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Reagan: Beware Erosion of American Spirit

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
We pause as a nation to give thanks this week.  Thanksgiving Day is readily my favorite of patriotic holidays.  As a requisite to taking in this article, I encourage you to read my Townhall article from one year ago on the history of the American Thanksgiving; You can find that article by clicking HERE.

The American Thanksgiving celebration keeps alive one of our nation’s most intriguing and meaningful chapters.  Ronald Reagan made a similar attempt of preserving wisdom at a milestone moment of his presidency.  In his farewell address at the end of his term on January 11, 1989, President Reagan told the nation, “There is a great tradition of warnings in presidential farewells.  And I’ve got one that’s been on my mind for some time.”

He spoke at length about the resurgence of national pride that the United States had experienced during his eight year tenure. “It won’t last unless it’s grounded in thoughtfulness and knowledge.  An informed patriotism is what we want.”

Several times during that speech from the Oval Office, Reagan referred to America’s role battling for freedoms in World War II.  He cautioned that, “If we forget what we did, we won’t know who we are.”  Reagan then advised, “I am warning of an eradication of the American memory that could result ultimately in an erosion of the American spirit.”

President Reagan closed his final personal conversation to us citizens with his famous reference to the United States as a shining city on a hill.  He credited an American Pilgrim, John Winthrop, with supplying that turn of phrase.

In the same year that the Mayflower carried William Bradford and the other pilgrims to Plymouth Rock, English shipbuilders launched a galleon sail ship with an eagle as its figurehead.  Ten years later, in 1630, this ship was re-christened by English puritans as the Arbella, commissioned to carry the Charter of Massachusetts (still preserved in the Massachusetts State archives) along with its new governor, John Winthrop.

Like the future President Ronald Reagan, Governor Winthrop appreciated the magnitude of the North American experiment with freedoms and the wisdom of remembering.  While still aboard the Arbella, Winthrop delivered a sermon that included the statement, “For we must consider that we shall be a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us, so that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a byword through the world.”

Winthrop appropriately gave credit to the one who originated the expression city on a hill  from some 1,600 years earlier.  Jesus of Nazareth, in his famous Sermon on the Mount, was proffering instructions to a crowd of disciples, preparing them for their own imminent pilgrimage.  Jesus told them, “You are the light of the world.  A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.”  (Matthew 5:14)

Fifteen years into his run as governor, Winthrop added his own farewell warning, delivered as a speech.  He philosophized on the nature of liberty for mankind, first speaking of personal liberties.  He then continued with, “The other kind of liberty I call civil or federal; it may also be termed moral, in reference to the covenant between God and man, in the moral law, and the politic covenants and constitutions, amongst men themselves.  This liberty is the proper end and object of authority, and cannot subsist without it; and it is a liberty to that only which is good, just, and honest.  This liberty you are to stand for, with the hazard (not only of your good, but) of your lives, if need be.  Whatsoever crosseth this is not authority but a distemper thereof.”

So, fellow patriots; Let us focus this week on appreciating the blessings of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness endowed to each of us, equally, by our Creator.  Then next week, let’s resume our watch for the distemper thereof.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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