What July Fourth Means to 2 Presidents
Today I’m not trying to rip on anyone only to understand what forms the basis of patriotism in the minds and hearts of two transformative American Presidents. What are the life experiences that shape a man’s world view and the view he holds of his nation. What follows are two speeches on that theme. They tell very different stories and paint pictures both obvious and not so obvious. Without analysis from me I reprint both speeches.
The following speech was delivered on July 4, 1981.
What July Fourth Means to Me
For one who was born and grew up in the small towns of the Midwest, there is a special kind of nostalgia about the Fourth of July.
I remember it as a day almost as long-anticipated as Christmas. This was helped along by the appearance in store windows of all kinds of fireworks and colorful posters advertising them with vivid pictures.
No later than the third of July – sometimes earlier – Dad would bring home what he felt he could afford to see go up in smoke and flame. We’d count and recount the number of firecrackers, display pieces and other things and go to bed determined to be up with the sun so as to offer the first, thunderous notice of the Fourth of July.
I’m afraid we didn’t give too much thought to the meaning of the day. And, yes, there were tragic accidents to mar it, resulting from careless handling of the fireworks. I’m sure we’re better off today with fireworks largely handled by professionals. Yet there was a thrill never to be forgotten in seeing a tin can blown 30 feet in the air by a giant “cracker” – giant meaning it was about 4 inches long. But enough of nostalgia.
Somewhere in our growing up we began to be aware of the meaning of days and with that awareness came the birth of patriotism. July Fourth is the birthday of our nation. I believed as a boy, and believe even more today, that it is the birthday of the greatest nation on earth.
There is a legend about the day of our nation’s birth in the little hall in Philadelphia, a day on which debate had raged for hours. The men gathered there were honorable men hard-pressed by a king who had flouted the very laws they were willing to obey. Even so, to sign the Declaration of Independence was such an irretrievable act that the walls resounded with the words “treason, the gallows, the headsman’s axe,” and the issue remained in doubt.
The legend says that at that point a man rose and spoke. He is described as not a young man, but one who had to summon all his energy for an impassioned plea. He cited the grievances that had brought them to this moment and finally, his voice falling, he said, “They may turn every tree into a gallows, every hole into a grave, and yet the words of that parchment can never die. To the mechanic in the workshop, they will speak hope; to the slave in the mines, freedom. Sign that parchment. Sign if the next moment the noose is around your neck, for that parchment will be the textbook of freedom, the Bible of the rights of man forever.”
He fell back exhausted. The 56 delegates, swept up by his eloquence, rushed forward and signed that document destined to be as immortal as a work of man can be. When they turned to thank him for his timely oratory, he was not to be found, nor could any be found who knew who he was or how he had come in or gone out through the locked and guarded doors.
Well, that is the legend. But we do know for certain that 56 men, a little band so unique we have never seen their like since, had pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor. Some gave their lives in the war that followed, most gave their fortunes, and all preserved their sacred honor.
What manner of men were they? Twenty-four were lawyers and jurists, 11 were merchants and tradesmen, and nine were farmers. They were soft-spoken men of means and education; they were not an unwashed rabble. They had achieved security but valued freedom more. Their stories have not been told nearly enough.
John Hart was driven from the side of his desperately ill wife. For more than a year he lived in the forest and in caves before he returned to find his wife dead, his children vanished, his property destroyed. He died of exhaustion and a broken heart.
Carter Braxton of Virginia lost all his ships, sold his home to pay his debts, and died in rags. And so it was with Ellery, Clymer, Hall, Walton, Gwinnett, Rutledge, Morris, Livingston and Middleton. Nelson personally urged Washington to fire on his home and destroy it when it became the headquarters for General Cornwallis. Nelson died bankrupt.
But they sired a nation that grew from sea to shining sea. Five million farms, quiet villages, cities that never sleep, 3 million square miles of forest, field, mountain and desert, 227 million people with a pedigree that includes the bloodlines of all the world. In recent years, however, I’ve come to think of that day as more than just the birthday of a nation.
It also commemorates the only true philosophical revolution in all history.
Oh, there have been revolutions before and since ours. But those revolutions simply exchanged one set of rules for another. Ours was a revolution that changed the very concept of government.
Let the Fourth of July always be a reminder that here in this land, for the first time, it was decided that man is born with certain God-given rights; that government is only a convenience created and managed by the people, with no powers of its own except those voluntarily granted to it by the people.
We sometimes forget that great truth, and we never should.
Happy Fourth of July.Ronald Reagan President of the United States (White House Aide Michael Deaver wrote that this preceding speech was written by the President in his own hand.) Reprint from NEWSMAX.com
Now the second speech, delivered on July 2, 2008. (Abridged to focus on this blogs theme.)
A New Era of Service
In two days, we will celebrate America’s Independence Day. We’ll come together with family and friends to enjoy a day off. Maybe you’ll cook out, watch a parade or take in some fireworks. Hopefully, you’ll get a break from things like politics.
But I’m sure there will be a moment or two, when the fireworks grow quiet or the parade has gone by, when the enormity of the American accomplishment will sink in, along with a deep pride in your place in the story of the United States America. I hope you take that moment to think about what you can do to shape the future of this country we love.
These days, it’s easy for us to get caught thinking that there are two different stories at work in our lives. There is the story of our day-to-day cares and responsibilities – the classes you have to take or the bills you have to pay; the bustle and busyness of what happens in your own life. And then there is the story of what’s happening in the wider world – a story seen in headlines and websites and televised images; a story experienced only through the price you pay at the pump or the extra screening you pass through at the airport.
