Excerpted from The Fourth Annual Report of the Hudson-Fulton Celebration Commission to the Legislature of the State of New
York dated May 20, 1910:
The Hudson-Fulton Celebration
From Saturday, September 25, to Monday,
October 11, 1909, the State of New York commemorated, under the auspices of the Hudson-Fulton Celebration Commission, the
300th anniversary of the discovery of the Hudson River by Henry Hudson in 1609 and the 100th anniversary of the first successful
application of steam to navigation upon that River by Robert Fulton in 1807.
As a stimulus
to its four years of devoted labor in preparing for the Celebration, the Commission had the inspiration of two eminent events
in human history.
Discovery of the Hudson
The first of these,
which brought the Hudson River to the knowledge of Europe and opened the adjacent region to European settlement, was well
calculated to appeal to the imagination and arouse popular interest. in contemplating it the mind instinctively compared conditions
at the time of Hudson’s advent with conditions at present and marveled at the change.
hundred years ago, when civilization was hoary upon the banks of the Thames, the Rhine, the Seine, the Tiber, the Nile, and
the Ganges, the primeval forests of the Hudson River gave shelter to no higher culture than the middle status of barbarism.
Here was a virgin soil, seemingly reserved by Destiny in order that Civilization might here plant herself anew, and here cultivate
in a freer air the institutions for which she had qualified herself by hard and painful schooling in the Old World. Then came
Hudson’s little ship and then the magic of three centuries of change. And in the harbor where Hudson saw only the hollow-log
canoes of the native Indians, to-day float the treasure-laden argosies of the world; where he saw the rude bark habitations
of the aborigines, now rises the second — soon to be the first — city of the world; and upon the banks of the
river and in the tributary region where 300 years ago the barest necessities of precarious human existence were the measure
of industry and the simplest requirements of personal adornment, the chase, and primitive warfare were the measure of art
and science, now dwells a civilization which rivals that of any other part of the world.
contrasts thus presented by conditions at the two extremities of the period and the consciousness of the phenomenal development
of our people in the multifarious departments of human activity during the three centuries intervening, could, not but arouse
civic pride and inspire civic enthusiasm.
Invention of Steam Navigation
In recalling the founding of New York, one is reminded of Sir Francis Bacon’s saying that as in the arts and
sciences the first invention is of more consequence than all the improvements afterwards,” so “in kingdoms the
first foundation or plantation is of more noble dignity and merit than all that followeth.” There is, however, no more
delicate, difficult and uncertain a task for the historian than that of comparing the relative importance of human events.
Certainly, the second event commemorated in the Hudson-Fulton Celebration was one which ranks worthily
with the first in its importance to the world. It is, indeed, impossible to measure the far reaching effect of Robert Fulton’s
genius, which has narrowed the ocean in point of time to one-sixth its former dreary breadth, has increased the productive
power of mankind and multiplied the world’s commerce, has given to all the navigable waters of the earth a value which
they did not previously possess, and by increasing the neighborliness of nations has promoted, to a degree which cannot well
be measured, the brotherhood of mankind. This last aspect of the results of Fulton’s genius may well be regarded as
its most beneficent. While the material and tangible results of increased commerce due to steam navigation are conspicuous
to the senses, it is not extravagant, perhaps, to say that the increased personal inter course of nations is having, and is
destined yet to have, the greater influence on the history of the world.
Buckle, in his profound
two-volume “Introduction” to his projected “History of Civilization in England,” speaking of the French
and English peoples, said that they have “by the mere force of increased contact learned to think more favorably of
each other and to discard that foolish contempt in which both nations indulged. In this, as in all cases, the better one civilized
nation is acquainted with another, the more it will find to respect and imitate. For of all the causes of national hatred,
ignorance is the most powerful. When you increase the contact, you remove the ignorance and thus you diminish the hatred.
This is the true bond of charity.” He then calls attention to the inefficacy of centuries of moralizing in reducing
the frequency of war, and adds: “But it may be said without the slightest exaggeration that every new railroad which
is laid down and every fresh steamer which crosses the Channel are additional guarantees for the preservation of. . . peace
. . .“ In these words the writer uttered a truth which is of universal application and which gives a true measure of
the value of Fulton’s invention.
