Thanksgiving, said Ayn Rand, is the “producers’ holiday.” Since I’m hanging out in the eighteenth century with Alexander Hamilton, I thought I’d share his contemporary Patrick Henry’s vision of America’s productive possibilities. This speech was given in 1783, prompted by a debate on whether to exclude Tories (British loyalists) from rights of citizenship and allow them to return to Virginia.
You should read it aloud.
We have, sir, an extensive country, without population—what can be more obvious policy than that this country ought to be populated? People, sir, form the strength and constitute the wealth of a nation. I want to see our vast forest filled up by some process a little more speedy than the ordinary course of nature. I wish to see these states rapidly ascending to the rank which their natural advantages authorize them to hold among the nations of the earth. Cast your eye, sir, over this extensive country—observe the salubrity of your climate, the variety and fertility of your soil—and see that soil intersected in every quarter by bold, navigable streams, flowing to the east and to the west as if the finger of heaven were marking out the course of your settlements, inviting you to enterprise, and pointing the way to wealth. Sir, you are destined, at some time or other, to become a great agricultural and commercial people; the only question is, whether you choose to reach this point by slow gradations, and at some distant period—lingering on through a long and sickly minority—subjected, meanwhile, to machinations, insults, and oppressions of enemies, foreign and domestic, without sufficient strength to resist and chastise them—or whether you choose rather to rush at once, as it were, to the full enjoyment of those high destinies, and be able to cope, single-handed, with the proudest oppressors of the old world. If you prefer the latter course, as I trust you do, encourage emigration—encourage the husbandmen, the mechanics, the merchants of the old world, to come and settle in this land of promise—make it the home of the skilful, the industrious, the fortunate, the happy, as well as the asylum of the distressed—fill up the measure of your population as speedily as you can, by the means which heaven has placed in your hands—and I venture to prophesy there are those now living who will see this favored land among the most powerful on earth—able, sir, to take care of herself, without resorting to that policy which is always so dangerous, though sometimes unavoidable, of calling in foreign aid. Yes, sir, they will see her great in arts and in arms—her golden harvests waving over fields of immeasurable extent—her commerce penetrating the most distant seas, and her cannon silencing the vain boasts of those who now proudly affect to rule the waves. But, sir, you must have men–you cannot get along without them—those heavy forests of valuable timber, under which your lands are groaning, must be cleared away—those vast riches which cover the face of your soil, as well as those which lie hid in its bosom, are to be developed and gathered only by the skill and enterprise of men—your timber, sir, must be worked up into ships to transport the productions of the soil from which it has been cleared—then you must have commercial men and commercial capital to take off your productions, and find the best markets for them abroad—your great want, sir, is the want of men; and these you must have, and will have speedily, if you are wise.
Do you ask how you are to get them? Open your doors, sir, and they will come in—they population of the old world is full to overflowing—that population is ground, too, by the oppressions of the governments under which they live. Sir, they are already standing on tiptoe upon their native shores, and looking to your coasts with a wistful and longing eye—they see here a land blessed with natural and political advantages which are not equaled by those of any other country upon earth—a land on which Providence hath emptied the horn of abundance—a land over which peace hath now stretched forth her white wings, and where content and plenty lie down at every door! Sir, they see something more attractive than all this—they see a land in which liberty hath taken up her abode—that liberty, whom they had considered as a fabled goddess existing only in the fancies of poets—they see her here a real divinity—her altars rising on every hand throughout these happy states—her glories chanted by three millions of tongues—and the whole region smiling under her blessed influence. Sir, let but this, our celestial goddess, Liberty, stretch forth her fair hand toward the people of the old world—tell them to come, and bid them welcome—and you will see them pouring in from the north, from the south, from the east, and from the west—your wildernesses will be cleared and settled—your deserts will smile—your ranks will be filled, and you will soon be in a condition to defy the powers of any adversary.
- Reported by Speaker (and Judge) John Tyler to Mr. William Wirt, Patrick Henry’s biographer; printed in William Wirt Henry, Patrick Henry, Life, Correspondence and Speeches (NY: Burt Franklin, 1969 reprint of 1891 orig.), II, 193-5. Online here.
- I used this quote in Forgotten Delights: The Producers as the sidebar for Luis Sanguino’s Immigrants sculpture at Battery Park, which I don’t like enough to post here.
- On the bust of Patrick Henry at the Hall of Fame for Great Americans in the Bronx, see here.
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