The 4th of July has always been special to me and freedom-loving Americans. This year, many of us face the holiday with trepidation as we reflect on the recent upheaval and unrest that has gripped our nation. We have witnessed the statues of historical figures and presidents toppled from their pedestals by self-righteous mobs intent on sanitizing our country of its history. Their actions are reminiscent of Mao’s Red Guards, who terrorized China during its cultural revolution a half-century ago.
As we celebrate the nation’s 244th birthday we need to put into perspective the failings of historical figures with their positive attributes and the legacy they left behind. I write this from the perspective of a first-generation American who reveres our founding fathers for their legacy; the democracy they created through the words they enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Those words created a nation that changed the course of history and continues to represent freedom the world over.
It was those words and that freedom that welcomed my parents when they came to the U.S with nothing, from countries 6,000 miles apart, with no common bond except the shared immigrant experience, a limited English vocabulary, and a desire to work hard and live the American Dream.
My parents may have been born in other countries—my father, who is from Greece, and my mother, a Cuban refugee, are two of the most patriotic people I know because they know what it’s like elsewhere. They instilled in me a love and belief in this nation and all that it offers.
Now, Mayor de Blasio, at the urging of the New York City Council, has set in motion a so-called, Commission on Racial Justice and Reconciliation to consider the fate of statues of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson that currently sit in City Hall. In a now-familiar move to New Yorkers, de Blasio has appointed his wife as Chair of the commission, a move that rankled even some Democrat members of the City Council.
George Washington’s military career and his presidency are closely linked to what is now New York City. In August of 1776, Washington commanded his fledging Continental Army during the Battle of Brooklyn, a major defeat that forced him to retreat, under the cover of darkness, across the East River to Manhattan. Subsequent defeats would drive Washington and his troops off the island and North to Westchester by mid-November, 1776. Seven years later, in 1783, General Washington would triumphantly return to Manhattan as the last of the defeated British troops sailed from New York Harbor.
On April 30th, 1789, Washington would pray at St. Paul’s Chapel, which sits a short walk from today’s City Hall, before taking the oath of office as the first President of the United States at Federal Hall at Wall and Broad Streets. For the first 17 months of his presidency, Washington would lead the nation from New York City.
Washington’s Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson joined him in Manhattan in the spring of 1789, renting a house at 57 Maiden Lane. It was there he negotiated what became known as the Compromise of 1790 between himself, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison on issues that Congress had been unable to resolve.
The historical link of Washington and Jefferson to New York is real, but more importantly, the fact that their actions, words, and deeds fomented a revolution and laid the foundation for the building of a nation that would become the envy of the world. It was after all Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, Adams and the rest of our founding fathers enshrined the rights that allow peaceful demonstrators to assemble in our streets and open debate in our legislative bodies. They created the framework of our laws and the guarantees of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. They unleashed the greatest experiment in democracy the world has ever seen.
Our nation has evolved, and over time, has worked to right past wrongs. Neither, the founding fathers nor the nation they created are perfect. They had their faults; that too is proven by history. So, let them be judged by history and the legacy they left behind.
This first-generation American will be eternally grateful for their actions and the nation they created; it welcomed my parents, gave them freedom, and the opportunity they prayed for, and in just one generation, their daughter is a state representative and candidate for the United States Congress.
This 4th of July, as voices call for the toppling of his statue and others, this American reflects on the words Washington wrote in January of 1790, just months before his inauguration as president, “That the government, though not absolutely perfect, is one of the best in the world, I have little doubt.” Those words ring as true today as they were 230 years ago and in my book, that’s reason enough to continue to honor the memory of those who created it by preserving their statues in New York’s City Hall.
Nicole Malliotakis represents portions of Brooklyn and Staten Island in the New York State Assembly was the Republican nominee for NYC mayor in 2017 and is a 2020 candidate for Congress in New York’s 11th District.https://nicolemalliotakis.com