Title: The New Nation
Keywords: Joshua Chamberlain, Lawrence Chamberlain, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, Oration, Speech, Memorial Day, Spanish American War, Cuba
Credit: Courtesy the Library of Congress Manuscript Division
Permissions: Library of Congress Manuscript Division, Washington D.C. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain Papers, Container 9
Memorial Day 1898

About a month before this speech was given the Spanish American War had begun. Newspapers in New York had helped to sway the popular opinion with what were perhaps exaggerated descriptions of "atrocities" committed by the Spanish in Cuba. The Sinking of the USS Maine in Havana harbor appeared to be the final straw after the U.S. Navy's investigation determined that the cause of the explosion was an external source beneath the ship's hull.
    Though Chamberlain was apparently taken by the descriptions of cruelty in the newspapers, he was less than enthusiastic about entering a new war saying of those who thought, "We have enough serious business on hand in the needs of our own citizens," that "there is a heard-headedness about me too".
    His opinions of some of the earlier wars his nation took part in can explain his hesitations, describing the Indian Wars as, "the forcible possession of the soil and natural resources of the new continent, without much regard to the moral rights of the case."
    But as he discribes other wars his thoughts seem to turn from the evil nature of war to an idea that America has a moral obligation to act in defense of the rights of "man the world over."
"For the Mexican war, extension of territory to secure balance of slave-power in the United States; a purpose it is worthy of remark, so signally overruled in the ways of Providence as to become instrumental in the overthrow of slavery, and in giving to freedom the rich Pacific coast. Next, the war for the unity of the Nation, which, being waged on the fundamental principle of the worth of man as man, brought the absolute destruction of slavery. And today the Nation is one! Rebel and loyal, shoulder to shoulder. Now, so soon, we are called to war for the rights of man the world over!"
    Chamberlain uses his faith to embrace and celebrate the multiculturalism of the Nation, Quoting from Acts 17:26 "He who hath made of one blood all nations of men." Chamberlain adds to the scripture his own words, "hath been pleased here to make of many bloods one nation!" Suggesting a common relation of all people but also God's approval of the mix of races and ethnicities in America. Chamberlain takes this common relation as an obligation to protect the rights of all men. "As a nation, we belong to man; becoming masters of ourselves we are servants of all. Is it not this calling which we hear, when from across gulfs of seas comes the cry of the outraged and oppressed, the moan of the helpless and despairing?"
"So, in a sense, and in their circumstantial form for given time and situation, nations are the product of warfare. For there is evil in the world, and this can be corrected, over come, destroyed, only by conflict. It is true that might may sometimes overcome right. But not forever; nor for longer than it takes for fiber of heart to grow strong. For right never dies; and its instincts cannot be crushed. Force will arise against force; and men will fight as they love, and as they pray."
    While romanticizing war as a conflict between good and evil Chamberlain still admits his hesitations to support the war recalling "some not faint reminders of what war means, which made me put the case under such cross-examination."