Updated: Apr 26
This man was a hero; and at every turn in his illustrious life, there is some reminder ample enough to stimulate the loftiest patriotism, and to make his memory loved and venerated with pride by every loyal citizen of Brenham. May the name, Brenham, be spoken as a household word for centuries to come. San Jacinto Oration Delivered by Dr. Richard Fox Brenham, in Austin, April 21, 1840. Fellow Citizens : The love of power is a principle inherent in man, and from the remotest period of antiquity to the present time, no age has passed without an exhibition of its baneful influence, to the destruction of the liberty and happiness of some por- tion of mankind. Had human nature been untainted with this dangerous passion, the pages of history would be un- stained by the record of national turpitude and civil com- motion. But the annals of every nation worthy of the re- cording testimony of historians, conclusively illustrate the dangerous tendency of misdirected ambition, and present abundant examples to teach us that no people have ever achieved political greatness and national renown without passing through the fiery ordeal of revolution, and resisting with the energy of free men the rude assaults and alarming encroachments of despotic power. The attainment of civil liberty and establishment of national independence by a people whose rights have been trampled upon by tyrannical rulers, and whose persons and property have been sacrificed without regard to law or justice, has ever been attended by scenes of danger, tumult and disaster. Iji addition to the examples of past ages, Texas presents to the world another instance of emancipation from arbitrary thralldom to brighten the galaxy of existing nations, and enlighten pos- terity upon the value of political freedom. She has emerged from the darkness of despotism in which she was shrouded, and now basks in the radiance of liberty. She has cast off the bonds that fettered her people, and assumed the lofty attitude of an independent republic. No longer are our peo- ple goaded by the taunts, and afflicted by the harsh domina- tions of usurping authorities. No longer do we see the myrmidons of oppression enforcing partial and unjust laws, and harassing our citizens with official rapacity. No! A change has come over the scene, the corrupt and mercenary brigands who sought to fasten upon this country the galling yoke of a barbarous government have been discomfitted and driven back to the land from whence they came with shame and dishonor. Broken, humiliated and dismayed, they fled in consternation to their own land, but carried with them in 23 their retreat a lesson of Texas valor and mercy, which neither time nor circumstances can obliterate. We are assembled this day to commemorate the closing act of that national drama which terminated in the erection of a new and independent state, and gave to us a separate political existence. We are met here to honor an achieve- ment that in future ages will rank among the brightest deeds of chivalry. An event that sealed the triumph of intelligence and civil freedom over the grovelling prejudices of ignorance and superstition. An action that elevated our country to a level with the proudest republics of antiquity — whose citi- zens made every town a fortress and every plain a battle- field rather than submit to the dictation of arbitrary power. The battle of San Jacinto concluded a controversy in which the great principle of human rights was involved. How- ever interesting the subject, it cannot be expected that I should on this occasion indulge in a minute detail of all the incidents which preceded that brilliant consummation. They are before the world, and no one in the sound of my voice can be ignorant of the circumstances of that glorious strug- gle. I will speak, however, of the condition of Texas pre- vious to, and at the time of the revolution — of the leading causes which produced that event and changed the destiny •of a people, and of the character of those who by their pa- tient suffering, fortitude, and valor achieved the rights and privileges which we now enjoy. But a few years since this rich domain — the fairest portion of the universe — was held in possession by a degenerate race, incapable of estimating their inheritance, or developing the resources with which it was so richly endowed by nature. The Mexican population who then inhabited the province of Texas were sunk to the lowest stage of human existence. Without a commerce to profit by an intercourse with other countries, without agri- cultural industries to unfold the latent resources of their own land, unrefined by education and the arts that elevate and give tone to the character of man, they were scarcely raised above the condition of the untutored savage who roams over the western plains unchecked, and uncontrolled by the laws of God or the spirit of humanity. The country was exposed on every side to the constant depredations of the various hordes of Indians which infested its borders. Only the shadow of a government existed here then ; anarchy and licentiousness reigned supreme over the land, and tu- mult and disorder marked the conduct of the people. The Mexican authorities with the view of improving