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Title: "Have Men of Action Been More Beneficial to the World Than Men of Thought?" Debate Speech of William M. Coleman for the Dialectic Society, June 2, 1857: Electronic Edition.
Author: Coleman, William Macon, 1838-ca. 1916
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. 33K
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:
2005-05-04, 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 William M. Coleman for the Dialectic Society, June 2, 1857
Author: William M. Coleman
Description: 14 pages, 15 page images
Note: Call number 40152 (University Archives, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
Topics covered:
Reading and Writing/Reading
Examples of Student Writing/Debating Society Writings
Religion and Philosophy/Christianity and Christian Theology
Religion and Philosophy/Other Philosophies

Editorial practices
The text has been encoded using the recommendations for Level 5 of the TEI in Libraries Guidelines.
Transcript of the Dialectic Society address. Originals are in the University Archives, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Original grammar, punctuation, and spelling have been preserved.
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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

Coleman's debate speech, though incomplete, claims that reason is a divine gift. Freedom of thought must precede freedom of action, the mind of the scholar and heart of the Christian directing mortals in the only path to happiness.
"Have Men of Action Been More Beneficial to the World Than Men of Thought?" Debate Speech of William M. Coleman for the Dialectic Society, June 2, 18571
Coleman, William Macon, 1838-ca. 1916

Cover page

Page 3
felt the influences of Christianity." My opponent should have shone his proofs2 for such startling assertions: as it is, I deny it in toto the facts in toto, and leave you gentlemen to decide between us.
Scarsely less exceptionable is his view of the Chinese. The argument, their great antiquity and early civilization, was used by Voltaire against the Christian religion, and has been fully answered by Tytler. And I think the hall will hardly expect me to take charge of the long-tailed, puppy-eating, man-poisoning people and defend them as being men of thought
Unfortunately for himself has the gentleman alluded to the battle of Tours. Suppose the result had been different would it not have been equally the result of attributed to action. But the genius of Charles Martel and the superior skill of his troops, enabled gained him the victory over the more active, but but less intelligent hordes that opposed him.
But to Germany he goes for his stronghold. Here it is. The Germans are thinkers,

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and therefore do not enjoy civil liberty! Why not say with equal propriety that Russia, Spain, South American and the Eastern world are in bondage and are therefore distinguished for men of thought? Germany has struggled, but other causes have kept her down.
Before I leave the gentleman's arguments, let me thank him for the new light he has thrown upon the nature of thought, when he says or certainly intimates, that it brings on repose and luxury which latter evil has destroyed the mightiest states.
In comparing men of thought with men of action, let us look for a moment into the nature of their respective departments, and on which is the more powerful agent to influence and affect the human race.
The soul of man is the breath of Jehovah, and in the exercise of Reason, man as a living mortal being approaches nearest his Creator. Mind, or soul if you will, is the distinguishing feature of our race, its own earnest of immortality. Will it then be rational to suppose that its workings are

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disproportioned to its glorious origin? No. Mankind have always held the powers of mind reverence. In the days of Hesiod and Homer, men of thought were ranked among the immor Celestials. Pallas leaping from the brain of Jupiter, the eloquence of Hermes and the melody of Apollo's lyre are significant emblems. And this not in an age when mind had stretched far and wide her empire, but when action had its widest field and fairest prospects for supremacy. Wild beast were to be destroyed and more savage men to be subdued. Constant feuds gave little time for else than most vigorous action. Exploits of daring and strength were indeed highly appreciated, yet here the power of mind is found to be superior. True Hercules was deified for his labours in behalf of man, yet he was ranked but half a god. Should any one deny the supremacy of mind to action in the barbarous and semi-barous ages of the world, let him seek an answer from the Sybil at Delphi,

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the priests of Egypt and of Persia, the Brahmins of India and the Druids of the Celts. Who could play like these upon the human heart, or grasp with stronger hands the reins to direct its course? But why dwell upon this topic? Why call you to look on the brilliant atchievements of Oratory, the chastening and happy effects of Poetry? The history of the past is replete with the power of thought, and the present shows that it is the great high way to honour and destinction. The influence of thought rolls on like a mighty river which its tributaries have swollen to a mightier magnitude. And so it will roll on when men who have astonished and alarmed the world by their deeds will be forgotten. When the name of Alexander shall be lost among men Plato will live. Tasso will be read with delight when the Crusaders are regarded as myths of the past. Philosophers will kneel at the shrines of Newton and Bacon, and man do homage to Shakespeare's genius

