"This Hour of National Disaster": Congress Convenes on July 4, 1861 and Rep. Galusha A. Grow Gives Independence Day Address

Researched by James R. Heintze. All Rights Reserved.

Galusha A. Grow (Rep.-Pa) is the only Speaker of the House of Representatives of the U.S. Congress ever to be elected to that position on the Fourth of July. The impetus for that event came about through newly elected President Abraham Lincoln's call for a special session of Congress to convene on July 4, 1861, the only such convening to occur on Independence Day in Congress's long distinguished history. And equally important, newly-elected Speaker Grow gave a memorable Fourth of July Address to the members of the House that afternoon. His inaugural address is little known today, historians preferring to direct attention to Lincoln's address on seccession that was hand carried to Congress that day, but publicly read on the following day.

The importance of this Fourth of July event cannot be overestimated. On March 4, 1861 newly elected President Lincoln in his inaugural address warned the South that he would take whatever steps necessary to preserve the union, and for many, his address appeared as a declaration of war. But it was his later address presented to Congress on the Fourth of July when specific requests and needs were laid out to Congress for support of his mission. No doubt, Lincoln needed full backing of Congress at this critical time. It was Rep. Grows's words to Congress on that day that would help set the tone for a hearty response to Lincoln's address. In his elder years, Grow reported that he was "overwhelmed and depressed" at the responsibility he faced as Speaker of the House (James T. Dubois, Galusha A. Grow, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1917, 248-49).

Grow's speech included a tribute and homage to the signers of the Declaration of Independence, followed by his plea for the preservation of the government and the nation. He said that if attempts were made to divide the nation, there would be war. "Not one foot of American soil can ever be wrenched from the jurisdiction of the Constitution of the United States until it is baptised in fire and blood," he emphasized. The "vociferous" applause he received from the floor and the public galleries was immediate.

Fourth of July Address by Galusha A. Grow to Congress, July 4, 1861

Gentlemen of the House of Representatives of the United States of America: Words of thanks for the honor conferred by the vote just announced would but feebly express the heart's gratitude. While appreciating this distinguished mark of your confidence, I am not unmindful of the trying duties incident to the position to which you have assigned me. Surrounded at all times by grave responsibility, it is doubly so in this hour of national disaster, when every consideration of gratitude to the past and obligation to the future tendrils around the present.

Threescore years ago fifty-six old merchants, farmers, lawyers, and mechanics, the representatives of a few feeble colonists, scattered along the Atlantic sea-board, met in convention to found a new empire, based on the inalienable rights of man. Seven years of bloody conflict ensued, and the 4th of July, 1776, is canonized in the hearts of the great and the good as the jubilee of oppressed nationalities; and in the calendar of heroic deeds it marks a new era in the history of the race. Three quarters of a century have passed away, and those few feeble colonists, hemmed in by the ocean in front and the wilderness and the savage in the rear, have spanned a whole continent with a great empire of free States, rearing throughout its vast wilderness temples of science and of civilization upon the ruins of savage life. Happiness, seldom if ever equalled, has surrounded the domestic fireside, and prosperity unsurpassed has crowned the national energies; the liberties of the people have been secured at home and abroad, while the national ensign floated honored and respected in every commercial mart of the world.

On the return of this glorious anniversary, after a period but little exceeding that of the allotted lifetime of man, the people's representatives are convened in the Council Chambers of the Republic, to deliberate upon the means for preserving the Government under whose benign influence these grand results have been achieved.

A rebellion the most causeless in the history of the race has developed a conspiracy of long standing to destroy the Constitution formed by the wisdom of our fathers and the Union consecrated by their blood. This conspiracy, nurtured for long years in secret councils, first develped itself openly in acts of spoliation and plunder of public property, with the connivance, or under the protection of treason enthroned in all the high places of the Government, and, at last, in armed rebellion for the overthrow of the best Government ever devised by man. Without an effort, in the mode prescribed by the organic law, for a redress of all grievances, the malcontents appeal only to the arbitrament of the sword, insult the nation's honor, trample upon its flag, and inaugurate a revolution which, if successful, would end in establishing petty, jarring confederacies, or despotism and anarchy, upon the ruins of the Republic, and the destruction of its liberties.

The 19th of April, canonized in the first struggle for American nationality, has been reconsecrated in martyr blood. Warren has his counterpart in Ellsworth, and the heroic deeds and patriotic sacrifices of the struggle for the establishment of the Republic are being reproduced upon the battle-field for its maintenance. Every race and tongue almost is represented in the grand legion of the Union, their standards proclaiming in a language more impressive than words, that here, indeed, is the home of the emigrant and the asylum of the exile. No matter where was his birth- place, or in what clime his infancy was cradled, he devotes his life to the defence of this adopted land, the vindication of its honor, and the protection of its flag, with the same zeal with which he would guard his hearthstone and his fireside. All parties, sects, and conditions of men, not corrupted by the institutions of human bondage, forgetting by-gone rancors or predjudices, blend in one united phalanx for the integrity of the Union and the perpetuity of the Republic.

Long years of peace, in the pursuit of sordid gain, instead of blunting the patriotic devotion of loyal citizens, seems but to have intensified its development when the existence of the Government is threatened or its honor assailed.

The merchant, the banker, and the tradesman, with an alacrity unparalleled, proffer their all at the altar of their country, while from the counter, the workshop, and the plough, brave hearts and stout arms, leaving their tasks unfinished, rush to the tented field. The air vibrates with martial strains, and the earth shakes with the tread of armed men.

In view of this grandest demonstration for self-preservation in the history of nationalities, desponding patriotism may be assured that the foundations of our national greatness still stand strong, and that the sentiment which to-day beats responsive in every loyal heart will for the future be realized. No flag alien to the sources of the Mississippi river will every float permanently over its mouths till its waters are crimsoned in human gore, and not one foot of American soil can ever be wrenched from the jurisdiction of the Constitution of the United States until it is baptised in fire and blood. [Vociferous applause upon the floor and in the galleries, which lasted for many minutes.] (National Reporter, 6 July 1861, 2.)

Apparently his speech was followed by these additional words, "indicative of his humility":

Invoking for our guidance wisdom from that Divine Power which led our fathers through the red sea of Revolution, I enter upon the discharge of the duties to which you have assigned me, relying upon your forbearance and cooperation, and trusting that your labors will contribute not a little to the greatness and glory of the Republic. (Dubois, 249.)

The National Reporter followed up a few days later with this report:

The Speaker's address, upon taking the chair on Thursday, goes quite out of the usual formulas in such cases. The occasion called for this departure from the old track, and Mr. Grow met the occasion with patriotism and vigor. The only difficulty he had in the delivery of his address, was in restraining the applause which it excited on the floor of the House and in the galleries. If there are any compromises here, the new Speaker is evidently not one of them. (National Republican, 6 July 1861, 2).

The National Intelligencer also reported:

In his remarks he alluded in eloquent terms to our past peace and prosperity, and urged prompt measures for the suppression of the rebellion as the only way of restoring harmony and prosperity, or of insuring the safety of the government. Tendering his sincere thanks for their manifestation of confidence in him he hoped to conduct the arduous duties assigned him in a manner becoming his position and the perilous times through which the country was gradually emerging. (National Intelligencer, 5 July 1861, 2.)

This page lasted update July 2009.

Go back to the Fourth of July Celebrations Database homepage