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Title: "Have Men of Action Been More Beneficial to the World Than Men of Thought?" Debate Speech of Hamilton C. Jones, Jr., for the Dialectic Society, June 2, 1857: Electronic Edition.
Author: Jones, Hamilton Chamberlain, Jr., 1837-1904
Editor: Erika Lindemann
Funding from the State Library of North Carolina supported the electronic publication of this title.
Text transcribed by Erika Lindemann
Images scanned by Mara E. Dabrishus
Text encoded by Brian Dietz
First Edition, 2005
Size of electronic edition: ca. 29K
Publisher: The University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
© This work is the property of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It may be used freely by individuals for research, teaching and personal use as long as this statement of availability is included in the text
The electronic edition is a part of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill digital library, Documenting the American South.
Languages used in the text: English
Revision history:
2005-04-25, Brian Dietz finished TEI/XML encoding.
Part of a series:
This transcribed document is part of a digital collection, titled True and Candid Compositions: The Lives and Writings of Antebellum Students in North Carolina
written by Lindemann, Erika
Title of collection: Dialectic Society Records (#40152), University Archives, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Title of document: "Have Men of Action Been More Beneficial to the World Than Men of Thought?" Debate Speech of Hamilton C. Jones, Jr., for the Dialectic Society, June 2, 1857
Author: Hamilton C. Jones, Jr.
Description: 10 pages, 12 page images
Note: Call number 40152 (University Archives, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
Topics covered:
Politics and Government/General
Examples of Student Writing/Debating Society Writings
Religion and Philosophy/Other Philosophies
War/Other Wars
Editorial practices
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Transcript of the Dialectic Society address.Originals are in the University Archives, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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For more information about transcription and other editorial decisions, see Dr. Erika Lindemann's explanation under the section Editorial Practices.

Document Summary

Hamilton's debate speech claims that science and the arts have conferred enormous benefits on the world. Enlightened minds prompted the French Revolution and the Reformation, whereas men of terrible action produced the Reign of Terror and oppressed Ireland, Hungary, Poland, Greece, and Italy.
"Have Men of Action Been More Beneficial to the World Than Men of Thought?" Debate Speech of Hamilton C. Jones, Jr. , for the Dialectic Society, June 2, 18571
Jones, Hamilton Chamberlain, Jr., 1837-1904

Cover page

Page 1

Mr. President and Fellow members.

The Gentleman who has just taken his seat and to whom I have the honor of replying although declining in his prefatory remarks to render us his own version of this question has however during the course of his speech so shaped his argument as to give a pretty clear idea of what he considers its debatable points, who are men of action and who of thought. Without making issue with him as to the correctness of his rendering I shall content myself with ascertaining that place of discussion that he has, probably inadvertently laid down, and attempting to meet as far as possible the argument he has advanced. The Gentleman manifests in the very outset his conviction of the weakness of the cause he has espoused, by setting aside as useless all those great truths which the history of man from the Creation down to the present time, has discovered and by substituting for these a course of reasoning based upon certain theories of his own, which together with his inferences are utterly fallacious and cannot be supported by any course of reasoning however subtile to which he may resort. Let us then take a cursory view at this position and ascertain how far he has succeeded

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in establishing it. He starts with the physical anatomy of man as an evidence that his Creator intended him for an active rather than a meditative being. This I think he has adduced merely as a starting point for it has not the slightest bearing on the point in question which is not, from which are we to expect the most good or evil, but from which do we actually experience it.
His next step is to assail men of meditation as being skeptics and science and literature as vehicles of their obnoxious tenets, from whose baneful influences he says man will never know exemption whose sting is more cruel than the sword more fatal than the asp. And here the Gentleman adopts that vain sophistry so often resorted to by the enemies of learning men who wish to disparage it either because they are unable to excel or because they have not the inclination to attempt it who would suffer man to grope on in his pristine state of ignorance and superstition from fear of his becoming an apostate from the Christian Religion and a emmersing himself from in the dark waters of infidelity. And where I ask did this vain therory take its origin and among what class is it most prevalent? The answer is written upon its very face It sprang from ignorance without substantiation

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and the ignorant must be its advocates because it is to them a consolation for their own deficiences. And the Gentleman himself advocates advances this absurd doctrine as if it were an axiom and needed no defense, and in consequence he makes no attempt at its support. And let me tell him that if he wishes to maintain before this Hall that the human intellect is so far weakened and impaired by cultivation as to doubt its own divine origin, he must explore some mine of wisdom to which others have had not access and to which God grant, they may never have. But I should have been pleased beyond measure to have heard the Gentleman enlarge his views, to have heard his arguments in defense of his favorite idea and lastly his explanation of this self-destroying property of the human mind. For I am at a loss to imagine even his initiatory step. Is its appreciation of its own powers lessened because forsooth it is unable to throw aside the veil that covers its operations with such an impenetrable mistery? No: It rather impresses upon him the conviction of the grandure of that controlling power which, while it directs his erring steps, gives him no clue to its own constitution. And when in the course of his researches he wanders among the wonderful evidences of the