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when Brittannia's bulwarks are swept from the deep; and the lonely Thames sweeps moaning by the ruins of the dismantled city, so rolls the Simois 3 now, and so the yellow Tiber, but their glory has4 not all de-parted. To-day in many a village school war rages under the Trojan 5 walls, and the wanderings of Eneas, and the woes of unhappy Dido are again remembered.
Gentlemen may call this declamation if they like, but it is true. The power of thought is so apparent, that had it not been contrasted with the power of action, it would be useless to have entered the lists in opposition. But the power of action is gigantic. Man like the ocean is forever heaving, struggling, restless. The longing to be something better than what we are is inherent in all the sons of men, and man toils on. The principle of action knows no bounds; there is nothing except what the eternal laws of Nature has forbidden that it will not attempt, nothing at which it will be

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discouraged. The energies of the human bosom are always in a glow and their fire is extinguished but with life. Go to the queen cities of the world and see the busy throngs that hurry to and fro. Take refuge from the smoke and din of towns in the quiet country, see there the same enterprise and industry, the same incentives to exertion. The same is heard in the ring of the hammer and the anvil, the clack of the loom, the rattling of wheels and the buzz of whiz of the engine. All is life; all is action.
But although such is the case, where we compare the power of thought with the power of action, we are surprised as much at the supremacy of the one as at the plenitude of the other. Action sits georgiously enthroned, and the glittering jewels of her crown excite the crowd below to struggle on. Thought quietly and gently from below herself points out the way. Action is powerful by example, Thought in all the elements that constitute power. Action may sweep like a tempest over the earth and hurl to the dust all that is venerable and all that sacred, may tear

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down well established governments and substitute the wildest theories, but it can not strike one chord in the human bosom. Thought controlls man himself. It is an emenation6 from the Creator and and is loaned to us for the noblest purposes.
If men of thought, then, are able to exert greater influence on their fellows than men of action, let us next see what are some of the grand objects they have respectively accomplished.
It is a dreary prospect to look back over the scenes of past ages. Though the eye lingers with some pleasure upon the times of Socrates and Aristotle, of Virgil and of Cicero, yet these rise but for a moment above the surrounding gloom, and relapse into their former barbarism. And what was this cloud that veiled the ancient in darkness—thick darkness that might be felt? I answer Ignorance and Superstition. And should the question be asked when did they begin to emerge, I would reply, towards the close of the

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middl ages when learning was revived. It may be argued, though that happiness does not advance equally with civilization, and that the conventionalities and distinctions of social life bring evils in their train which more than balance the good; in other words that man in a savage state is in the happier condition. This may do for an Epicurean, but for one who rightly estimates man's noble destiny it weighs lightly. To roam the fields and paddle the rivers in primaeval simplicity, to know no care, to be satisfied with the spontaneous productions of Nature, and perchance have the ear regalled with the death cry of a victim or two, must surely be delightful to the admirers of the good old times, or rather man in a state of nature.
But what roused man from the torpor in which he had been lying, and inspired him to shake off the chains in which he had been so long confined? Was it the barons who forced the Magna Charta from John? Alas! no; for it was laughed to scorn by the Tudors and trampled under foot by the Stuarts.

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We look for it in vain in the heroic ages of the ancient world. Alexander and Caesar filled the soul with thirstings after glory, but hardly embued it with philanthropy. I hold it true that freedom of thought must precede fredom of action, as the fire must burn before the engine can give its ponderous strokes. Where then are we to look for this star that has risen in glory over our globe? In the cells of Wirtemburg, the cloistered monk Martin Luther . He the patient student who after years of almost hopeless toil and disappointment at length emerged into a glorious light. He who nailed his theses to the door, and bade the Pope and his myrmidons defiance. Here was the beginning of the new era. Here was the dawn of the then glorious future we now enjoy. Then men began though astonished at their own recklessness to ask why man should toil slave for his brother. Europe was beginning to wake from her slumbers. Human rights began to be discussed. The People now began to feel their strength, and priests and prelates were struck dumb with astonishment

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and dismay. The Press soon lent her aid, and the tide rolled on. On it rolled to the Brittish Isle and back to the Netherlands and France, until it was lost in the swelling waves of papal opposition. I have dwelt upon this period because I believe it to be more pregnant with "the seeds of things," as Bacon has it,7 than any other. Had I time to trace the thread of history and show the effects of this new doctrine upon the world, its power, its popularity, its ushering in a better day, its brilliant promises now reallized, and its lasting and happy effects influences on mankind, the argument deduced would amply repay me. This I have said was the age of awakening, and I think it has been satisfactorily shown that the mighty revolution owed its origin to the greatest thinker of his times.
Take Charles XII, Gustavus8 Adolphus, Fredrick the great or Napoleon, or any one distinguished for his actions; aye take them all together, and compare the effects existing now that they have produced with those of Luther, and see what a faint glimmer to the blazing pile. And where it does glimmer it is painful for the patriot to look. Where is France? Sunk so low beneath the pressure of despotism

