Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Springfield, Illinois, May 1, 1906.
To the Teachers of Illinois:
Your attention is called to the approaching Memorial Day. I recommend that Tuesday, May 29, 1906, be set apart for appropriate exercises in all schools which may be in session at that time. Such exercises should be so planned as to impress upon the minds of the children the profound significance of the Memorial Day, and what it stands for. They should not tend to glorify war, but rather the blessings of peace. While it may be true that wars will not cease within the lifetime of any child now born, it is true that the chances of war between great nations become less with every passing year1. The settlement by arbitration of controversies between nations is becoming the practice, and war the exception. Within the last decade there have been four wars, and nine conflicts in which arms have played a part, ranging from the most colossal war of modern times to the Panama revolution. During the same period there have been ten times as many settlements by the pacific means of arbitration. A permanent international court of arbitration has been set up and will hereafter adjust the major part of the disputes which might otherwise lead to war2. So it will not be out of place to teach the children that the true grandeur of a nation is not its achievements in war, but its influence toward universal peace. Grant said, 'Let us have peace!' When Lincoln was able to say, 'The signs look better. Peace does not appear so distant as it did. I hope it will come soon, and come to stay,' he added, 'and so come as to be worth the keeping in all future time.' The highest glory to be achieved by our country is to be recognized among all nations as the greatest maker and keeper of the peace that 'is worth the keeping' in the whole round world.
But the war for the Union needs no apologist3. Its purpose was to save the life of a nation. There was no alternative. It was the supreme test to determine 'whether this nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure4.' Few of the men who fought on either side were professional soldiers. By far the greater number were young men such as Grant said composed the Twenty-
first infantry, 'the sons of farmers, lawyers, physicians, politicans, merchants, bankers and ministers, and some men of maturer years.'
In this respect all the other regiments were like Grant's. Old soldiers of the civil war saw the volunteers of the Spanish war5 march by and said, 'How young they are,' forgetting that in '61 they, themselves, were no older. In future wars, the re-united country will depend upon the young men, for a large standing army is not likely soon to become one of our institutions6. So it becomes a duty of the schools to teach boys that patriotism includes a willingness to volunteer when men are needed in a righteous cause.
But we stop far short of our duty if we thus limit the lesson in patriotism. Loyalty to country is a constant force, operating in time of peace as well as war, and extending to every duty of citizenship. One who merely is ready to rise to a great emergency is but an imperfect patriot. There are duties of the citizen in the school district, the township, the city and the State, which are always with us. The opportunity to die for our country is rare7. Opportunities to live for her abide. Our training for citizenship, or better, in citizenship, should take notice of these. No body of men has ever set better examples of good citizenship in times of peace than the surviving soldiers of the civil war, on both sides.
The newspapers, a few days ago, contained an account of the final reunion of a regiment, the Ninetieth Pennsylvania. It was attended by twenty-six men. It was stated that this was the first veteran association in the Keystone State8 to yield to the ravages of time. There were in all eighty persons present, because the twenty-six old boys
took with them to that last reunion their wives and children, and, some of them, their grandchildren. It is said that tears filled the eyes of the leader of these old men, as he said:
'Boys, we're getting too old, and those of us that are able to get around are so scattered we can't come together any more. This is our last banquet. We have got to bid one another good-bye. For more than three months we traveled from one point to another, and finally faced the enemy at Front Royal. Then we fought at Cedar Mountain, Thoroughfare Gap, Bull Run, Chantilly,
Antietam, South Mountain, Gettysburg,' then the old colonel's voice faltered, for it was at Gettysburg that one-third of his men were lost, 'and Mine Run,' and the old man faltered again, 'Mine Run, where our regiment was annihilated.'
It was true. Of the thousand strong men who made up the original regiment, only 110 were left to face the enemy at Mine Run. Ninety-eight of these were killed, wounded or captured. After Mine Run, there was no Ninetieth Pennsylvania.
Not all regiments have a history like that. Any regiment might have had a like experience. Many did. Most of the regiments must soon hold their last reunion. The old soldiers are dying at the rate of thirty full regiments a year. But during all the forty years since Appomattox, the men who now wear the little bronze button, have been the beloved of their fellow-citizens everywhere. They have had the thanks of the Republic. Other claims and qualifications being
equal, they have usually been given the right of way to public preferment, especially when disabled. If old and poor, they have been given homes. The children in the schools seeing all this, have learned to love and revere them. Because they are so fast passing away, and because the children share the common regard for them so fully, I hope all superintendents will arrange with the nearest commander of a Grand Army9 post to detail one or more veterans as speakers at the school exercises.
Above all, let us remember that Memorial Day is but one day in the year, and while its impressive lesson should never be omitted, every day of the school year is ours to do whatever can be done by training, to make each succeeding generation stronger, and better, and more steadfast in all things which count for patriotic American citizenship.
Superintendent of Public Instruction.