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operation of mind, sees its trace upon land and sea, contemplates the result of mans ingenuity that has contributed so abundantly to waft conviction cultivation to the remotest corners of the earth; or rises in imagination among those ever-wandering worlds, the planets, and speculates upon the almost superhuman wisdom that has reduced their motions to laws that enable the Astronomer to calculate with such accuracy their revolutions in their orbits, then turns upon that instrument of these astounding results, his doubts are dispelled and he involuntarially exclaims "truly the hand that made us is Divine". But the refutation of this argument is, as I said stamped upon its face so it scarcely deserves notice. As to the subject he has broached in connection with his notice of the French Revolution I think that his impetuosity has again outstriped his discretion. He imputes to the French Philosophers the crime of originating the Revolution and points in horror to its consequences. And here gain he transgresses the limits of his subject. For we must argue this question in relation to the good or evil that arises from the legitimate sphere of these two classes respectively and if a Philosopher deserts this2 legitimate sphere and engages

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in the strife of Politics, philosophy cannot be held responsible for his crimes. The Gentleman instances Voltaire as one of the instigators of the Revolution. Granted that it is so. Yet, if he contends that he embarked in Politics during this eventful period, his is then the province of defending him, not mine, for he then becomes a man of action. But whatever may now be the opinion of the world of this Revolution, the motives of the enlightened minds that first put this ball in motion were, beyond doubt, purely patriotic and their cause the cause of Liberty. Roman Catholocism, which for centuries had fettered and tramelled its upward progress and whose baneful effects still rested upon unhappy France, threatened to baffle every effort of the patriots to cast off the galling yoke. Politics were fashioned after its image, power was reputed divine, the people were traveling on in blind and ignominous obedience to its corrupt teachings, which made all inquiry into the validity of its institutions a blasphemy and a heresy. The Reformation had thrown new light upon the subject and reason began to supplant superstition and we hear the spirit of Philosophy raising its clarion voice against this degrading tyrany. Its notes at first cautious, by degrees swelled

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into one mighty burst of indignation, and France at once resolved to be free. It was to be a Revolution in which enlightenment was to supplant superstition an liberty, tyranny. How far this holy design was thwarted by the mad spirits of fanatacism originating from the conciousness of newborn freedom and the grasping ambition of such men as Danton and Murat [possibly Jean Paul Marat]: The history of the time but too well attests. The names of the French Philosophers are handed down to us as the champions of Liberty. Whatever anathemas the world may heap upon Voltaire for his attempting to overthrow the worship of his God, they cannot accuse him of conspiring against the liberties of his country. His infidelity sprang from some darker corner of his heart. Its turbid waters could never flow from the limpid fountain of Philosophy. But, he says the baneful influence of his doctrine will continue to poison the human mind as long as books are read or wherever civilization extends her dominions. Does he adduce this to prove that the light of knowledge should be trameled in its vigorous growth, that philosophy should be bloted out from the world because forsooth a few of its devoted have deserted the pristine faith at a time when the whole nation was tinctured

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with skepticism? Would he leave the untutored mind to the fearful ravages so often incident upon reading atheistical works? I hope not. Let him rather seek to arm the understanding with weapons of cultivation that these impious and alluring precepts may forever be erased from their places upon the pages of books. But he turns from his review of the reign of Terror with the bloody streets of Paris before his eyes, the escutcheon of France blured and blotted with the stain of Civil War, the bright hopes of liberty suddenly arrested from the Patriots by Robespiere and Danton, men of action! dark and terrible action! and asks who but men of action have ever been the apostles of liberty. No wonder if the guant and emaciated form of unhappy Ireland had arisen before his eyes and silenced his voice ere this strange and unnatural question fell from his lips. No wonder if the shade of "Warsaw's last Champion" 3 had suddenly started up and pointed him in horror to that "leagued oppression" that snatched the last hope of freedom from his country and ask were not these men of action. Let him turn his eyes to where the battle wreath still encircles poor, down-trodden Hungary where the blood of her martyred patriots scarcely dry cries out against