Thus the second event commemorated gave a wide range
to the thoughts, extended the scope of the Celebration, and emphasized its international significance.
Under these stimuli, the Commission arranged its plans with certain very definite ends in view.
Celebration Educational, Not Commercial
The first was to make the Celebration educational,
not commercial. The idea of an Exposition was among the earliest suggestions made to the Commission; but after careful consideration,
the proposition was not adopted, and throughout all of the Commission’s plans, the most careful pains were taken to
avoid anything of a commercial tincture. Nothing of an advertising nature was permitted in the great land parades; no advertisements
were permitted in the official literature; no admittance fee was charged to any function upon which public moneys were expended;
and no public moneys were expended upon any personal decorations or souvenirs for the members of the Commission. On the contrary
it was designed that every thing should be as educative as possible and that the greatest number of people possible should
freely see the public spectacles. It was for this reason that the English plan of historical pageants within an enclosed space
to which admission should be charged was deliberately avoided.
Designed to Create an Historical
In the educational conception of the Celebration, much emphasis was laid on its historical
side for the very natural reason that historical events were being commemorated. But there were additional reasons for this
emphasis. The State of New York, as compared with her neighbors on the east and south, has heretofore shown questionable modesty
in refraining from exploiting her own history.
A glance at the book-shelves of any great
public library will show how industrious the historians of Massachusetts and Pennsylvania and Virginia have been in recording
the annals of which they are justly proud and how comparatively indifferent our own writers have been in this field. And this
disparity has resulted in a very general ignorance of the full part played by our Colony and State in our national history.
Furthermore, it has led to a positive and unfortunate misconception by many persons of the dignity of our State history.
Tame, in his History of English Literature, has said, referring to the position of “Don Quixote”
in the literature of Spain, that the best known and best loved book in Spanish literature is a satire on Spanish literature.
Similarly one might say of New York history, that for many years, the best known — if not the best loved — book
of New York history was a satire on New York history. The misfortune of Irving’s “Knickerbocker’s History
of New York” was not so much its satire, which any person with a reasonable sense of humor can appreciate, as the period
at which it appeared — a period barren of any worthy and serious history of New York. The result was that many persons
derived their impressions of the character of the founders of New York from Irving’s whimsical conceptions.
Gen. James Grant Wilson’s scholarly four-volume Memorial History of New York has done much to
compensate for past deficiencies with respect to the history of the City of New York, but there is yet no monumental history
of the State of New York, and it must be confessed that New York is far from the position of historical eminence which she
would hold, in the estimation not only of her own people but also of the nation at large, if there were a more popular familiarity
with her annals. The second object of the Commission, therefore, was to create an historical awakening throughout the State.
Assimilation of Adopted Population
A third object sought to be attained by the
educational features was to promote the assimilation of our adopted population. Knowledge of the history of a city, or a state,
or a nation conduces to love of country, civic pride and loyalty to established institutions. It serves to bind a people together,
make it more homogeneous and give it stability. And it makes the inhabitants better citizens by holding up to their eyes lofty
traditions to enlist their affections and inspire their imitation With over 26 per cent of the population of the State foreign
born, and 33 per cent more born here of foreign parents, it was felt that such a Celebration as was planned would result in
great and far-reaching good. Still further to emphasize this phase of the Celebration, the people of every nationality were
invited to take part in the parades and festivals and an effort was made to make them feel that the Celebration belonged to
them as much as to the older inhabitants; that by adopting our citizenship they adopted our traditions and institutions; and
that their pride and loyalty should be as great as those of the descendants of the pioneer settlers.
It requires but little reflection to perceive the great value of acquainting our adopted citizens with the fact that
we have a body of worthy traditions and attaching them to those traditions. The power of tradition has been one of the most
fundamental and conservative forces of all peoples of all times. As a body propelled through space tends to travel in a direct
line unless diverted by some force other than that which drives it, so a people naturally tends to follow the impulses of
the past and to adhere to tradition unless turned therefrom by other influences. Therefore the ingrained history of a nation,
which in a broad sense we call tradition, serves as a balance wheel, tending to restrain sudden and spasmodic departures from
the normal mode of progress. Historical culture thus materially promotes the welfare of the Commonwealth.
