Have a Happy, Reflective, and Fruitful Fourth of July

July 4th, 2011

By Dan Miller

Theodore RooseveltOur history can guide our future if we will that it do so.

Here are some words from a Fourth of July speech given by Theodore Roosevelt to the citizens of Dickinson, in the Dakotas, back in 1886.  Dickinson had a population of about seven hundred but many from other communities came and it was the largest crowd ever seen in Stark County.  According to David McCullough’s Mornings on Horseback,

A parade led by the Dickinson Silver Cornet Band included a wagon drawn by four white horses carrying thirty-eight little girls dressed in white, representing the states of the Union. According to one Medora man, everybody got caught up in the spirit and wanted to be part of the parade, with the result there was no one left to watch except two drunks who were beyond watching anything.

TR’s speech may seem naive and excessively idealistic to many in these days of multicultural ethics and feelings that it the government’s job, rather than our own, to care for us — to provide for us from conception and birth till death — as would a kindly guardian for an incompetent ward.  If TR’s words now strike many as naive and overly idealistic, so much the pity.

Here is some of what TR said:

I am peculiarly glad to have an opportunity of addressing you, my fellow citizens of Dakota, on the Fourth of July, because it always seems to me that those who dwell in a new territory and whose actions, therefore, are peculiarly fruitful, for good and bad alike, in shaping the future, have in consequence peculiar responsibilities. … Much has been given to us, and so, much will be expected of us; and we must take heed to use aright the gifts entrusted to our care.

The Declaration of Independence derived its peculiar importance, not on account of what America was, but because of what she was to become; she shared with other nations the present, and she yielded to them the past, but it was felt in return that to her, and to her especially, belonged the future. It is the same with us here. We, grangers and cowboys alike, have opened a new land. … [T]he first comers in a land can, by their individual efforts, do far more to channel out the course in which its history is to run than can those who come after them; and their labors, whether exercised on the side of evil or on the side of good, are far more effective than if they had remained in old settled communities.

So it is peculiarly incumbent on us here today so to act throughout our lives as to leave our children a heritage, for which we will receive their blessings and not their curse. … If you fail to work in public, as well as in private, for honesty and uprightness and virtue, if you condone vice because the vicious man is smart, or if you in any other way cast your weight into the scales in favor of evil, you are just so far corrupting and making less valuable the birthright of your children. …

It is not what we have that will make us a great nation; it is the way in which we use it. …

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One Response to “Have a Happy, Reflective, and Fruitful Fourth of July”



  1. Tom Carter |

    Thanks for quoting TR’s speech, Dan. I hadn’t read it before. These words struck me as particularly relevant today:

    The Declaration of Independence derived its peculiar importance, not on account of what America was, but because of what she was to become; she shared with other nations the present, and she yielded to them the past, but it was felt in return that to her, and to her especially, belonged the future. …

    All American citizens, whether born here or elsewhere, whether of one creed or another, stand on the same footing; we welcome every honest immigrant no matter from what country he comes, provided only that he leaves off his former nationality, and remains neither Celt nor Saxon, neither Frenchman nor German, but becomes an American, desirous of fulfilling in good faith the duties of American citizenship.

    These thoughts from your conclusion are also important:

    The future, however, is still in our hands and we can make of it only what we will, in national sickness and in national health, for better or for worse. Nations, not cared for by their sovereigns, the people, rot because they let them.

    Some people look at America today and fear (or for some on the left, hope) that our glory days are over. That will be true only if we let it be true. Much of what led to our current problems began as best intentions, but not everything worked out well. That means we have to fix things, to take care of our national health.

    Just like the seasons of Earth itself, there are cycles in the lives of nations and peoples. We went through over 40 years of social experimentation and, with the best intentions, tried to make everyone’s life perfect, or as nearly so as possible. It’s time to deal with the effects of all that, to manage the cycle we’re now in. The only way to do that is to begin a countervailing period of conservative government, in which we pay our bills, spend only as much as we can, husband our use of force and diplomatic power, and permit only those immigrants to enter our country who come legally and with the right intentions. We must start in November 2012; there’s no time left to waste.


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