Friends of Fort Vancouver Blog

Current news, articles and information
16 minutes reading time (3239 words)

Fourth of July Oration in Oregon (Excerpt from The Squibob Papers)


The Squibob Papers
Fourth of July Oration in Oregon
"Fort Vancouver, W.T., June 15, 1856. John Pheonix, Esq., Sergt. Major, etc."
"Dear Sir: -- I am requested by a number of your brother officers, and other gentlemen, to solicit you to deliver the oration at the celebration of the approaching Fourth of July, at this post.
"Very respectfully,
"Your friend and obdt. Servt.,
"H. C. H.,
"1st Lieut 4th Infantry."
"Portland, Oh! Tea, June, 1856.
"Dear Sir: -- I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your very polite invitation to address a number of my brother officers, and other gentlemen, on the coming glorious anniversary, at Vancouver.
"In the words of a celebrated Roman emperor, when asked to take a drink, I reply, 'I will do it with great pleasure,' and shall immediately prepare myself for the discharge of the agreeable duty thus devolving upon me.
"Your invitation, Sir, arrived upon a most opportune occasion. Eighty years (or thereabouts) ago, this day, our respected ancestors marched up the side of Breed's Hill by a flank, to the following sprit-stirring tune:
"Oh! tweedle dum twee,
Oh! tweedle um twee,
Oh! tweedle-tweedle, tweedle dum twee."

And after getting there, feeling sick at their stomachs from fatigue, threw up a line of breastworks and trenches, that took the British very particularly by surprise. Behind those breastworks, sir, our gallant ancestors stood shoulder to shoulder, and received the red-coated minions of the British monarch with a galling and destructive fire, that caused them to retreat in confusion. Three successive times was the attack repeated, and three successive times were the British mercenaries repulsed. At the fourth attempt, Sir, our ancestors suddenly remembered certain business engagements in the country which could no longer be neglected, and they had not time to remain and see the matter through. They left; and a mingled mass of cowhide boots and shirt-tails fluttering in the distance, was all the British could descry, when, out of breath, perfectly exhausted, they arrived on the summit of Breed's. This great engagement, Sir, was named the battle of Bunker Hill, on account of its not having occurred on a hill of that name, and a monument two hundred feet high has been erected on the spot, from the top of which a man once fell, and knocked the whole top off his derned eternal head, Sir!

"From the top of this monument now floats the glorious spang-dangled stanner of our country, and long may it wave.

"Please, Sir, to accept the renewed assurances of the most distinguished consideration. Carry and Stevens!

"With singular respect, I remain

"Your most obdt. Servt.,

"John Phoenix

"Lieut H. Sea H.,

"1st Lieut. 4th U. S. Foot

"Vancouver, W. Tea."


Delivered at Fort Vancouver W.T., On the Fourth of July 1856 by John Phoenix, S.D., Sergeant Major, Eighty-Third Regiment, Oregon Territory Light Mules.

"Brother soldiers and fellow citizens: -- I feel honored by the call that I have received and accepted to deliver on this great occasion, the glorious anniversary of our nation's independence, the customary oration. The word oration signifying a public address, I have reason to believe has a military origin. It originated in a custom once prevalent among commanding officers and chaplains, of making long and verbose addresses to the troops, which were stigmatized as 'all talk and no rations,' whence the word noration, modernized into oration. The term address has also a similar origin, it having been the custom for the troops to be dressed to the right before the oration was delivered. From the word noration is derived the common expression – common in the sweet and classic vales of Pike – 'to norate.' Thus we hear an individual wishing to refer to an anecdote related to him in early life by his grandmother, say, 'I hurd her norate it.'

"This explanation may appear irrelevant and uninteresting; but I never lose an opportunity to impart a little valuable information.

