Tomorrow I’ll meet 16 elementary school kids for the first time. In five days I’m going to try to convey the spirit of America using the words of our leaders, artists and journalists.
I picked these to start:
“When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
- Thomas Jefferson
“In this world nothing can be said to be certain except Death and Taxes.”
- Benjamin Franklin
“What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as freedom should not be highly rated.”
- Thomas Paine
“The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe in blood for centuries.”
- James Madison
“Speak softly and carry a big stick. You will go far.”
- Teddy Roosevelt
“Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all.”
“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself; I am large — I contain multitudes.” – Walt Whitman
“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
- Abraham Lincoln
“I was never kinder to the old man than during the whole week before I killed him.” – Edgar Allan Poe
“If you haven’t got anything nice to say about anybody come sit next to me.”
“Do what you feel in your heart to be right – for you’ll be criticized anyway.”
“Woman must not accept; she must challenge. She must not be awed by that which has been built up around her; she must reverence that woman in her which struggles for expression.” – Margaret Sanger
“I freed a thousand slaves I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.” – Harriet Tubman
“I felt invincible. My strength was that of a giant. God was certainly standing by me. I smashed five saloons with rocks before I ever took a hatchet.” – Carry Nation
“We didn’t land on Plymouth Rock, Plymouth Rock landed on us.”
- Malcolm X
“Remember, remember always, that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.”
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt
“A woman has two choices: Either she’s a feminist or a masochist.”
“I wasn’t really scared. I was very excited, and I was very anxious. When you’re getting ready to launch into space, you’re sitting on a big explosion waiting to happen.” – Sally Ride
“Every one of us is, in the cosmic perspective, precious. If a human disagrees with you, let him live. In a hundred billion galaxies, you will not find another.” – Carl Sagan
“As I ramble through life, whatever be my goal, I will unfortunately always keep my eye upon the doughnut and not upon the whole. “
- Wendy Wasserstein
“The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient. To dig for treasures shows not only impatience and greed, but lack of faith. Patience, patience, patience, is what the sea teaches. Patience and faith. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach — waiting for a gift from the sea.” – Anne Morrow Lindbergh
“I’d like to have money. And I’d like to be a good writer. These two can come together, and I hope they will, but if that’s too adorable, I’d rather have money.” – Dorothy Parker
“I don’t say he’s a great man. Willy Loman never made a lot of money. His name was never in the paper. He’s not the finest character that ever lived. But he’s a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid. He’s not to be allowed to fall into his grave like an old dog. Attention, attention must finally be paid to such a person.”
“Censorship of anything, at any time, in any place, on whatever pretense, has always been and always will be the last resort of the boob and the bigot.” ― Eugene O’Neill
“I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept people like me as a member.” “Marriage is a wonderful institution, but who wants to live in an institution?” – Julius “Groucho” Marx
“I think of a hero as someone who understands the degree of responsibility that comes with his freedom.” – Bob Dylan
“When you’re born you get a ticket to the freak show. When you’re born in America, you get a front-row seat.” –George Carlin
“And on the subject of burning books: I want to congratulate librarians, not famous for their physical strength or their powerful political connections or their great wealth, who, all over this country, have staunchly resisted anti-democratic bullies who have tried to remove certain books from their shelves, and have refused to reveal to thought police the names of persons who have checked out those titles. So the America I loved still exists, if not in the White House or the Supreme Court or the Senate or the House of Representatives or the media. The America I love still exists at the front desks of our public libraries.” – Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
“The love of the family, the love of the person can heal. It heals the scars left by a larger society. A massive, powerful society.” – Maya Angelou
“Some people tap their feet, some people snap their fingers, and some people sway back and forth. I just sorta do ‘em all together, I guess.”
– Elvis Presley
“Our opponents in the agricultural industry are very powerful and farm workers are still weak in money and influence. But we have another kind of power that comes from the justice of our cause. So long as we are willing to sacrifice for that cause, so long as we persist in non-violence and work to spread the message of our struggle, then millions of people around the world will respond from their heart, will support our efforts…and in the end we will overcome.”- Cesar Chavez
“I am an invisible man. No I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allen Poe: Nor am I one of your Hollywood movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids - and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, simply because people refuse to see me.”
– Ralph Ellison
“In our civilization, and under our republican form of government, intelligence is so highly honored that it is rewarded by exemption from the cares of office.” – Ambrose Bierce
“Moral certainty is always a sign of cultural inferiority. The more uncivilized the man, the surer he is that he knows precisely what is right and what is wrong. All human progress, even in morals, has been the work of men who have doubted the current moral values, not of men who have whooped them up and tried to enforce them. The truly civilized man is always skeptical and tolerant.”
