III. “Greek Fire” The Grass Roots Response A. Expression of Public Support for the Greek Cause
A11. Address of the Committee of the Greek Fund of the City of New York to their Fellow-Citizens throughout the United States
Connecticut Courant, December 23, 1823
BELIEVING that you have not heard of the struggle for Liberty and Independence, in which the Greeks are engaged, without the deepest sympathy in their cause, your fellow citizens of New York, deem no apology necessary for addressing you in their favor. From the commencement of the contest, our hopes and wishes for their success have been strongly excited; but our distance from the scene of action, the uncertain and confused accounts which have reached us of the progress and events of the war, our ignorance of their actual sufferings and wants, and consequent doubts of our ability to afford them seasonable and efficient aid, have prevented any general and public expression of our feelings toward them. These reasons may explain, if they do not justify, our silence. But we are resolved as men, and apparently unconcerned spectators of a contest in which the interests of freedom, of knowledge, and religion are so deeply involved. If we are not deceived in the character and disposition of our fellow citizens, we cannot err in the belief, that the impulse that we have felt will be communicated to the remotest quarters of the Union. It is to us, in common with other Christian nations, that the Greeks have looked for assistance. It is the sympathy and succour [sic] of the American People, that they have specially implored; and it would be a national reproach, if this appeal, urged by every consideration that can stimulate a free and generous people to honorable and virtuous exertion in their behalf, should remain any longer unanswered.
Nearly four centuries have now elapsed, since the subjugation of the Greeks by the followers of Mahomet; since “the standard of the Crescent has been erected on the ruins of the Cross.” - From that period, this illustrious people have groaned under oppression unparalleled in degree and duration; and have been compelled to endure sufferings of which a people in the full enjoyment of the blessings of civil liberty can form no adequate conception. Other nations, like the Greeks, have been compelled to submit to the sway of invaders, and to endure, for a season, the multiplied evils of foreign conquest. In other instances, the relation of victors and vanquished, with all the train of odious distinctions, and all the malignant passions which they engender, have soon ceased to exist. In other instances, a conquered people have been admitted to an equality of privileges with their conquerors; and under the influence of a common faith, language and laws, the memory of their wrongs has been extinguished, and all the offensive circumstances of distinction and superiority have been gradually effaced; but the Greeks have been continually treated as a conquered people. For centuries, they have exhibited the afflicting spectacle of a civilized and Christian people oppressed by the vengeance of barbarians, and persecuted by the bigotry of infidels. In their case, the ebullitions of sudden fury have been succeeded by the operations of a dark, settled, and systematic hatred. In the lapse of ages, no sympathies have arisen, no bond of union has existed, for a moment, between them and their oppressors; and if, in each successive generation, the wrongs of the former have been forgotten, it was because their attention was fixed, and their feelings absorbed in the deep sense of their immediate sufferings. For ages, it has been the lot of the Greeks to mourn, to endure, and to hate, in silence; and the privilege of the Turks, to vex, to insult, to plunder and to destroy. The tyranny to which the Greeks have been subjected has been of daily, hourly recurrence. It has embraced every family, to every individual, invaded every comfort of existence, pursued every occupation of life, broke the sanctuary of their dwellings - torn them the hard canned fruits of their industry, outraged the charities and violated the dearest and most sacred relations of domestic life. Most truly has it been said, that the records of history furnish to our abhorrence no example of similar oppression, - of an oppression so relentless in its motives - so universal in its extent, - so incessant in its operation.
In estimating the sufferings of the Greeks, and their claim to our sympathy, it is impossible not to recollect from whom they are descended. We cannot forget that those who now solicit our aid are the descendants of a people the most illustrious of any who have gained a title to the admiration and gratitude of mankind; - of a people whose virtues and exploits have ennobled our common nature; - who, in every department of literature and art, have won the noblest triumphs which have yet been achieved by the intellect of man. To the Greeks of the present day, sunk, degraded and enslaved, how deeply must the consciousness of their servitude be embittered by the recollection of the glories of their ancestors!
