I was musing about the rich history of these United States and the lamentable number of quotes and maxims that have been lost in the veil of ages. Throughout our short history as a nation, the United States has endured an amazing number of crises – and prevailed. Sometimes, it is a good idea to reflect on the experiences and the wisdom of those Americans who have come before us.
The quote on the header of the Catholic Citizen website is from Carl Schurz. He is a man that every American student should know – but few adults have ever heard of. An immigrant from Germany, Mr. Schurz enlisted in the Union Army, rising to the rank of General. From Second Bull Run to Chattanooga, he fought in several major engagements, resigning his commission at war’s end. Before he donned the uniform, he was a special ambassador to Spain. He was considered to have played an instrumental role in persuading Spain from supporting the Confederacy – itself an action that may have shortened the war and certainly helped preserve the Union. He was elected Senator from the state of Missouri, and became famous for his ardent stances on fiscal responsibility and integrity in government. Like many immigrants of the day, he was an ardent supporter of his adopted nation. His quote? It is one that rings as true today as it did then. In this day when it has become fashionable to denigrate the principles and history of this great nation, in an age where ‘change’ – seemingly for the sake of change – is a mantra, his words are so very important.
Our nation, right or wrong. When right, to be kept right. When wrong, to be made right.
It is unfortunate that the prevailing mentality in Washington question the wisdom of patriotism. Support of core American values are now somehow discriminatory or exclusionary. General Schurz would weep at much of what he would see in Washington today.
The concept of right and wrong is one that presumes an active and informed citizenry. Schurz’s famous toast makes two assumptions. That Americans are fundamentally patriots – people who love their nation. A patriot will stand to defend their nation regardless of the foe or the nature of the fight. Even more importantly, it calls on us to not to simply be supportive, but to be watchdogs. He was calling on all Americans to be prepared to defend the tenets of the Constitution – and when we are in error or lapsing, to fight to redress these deficiencies. But above all – no matter how lacking we are – we fix what is wrong while defending the majesty of our nation. This, brothers and sisters, is the highest form of patriotism.
John C Calhoun, a son of South Carolina, was a man who spent his entire adult life in public service. I believe the only position he managed not to fill was in the Judiciary. He was a state legislator, a Cabinet Secretary, a Vice President, a Senator…a long and distinguished career of public service. In those years, his words of wisdom could fill several volumes, but there are two quotes I have always been drawn to.
Irresponsible power is inconsistent with liberty.
In six short words, he summed up the Declaration of Independence. Amazing. And – especially in this age – particularly germane. President Bush ran up amazing debts, and President Obama seems intent on eclipsing Bush’s most frenzied bouts of fiscal irresponsibility. Nancy Pelosi’s ‘Enhanced Interrogation’ story of the day has more versions then one can keep track of – five? Six? Who knows. Fully a century and half before Peter Parker paraphrased this sentiment with his ‘with great power comes great responsibility’, John Calhoun articulated the philosophical balance of power and liberty. We as citizens surrender sovereignty to elected officials with the expectation they will use that power wisely. I won’t tell you what to think about our current crop of leaders – but you should apply this Calhoun maxim to your local, state, and federal representatives.
A second quote – and I promise – my last, is another one from John Calhoun. I love my nation and consider myself to be a patriot. But more then the apparatus and trappings of government, I love the core tenet of what it is to be an American – the exercise of liberty. I am a strong advocate of limited government, believing that that local government is most responsive to me. Calhoun agreed:
The union, next to our liberty most dear.
The Constitution clearly articulated the role of the Federal government – and it is an important role. But I have seen the Federal government abrogate powers it has no Constitutional right to exert upon the several states. It is important that Washington be called to remember that their mandate is constitutionally limited in scope – and should be. My essay on HR 450 explains how at least 29 Congressmen understand this – what about the rest of them? Government exists for one reason. To ensure the maximum amount of protection while retaining the least restriction on popular sovereignty. In Connecticut, less then 5% of the population has imposed their will upon all of us (HR 899). This is indicative that we are already in trouble. As Americans, we cannot allow our Federal government to usurp the will of the people.
Some words from our wise and illustrious forefathers to consider.
God Bless you all!