"Brother soldiers and fellow citizens: It is the Fourth of July. This morning, at half-past two o'clock, every inhabitant of this great, free, and enlightened republic, amounting in number to several millions, was awakened from a sleep by the discharge of cannon, the explosion of fire-crackers, and the continued and reiterated shouts of little boys, and children of larger growth. From that time until four o'clock sleep has been rendered impossible, and every inhabitant of this republic has had an opportunity to reflect with gratitude and thankfulness on the wisdom of our progenitors, and the greatness of our institutions ; until at that hour the bells of every church, meeting-house, factory, steam-boat, and boarding-house throughout the land, beginning to pour forth a merry and universal peal, joining in the glad anthem of our nation's independence, every citizen has got up, put on his pantaloons, taken a cock-tail, and commenced the celebration of the day in good earnest.

"Throughout our whole vast extent of country, from Hancock Barracks, Houlton, Maine, where they pry the sun up in the morning, to Fort Yuma on the Colorado River, where the thermometer stands at 212 in the shade, and the hens lay hard hard-boiled eggs, this day will be a day of hilarity, of frolicking and rejoicing.

"Processions will be formed, churches will be thronged, orations will be delivered, (many of them, possible, of a superior character to this of mine,) the gallant militia, that right arm of our national defense, will pervade the streets in astounding uniforms, whereof it may be said that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Small boys will fire pistols and burn their fingers ; large boys will fire cannon and blow off their arms ; men will guzzle inebriating liquors, and become much intoxicated thereby ; and a mighty shout will go up from the land, which, if the wind happens to be in the right direction, will cause the Emperor Alexander to tremble in his boots, and the young Napoleon to howl in his silver cradle. For on this day the great American eagle flaps her wings, and soars aloft, until it makes your eyes sore to look at her, and looking down upon her myriads of free and enlightened children, with flaming eye, she screams, 'E Pluribus Unum,' which may be freely interpreted, 'Aint I some?' and myriads of freemen answer back with joyous shout: 'You are punkins!"

On this glorious day, joy, good feeling, and good nature animate each breast; babies cease to cry, ladies cease to scold, all is amiability; and I hesitate not to say, that were the commanding general of this Division on this day to ask the Governor of Oregon for a chew of tobacco, he would hand over the whole plug without a moment's delay or hesitation. And what is the cause of this general rejoicing, this universal hilarity, this amiable state of feeling, this love and veneration for this particular day of all days in the year – a day when the native American forgets all prejudices, and though loving his country better than aught else, feels well disposed toward every thing beside – a day that our German population respect and speak of as 'more better as good' – a day which Pat, who believes one man is as good as another, and a mighty sight better, reverences as he does 'Saint Patrick's in the morning' – a day when aught unpleasant is forgotten, and mirth, and jollity, and fire-crackers abound. I will endeavor to inform you.

Many years ago, before Vancouver was ever born or thought of, when the present magnificent city of Portland was but a wild forest of fir timber, and the waters of these mighty rivers, now daily ploughed by the splendid steamer 'Eagle,' were navigated by the Indian chief Multnomah in his dug-out provisioned with salmon and whortleberries, there dwelt in the far-off city of Genoa, a worthy merchant named Daniel Lumbus, who prosecuted his business as a dealer in velvets, under the name and style of Lumbus & Co.

"This merchant, at a somewhat advanced age, was blest with a son of great promise, whom, out of compliment to his partners, he named Christopher Co Lumbus. From his earliest infancy this youth showed an ardent desire for a maritime life; and old Lumbus gratified his inclinations by sending him to sea.

"In those days popular opinion turned to the belief that this world on which we live was a large square table, or plane surface, supported on columns of rocks, which extended all the way down. Columbus, however, dissented from this opinion and believing the earth to be a globe or ball, decided in his own mind that it might be feasible to start in a given direction, and sail clear round it, returning to the point of departure. Having communicated these views to Isabella, the Queen of Arragon, that lady, who was somewhat of an enthusiast, and had a strong conviction that Columbus was 'one of them," sold her hoop ear-rings and other jewelry, and fitted out three top-sail schooners, of which she gave him the command.

