Fourth of July at Pawnee City, 1872

The Fourth of July has traditionally been the occasion for patriotic oratory. However, the residents of Pawnee City were unpleasantly surprised by a speech delivered at their Independence Day celebration in 1872. A letter signed “ONE WHO HEARD HIM,” published July 20, a few weeks after the event by the Nebraska Advertiser of Brownville, blasted the speaker:

“The morning of the Fourth the orator [a Dr. Page of Brownville] took the stand to deliver the oration. At the very start it was seen a great mistake had been made. After boring our people for half an hour or more by the way of introduction he sallied forth in a political speech, heaping vile epithets upon the North for what they had done during the war, and dwelling at considerable length upon that senseless term ‘carpet-bagger.’ Our people were insulted, and treated with the utmost insolence.

“This Dr. Page, after heaping abuse upon abuse, and showering it upon the heads of our peaceable citizens, who bore it with patience, launched forth in flowery adjectives endeavoring to show that the South was right in the late war, and made every effort to vindicate that lawless and murderous band known as Ku-Klux-Klan. At this juncture our citizens began to murmur, for we are loyal here, and the Ku-Klux orator, the bigoted Dr. took his hat and retired, while a host of hisses and shouts of ‘rebel’ followed his carcass. . . .

“We have associated with a large part of the people of this county since the Fourth, and not one word of commendation have we heard in favor of his speech, but universal contempt is heaped upon his cowardly head. During our nation’s late struggle, men would have been hung for using such language as he uttered on the Fourth at Pawnee City. He said that the South, the Ku-Klux-Klan and the rebel army were the soul of honor . . . Such language Jefferson Davis would blush to utter.”

A more patriotic afternoon speaker, J. M. McKenzie, could not entirely soothe the ruffled feelings that Dr. Page and his morning oration (“mean-spirited, groveling, and dishonorable in the extreme”) had aroused. It was only with great reluctance that Page was finally paid his promised fee of forty dollars. 

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