the con- dition of the citizens inhabiting this territory, and giving them protection from hostile barbarians, invited immigra- tion from abroad. They promised to those who came an 24 equal participation in the government, and the unrestricted enjoyment of the same rights and privileges they had pos- sessed in their native land. But how was that pledge ful- filled ? The events which rapidly followed the settlement of the country by the Anglo-Americans have demonstrated to the world the perfidy of that government which induced them to leave their homes and embark in the perilous adventure of colonizing a frontier country. But they came; and they brought with them the courage, energy and spirit of en- terprise that has ever distinguished their race. They brought with them the principles of free government, and the same ardent love of liberty that impelled their ancestors to fly from the oppression of British tyranny, and plant the standard of civil and religious liberty in the wilderness of America. Pursuing the system of their fathers they soon redeemed the country from the state of degradation and barbarism to which it had been reduced by a reckless, ignorant and disorderly community. They spread the light of intelligence over the land ; the arts were put in successful operation ; and the hand of industry was rapidly displaying the wealth of a soil which nature had so lavishly gifted with the elements of fertility. The chaotic gloom that pervaded and almost overwhelmed the country with despair was soon dispelled; organization was effected and the future beamed upon the people with the rich promise of prosperity. But the hopes entertained by those who had risked their all in reliance on the pledges of a faithless government were doomed to early disappointment. The guarantee which was proffered them for the preservation of their political rights, the promotion of domestic tranquillity and individual in- terests, was only given to delude a generous, confiding and unsuspecting people. The elements which then composed the community of Texas were of a conflicting character and could not commingle in harmonious action. Ignorance and depravity must ever yield to the supremacy of intelligence and virtue. No two distinct races of men, divided as the poles are asunder, in all the attributes that form human character, can ever be reconciled to peaceful union. The laws of nature are fixed and unchangeable, and cannot be varied from their course by the dictum of any earthly power. As well you might attempt to pluck one of the shining lights that glitter in the firmament of heaven from its place as to endeavor to unite in concord and congeniality the base and degraded spirit of the degenerate Mexican, with the proud, free and untrammelled soul of the legitimate white man. The past history and present condition of the Mexican na- tion clearly proves their incapacity to appreciate republican principles, or to exist in quietude under a free government. 25 Whilst every other people have been g-radually advancing in the scale of civilization and refinement, they have scarcely moved a single degree, in the course of time, from the de- based condition in which they were found by the Spanish conqueror in the sixteenth century. Could such a people ex- pect to hold in political bondage a race of men who inhaled at their birth the atmosphere of liberty? and whose fathers successfully resisted the oppression of the most powerful kingdom of Europe, and erected a government that is now the admiration of the world? The rapid advancement of the Texans in all that tends to elevate and dignify the character of a community, to- gether with the dissemination of the principles inherited from their ancestors, soon aroused the jealousy and mis- trust of the Mexican government, which looked with dread and apprehension on everything calculated to awaken their abject populace to a sense of their political disfranchise- ment and moral degradation. The usurping faction then holding sway over Mexico, determined to maintain their supremacy at all hazards, resorted to unconstitutional and arbitrary measures to check the tide of improvement, and crush the spirit of liberty which was fast elevating Texas above the rank of the neighboring provinces. No means that tyranny could adopt in the subversion of the liberties of a people were neglected by the party in power. Every principle of constitutional liberty was violated, the rights of the people disregarded, innovation succeeded innovation, wrongs accumulated, until the government which was insti- tuted to promote happiness of all was changed into an in- strument of tyranny in the hands of a few, and its power abused for the infliction of calamity on those whom it was intended to protect. The peaceful means of petition and remonstrance failed to produce a change in the conduct of the ruling powers. Their purpose was fixed and they heeded not the voice of supplication or the claims of justice. The representative of Texas, who traveled through toil and danger to the distant seat of government to obtain a redress of grievances and a revocation of unjust enactments, was received with con- tempt and contumely — insulted with public scorn — deprived of personal liberty, and