"With these vessels, Christopher sailed in 1492, and after the most unheard-of trials and difficulties, encountering many head-winds, and much opposition from his crew, finally discovered the West India Islands, whence he immediately returned with a cargo of rum and sugar. This extraordinary discovery being noised abroad, a Spanish captain, who from his jovial disposition was called A Merry Cuss, sailed away, and discovered this continent, which, from its discoverer, derived the name of America. Then New England was discovered by John Cabor, and Virginia by Walter Raleigh, who also discovered tobacco, and gave himself dyspepsia by smoking it to excess, and Pocahontas was discovered by John Smith, and South Carolina by Calhoun.

"Emigration from Great Britain and other countries then commenced, and continued to a tremendous extent, and all our fore-fathers, and eight grandfathers, came over and settled in the land.

"They planted corn and built houses, they killed the Indians, hung the Quakers and Baptists, burned the witches alive, and were very happy and comfortable indeed. So matters went on very happily, the colonies thus formed owing allegiance to the government of Great Britain until the latter part of the eighteenth century, when a slight change took place in their arrangements. The king of Great Britain, a Dutchman of the name of George Guelph, No.3, having arrived at that stage of life when Dutchmen generally, if at all inclined that way, naturally begin to give way to ill-temper and obstinacy, became of a sudden exceedingly overbearing and ill-disposed toward the colonies. He had offenders sent to England to be tried ; he was down on a bank and a protective tariff, and began to be considered little better than an abolitionist. He also put in effect an ordinance called the Stamp Act, which prevented applause in places of public amusement, prevented the protection of cattle against flies, and interfered with the manufacture of butter ; and he finally capped the climax of his audacious impositions by placing such a tremendous duty on tea, that our female ancestors could not afford to drink that exhilarating beverage. Our ancestors were patient and long-suffering but they could not stand every thing.

"Souchong and Young Hyson cost about twelve-and-a-half cents a cup; and our grandmothers were weeping with vexation, and would not be comforted with herb-tea and decoctions of sassafras. They annoyed our grandfathers to that extent that they rebelled, got up a Vigilance Committee in Boston, and destroyed two cargoes of English tea, and were fired on by the British troops in consequence. Then the whole country flew to arms; the battles of Concord and of Lexington followed, and our grandfathers went marching up to the tune of Yankee Doodle to the top of Bunker's Hill, whence they did not march down until they had given the British troops a most fearful and ever-to-be-remembered whipping. By this time it suddenly occurred to some of the smartest of our respectable ancestors that it was a good long way to the little island of England, that there was a good many people in the provinces, and that perhaps they were quite as able to govern themselves as George Guelph No. 3 was to govern them. They accordingly appointed delegates from the various Provinces or States, who meeting together in Philadelphia on the fourth day of July, 1776, decided to trouble the King of England no longer, and gave to the world that glorious Declaration of Independence, to the support of which they pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor. This was the birth-day of Freedom – the birth-day of the United States, now eighty years of age ; and as there are few of us but feel some inclination to celebrate our own birth-day, there can be little wonder that we celebrate the birth-day of our country in so joyous, earnest, and enthusiastic a manner.

"Love of country is strongly impressed on every mind ; but, as Americans, we should and in fact do have this feeling more strongly developed than any other citizens of the world. For our country is a free country ; its institutions are wise and liberal, and our advantages as its natives are greater than those of other citizens. To be sure, every body can vote two or three times in some places ; it is true taxes are four and a half percent on the amount of our property ; it's a fact that it's difficult to get scrip paid ; there's no disputing the existence of the Maine Liquor Law, and we do occasionally have a mob; but these are errors not arising from the principles of our government, but from circumstances, and they will finally obviate and correct themselves. Upon the whole, I believe that a man has quite as much chance for a life of happiness if born under the glorious stars and stripes as if he happened to be born anywhere else, and perhaps a little more. We elect our own rulers, and make our own laws, and if they don't turn out well, it's very easy at the next election to make others in their place. Every body has a chance for distinction in this country ; nothing is wanting but natural ability to attain it ; and Mrs. Laving Pike's baby, now lying with a cotton-flannel shirt on, in a champagne basket, in Portland, O. T., has just as good a chance of being president of the United States, as the imperial infant of France, now sucking his royal thumbs in his silver cradle at Paris, has of being an emperor. I do not with to flatter this audience ; I do not intend to be a thought particularly complimentary ; but I do assure you, that there is not a man present who, if he had votes enough, might not be elected president of the United States. And this important fact is the result not so much of any particular merit or virtue on your part, as of the nature of our glorious, liberal, republican institutions.

