Robert M.T. Hunter's Fourth of July Address
    by Ellen Adams

On July 4th, 1839, Robert M.T. Hunter gave a speech celebrating American independence and various sources of democracy.  At the time, Hunter was a U.S. Representative who would later became the Speaker of the House and a Senator.  He also attended the University in 1826, and served on the Board of Visitors from 1845-1851.  Hunter’s passionate speech is filled with complex references to historical events and important texts.  Here are some of the highlights:

1. Hunter starts his speech by discussing the contributions of the Athenians, making several mentions in particular of Pericles, “who changed the entire spirit of their institutions.”  Pericles was a major proponent of Athenian democracy, and led the Delian League.  The Delian League was originally based in Delos, where Pericles “seized the common treasure.”  In the midst of discussing the democratic and cultural achievements of the Athenians, Hunter quotes “Elegy Written in a Country Courtyard,” published by Thomas Gray in 1751:

                        "Hands that the rod of empire might have swayed,
                          Then waked to ecstasy the living lyre,”

2. Continuing with the theme of Athenian greatness, Hunter references a painting of Alexander the Great by Apelles of Kos.  He uses this reference to emphasize the lasting impact Athens and Greek civilization had on the world.  Though the “colors of Apelles have faded… the radiant forms of Athenian genius must endure.”

3. Jumping ahead in history to the founding of the New World, Hunter discusses the rise of republican institutions.  He mentions two groups of people who fled persecution in the Old World, the Cavaliers and the Round Heads, who brought with them, “a love of adventure and a spirit of independence.”  Roundheads were supporters of a constitutional monarchy and Parliament during the English Civil War in the 17th century.  Many Roundheads were Puritans, who later settled in New England where, “the republican spirit [was] self-educated in the wilderness, [and] reached a high degree of cultivation.”  Cavaliers were the opponents of Roundheads, and supported the King and an absolute monarchy.  Ironically, it was this un-republican group that became the mascot of Virginia.  Fun fact:  The American football club at Oxford University is also called the Cavaliers.

4. Hunter honors the spirit of the Founding fathers of the American Revolution by quoting Thomas Moore’s oriental romance, “Lalla Rookh.”  The poem is about the daughter of an emperor engaged to a king of the Persian state Bukhara.  While journeying to meet him, a poet regales her, and the work is comprised mainly of stories told by him to Lalla.  The quote used by Hunter is from “The Veiled Prophet of Khorassan,”

                        "That high and lofty name,
                         The light, the landmark on the cliffs of fame,"

Spoken by the hero Azim, this quote muses if the way to free a man from the “sloth” of  life is by teaching him virtue that will allow his name to be famous after his death.

5. UVa has always had a complex history with slavery, a fact put on display in Hunter’s speech, when he uses a quote from Horace to defend the institution of slavery.  Hunter argues that slavery allows black people to live in a country where they “subsist with most comfort and [are] best fitted for occupation.”  To argue with this sentiment, Hunter purports, would be as useful as trying to reason with the “caput insanabile tribus Anticyris” – in other words, an incurably insane person.  This quote comes from an Ode of the famous Roman poet Horace, and literally translates to “a person incurable by three Anticyrae.”  The Anticyrae were islands off the coast of Greece known for bountiful amounts of the plant hellebore, which was once used as a treatment for madness – so a person incurable by three Anticyrae would be truly insane.

“Let one spirit of the first born Cain
Reign in all bosoms, that each heart being set
On bloody courses, the rude scene may end,
And darkness be the burier of the dead." 

This quote, from “Part 2 of Henry IV,” by William Shakespeare, is Hunter’s way of discouraging acts of violence to end slavery and disturb the societal organizations of the South.

6. At one point, Hunter turns to the reputation of Virginia, claiming it was not as prestigious a commonwealth as it once was.  He urges the “sons” of Virginia to rally around their home state and restore it to its former political glory.  He compares the case of Virginia to that of Randolph at Bannockburn, stating, “that the rose had fallen from her chaplet.”  This is in reference to the Battle of Bannockburn, a victory in the First War for Scottish Independence in 1314.  Thomas Randolph was a commander of Scottish troops; at one point in the battle, Randolph miscalculated and let English troops pass by where his army was supposed to be holding them back.  Legend has it that Robert the Bruce, King of Scots, exclaimed to Randolph, “A rose has fallen from your chaplet, Randolph!”  Another commander offered to assist Randolph, but Bruce insisted Randolph fix his mistake for himself, as Virginia needed to fix its mistakes and regain respect in the United States.

7. Hunter gives particular praise to the editor of the Farmers Register, Edmund Ruffin, whom he says “has rendered [Virginia] more service than most, or perhaps, all of its politicians in the last twenty years,”.  He compares Ruffin to “a Sinclair or a Coke,” referring to Sir John Sinclair and Thomas Coke.  Sinclair was a Scottish politician who was also known for his contributions to the science of agriculture, and was a major proponent for trying new methods of agriculture.  Coke was a politician from Wales known for playing a significant role in sparking the British Agricultural Revolution.  Ironically, the acclaimed Ruffin shut down the Farmers Register only three years after this speech was given.

8. Returning to his discussion of Virginia’s lost glory, Hunter says that if “the leaves of Virginia's glory, like the holly of Avenel, ‘have been blighted by a half hour's frost,’ he should bear them, in the spirit of the Graeme, ‘so near the sky as to make amends for their stinted growth.’”  This is a reference to the novel “The Abbot,” by famous Scottish author Walter Scott, published in 1830.  Avenel refers to the castle in which the story takes place, and Graeme is the protagonist of the novel.  Graeme serves as page for Lady Avenel, and is initially disliked by servants and others in the castle.  He eventually “makes amends for [his] stinted growth,” and becomes the Avenel heir.



Apelles of Kos,

The English Civil Wars: 1640-1660, by Blair Worden

Lalla Rookh, from Columbia University

A New and Literal Translation of Juvenal and Persius, Volume 2, by Martin Maden

A Biographical Dictionary of Eminent Scotsmen, Volume 1, edited by Robert Chambers

The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 94, No. 1 (Jan., 1986), pp. 3-2, by W.M. Mathew

Coke of Norfolk and His Friends, by Anna Maria Diana Wilhelmina Pickering Stirling

Walter Scott Library from the University of Edinburgh