The Independence Day celebration in Lowndes County, GA in 1835 (prior to the creation of Berrien County) was held at Franklinville. The previous year, Levi J. Knight, pioneer settler of present day Ray City, GA, had served on a committee that wrote the draft constitution of the State Rights Association of Lowndes County. On the Fourth of July, 1835, Knight gave the keynote address at the Franklinville celebration. At the time, Levi J. Knight was serving in the Georgia Assembly as state senator of Lowndes County,GA .
August 4, 1835
FOURTH OF JULY
AT FRANKLINVILLE, LOWNDES COUNTY
According to previous notice, a large and respectable number of our citizens convened at the Court house at an early hour of the day – when the Rev. Jonathan Gaulden was chosen President of the day and John Dees, Vice President. About half past 12 o’clock, the company was formed at Mr. Smiths’, and marched into the court-house headed by James Williams, Marshal of the day, when a Throne of Grace was addressed by the Rev. J. Gaulden. The declaration of American Independence was then read by H. W. Sharpe, Esq., after which a chaste and patriotic Oration was delivered by Levi J. Knight, Esq., Orator of the day.
Fellow Citizens – We should regard it as an interesting occasion which calls us together. Every association, whatever its character, which sets apart a day for rejoicing and for recollection, consecrates a period when the heart shall go back with memory to revisit the spring time of its existence. On this occasion, as the organ of your sentiments, it is to me a source of singular gratification to reflect upon the nature of the object which has gathered us here. Casting aside our every day occupations and cares of life, we have come up on the jubilee of our country’s liberty, to honor the day that gave birth to the greatest republic in the world. Perhaps the day could not be more appropriately honored, or the hour more agreeably occupied, than by dwelling briefly upon the proud merits of our country.
This day 59 years ago, our chivalrous sires from the then thirteen States, in the burning language which you have just heard read, declared we would be free from the yoke of Great Britain, which at that time hung over us, and to which pledge they bound themselves in the strongest of all human obligations – no less than their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honors. It is a theme from which none can turn away; it lays claim to our hearts, not only as a magnanimous people, but as the children of that country which it is a pride and glory to call our own, our native land. No one surveys the physical resources of our country with more gratification than myself. It furnishes me a noble satisfaction to behold its broad lands covered with an vigorous and rapidly multiplying population; to know that the busy h— of civilization and industry is fast invading the stillness of the forest; to view our commerce stretching — white sails over every wave — feel that in the hour of danger, brave hearts and skillful hands are ready to gather beneath the folds of our country’s banner. No one returns from such a contemplations with a higher sense of his country’s excellence and glory, or with deeper gratitude to God, who hath given us such an inheritance, than I do.
There is another circumstance which this view will not permit us to overlook. An immense ocean rolls its waters between us and the old world. We inhabit a continent far removed from the influence of other nations. It is difficult to comprehend the immense importance of this circumstance, or feel and know the force and peculiarity of its results. We can however feel that it promises a lasting and undisturbed operation of our free institutions. Should the political atmosphere of Europe all become poisoned, it dies before it reaches our healthful clime; no breeze can waft it over the rolling waves. Let their lands degenerate into falsehood and crime, till demons occupy and pollute their altars of Christ, their victory closes with their shores; they cannot overleap the mighty barrier which the God of nature hath thrown between us. Did we occupy some portion of the continent of Europe, our juxtaposition to other powers might prove fatal to our liberty. Though their elements of civil society may heave, their systems may totter, the volcanoe may burst forth and flame the heavens; yet we feel not the shock; secure in the distance, we look on and learn wisdom. Who, in the contemplation of such a scene, does not rejoice that providence has cast his lot in this land, in behalf of whose liberty nature itself does battle!