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tyranny, where the chains their conquerors forged are still bright and ask himself if men of action are not the scourges of humanity. But some may accuse me of attempting to disparage those who have bravely battled in their country's cause, and here I disown any such attempt. I honor them for their patriotism and posterity will award them a place high upon fames immortal scroll that shall grow brighter and brighter as it is handed down to each succeeding generation. But a single glance at the history of the world will show us but too clearly that the march of tyranny has been in a majority of cases almost irrisitable. Greece, Italy, Ireland, Poland and Hungary still pine in chains, their efforts have been of no avail, and may stand but a short time until they behold our own fair land writhing under the same iron heel of oppression. The history of these ill-fated nations show but too clearly that the cause of oppression is in a majority of cases, triumphant. And though our own country gave to the enslaved of the whole world an example of what may be accomplished by a people inferior to their oppressors when starting up from their ignominious servitude, writhing under the sting of conscious degragation they unfurl the sacred banner of Liberty to the breeze, and drawing their swords in her holy cause and resolve never to sheath it until that banner waves in triumph over

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freemen. Yet we shall find but few who engage in a similar struggle under the same auspicious circumstances, for though we were combatting the first nation of the Globe, yet in our veins coursed that same Anglo-Saxon blood which can never warm the loathsome carcass of a Slave. Besides the consciousness of the justice of our cause, we were blessed with men, "who knew their rights and knowing dared maintain".4 There5 may be a time, and God 6 grant that it is near, when, under the genial influence of the reign of bearing,7 the natural asperity of man's heart may be softened and this giant march of oppression may be checked forever. But hitherto it certainly has been too frequently unrestrained. But the Gentleman's arguments were not even plausible when he came to draw a paralell between the two classes, for he speaks of the liability of men of thought to be hurried into excesses while men of action are in no way liable to the same error. But upon what strange theory was this strange theory based, upon what authority was it advanced? Is the man of literature and science, the devotee of letters, when excluded from the noise and excitements of the world without, when poreing over the pages of books by the midnight lamp, subjected to any temptation to forsake the broad road of truth and rush madly into excesses, when the public must test the truth of his doctrine by that fearful ordeal of criticism? If so, what is it? For I confess my ignorance, for his sole aim is centered upon that one object, the discovery of latent truths

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that are everywhere scattered through this world of chaos and wishes these to enlighten the minds of his fellow beings. It is by truth and not by fallacy he can hope to win for himself a perpituity of fame. What mode of excitement is there in this wearysome pilgrimage to present the tranquil flow of reason? I am sure, none. But are military heroes as well defended against the invideous attacks of their own passions? How many instances does history present of the impossibility of checking a revolution exactly at the right time? And the moral grandeur of the self-sacrificing disposition displayed by Washington in the revolutionary in the surrender of his vested authority at a time when but a word from him might have moulded this country into a monarchy and seated himself on the throne, has now for him the love and veneration of the whole civilized world. Because experience had proven that human nature was ambitious and grasping, and they could not think that he would form an exception to the general rule. And here I leave the Gentleman and his arguments. I have sought to follow him in the course of his speech without misrepresenting him and I think I cannot be accused of it. As for the benefits that Science and the arts have confered upon the world they are too evident to everyone to make it necessary for me to point them out. Every day gives evidence of what a tremendous agency they exert in the work of civilization and we may fondly hope that those who go forth from the shady walks of this our Alma mater may be more efficient instruments in the hands of Providence for elevating our own country than those who wear the helmet and the sword.


1. Dialectic Society Addresses, UA. The speech, which was once bound and subsequently unbound, consists of a cover sheet and nine unnumbered pages of text. The cover sheet contains the following information: "A Speech./Delivered in the Dialectic Hall,/June 2nd 1857/By/ H. C. Jones Jr. /Subject./Which has been the source of greatest benefit to the world, men of thought or action?" Below the question Jones lists himself and W. M. Coleman in a bracket labeled "Aff."; to the right of the bracket appear the names of H. T. Brown and L. McAfee . A second hand has drawn in a bracket and written "neg." to the right of Brown and McAfee's names. Another hand has written "Jones" at the top of the cover sheet. Hamilton Chamberlain Jones, Jr. (1837-1904) graduated in 1858 and became a lawyer.

2. Jones wrote is on top of unrecovered characters.

3. Thomas Campbell, The Pleasures of Hope, line 357 (1799). The reference is to Thaddeus Kosciusko (1746-1817) , the Polish general who fought with the colonists in the American Revolution, then in 1794 led Polish forces against Russian and Prussian soldiers in an unsuccessful campaign for Polish independence.

4. "Virginia and South Carolina,"The [Staunton, VA] Vindicator , November 30, 1860, p. 2.

5. Jones wrote There on top of an erased word.

6. Jones wrote G on top of g.

7. An unrecovered letter is inserted between r and i.