III. “Greek Fire” The Grass Roots Response A. Expression of Public Support for the Greek Cause

A14. Speech in Support of the Greeks in the State House of Louisiana


In an age so fruitful of wonderful events, none has yet been witnessed which has excited so lively an interest, or awakened such deep sympathy in the bosom of Americans, as the contest which Greece sustains, alone and unaided, against the whole Force of the Ottoman Empire. It is natural indeed, that freemen should have their feeling enlisted on the side of those who seek to conquer their freedom; and especially when it is recollected, that the nation now endeavouring [sic] to break the chains of servitude, is the eldest daughter of civilization, the teacher of the arts, the founder of learning. If we look back to the his-tory of that illustrious people, we discover, in every thing [sic] related to them, the stamp of genius. In their very infancy, they at once attained, as it were by divine inspiration, to a degree of perfection, in the fine arts and poetry, which Italy has perhaps rivaled, but which was never equaled by any other nation.

Their fictions were wrought with so potent a spell, that they still sway our minds. Their poets and their historians have succeeded alike, so that our very passions, qualities and vices are yet embodied in Grecian forms. Valor claims the attributes of Achilles; wis-dom assumes the venerable mien of Nestor; eloquence is personified in the son of Laertes; the name of Helen is synonymous with Beauty; Patriotism owns Hector as its finest model; while envy and detraction still bear features of Thersites. If, from the hero-ic ages, we pass to those epochs, the events of which have been transmitted to us by the genius of their historians, it is only a change of wonders: not even the fancy Homer could have feigned the exploit of Leonidas. Sparta during the whole of her existence, presents to our observation a series of miracles, scarcely credible, were they not attested by the evidence of contemporary writers. Even the fall of the Republics of Greece was sublime and awful; the arm by which they were subdued was predestined, if we believe the inspired Daniel, to accomplish the purposes of divine wisdom; we are tempted indeed, in following the son of Philip in his career, to view him rather as the blind instrument of fate, than as the accomplisher of his own designs. Surely, if aught could have consoled the Athenians and the Spartans for the loss of their freedom, it was doubtless their traversing Assyria as its conquerors, avenging by the conflagration of Persepolis the ravages of their country by Mardonius and Xerxes. Even the dismember-ment of the immense empire won their valor, was for the Greeks, a subject of pride. — Five Grecian Generals divided the world, and became the founders of five powerful monarchies. The language and the arts of Greece followed Ptolemy to Egypt, the Seleucides carried them to Asia, while Cassander and his successors preserved them in Europe, by transferring to Macedonia the politeness and the glory of Athens.

When, in the accomplishment of her destined greatness, Rome poured her triumphant legions over Macedonia and Achaia, in submitting to the Imperial people, the Greeks did not fall inglorious, since, if they received the yoke of conquest, they, in their turn, imposed on their masters that of those arts and sciences which embellish life and adorn society. Constantinople became the seat of the Empire, and surpassed the splendor of the Eternal city. From its walls wisdom pronounced the Oracles of Legislation, by which the civilized world is still governed. It was indeed a debt in which Christianity owed to the Greeks, whose eloquence had so much aided to spread its precepts, that Constantinople acquitted, when he raised the Cross on the dome of St. Sophia in defiance of the Eagle of the Capitol. Experience soon manifested the wisdom which had presided over the choice of another Capitol for the Roman Empire. From the deserts of Arabia a new race of conquerors rushed on the civilized world; infamed [sic] by fanaticism and the desire of enjoying the sensual paradise, which their Prophet promises to valor, they overlapped every barrier, save that which Constantine had raised: there, as in a sanctuary, learning and the arts were preserved from the profanation of the barbarians. A flame, blown by Grecian genius, ran over the water, and devoured the Arabian fleets. Baffled in all their attempts, the ferocious Caliphs could not destroy the productions of genius and wisdom collected by the Eastern Caesars, as they had destroyed the volumes which the Ptolemies had deposited in Alexandria.

When Mohamet II. entered the city of Constantine, after marching over the lifeless body of the last of her Emperors, the sacred fire was not extinguished: preserved by the Greeks with Vestal solicitude, they bore it to the rude nations of the West. Apostles of learning, they, like the Apostles of the true Faith, visited every country in Europe, and breathed into every heart their own enthusiasm for the works of their ancestors.

Descendants of Britons and of Frenchmen! Can you hear unmoved, the imploring voice of that people from whom your fathers received the rich inheritance of learning and science? The cry which echoes from the shores of the Hellespont to those of the Hudson, from the banks of the Eurotas to those of the Mississippi, is not that of the feeble, or inert, calling for that aid from other which they dare not seek in their own efforts. — No! Greece, like the Guardian Goddess of Athens, stands with the helmet on her head, and the lance of her right hand. The land of Cadmus, ploughed by freemen, has again brought forth an iron harvest of steel clad warriors. Greece implores the succour [sic] of friendly nations; but, like her own Ajax, while imploring aid, she presents her shield to the foe, and brandishes her sword.