"In this great and desirable country, any man may become rich, provided he will make money ; and man may be well educated, if he will learn, and has money to pay for his board and schooling ; and any man may become great, and of weight in the community, if he will take care of his health, and eat sufficiently of boiled salmon and potatoes.

"Moreover, I assert it unblushingly, any man in this country may marry any woman he pleases – the only difficulty being for him to find any woman that he does please.

"Fellow-citizens and brother soldiers : It is the Fourth of July ; it is Independence Day – a day dear to every freeman, an anniversary which is good to celebrate, as it will be celebrated till time shall cease, and the Union shall perish with it.

"Every boy in these United States know the origin of this glorious day. Small sums of money, varying from twelve-and-a-half cents to a dollar and a half, according to the financial prosperity of their parents, have been annually given them to expend on this occasion, which indelibly impress the fact upon their memories, and lead them to look forward with pleasure to its return. One of my earliest and most cherished recollections is of my exploits on the first Fourth of July that I can remember, when, with patriotic fervor, I purchased a leaden cannon, which, exploding prematurely, burned off my hair and eye-brows, and put an end to the existence of a favorite cat of my aunt's that peacefully reclined, watching my operations. It is considered by many a duty to become intoxicated on the Fourth of July. I remember hearing a distinguished Senator express his opinion, 'that any man who did not get drunk on the Fourth of July was a damned rascal.' Without fully coinciding in this novel hypothesis, I can truly say, that I consider it the duty of every freeman to enjoy himself to the full limits of his capacity on this glorious occasion, and if there are, as I dare say there are, individuals to whom getting drunk is the acme of human felicity, why, if they do allow themselves to be carried away on this day, there is surely more excuse for them than there would be on any less joyous occasion. An anecdote that went the round ofthe papers a few years since is amusing and interesting, as showing the independent feeling engendered in the minds of all classes by the arrival of the glorious Fourth.

"A parsimonious merchant who, I regret to say, flourished in Boston, kept his counting-room open on Independence Day, where he sat with his clerk, a boy of ten or twelve years of age, busy over his accounts, while the noise and uproar of the celebration were resounding without. Looking up from his employment, he perceived the unfortunate youth, perched upon his high stool, engaged in picking his nose, a practice that the merchant had frequently reprobated, and taken him to task for.

" 'William,' he exclaimed, 'why will you persist in that dirty practice? I am astonished at you.'

" 'I don't care,' whimpered the unhappy boy. 'It's Independence Day, and it's my own nose, and I'll pick thunder out of it.'

"An excellent custom prevails in many cities of the United States to celebrate the close of this day with a grand exhibition of fire-works. This is not only a beautiful and exciting spectacle, but to the thinking mind, presents a refined pleasure in the analogy that is suggested; for he may think to himself that, as the day ends, so will end the lives of the enemies of freedom and the incendiary abolitionists, who threaten with parricidal efforts the union of these States. They will be followed by a grand display of fire-works in another world, if there is any truth in the orthodox doctrines of the age. 


The 31 Star Flag: This Flag became the Official United States Flag on July 4th 1851. A star was added for the admission of California (September 9th, 1850) and was to last for seven years. The three Presidents who served under this flag were; Millard Fillmore (1850-1853), Franklin Pierce (1853-1857), and James Buchanan (1857-1861). (Source: )

Stay Informed

When you subscribe to the blog, we will send you an e-mail when there are new updates on the site so you wouldn't miss them.

"Another Way of Saying God's Country"
Jane Jacobsen's Memorial Walk July 3rd

Related Posts