers.

In his rousing finish, Gansevoort identified the Democratic cause with the "heaven-born spirit of progress." I don't know how the passage read originally in the Nashville Union. Being a friend of the orator, Nichols presumably has a good exemplar with the correct "heaven-born spirit," not "heaven-spirit" as printed in, for example, the Albany Argus.
The Young Hickory Banner - September 28, 1844
THE DYING DOUGLASS.—The Nahsville Union gives the following happy and brilliant passage from Mr. Gansevoort Melville's speech at the great mass meeting [August 15, 1844] at that place.

After having dwelt at considerable length upon other topics of discussion, Mr. Melville, in the course of his speech, emphatically repelled the idea which the Whigs of Tennessee are so laborious in inculcating, that Mr. Van Buren is giving but a cold and insincere support to the nominations of Polk and Dallas; and after demonstrating the warm desire which he feels for the success of the Democratic candidates, spoke at length of the career, character and elevated position of Martin Van Buren, in terms which drew from the auditors oft-repeated and enthusiastic responses. In speaking of the magnanimity of Mr. Van Buren’s latest public act, his letter to the New York committee, Mr. Melville said:—
And here let us take from the simple page of history an illustration of kindred heroism. During the long and bloody warfare which existed between the English and Scotch for several centuries, many well-contested and glorious actions were fought, but none better contested or more glorious than the battle of Otterbourne, which took place in the latter part of the fourteenth century. The opposing forces were well matched in point of numbers, bravery, and discipline, and each headed by a leader of acknowledged prowess. The English rallied under the banner of the princely house of Percy, which on that field was represented well by the pride and hope of his ancient lineage, gallant Harry Percy—the Harry Hotspur of Shakespeare. The Scotch swarmed around a standard that bore aloft a bloody heart, the well known badge of the haughty Douglass. James, earl of Douglass, a chieftain worthy of his heroic name, led them to the encounter. Thus equal in numbers, courage, and generalship, the battle raged for several hours, and the event was yet uncertain. The Scottish leader, in the hope of deciding the contest, gave the signal for a general charge, and, sword in hand and spur on heel, he led it gallantly. While waving his arm to his troops to invite them onward, an arrow pierced his heart. He fell from his saddle. His chiefs thronged around him. Death was perceptible on his brow. Everything near and dear to him was flitting from his grasp. His vast baronial estates, feudal honors, military fame, wife, children and friends, were to him as naught. They claimed not one single memory. He thought not of himself—his thoughts were all his country’s. But one idea occupied his mind and concentrated all his being. The life blood was oozing from his side—he felt it not. The hand of death was upon him—he heeded it not. His chiefs had raised him from the ground. Opening his glazing eyes, he said:— "I am dying. There is a tradition in our family that a dead Douglass shall win a field; and I trust that it may this day be accomplished. Advance my standard—shout my war-cry and avenge my fall." They left him there to die. They did as they were directed. They charged upon the enemy with the hurricane-charge of men determined to do or die. The enemy that heretofore had maintained their ground gave way, and were driven before that charge as the chaff before the wind. The result was no longer doubtful—the victory was most decisive. Hotspur and his brother were taken prisoners. Henry Clay is the Harry Hostpur of the Whig party. (Here the speaker was broken in upon with a shout from tens of thousands of voices, that seemed to rend the very heavens.)
Mr. Melville proceeded. In this historical reminiscence let him read his fate. We have lost our favorite leader, but we remember his parting words. And in November, 1844, there will be another charge akin to that of Otterbourne—a charge of the labor and manhood of the land—the iron legions that never quail—the serried phalanx of the unterrified democracy. The result of that charge is easily foreseen; for in obedience to that great universal law of nature which bids the weaker give way to the stronger, Henry Clay and his cohorts, struggle as they may, must go down before it. That onslaught of the united Democratic forces, in November next, will close the chequered political life of the great Kentucky statesman—will seal the fate of the modern Hotspur—herald the advent of the rising star of Tennessee, and vindicate the supremacy of that heaven-born spirit of progress, love, and truth, which is one and identical with true democracy. (The cheering that followed Mr. Melville’s speech, and attended its delivery at intervals, throughout, was long, loud and enthusiastic.)
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