Promotion of International Friendship
The Celebration also presented to the Commission
a fourth opportunity of which it availed itself, namely, to promote international friendship. The events primarily celebrated
and the history of our city and State following upon them inevitably suggested the relations which we sustain to the nations
of the old world. The Netherlands fitted out the ship which explored our river and planted the first colony here. England
furnished the bold navigator who sailed the ship and later she cultivated and developed the seedling colony planted by the
Dutch. Italy, the mother of great explorers, 85 years earlier, supplied the navigator who first entered and described the
lower harbor of New York; and France, whose friendly troops camped on our soil to help our forefathers win their independence,
gave Verrazzano his commission. irish parents gave birth to the steamboat inventor; and a hundred other ties of historical
tradition and blood transfusion were recalled, binding us to every civilized nation on the earth.
The occasion was propitious, therefore, for strengthening the ties which happily exist between them and us; and while
the Commission never forgot that it represented only the State of New York, yet the geographical position of the State as
the Golden Gate of the east, its representative character as one of the leading States of the Union, the preeminence of the
Metropolis in its foreign financial and commercial relations, and its unsurpassed facilities for entertaining foreign visitors
on land and water, created exceptionally favorable conditions for impressing visitors from abroad with the best aspects of
Therefore every civilized nation with which the United States holds diplomatic
relations was invited to send its representatives and every seaboard nation was invited to send in addition one or more vessels
of its navy. When these guests arrived, less care was taken to impress them with our material achievement, which was obvious,
than to show them the evidences of our culture in the arts and graces of civilization and to acquaint them personally with
our best ideals and our noblest institutions. Above all, they were taken as closely to the hearts of our people as the most
cordial and unreserved hospitality could make possible and were made to feel both the respect and the affection which we entertain
for those many fatherlands from which we have inherited so many of our traditions and from which so large a part of our population
Senator Root eloquently summed up this phase of the Celebration when, at the Official
Banquet in New York City on September 29, he said to the foreign representatives: “We are not celebrating ourselves.
We are not celebrating the greatness and wealth of our city . . . We celebrate in Hudson the great race of men who made the
age of discovery . . . We celebrate in Fulton the great race of men whose inventive genius has laid the foundation for a broader,
nobler and more permanent civilization the world over . . . Standing at the gateway of the New World, we celebrate the immense
significance of America to all mankind. . . You who have come to us from abroad, from what- soever country you come, find
here the children of your own fatherland. In all that you find here that is worthy of admiration and commendation, you find
in part the work of your own brothers . . . This is your celebration as well as ours.”
is impossible to read the official expressions made by these visitors, not only at the time of the Celebration but also after
their departure, and not find in the manifest sincerity of their sentiments a very full realization of the purpose of the
Commission in inviting them.
Commission Typical of State
How the Commission
evolved and executed the plan for carrying out the purposes above described will appear in detail in the following chapters.
As to the Commission itself, it may be said that it was thoroughly typical of the State and City which it represented. Art,
literature, science, the learned professions, finance, commerce, manufacture, manual occupation, and almost every other leading
phase of our varied life was represented on the Commission by some of its principal exponents. Every religion and every political
party had its participant; and the representatives of the three great continents of the old world worked side by side with
the descendants of the Dutch founders of New Netherland and the early English pioneers of New York.
A very remarkable feature of the work of the Commission, in view of the diversity of
the interests represented therein, was the unanimity of its councils. Although many questions arose during its four years’
deliberations upon which diverse views were at first entertained, and although they were discussed with the force and earnestness
of minds possessing strong convictions, there was never a subject of importance upon which, after a free interchange of views,
the Trustees did not find common ground upon which to reach a substantially unanimous conclusion. This unanimity was the more
remarkable in view of the wide range of interests represented in the Commission and in the plan of the Celebration.