All the cities of the Union have called meetings to deliberate on the mode of aiding the Greeks. Pity has extended like a chain from Portland to New Orleans, and humanity has sent through it an electric spark home to every American heart. Representatives of Louisiana, whose deeds have recalled the memory of Grecian exploits, you mourn that you cannot aid your Greek brethren with your swords, but you rejoice that you are allowed, at least, to express your sympathy in the cause for which they fight. Already has the highminded [sic] and democratic state of South Carolina, always foremost in what, ever is noble and generous, expressed the wish that the general government should recognize Greece as an independent nations. Can we hesitate to recommend that measure? Will any one pretend that there can be an impropriety in our advising a republic to do that for Greece, a republic, which France, a monarchy, did for the United States? Had we, at the time when the court of Versailles acknowledged our independence, given greater pledges of our determination to be free, than Greece has already offered to the world: Had our successes been such as to presage a happier result than theirs seem to promise? They are in fact more unanimous in their resistance to tyranny than we were in 1776, for we hear of no royalists or tories among them; nay, their fleets obey the com-mand of Fierce Amazons; women are again seen fighting like men, and men flying from the contest like women. We had captured a whole army; they have destroyed several armies, and burned several fleets; we had a Washington, a Montgomery, a Franklin, a La Fayette; they also boast of wise statesmen and chiefs of renown: but were those wanting, they would evoke the shades of the mighty dead --Phocion and Aristides would again sit in their councils, and Miltiades and Themistocles guide their phalanx. No! it cannot be that Americans alone should remain insensible to so noble a cause; for, if in Europe the governments continue torpid, the people are awake; if England forget what she once was, in France, in stead of giving as formerly, now waits for the word of com-mand; if that prophetic voice which once awoke the Roman tribune, commanding him to go and tell the Senate that the Gauls were at the gates of the Capitol, disturb no longer the soft slumber of despots; if the Czar can listen with, unpitying ears, to the agonizing shrieks of a nation, calling on Scythia, (as their ancestors, in days of old, called Argos, on Macedonia,) to send forth to their aid a Hero, a King of Kings, another Alexander, once more to avenge on Asia the wrongs of Europe, if he disdain to crown his brows with the palms which victory holds ready to his hands on the Shores of the Hellespont -neither Frenchmen, nor Britons, nor Poles, have waited for the tardy signal. The Highland brand, the sword of the Gaul, the spear of the Sarmatian, gleam in the ranks of freemen. Those who met as foes in the fatal fields of Waterloo, now advance, side by side; under the banners of liberty, nor will another Tyrtaeus be wanted in the Spartan band; The lyre of Byron, of the Poet for whom the muses have woven a wreath of the laurel of Pindar and of the Myrtle of Ovid, and of the vine of Anacreon, fires the ardor of the combatants, and his lays will give immortality to the conquerors.

Were it necessary, Mr. Speaker, in order to excite the compassions of Americans, for the sufferings of an oppressed people, to present to their fancy scenes of deep horror, and were I possessed of the talents of him whose words could raise armies to defend the expiring liberty of his native land, or of him whose eloquence could make a throne, raised and supported by sixty Kings, fall to the ground, or of him whose loss, Ireland, and genius, and learning, still deplore: I need not range in the field of fiction to find sub-jects that would harrow up your inmost feelings. —I would open the page of contemporary history, and point to you the ferocious Janissary entering the abode of innocence, and piety; in vain the aged father opposes his unarmed body as a barrier against the intruder. It is not his death that you should mourn; the scimitar of the barbarian has only terminated a life of honour [sic], by inflicting a glorious death. Reserve your pity, your tears, for the matron doomed in slavery—for the shrieking virgin, dragged to captivity by a lawless soldiery; and finding no refuge, no asylum, save the Harem of a Satrap. There, the victim is adorned and awaits the commands of her master. Will Heaven permit the sacrifice of youth and beauty? Are there no protecting angels nigh; no hero, guardian of innocence and honour [sic]? no JACKSON, calling on freemen to rush to battle, and breathing into every heart the presaging inspirations of his own dauntless mind? Americans! give to husbands, fathers, brothers, arms to defend their wives, their daughters, their sisters: Give them arms! it is all in your hands: The God whom they and we adore, will give them Victory and Freedom!

I feel, Mr. Speaker, that I must conclude; not that I have exhausted the subject-on the contrary, like a boundless Ocean, it seems to spread as I advance, but because my strength is unequal to the task. I have marked my slow progress in the ground where the giant footsteps of Webster are now impressed—I stop, conscious that I cannot follow him in his triumphant and glorious career.

(Hatzidimitriou 162-166)

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).