What a beautiful scene does our own State present, of the excellent system under which we live. Over its fertile land there is spread out already an intelligent, noble, and rapidly increasing population. It seems as but yesterday this spot was a wilderness – the forest of centuries waved over it – the only contrast to its unbroken gloom was the glare of the council fire, and the wild song of the Indian. To-day how different! – Beauty, taste, and civilization, here have met to honor the day that gave birth to our liberty. There is another matter I cannot pass silently by – it is education. To this we owe the present greatness of our nation; it is to this we may look for a perpetuation of our institutions. Education alone can render us capable of judging of the abuses of our Government, from whatever source they may emanate. It is ignorance alone that can make a slave. Here, then, let us examine the peculiar influence which our government is likely to exert upon the intellect of the country. It is scarcely necessary to remark, that it is free, essentially free, not in name alone, but in spirit and in action. It throws a broad shield over every citizen, but it leaves each to the exercise of his gifts. It recognizes no established spheres in which men must move, without the hope or power of passing beyond. It throws open wide the great lists of society, and bids all contend for its distinctions, trusting to their own valor and their own skill. It forgets the artificial distinction of birth, and passing by the unworthy descendants of patrician blood, seeks the humblest and poorest of its enterprising sons who have divorced themselves from the obscurity of their origin by the might and grandeur of their intellect. Minds that would sleep cold and silent on the gloom of despotism, start forth into glorious life and power under the light of liberty. I regard the intellectual character of our country is of the greatest importance. The power of political ascendancy is gone by. This is an age in which moral influence is felt. There have been times, when the barbarian trod learning into the dust; when the brutal spoiler overwhelmed the contriver of arts; but the conquest of mind has begun; the dark days of blood have departed, the sun of peace has arisen; never again shall science be chained by despotism; the empire of mind is established, and henceforth nations are to be ranked, not according to their physical but their moral strength. What are bright skies and balmy breezes, when man is crushed by the iron hand of despotism? What inspiration can wake up the genius of him, who lives under a system of government that writes slave on his forehead? It is remarked by distinguished writers, that a nation has no character unless it is free; and indeed the history of mankind would go far towards establishing the assertion, that unless it be free it can have no literature worth the name. It is always satisfactory to be able to try our opinions by the actual experience of others. Free institutions alone present to the mind a fair opportunity for expansion; they do most towards stimulating intellect, and afford man the greatest inducement to exercise his best powers. Let us pass for a moment to other lands, and compare France with her neighbor Spain. Can geographical varieties so slight creat so wonderful a difference in the degree of intellectual development? The one great in every department of learning, the other yet in the gloom of the dark ages and bare of genius. While France can vie with any nation on earth except our own, as to the glory of her institutions, her liberal principles and her proud and lofty intellect, we see Spain enveloped in despotism and superstition. No! not to climate, not to the separation which nature hath placed between the two lands, but to the difference of their political systems, the cause must be traced. What one of our fair guests, but must feel a secret pride and emotion as she looks on her tender offspring, or some one of near relations, and sees a prospect of their enrolling their names on the list of their country’s intellectual excellence. No nation in its infancy has ever done so much in this way. The early history of the most of them is little better than a distinguished detail of petty feuds and bloody contests. But already how much has our country accomplished? What a delightful encomium on our system it must furnish, to visit each State, from the oldest and most established, to the youngest that is just pouring its enterprising population into the bosom of the forest. You pass from the magnanificent city, where the chief objects which meet your glance are temples of worship with their tall spires pointing to heavens, and institutions of learning nobly testifying to the munificence of the government, and your enter the forest, just falling beneath the axe, you find people, though rude and unpretending, who hold it as their first duty to worship God, the very next to educate their sons. Though we have no wealth to pour into the lap of science; though the scholar must content himself with poverty; yet all is not barren. As our country becomes older, and wealth increases, the influence of these causes will outstrip calculation; the grandeur of their results no man conjecture.
My heart swells with a lofty conviction that our political system is the best adapted of any on earth to elevate the character of man, to energize his intellect, and to call it forth in the noblest and boldest shapes, where it dreads no human power. Here It is where opinions may be expressed fearlessly, and where there is nothing to tempt from the pursuit of truth. A free press upon which government lays no fetters, ready to spread their opinions to the world, to detect corruption and applaud virtue – a free people, early taught to think right on all subjects – what may we not hope for? We have an age friendly to intellectual development. Grim visaged war hath smothered his front; ambition of men has assumed a holier aspect; truth has touched them with her wand; they no longer make it their great business of life to marshal victorious hosts upon the tented field or strive for an empire of blood; they have discovered that glory is to be won elsewhere than in the red path of battle; the effort now is to be wise, to be learned, and to be good. Let these things, fellow-citizens, fill us with an ardor in the cultivation of our literature. This only can enable the rising posterity to maintain and hand down to generations yet unborn, our glorious system of government, which is the true desire of a republican people.