Thinking about all of this brought to mind something on July 4th 1976. There was announced a contest for an essay on us and our government, past, present and hopes for the future, sponsored by some banks and financial organizations.
*I wrote the article below and sent it in. For some reason, it didn’t win. Eventually I got it back. In those days, I was a calligrapher, and the original was on parchment. When President Carter was elected, I sent it to him with my best wishes. Have no idea if he received it, or it just went into a file.
ON 4 JULY, 1976, the UNITED STATES will embark upon its third century as a nation. I think it appropriate, this year, to look back to our origins and reflect upon what the founders of our country hoped our nation would achieve. With these aims fresh in our minds, we can look toward our future with a new perspective, and hopefully establish goals worthy of their vision.
*WHEN reading the papers and letters of Jefferson, Adams, Dr. Franklin, and others, one is first impressed with their sense of history, both past and contemporary. They read and absorbed the histories of governments and peoples, observed their successes, and analyzed their failures. When the time came for them to design a new government they were determined to avoid the fatal mistakes of the past. They were keenly aware that here on the American continent they had the first opportunity to lay the foundations of democracy on unspoiled, unbroken ground. where land and people could grow together.
*TO begin this, a revolt was necessary against what had hitherto been considered the finest government in man’s history, for it had grown unresponsive to the people and arbitrary in its decrees. The people were taxed, regulated, and punished by a king and parliament which held themselves aloof from their petitions and pleas. Many in the United States today feel that these conditions again exist between the people and their government; that again we are faced with taxation without real representation, that justice has become selective, and that moral leadership has died in America.
*THE colonies were as diverse as our present states, with widely differing outlooks and customs. Dour mercantile Puritans in the North and landed country gentlemen in the South felt themselves worlds apart; yet through discussion, negotiation and compromise, they worked out a system of government employing the best ideas of human history and, avoiding many of the pitfalls. They recorded this system on parchment, giving us our Constitution; a living document designed to guide our country in a position of world leadership, not through power, terror and greed, but through setting an example of truth, tolerance, justice, and humanity to all men. A doctrine of love and consideration rather than hate and expediency.
*OUR first century was one of struggle, testing these ideas in the crucible of freedom and purifying them of most of the waste and error that had crept in. In the closing years of that century the nation was tempered in fire and blood, and survived, though left with a legacy of bitterness that has lasted to this day.
*THE second century has not been so fortunate. It started with high hopes, but the seeds of Hamilton’s fiscal policy of close ties between big business, banks, and government had found fallow soil in the industrial revolution and had produced lush, but bitter fruit. The ideals of freedom and opportunity became twisted into unlimited license for the powerful to take what they could while the poor went without, and were taxed to pay the bill. The faith that the rest of the world had begun to build in us started to evaporate as we succumbed to the lure of empire building. We, as a nation, began to swagger like Romans. After playing a key role through two world wars in stopping would be world rulers, we began a policy bent toward establishing a Pax Romana of our own.
*NOW we find, as our second century draws to a close, that we have become little better than those we fought, using force against force, fear against fear, and balancing terror against terror. We back dictators and juntas against their own people, feeding their graft and corruption as long as they will allow our big business to exploit their resources and labor. We have overthrown, or attempted to overthrow, popular movements of people attempting to achieve the same human dignity and control of their destiny that we did at the cost of our blood two centuries ago. Some of these peoples have modeled their constitutions after ours, yet we don’t seem to understand this; I think because our own goals have altered beyond recognition.
*WE must, as our third century begins, make a determined, conscientious effort to turn ourselves around, re-establish our goals and priorities, and begin again to lead by example. It is a pitifully easy thing to destroy the world; the difficult and challenging task is to preserve and enrich it. Moral leadership is not easy; the temptation to fight error, greed, power, and cruelty with its own weapons is strong, but it can and must be resisted. The technology of the twentieth century must be bent to raising the quality of life on this planet, not toward producing trash for the enrichment of a few at the expense of the many. Our surpluses should feed the hungry both here and abroad, not be used as pawns by power brokers to increase the profits of international cartels. We must seek to set an example to the world, of what democracy and freedom can be; it already has plenty of examples of what to avoid.
I would like to suggest two changes to serve as a symbolic bond to reestablish our goals and to help keep them before our eyes in the century ahead. Our pledge of allegiance should be changed to the CONSTITUTION of the UNITED STATES, or to its spirit, for it is unstained, though rather dusty from neglect. If we pledge our allegiance to a living document, we may come to reflect upon it and its meaning, and use its philosophy to shape our lives. The flag that has flown so proudly at Valley Forge, Mt. Suribachi, and on the moon has also flown proudly at Wounded Knee, Manzanar and My Lai. Most Americans are now well aware of that fact; especially so when asked to pledge their allegiance to it.
*WE had no formal national anthem until the Star Spangled Banner was adopted almost by default by Congress in 1933. The navy and the army had chosen it and it was certainly appropriate for them, but there were some other strong contenders for the honor. Instead of bombs and rockets before us at every formal event, signifying the dubious glory of war, I would suggest the singing of America the Beautiful as our national anthem, for
God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood,
From sea to shining sea.
must promote a far warmer and more humane feeling in the heart. I pray that whatever creative force or being that guides our universe may look with favor upon us and strengthen our endeavors to lead mankind to a higher way of life, where truth, liberty and justice truly exist for all.
*July 4th, 1976
I was just a kid in my late thirties, with two children to raise when I wrote this, but now, in my eighties, I still think I was on the right track.
*Enjoy or delete as you wish.