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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

In Solemn Commemoration of the Boston Massacre

By Joseph Warren (1741–1775)

[An Oration delivered 6 March, 1775.]

THE MANY injuries offered to the town, I pass over in silence. I cannot now mark out the path which led to that unequalled scene of horror, the sad remembrance of which takes the full possession of my soul. The sanguinary theatre again opens itself to view. The baleful images of terror crowd around me; and discontented ghosts, with hollow groans, appear to solemnize the anniversary of the fifth of March.

Approach we then the melancholy walk of death. Hither let me call the gay companion; here let him drop a farewell tear upon that body which so late he saw vigorous and warm with social mirth; hither let me lead the tender mother to weep over her beloved son—come, widowed mourner, here satiate thy grief; behold thy murdered husband gasping on the ground, and, to complete the pompous show of wretchedness, bring in each hand thy infant children to bewail their father’s fate—take heed, ye orphan babes, lest, whilst your streaming eyes are fixed upon the ghastly corpse your feet slide on the stones bespattered with your father’s brains! Enough; this tragedy need not be heightened by an infant weltering in the blood of him that gave it birth. Nature, reluctant, shrinks already from the view, and the chilled blood rolls slowly backward to its fountain. We wildly stare about, and with amazement ask who spread this ruin around us? What wretch has dared deface the image of his God? Has haughty France, or cruel Spain, sent forth her myrmidons? Has the grim savage rushed again from the far-distant wilderness; or does some fiend, fierce from the depth of hell, with all the rancorous malice which the apostate damned can feel, twang her destructive bow, and hurl her deadly arrows at our breast? No, none of these—but, how astonishing! it is the hand of Britain that inflicts the wound! The arms of George, our rightful king, have been employed to shed that blood, when justice, or the honor of his crown, had called his subjects to the field.

But pity, grief, astonishment, with all the softer movements of the soul, must now give way to stronger passions. Say, fellow-citizens, what dreadful thought now swells your heaving bosoms; you fly to arms—sharp indignation flashes from each eye—revenge gnashes her iron teeth—death grins a hideous smile, secure to drench his greedy jaws in human gore—whilst hovering furies darken all the air!

But stop, my bold, adventurous countrymen; stain not your weapons with the blood of Britons. Attend to reason’s voice; humanity puts in her claim, and sues to be again admitted to her wonted seat, the bosom of the brave. Revenge is far beneath the noble mind. Many, perhaps, compelled to rank among the vile assassins, do from their inmost souls detest the barbarous action. The winged death, shot from your arms, may chance to pierce some breast that bleeds already for your injured country.

The storm subsides—a solemn pause ensues—you spare—upon condition they depart. They go—they quit your city—they no more shall give offence. Thus closes the important drama.

And could it have been conceived that we again should have seen a British army in our land, sent to enforce obedience to acts of Parliament destructive of our liberty? But the royal ear, far distant from this western world, has been assaulted by the tongue of slander; and villains, traitorous alike to king and country, have prevailed upon a gracious prince to clothe his countenance with wrath, and to erect the hostile banner against a people ever affectionate and loyal to him and his illustrious predecessors of the House of Hanover. Our streets are again filled with armed men; our harbor is crowded with ships of war; but these cannot intimidate us; our liberty must be preserved; it is far dearer than life—we hold it even dear as our allegiance; we must defend it against the attacks of friends as well as enemies; we cannot suffer even Britons to ravish it from us.

No longer could we reflect with generous pride on the heroic actions of our American forefathers; no longer boast our origin from that far-famed island, whose warlike sons have so often drawn their well-tried swords to save her from the ravages of tyranny; could we, but for a moment, entertain the thought of giving up our liberty. The man who meanly will submit to wear a shackle, contemns the noblest gift of heaven, and impiously affronts the God that made him free….

Our country is in danger, but not to be despaired of. Our enemies are numerous and powerful; but we have many friends, determining to be free, and heaven and earth will aid the resolution. On you depend the fortunes of America. You are to decide the important question, on which rest the happiness and liberty of millions yet unborn. Act worthy of yourselves. The faltering tongue of hoary age calls on you to support your country. The lisping infant raises its suppliant hands, imploring defence against the monster slavery. Your fathers look from their celestial seats with smiling approbation on their sons, who boldly stand forth in the cause of virtue; but sternly frown upon the inhuman miscreant, who, to secure the loaves and fishes to himself, would breed a serpent to destroy his children.