|ADDRESS AT THE
CENTENNIAL OF THE CONCORD FIGHT, 1875
63. Ralph Waldo Emerson. “Address,” pages 79-81
Proceedings at the Centennial Celebration of Concord Fight,
April 19, 1875 (Concord: Published by the Town, 1876). Letterpress
on paper; bound in maroon cloth. Myerson D98. From the Emerson
collection of William Taylor Newton, presented by Edith Emerson Forbes
and Edward Waldo Emerson, 1918.
Aware that the centennial of the Concord Fight on April 19, 1875 would draw national attention, Concord had carefully planned its grand celebration of the event. Invitations were sent to numerous towns, to representatives of state and national government, to historical organizations, and to many individuals. President Ulysses S. Grant, Vice President Henry Wilson, Secretary of War William Worth Belknap, Secretary of State Hamilton Fish, and Massachusetts Governor William Gaston were among the dignitaries who attended. President Grant and his entourage arrived by train on April 17th and went by carriage to the Main Street home of Ebenezer Rockwood Hoar.
Monday, April 19, 1875 dawned cold and clear, later turned blustery and snowed. As huge crowds arrived by train, it became apparent that the anticipated number of visitors had been seriously underestimated. The formation of the parade was complicated by the sheer volume of the crowd. Moreover, provisions were insufficient to feed the incoming people. Despite considerable advance preparation, Concord was taken by surprise.
The ceremonies began with a 100-round sunrise salute from Nashawtuc Hill. The parade proceeded to the battleground, crossing the new Victorian bridge constructed for the celebration. John Shepard Keyes unveiled Daniel Chester French’s Minute Man statue. The parade then continued to the meadow beyond, where the oration and dinner tents were located. In the oration tent, two hundred dignitaries gathered on the speakers’ platform, which collapsed twice during the program. E.R. Hoar—“President of the Day”—called the crowd to order, the Reverend Grindall Reynolds of the First Parish said a prayer, Ralph Waldo Emerson gave a short address, James Russell Lowell read a poem, and George William Curtis delivered a lengthy oration. (As Curtis spoke, President Grant and other officials left for Lexington’s celebration.) Invited guests then adjourned to the dinner tent.
Emerson had served on the Committee on General Invitations for the 1875 celebration. He had also supported young Concord sculptor Daniel Chester French in obtaining the commission to design a statue to honor the colonial soldiers who fought on April 19, 1775. French’s bronze Minute Man was the first of many pieces of public sculpture that he created throughout his long, successful career. The first verse of Emerson’s “Concord Hymn” was inscribed on its base.
Emerson’s brief speech at the centennial celebration in 1875 was the last public address that he prepared for delivery in Concord. The speech was printed in the New York Herald for April 19, 1875 (“Revolutionary Extra Edition”; Myerson E183) and reprinted several times. In 1876, it appeared in Concord’s printed record of the proceedings at its celebration.
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