incarcerated in a dungeon. It will not be improper here to speak of that man, who by his enthusiastic zeal and unconquerable energy, raised a coun- try from a state of vassalage and subjection to an inde- pendent sovereignty, and fixed his name high in the cata- logue of the benefactors of mankind. Where will you find a parallel to the character of Stephen F. Austin? His firm- ness, constancy and fortitude in pursuing the ends dictated 26 by the principles of justice, and the public good of his coun- try, command the gratitude and admiration of all whose hearts beat responsive to the call of philanthropy, or glow with the impulse of patriotism. No dazzling halo of glory, won by brilliant achievements in the field, or splendid exhi- bitions in the forum, encircles his name. The laurels that he won were gained by the practice of inflexible integrity and devotion to the cause of humanity, and can neither be withered by the voice of detraction nor the vicissitudes of time. Though his spirit has ascended from the sphere of human action, the example of his life is the richest legacy he could bequeath to those who lament his departure, and his name will be remembered with affection and honored with praise as long as virtue and patriotism have an abiding place in the hearts of his countrymen. The constitution of 1824, which was framed for the protection of the rights of all the citizens of the Mexican confederacy, was abolished by the ruling dynasty, and an attempt was made to destroy every vestige of liberty re- maining in Texas by the subversion of the civil authorities and the establishment of military power. Injuries were multiplied and aggression repeated in such rapid succession that longer forbearance by the citizens of Texas became criminal neglect of their own rights and of the duty to posterity. They rose in the majesty of their strength, con- centrated their forces for resistance to oppression, and de- clared themselves free, sovereign and independent. Though few in numbers and destitute of all the means and appliances which render an army terrible to an enemy, the people of Texas sounded the note of preparation to meet the emergency with which they were threatened, and vindicate their rights upon the field of battle. It was not long before the storm which had been lowering over the western horizon burst forth in all its fury. The enemy came on in the pride and pomp of power, threatening the extermination of our citizens, and the destruction of the fabric of government they had erected. For a time their march was a march of victory, but the victories they won were sullied by the un- righteous cause in which they were achieved and dishonored by the dark deeds of treacherous barbarity. The first con- flict that ensued upon the invasion of our territory was a warning to the enemy of the character of those whom they sought to conquer, and showed to the world that the destiny of Texas was placed in the hands of men worthy of the birthright of freedom, and who valued the liberty of their country as the jewel of their souls. The fall of the Alamo was the death-knell of as gallant a band of heroes as ever fell in defense of human rights. Though it flattered our 27 foes witih the delusive hope of conquest of our country, it roused the spirit of avenging justice throughout the land, which was not still until ample retribution was made upon the altar of liberty. The bloody scenes which occurred during the march of the enemy through Western Texas are fresh in the recollec- tions of all who now hear me. They have stamped the Mexican name with infamy throughout the civilized world, and guaranteed to them the execration of mankind as long as remorseless treachery, cruelty and murder are held in detestation by the human race. Every principle of civilized warfare, and every feeling of humanity were repudiated by the advancing legions of Santa Anna. Their progress was marked by rapine and massacre, unredeemed by a single act of conciliating mercy. With vandal fury they came sweeping on in the might of numbers and pride of victory, breathing the spirit of slaughter, and avowing the purpose of extermination to all who were armed in defense of the in- vaded country. But their victorious career was destined soon to receive a check, their pride to be humiliated, and their power to be destroyed. On the plains of San Jacinto they were encountered by that small but gallant band of patriots upon whose exertions were then depending the liberty, — the very existence of the country. Every one here must be familiar with the circumstances of that battle, and many are present who participated in the engagement, and can testify as living witnesses to the glory of the achievement. In that brief but glorious conflict the power of the invader was broken never to be resuscitated; their boasting leader made captive in the hands of those whom he sought to enslave, and the gaudy banner of tj^ranny trampled under the feet of free men ; then the star of Texas, glittering with the effulgence of victory, rose to the point of culmination, throwing the light of liberty wide over the land, "broad and general as the casing air." I have thus, in obedience to custom, briefly sketched forth the progress of our country to the conclusion of the time in which the political destiny of Texas was involved, and the termination of which gave to our government a permanent existence. We are now living under the beneficent influence of a written constitution, emanating from ourselves, and enjoy- ing the protection of laws framed in accordance with the principles of that sacred charter. And it now becomes us to consider the dangers which may hereafter threaten our institutions, and the means by which they may be preserved and transmitted to our successors unpolluted by the breath of friction, or the disorganizing spirit of ambition. 