The March of the Flag Speech 1898

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Albert J. Beveridge

Urging Americans to follow a divinely inspired march beyond our borders, Albert Beveridge connects with his use of scriptural phraseology, tapping into popular views.

In 1898 Albert Beveridge, campaigning in Indiana for the US Senate seat he would hold for twelve years, delivered The March of the Flag speech promoting imperialism as a national and divine mission that began with Thomas Jefferson. Beveridge used religious references and invoked God eleven times for an audience that expected politicians to know the Bible and equated divine Providence with the on-going notions of Manifest Destiny.

Church and State in 19th Century America

One of the consequences of the Second Great Awakening had been a fusion between the sacred and the secular. Henry Ward Beecher successfully promoted the idea that there was no division between church and state. As the century moved toward Civil War, Americans became ever more Bible literate. In For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War, historian James McPherson argues that, “Civil War armies were…the most religious in American history.” The South used the Bible to support slavery while the North interpreted scriptures in the light of Emancipation.

By 1865 Abraham Lincoln would refer to this in his Second Inaugural address, stating that, “both read the same Bible.” Lincoln’s Second Inaugural contains both Old and New Testament allusions, brilliantly crafted into his argument, a subject explored by Ronald C. White in his book, Lincoln’s Greatest Speech. The fact remains that enough evidence exists to demonstrate that Americans not only knew the Bible well, but expected their elected leaders to apply religious rationale to national decisions.

Speech As Sermon by 19th Century Politicians

In the decade William Jennings Bryan popularized the Cross of Gold and William McKinley began his Inaugural Address by stating that Americans should, “obey His commandments and walk humbly in His footsteps,” Albert Beveridge likened Americans to “His chosen people.” The issue was whether or not “the American people continue their march toward commercial supremacy” by embracing imperialism.

Beveridge asks, “Shall we be as the man who had one talent and hid it, or as he who had ten talents and used them until they grew to riches?” He knew that his audience would apply the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25: 14-30; Luke 19: 12-28) to the challenge that “the empire of our principles” be “established over the hearts of all mankind.” This was a time church attending Americans sang from memory hymns like H. Ernest Nichol’s, We’ve a Story to Tell to the Nations (1896) that includes lines like, “We’ve a Savior to show to the nations…That all of the world’s great people Might come to the truth of God…”

The final paragraph begins, “Wonderfully has God guided us,” and gives examples of divine help from Bunker Hill to Commodore Dewey’s naval victory in the Philippines five months before this speech was delivered. Beveridge even credits God with the 1588 defeat of the Spanish Armada, attempting to demonstrate a trend: God was on the side of the Anglo-Saxon race and the next phase would be imperialism.

No Separation Between Church and State to Define Imperialism

Weaving the Great Commission (Matthew 28: 19-20) into pro-imperialist speeches linked the March of the Flag with Christian Missions. It was a natural fusion of Biblical injunction and state policy. Like Kipling’s “…sullen peoples, Half Devil and Half Child,” the non-white world could not govern itself without the civilizing affects of benevolent Americans. “Do we owe no duty to the world?” Beveridge asks. The March of the Flag demonstrates how inseparable religion and politics was in 19th Century America. The speech is one of many examples illustrating how important religion was in the political sphere of that century and how Christianity helped supply motive for global expansionism.

Source:

  1. Beveridge, Albert J. The Meaning of the Times and Other Speeches (New York: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1908; reprinted 1968)