The Celebration was not localized, like an Exposition, in one city with only local interests to be
consulted. The principal part of the Celebration extended along 200 miles of the Hudson valley, from Staten Island on the
south to Troy and Cohoes on the north, and the various local interests of all intermediate communities were represented on
the Commission by men chosen for their force of mind and character. In this respect, as in others, the task of the Commission
was very unusual, and the felicitous harmony which prevailed was manifestly due to the unselfish spirit of the members of
the Commission, who dedicated their labors to the public welfare, who had no personal ends to attain, and whose only recompense
for their valuable contributions of time, labor and in many cases money, was to be found in the consciousness of a public
duty faithfully discharged and in the satisfaction to be derived from the contemplation of successful celebration.
Gen. Woodford, the President of the Commission, who soon after the Celebration started on his mission
abroad to present the Gold Medals and messages sent by the Commission to the heads of Governments represented by naval vessels
at the festivities, wrote from Italy, in April, 1910: “I have never known a body of men like our Commission —
one purpose — one effort — not a personal ambition.”
A Festival of Patriotic
Of the Celebration itself, it may be said that taken as a whole — in character,
significance and extent — it was unique. It was not a rejoicing such as those which have greeted the return of troops
from victorious wars, when tears of joy were’ mingled with tears of sorrow. It was not a demonstration of gladness upon
the return of a victorious fleet, when the exultation of a grateful people carried with it the inseparable regret of generous
victors over vanquished foes. It was not the vaunting demonstration of a political party in the bitter rivalry of a partisan
campaign. Such occasions have seen parades greater in length and numbers than those of 1909. The Hudson-Fulton Celebration,
on the contrary, was a jubilee of happiness. The Nation was at peace with the world. Civil concord blessed our people at home.
Material prosperity abounded. Even man’s evil propensities seemed to be suspended and the best qualities of human nature
to come to the surface, for it is a literal fact that during the two weeks of the Celebration in New York City, there were
fewer homicides, fewer suicides, and less crime generally than in any other equal period in the year. There were also fewer
accidents and a lower general death rate than usual. There was seemingly nothing to alloy the happiness of the occasion and
the people practically abandoned themselves for a fortnight to a rational festival of patriotic sentiment.
Value of Celebration Incalculable
Upon this Celebration a little over a million dollars
was expended under the direct auspices of the Commission. Of these funds, the State Government appropriated about 48 per cent
and the New York City Government about 24 per cent. The free-will offerings of the inhabitants of New York City furnished
about 28 per cent. In addition to these funds, large amounts were raised and expended under private auspices in the various
communities throughout the State. No financial aid was received from the Federal Government or from any other State.
The question may be asked: “Did it pay?” To the inquirer who calculates results by the
gold-measurer’s balance, it may be replied that one of the foremost financiers of the country is quoted as saying that
our increased commerce, due to more friendly international relations, will more than compensate for every dollar expended.
That, however, is an incidental result. Material gain was not the purpose of the Celebration, and it is no more possible to
gauge its results by the standard of dollars than it is to measure the value of education by the cost of the public schools
or the value of civilization by the cost of orderly government. The Hudson-Fulton commemoration was a celebration of sentiment;
and sentiment — what people think — is one of the strongest mainsprings of human action. An eminent English jurist
says that sentiment is more powerful than law, for law is the expression of sentiment and cannot be enforced without its support.
And a distinguished French critic, about to write the history of a national literature, says that the motive forces of history
are to be sought in the human sentiments. To cultivate ideals, then, is to advance civilization; and who can measure the elevating
influence of the many exhibitions of the arts and sciences throughout the State; of the examples of great men recalled to
the rising generation in a thousand public schools; and of the ideals held up by preachers and orators in hundreds of pulpits
and on a score of platforms? Many monuments of bronze and stone will record the Hudson-Fulton Celebration, but the most enduring
monument is that which has been erected in the minds of our people, a memorial of a brilliant past and an inspiration to a
more lustrous future.
The Hudson-Fulton Celebration encouraged people to return "home" to their home cities.
the attendance swelled the city by an additional 100,000 people for this "Old Home Week",
the population of the city for these few days.
In this photograph there are one thousand High School Students participating to create this Living Flag!
1909 there were 46 States and thus 46 Stars.