It is unnecessary to inquire into the immediate causes of the war now waging by the Greeks against their ruthless oppressors. In describing the tyranny which they have so long endured, we have sufficiently asserted the justice of their cause. They have seized a favourable [sic] opportunity for the recovery of rights derived from the great and benevolent author of our nature, and of which they have been so long deprived by the injustice and cruelty of man. They are nobly endeavouring [sic] to rescue themselves from a state of moral and intellectual degradation; to vindicate their title to freedom and independence; and to obtain a permanent rank among the civilized nations of the world. In other words, stimulated by deeper injuries, with fewer resource s opposed by more fearful odds - destitute of foreign aid - supported alone by their courage, the justice of their cause, and their reliance on that Divine Providence to which they have appealed, it is our example that they are emulating; it is the virtues which our fathers exhibited, that they are striving to imitate. If we value the blessings that we now enjoy, we must wish them success. If we desire that the same blessings should be extended to other nations, we cannot withhold our aid.
Three years have elapsed since the Greeks, roused into action, have, by a sudden and almost general effect, thrown off that load of oppression which weighed them to the earth. The nature and limits of this address will not allow us to attempt a detailed relation of the events of this most interesting contest. But we cannot forbear to advert, for a moment, to its peculiar character. On its issue depends, not merely the independence, but the very existence of the Greeks. Their efforts to break their chains, and the extraordinary success which has followed their arms, has exasperated to the highest pitch, the brutal passions of their oppressors.
The atrocities already committed by the Turks, the merciless cruelties that have followed every partial success they have gained, show, that, in their vengeance, they have devoted this whole people to the wretched fate which the miserable inhabitants of Scio have been compelled to suffer. Should a portion of the Grecian race be spared, the abandonment of their religion, their language, literature and arts, will be the conditions of such doubtful mercy.
In the contemplation of these evils, Englishmen have recently exclaimed, “We will endure that the land to which we owe everything, after religion, most valuable - science, art, poetry, philosophy — that that land, with all its recollections, its images of beauty, its temples worn by the footsteps of heroes, its sacred mountains and poetic streams, should be left desolate, a prey to the ferocity of barbarians, without feelings to sympathize for departed grandeur; without generosity to pardon the unsuccessful devotion of patriotism; without religion to stay the slaughtering hand when despair pleads for mercy.” If such are the feelings of Englishmen, what, let us ask, ought to be the language and conduct of AMERICANS?
Let us not, fellow-citizens, suffer our sympathies towards this unfortunate people to be extinguished, and the generous impulse of our benevolence to be repressed, by the calumnies against them which a few, even amongst us, have been eager to circulate and ready to adopt. If in the fist burst of vengeance against their perfidious and inexorable oppressors, they exceeded the bound of moderation or mercy, they have by their subsequent conduct nobly redeemed themselves from the reproach, and have extorted the admiration even of their enemies. And when we reflect on the abuse and ridicule one thrown upon our own government, institutions and manners, should be assailed by similar calumnies? This resemblance in their fate, to our character and fortune, gives them an additional title to our sympathy.
It is most unjust to say, that the Greeks of the present day are an ignorant people. The solicitude which they have generally evinced, within that period the study of their ancient language has been revived and ardently pursued. Their present language has been improved, cultivated and fixed; and numerous translations have been made and circulated, of the standard works in the languages of modern Europe. Their attention to the education of youth, and their excellent system of public instruction, are alone sufficient to establish their claim to the character of a civilized nation. Many of their schools, we speak from the highest authority, “compare advantageously with those of Europe, and that of Scio, before its late destruction was equal to any seminary of learning that we ourselves possess." Of the commercial spirit of the Greeks, their skill in navigation, their talents for maritime enterprise, their great activity and industry, it is useless to speak. Those are qualities which they have so publicly and constantly displayed, that their possession of them, has not been questioned by their worst enemies.