This is the divide that separates you from the ability to shape your own destiny. So I am asking you – on this 4th of July – to reject that divide, to step into the strong currents of history, and to shape your country’s future. Because your own story and the American story are not separate, they are shared. And they will both be enriched if together, we answer a new call to service to meet the challenges of our new century.
I say this to you as someone who couldn’t be standing here today if not for the service of others, and who wouldn’t be standing here if not for the purpose that service gave my own life.
You see, I spent much of my childhood adrift. My father left my mother and me when I was two. My mother remarried, and we lived in Indonesia for a time. But I was mostly raised in Hawaii by my mom and my grandparents from Kansas. Growing up, I wasn’t always sure who I was, or where I was going.
But during my first two years of college, perhaps because the values my mother had taught me -hard work, honesty, empathy – had resurfaced after a long hibernation; or perhaps because of the example of wonderful teachers and lasting friends, I began to notice a world beyond myself. And by the time I graduated from college, I was possessed with a crazy idea – that I would work at a grassroots level to bring about change.
I wrote letters to every organization in the country I could think of. And one day, a small group of churches on the South Side of Chicago offered me a job working to help neighborhoods that had been devastated by steel plant closings. My mother and grandparents wanted me to go to law school. My friends were applying to jobs on Wall Street. Meanwhile, this organization offered me $12,000 a year plus $2,000 for an old, beat-up car. And I said yes.
I didn’t know a soul in Chicago, and I wasn’t sure what was waiting for me there. I had always been inspired by stories of the Civil Rights movement and JFK’s call to service, but when I got to the South Side, there were no marches, and no soaring speeches. In the shadow of an empty steel plant, there were just a lot of folks who were struggling.
I still remember one of the very first meetings we put together to discuss gang violence with a group of community leaders. We waited and waited for people to show up, and finally, a group of older people walked into the hall. And they sat down. And a little old lady raised her hand and asked, “Is this where the bingo game is?”
It wasn’t easy, but eventually, we made progress. Day by day, block by block, we brought the community together. We registered new voters. We set up after school programs, fought for new jobs, and helped people live lives with more opportunity, and some measure of dignity.
But I also began to realize that I wasn’t just helping other people. Through service, I found a community that embraced me; citizenship that was meaningful; the direction I’d been seeking. Through service, I discovered how my own improbable story fit into the larger story of America.
There is a lesson to be learned from generations who have served – from soldiers and sailors; airmen and Marines; suffragists and freedom riders; teachers and doctors; cops and firefighters. It’s the lesson that in America, each of us is free to seek our own dreams, but we must also serve a common purpose, a higher purpose. When you choose to serve – whether it’s your nation, your community, or simply your neighbor – you are connected to that fundamental American ideal that we want Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness not just for ourselves, but for all Americans. That is why this is a great nation. Because time and again, Americans have been willing to serve on stages both great and small; to draw on the same spirit that launched America’s improbable journey to meet the challenges of each defining moment in our history.
(Removed campaign rhetoric here.)
There is no challenge greater than the defense of our nation and our values. The men and women of our military – from Fort Carson to Peterson Air Force base, from the Air Force Academy to the ROTC students here on campus – have signed up at a time when our troops face an ever-increasing load. Fighting a resurgent Taliban. Targeting al Qaeda. Persevering in the deserts and cities of Iraq. Training foreign militaries. Delivering humanitarian relief. In this young century, our military has answered when called, even as that call has come too often. Through their commitment, their capability, and their courage they have done us all proud.
(Removed campaign promise to support the troops through proper supplies.)
Just as we must value and encourage military service across our society, we must honor and expand other opportunities to serve. Because the future of our nation depends on the soldier at Fort Carson, but it also depends on the teacher in East LA, the nurse in Appalachia, the after-school worker in New Orleans, the Peace Corps volunteer in Africa, and the Foreign Service officer in Indonesia. Americans have shown that they want to step up. But we’re not keeping pace with the demand of those who want to serve, or leveraging that commitment to meet national challenges. FDR not only enlisted Americans to create employment, he targeted that service to build our infrastructure and conserve our environment. JFK not only called on a new generation, he made their service a bridge to the developing world, and a bright light of American values in the darkest days of the Cold War.
(Removed campaign calls to service and promises to build AmeriCorp.)
Make no mistake: our destiny as Americans is tied up with one another. If we are less respected in the world, then you will be less safe. If we keep paying dictators for foreign oil, gas prices are going to keep rising, and so are the oceans. If we can’t give all of our kids a world-class education, then our economy is going to fall behind.
And that’s how it should be. That’s the bet our Founding Fathers were making all of those years ago – that our individual destinies could be tied together in the common destiny of democracy; that government depends not just on the consent of the governed, but on the service of citizens. That’s what history calls us to do. Because loving your country shouldn’t just mean watching fireworks on the 4th of July. Loving your country must mean accepting your responsibility to do your part to change it. If you do, your life will be richer, and our country will be stronger.
We need your service, right now, at this moment – our moment – in history. I’m not going to tell you what your role should be; that’s for you to discover. But I am going to ask you to play your part; ask you to stand up; ask you to put your foot firmly into the current of history. I am asking you to change history’s course. And if I have the fortune to be your President, decades from now – when the memory of this or that policy has faded, and when the words that we will speak in the next few years are long forgotten – I hope you remember this as a moment when your own story and the American story came together, and – in the words of Dr. King – the arch of history bent once more towards justice.Senator Barack Obama Reprint from The Rocky Mountain News