28 It has been customary on occasions like the present for the speakers to dilate upon the characters and censure or condemn the actions of those men who have been dis- tinguished in history as the destroyers of the liberty of their countries. Caesar, Cromwell, Bonaparte and others, whose names have been rendered famous by their deeds, which are familiar to all who are conversant with the past, have long been presented to the gaze of the world as warnings against the influence of tyranny. Time after time have execrations been heaped upon their memories, and their examples preached forth as lessons of instruction to guard the people against the encroachments of despotism. But however much we may condemn the conduct of those men, it is not to them alone that we should charge the calamities which their careers inflicted upon mankind. Every one who is acquainted with human nature is well aware that the predominant and most dangerous passion of man is ambition. And I hold and avow the doctrine that no single individual is to be held responsible alone for the subversion of the liberties of his country. Unless the great majority of the national community are poisoned by the cor- rupting influence of faction, and bow with tameness and submission to the advancing strides of usurpation, no un- principled, factious and ambitious citizen can elevate him- self to the pinnacle of power and triumph over the ruins of the constitution of his country. The power of government is derived from the people, and if they are so blind to their own essential interests as to delegate that power into the hands of men unworthy of the trust, they must be held accountable for the disastrous consequences which may result from its abuse by the agents whom they have clothed with authority. You are the source from whence all oflficial authority emanates, and for the protection of your property and the promotion of your interests and happiness, it is your im- perious duty as citizens of a free republic to understand the constitution and laws of your country, to appreciate the rights with which you are vested, and to guard them with untiring vigilance against every assault that may endanger their safety. In the formation of our government we have benefited by the experience of past ages — incorporating into our system those principles of the ancient republics that tend to the preservation of human liberty, and at the same time we have discarded those features of their con- stitutions which militate against the spirit of republican equality. No ranks of distinction exist in the political organization that we have established to disturb the harmony and excite dissension in the national community. All possess the same freedom, all enjoy the same privileges, and upon all rests the same degree of responsibility to sustain the gov- ernment they have adopted. The time has gone by when the position of nations was governed by the action of physi- cal power alone — when the fate of empires was decided by the strife of battling legions. The influence that now controls the mass of mankind is mightier than the armed hosts that in former times shocked the world with their collisions. Public opinion, enlightened by intelligence, and based upon the broad principles of equality and rational liberty, is now the great lever which moves and governs the destiny of nations, Texas has now nothing to dread from the force of external powers ; whilst the integrity of our government is main- tained unimpaired — our intercourse with foreign nations conducted in accordance with the established principles of national law, and our policy dictated by justice and guided by wisdom — we must ever command the respect of the world, and reap the rich reward of a reciprocity of inter- ests. The storms of faction engendered by the destructive spirit of party are now the only cause to excite apprehen- sions in the mind of the reflecting patriot. When that dan- gerous evil that has crumbled into ruins the proudest mon- uments of human wisdom is subdued by the purification of public sentiment, and the whole mass of society moves on in harmonious concord, giving to our government by their united action stability, dignity and power, then, and not until then, will Texas be free, prosperous and happy. Then when in future ages the transactions of our country are recorded for the instruction of posterity, let the his- torian tell to the world, in characters of blazing light, and in the language of truth and justice, that by the intelli- gence, virtue and patriotism of her people was reared the prosperity, the greatness and the glory of Texas.