But it is the knowledge with the Greeks have manifested of the principles of liberty; and the determination they have evinced, to maintain, at every hazard, a free government, that principally claim our applause, and demand our support. That independence which some doubted their ability to preserve, they declared at a very early period of their struggle; and the government which they then organized, and under which they have continued to live, is, in its form, truly republican. In their constitution of government, they have proclaimed and embodied the great principles which form the basis of our own; the right of the people to choose and displace their rulers; the eligibility of every citizen to the highest offices of state; the abolition of all distinctions of rank, and the entire equality of political rights; the toleration of all religions; the separation of the executive, legislative and judicial powers; and the accountability of every public functionary, for the abuse or violation of his trust. We may deem their frame of government, in some respects, defective; but one of the benefits which they will derive from an intimate inter-course between them and us, will be the knowledge of the means by which those defects, in their existing constitution, may be remedied.
But the Greeks have another, and we may say, a still higher claim to our sympathy and support. They are Christians, professing all the essential principles of that faith which are destined to raise our fallen nature to its highest state of improvement. Let us not for, get that the Greek Church is entitled to our veneration as the most ancient in the world, and in which alone the scriptures of the New Testament continue to be read in the language in which they were originally written. To Christians, then, we address ourselves. We solicit with confidence the contributions of those who remember by whom they are commanded, “to love one another.” Already, “our Missionary Societies,” to use the words of a learned and eloquent writer of our own country, “have their envoys to the Greek Church, with supplies of bibles and religious tracts for their benighted flocks. But in the present state of this unhappy people, this is not the only succour [sic] they require. They are laying the foundations of civil freedom, without which even the blessings of the gospel will be extended to them in vain; and while they are cementing with their blood this costly edifice, they are in the condition of the returning Jews, of whom every one with one “of his hands wrought at the work, and with the other hand held a weapon.” “We would respectfully suggest to the enlarged and pious minds of those who direct the great work of missionary charity, that at this moment the cause of the Grecian Church can in no way be so effectually served, as by contributions to the field of the great struggle. The war is empathically a war of the Crescent against the Cross. The venerable patriarch of the Greek Faith, torn from his Altar and hanged at the portals of his church, gave the signal of the unholy outrages which were to waste his pock. And now, wherever the armies of the Sultan prevail, the village churches are leveled with the dust, or polluted with the abominations of Mahometanism; and the religious houses of the Greeks, the oldest abodes of Christianity in the world, are wasted with fire, and the sacred volume thrown out to be trample d under foot by barbarians. At this crisis the messenger of Gospel fraternity should come in otherwise than the distributor of the World; and could the broad and deep current of the religious bounty be turned into a channel to reach the seat of the principal distress, it is not going too far to say, that it might be the means of giving another independent country to the Church of Christ; and do more to effect the banishment of the Crescent to the deserts of Tartary, than all that has yet been achieved by the counsels of Christendom.”
Let us not listen, fellow citizens, to the arguments of those who would persuade us to withhold our aid, on the frivolous pretext that little benefit can be derived to the cause of the Greeks, from any contributions which we can furnish. It is of money, of clothing, of arms, of military supplies, that they are in want; and the example of our revolution must be lost to those who deny that in a war like that in which the Greeks are engaged, con junctures may, and frequently to arise in which the importance and value even of small supplies, may be beyond the power of calculation. But why should we listen to the pre-dictions and counsels, of avarice? Why should our contributions be scanty, and our supplies small: If, on this occasion we are animated by the spirit which we ought to feel, it is in our power to decide the conquest; and to say, GREECE IS FREE.
By order of the Committee of the Greek Fund.
WILLIAM BAYARD, Chairman
CHARLES KING, Secretary
Source: Constantine G. Hatzidimitriou, Founded on Freedom and Virtue: Documents Illustrating the Impact in the United States of the Greek War of Independence, 1821-1829 (New Rochelle, New York: Aristide D. Caratzas, 2002).