I hope y’all don’t mind indulging Answer Line in a Fourth of July break today.
I was thinking about how our country has celebrated the Fourth of July in years past, and went looking for what previous presidents have said as they marked our country’s birth. I have selected a few excerpts from speeches I found and liked. (Note: I’m making a statement about the beauty of these men’s words — not whether they did everything right as president.)
Woodrow Wilson served as president from 1913 to 1921 and guided this country through the first World War. He gave a famous speech on July 4, 1914, at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, and I wanted to share a bit of what he said that day, because it’s just beautiful (I found these transcripts through a variety of reputable sources):
“A patriotic American is a man who is not niggardly and selfish in the things that he enjoys that make for human liberty and the rights of man. He wants to share them with the whole world, and he is never so proud of the great flag under which he lives as when it comes to mean to other people as well as to himself a symbol of hope and liberty. I would be ashamed of this flag if it ever did anything outside America that we would not permit it to do inside of America....”
“My dream is that as the years go on and the world knows more and more of America it will also drink at these fountains of youth and renewal; that it also will turn to America for those moral inspirations which lie at the basis of all freedom; that the world will never fear America unless it feels that it is engaged in some enterprise which is inconsistent with the rights of humanity; and that America will come into the full light of the day when all shall know that she puts human rights above all other rights and that her flag is the flag not only of America but of humanity.”
I also like these words from President Gerald Ford, on July 3, 1976, as our country was celebrating its 200th birthday.
“In the space of two centuries, we have not been able to right every wrong, to correct every injustice, to reach every worthy goal. But for 200 years, we have tried and we will continue to strive to make the lives of individual men and women in this country and on this Earth better lives —more hopeful and happy, more prosperous and peaceful, more fulfilling and more free. This is our common dedication, and it will be our common glory as we enter the third century of the American adventure.
I’ll close with the words of Abraham Lincoln, who addressed Congress on July 4, 1861, seeking support for what we now know as the Civil War.
“Our popular Government has often been called an experiment. Two points in it our people have already settled — the successful establishing and the successful administering of it. One still remains — its successful maintenance against a formidable internal attempt to overthrow it. It is now for them to demonstrate to the world that those who can fairly carry an election can also suppress a rebellion; that ballots are the rightful and peaceful successors of bullets, and that when ballots have fairly and constitutionally decided there can be no successful appeal back to bullets; that there can be no successful appeal except to ballots themselves at succeeding elections. Such will be a great lesson of peace, teaching men that what they can not take by an election neither can they take it by a war; teaching all the folly of being the beginners of a war.”
Have a safe and happy Fourth of July.