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that were Louis Quatorze to rise from the dead and revisit the scenes of his glory, he would imagine that the iron dynasty of the Bourbons still weilded the sceptre and ground the people as of yore. And Peter the great whom historians have delighted to honour, do his countrymen glory in his name? Perhaps they may who have inherited the power established for his own ambition, but ask one of the fifty thousand peasants who are slaves to a single noblemen, or of the exiles in Siberia, or of the victims of the knave, and you will hear a different tale. Has not the pathway of men of action been through broken hearts and human blood? Has not the wail of the wounded and dying gone up from many a battle field as witnesses against them? But your boasted men of action of the nineteenth century, perhaps you think them free from such a charge? Alas! no; we have heard the sob of the widdow whom they have robbed of her little store, and seen the infant cast a beggar upon the world, and the fatherless boy they have cheated of his patrimony earning a scanty

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subsistence by the labour of his little hardened hands. You have seen the poor ground into the earth by him whose wealth made him the "highly respectable citizen, and you heard the poor man's cry of anguish, and saw a fawning public uphold the hands of the oppressor, but there was none to succour the distressed. Gentlemen this is no fancy sketch. You whose heads are whiter than ours can vouch with sorrow for its truth. Thousands of such men whom the world calls active, enterprising and honourable, stalk the streets of our towns and cities. Thus have these men of action amassed their riches, and while they have unintentionally assisted in rolling on the ball of civilization, they have outraged the feelings and trampled on the hearts of their fellows. And such it seems to me should be the case. I think it cannot be denied, that men of action—of untiring action, work to promote their own glory, labour to reach the goal of their ambition. I appeal to history and to your own experience, gentlemen, if such is not the case. Of course there are exceptions. There has been a Howard and a Washington, and the heralds of the cross

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have sacrificed themselves in propagating the truths of Christianity. But alas! they are so few in the great crowd that is ever toiling up the hill of life, that they are almost lost to sight. Not so with men of thought, true many have been and are ambitious to leave a name behind them, but this is inocent if they wish to distinguish themselves by being useful to their race. Whitney, Fulton, Morse and Franklin were not criminal though ambitious. Well might they be, and well are they repaid by the blessings of their race. Calm and meditative, studying man, reflecting on Time and Eternity
But from the nature of the case we expect men of thought to be lovers of their race. Calm and meditative, studying man, reflecting on Time and Eternity, they despise the vain pomp and tinsel of earth; and, looking calmly with the eye of faith to the grand scene that will be enacted when Time is no more, they love and serve their God. And their writings show, that with the enlarged mind of the schollar and9

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the heart of the Christian, they have justified the ways of God to men, and directed mortals in the only path of happiness. Such men as these are the pride and glory of our race; to them are the eyes of their countrymen turned in the hour of of adversity. Before these how must the sceptered monarch and the leader of victorious arms vanish into air. But they are immortal. When the mighty men of valour are covered with the veil of oblivion and there are none to hymn their praises, then will the names of their teachers and benefactors be freshly engraven on the hearts of the people for whom they laboured.
Such, Mr. President have been some of the comparative ends respectively attained by men of thought and men of action, and such in my opinion their respective characters.

15 verso page


1. Dialectic Society Addresses, UA. The speech, which was once bound and subsequently unbound, consists of a cover sheet and fourteen numbered pages of text. The cover sheet contains the following information: "Debater's Speech./1857/Have men of Action been more beneficial to the world than men of Thought?/Negative./ W. M. Coleman ./June 1857." Below the date are two columns headed "Affirm." and "Neg." and identifying H. T. Brown and Lee McAfee as debaters taking the affirmative and H. C. Jones and W. M. Coleman as debaters taking the negative. "Decided in the Neg." appears below the two columns. A second hand has written "Coleman " at the top of the cover sheet. The subsequent pages were bound out of order as follows: 7, 8, 5, 3, 4, 6, 9 through 16. Because pages 1 and 2 are missing, the speech begins in mid-sentence.

2. Coleman originally wrote proffs, then wrote of on top of ff.

3. The Simois River in northwest Turkey, a tributary of the Scamander, is near the site of ancient Troy.

4. Coleman wrote has on top of is.

5. Coleman wrote j on top of g.

6. Coleman placed a small X above the second e of emenation.

7. Francis Bacon, Novum Organum , I.121 (1620).

8. Coleman wrote v on top of b.

9. A page break occurs after and, which ends page 15; on the verso appear the words "Have men of Thought been more beneficial to the world than men of."