“As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.” – H.L. Mencken
“I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat.”
“Too many people spend money they haven’t earned, to buy things they don’t want, to impress people that they don’t like.”
– Will Rogers
“And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.I have a dream today!
And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.
Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.
Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.
Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.
Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.
But not only that:
Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.
Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.
Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.
From every mountainside, let freedom ring.
And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, Free at last! Free at last!Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”
- Martin Luther King Jr.
“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”
“We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.”
- Martin Luther King Jr.
“I’m not concerned with your liking or disliking me… all I ask is that you respect me as a human being.” – Jackie Robinson
“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”
“Reader, suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.”
“God created war so that Americans would learn geography.”
“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” – Mark Twain
“Let the world know you as you are, not as you think you should be, because sooner or later, if you are posing, you will forget the pose, and then where are you?” – Fanny Brice
“It’s a matter of taking the side of the weak against the strong, something the best people have always done.” – Harriet Beecher Stowe
“How come you don’t work fourteen hours a day? Your great-great-grandparents did. How come you only work the eight-hour day? Four guys got hanged fighting for the eight-hour day for you.” – Studs Terkel
“I thought how unpleasant it is to be locked out; and I thought how it is worse, perhaps, to be locked in.” – Virginia Woolf
“Young women today often have very little appreciation for the real battles that took place to get women where they are today in this country. I don’t know how much history young women today know about those battles.”
“Do the best you can in every task, no matter how unimportant it may seem at the time. No one learns more about a problem than the person at the bottom.” – Justice Sandra Day O’Connor
“What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July?
I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass-fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy-a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages.” – Frederick Douglass
“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron.”
– Dwight D. Eisenhower
“There’s never been a law yet that didn’t have a ridiculous consequence in some unusual situation; there’s probably never been a government program that didn’t accidentally benefit someone it wasn’t intended to. Most people who work in government understand that what you do about it is fix the problem — you don’t just attack the whole government.”
“One function of the income gap is that the people at the top of the heap have a hard time even seeing those at the bottom. They practically need a telescope. The pharaohs of ancient Egypt probably didn’t waste a lot of time thinking about the people who built their pyramids, either. OK, so it’s not that bad yet — but it’s getting that bad.” – Molly Ivins
“Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice.” – Barry Goldwater
“If you give us the chance, we can perform. After all, Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards and in high heels.” – Texas Governor Ann Richards
“In the Soviet Union capitalism triumphed over communism. In this country capitalism triumphed over democracy.” – Fran Lebowitz
“I don’t want realism. I want magic! Yes, yes, magic! I try to give that to people. I misrepresent things to them. I don’t tell the truth, I tell what ought to be the truth. And it that’s sinful, then let me be damned for it!”
– Tennessee Williams
“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.”
– Harper Lee
“It ain’t over til it’s over!”
“Even Napolean had his Watergate.” – Yogi Berra
“There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why?
I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”
– Robert F. Kennedy
BONUS: WORDS OF OUR IMMIGRANTS
“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us. And the world will live as one.”
– John Lennon
“April 11, 1945. That day I encountered the first American soldiers in the Buchenwald concentration camp. I remember them well. Bewildered, disbelieving, they walked around the place, hell on earth, where our destiny had been played out. They looked at us, just liberated, and did not know what to do or say. Survivors snatched from the dark throes of death, we were empty of all hope—too weak, too emaciated to hug them or even speak to them. Like lost children, the American soldiers wept and wept with rage and sadness. And we received their tears as if they were heartrending offerings from a wounded and generous humanity. In America, compassion for the refugee and respect for the other still have biblical connotations.”
- Elie Weisel
“America is today the hope of all honorable men who respect the rights of their fellow men and who believe in the principle of freedom and justice.”
- Albert Einstein
“I was taught to strive not because there were any guarantees of success but because the act of striving is in itself the only way to keep faith with life.”
– Madeliene Albright
“I knew America was the Promised Land. It was the place to go if you wanted your dreams to come true.” – Arnold Schwarzenegger
“Don’t be telling me to go home, big boy. I am home.”
– Christopher Hitchens
AND A FEW WORDS FROM OUR FRIENDS:
“America is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.” – Alexis de Tocqueville
“Humanity has won its battle. Liberty now has a country.”
– Marquis de Lafayette
Pardon the formatting. Lots of cutting and pasting involved and I’m sleepy.