Centenary of Greek Independence

March 25, 1930

Mr. Speaker, ladies and gentlemen of the House, Greece on the 25th of March, 1821 declared her independence. It is my purpose at this hour to give expression of congratulations to Greece that she has enjoyed 100 years of self-government. I shall not recall the battles, the sufferings, the wanton cruelties and massacres, but the glory of Greece under her independence.

Scholars who study history of the ages learn that Greece was the ancient center of luxury and culture that dates from the earliest era of civilization. The heroic deeds and valor of the Hellenic soldiers were marked with patriotism and intrepid courage at the battles of Marathon and Thermopylae; a century and a half later Alexander the Great, the conqueror of Asia, a victorious hero, placing his sword upon the altar of fame wept because he had no other worlds to conquer. Greece for many years held supremacy on land and sea and was devoted to the public weal. Her people naturally became engrossed with mental development, culture, and refinement, at the expense of physical endurance and time-honored war record of their past. The invading nations with barbaric strength and cruelty were victorious in their campaigns, and thus Greece in 1453 was forced under the Ottoman power. The Turks ruled, with the exception of a few years of Venetian control, until the London protocol of February 3, 1830. This subjugation carries out the philosophy of Petri, the greatest living archeologist, who attempts to prove a nation's power lasts but few hundred years, when it passes into the age of wealth and thereby its people become slaves to ease and pleasure. Then after centuries of mental decay the nation starts anew with a physical strength augmented by strife to again pass through the periods of sculpture, painting, literature, music, and the sciences, and like the phoenix rises from its ashes young and beautiful.

In the year 1814 a society of young Greeks was formed for the purpose of creating a spirit of revolution to throw off the Turkish yoke. This club was successful in raising a regiment that had several skirmishes in the interest of independence. After eight years of revolution the strife for independence made such substantial progress that it created a deep sympathy in the United States. Committees were formed and funds collected for the relief of the victims of the war. President Monroe in his message to Congress on the 3rd of December 1822 brought the revolution to the attention of the American people, which animated the following resolution, offered in the House by Mr. Webster on January 19, 1824:

Resolved. That provisions ought to be made by law defraying the expense incident to the appointment of an agent or commissioner to Greece, whenever the President shall deem it expedient to make such an appointment.

Mr. Webster spoke in favor of the resolution, from which, in part, I quote:

What I propose, and what I shall say, has reference to modern not to ancient Greece, to the living not to the dead. ...

There the oppressed are perhaps no better than the oppressors, but in care of Greece there are millions of Christian men, not without knowledge, not without refinement, not without strong thirst for all the pleasures of civilized life, trampled into the very earth century after century by a barbarous, pillaging, relentless soldiery.

Mr. Poinsett, of South Carolina. Opposed the resolution on the ground that the commissioners might fall into the hands of the Turks, an event, he said:

By no means impossible, in the present state of Greece -- what would lie their fate? The Porte has not been remarkable for its strict observance of the laws of nations, in its intercourse with the powers of Europe, and it is not probable that such a court would be very scrupulous in its conduct toward a nation whose flag it has never acknowledged. Or let us imagine, what is much more probable, that on the rumor of our having taken any measure in favor of Greece, the barbarous and infuriated Janissaries at Smyrna were to assassinate our consul and fellow citizens residing there; might not a war grow out of such acts?

Mr. Randolph of Virginia, also opposed the resolution, substantiating the views of Mr. Poinsett, to which Mr. Clay made the following reply:

If, in a proposition so simple, so plain, so harmless, so free from all real danger as this, we were to shut our hearts from the influence of every generous, every manly feeling, let gentlemen say so at once. But he could fell the gentleman from Virginia that he who follows the dictates of a heart warmed with humanity and with the love of freedom has a better guide than that cold, unfeeling, pence-calculating policy which shrinks before it is menaced and will never do a noble deed for fear of some remote, possible consequence of conceivable danger.

Mr. Webster spoke several times upon the resolution. In his last speech he said:

They look to us as the great republic of the earth; and they ask us, by our common faith, whether we can forget that they are struggling. as we once struggled, for what we now so happily enjoy. I cannot say, sir, that they will succeed; that rests with Heaven. But for myself, sir, if I should to-morrow hear that they have failed; that their last phalanx had sunk beneath the Turkish scimitar; that the flames of their last city had sunk in its ashes; and that naught remained but the wide melancholy waste where Greece once was, I should still reflect, with the most heartfelt satisfaction, that I have asked you, in the name of 7,000,000 of freemen, that you would give them at least the cheering of one friendly voice.

Greece in the transition period has made great progress since her independence in 1830. Then the population of Athens was 14,000 -- now 1,000,000; then Piraeus, the port of Athens, had but one building, the customhouse, seldom more than two or three sailing vessels in the harbor at one time; now the population is nearly 200,000. and as a shipping center exceeds that of Marseilles. Then the trade with the United States was only nominal; now it surpasses the total of all the Balkan states. A national bank was established in 1841. which gave Athens her first international financial credit. No nation develop under the yoke of another, as Greece so well exemplified dluring the 100 years of her independence.

We should not forget the obligation the world owes to Greece, when she cared for one million and a half of Greek and Armenian refugees. She fed them; they were taken into the homes of the citizens and treated as members of the families. Greek women formed themselves into societies and taught the refugees the art of embroidering; rented shops where the results of their labors might be exhibited and sold. The humanity of Greece will ever remain as evidence of her Christian spirit. Greece is fast developing many industries, improving her municipalities toward a more perfect plan to meet modern civilization. There are 500,000 Greeks in the United States, nearly ail of whom are members of the Orthodox Church. Many have been naturalized and lake their places in the industries and American institutions, in the arts and academies of learning, where they have proven to be diligent and patriotic American citizens.

The Grecian motto is true to their faith. "ὑπέρ πίστεως καὶ πατρίδος" -- "for faith and for country."

© Order of AHEPA

Next Post Robert P. Skinner on the Centenary of Greek Independence