Speech to the Pennsylvania Society of the Sons of the Revolution
By Ambassador Alan Keyes
July 4, 2001I feel a special thrill today to be able to come to the very birthplace of the nation's liberty in order to observe the nation's birth. I know that we are accustomed on the 4th of July throughout the history of the country to gather together to listen to folks speak, and there is and has been throughout the nation's history a kind of competition in eloquence on the 4th of July. I want to announce right away that I shall not enter into this competition, since I think I have probably been soundly defeated over the course of the couple of centuries the nation has existed. I only hope today that I shall be able to share a couple of words of truth. And I hope you will excuse me because the truth isn't always comfortable, but we cannot hope truly to observe the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence if we are not willing to do what our founders did and that is to face and accept even those truths by which our own actions, our own institutions, our own predilections, might be judged and condemned. I think that that was one of the greatest and most admirable virtues of our founding generation.
Now I realize today that there is a broad effort from time to time to discredit the founders. I was reading the other day in the newspaper about a legislator in Congress who was bad-mouthing George Washington because he owned slaves, another who refuses to say the pledge of allegiance because the nation \u201Cdoes not stand for liberty and justice,\u201D others who won't salute the flag because it was a flag that flew over a nation in which slavery existed and so on and so forth. I don't think we should run from the truth of our history, but if we are in fact going to appreciate those truths then we had best try to put things in the right and true perspective, especially since we are part of a generation that in our own actions and in our own policies is threatening to destroy the very tradition that gives us our respect for rights. I think that we need to reflect on the contrast between a founding generation born into a world characterized by despotism and tyranny and slavery, in which those things were not considered to be unusual or even challengeable, but who though they were born into an era dominated by the philosophy and practice and institutions based upon inequality and the denial of human freedom, were wise, courageous and prudent enough to recognize the truths and plant the seeds of that liberty which would overturn the era of despotism and become the foundation for a successful struggle, even against the age-old institution of slavery. I can tell you this, I think I would rather show respect for that generation which though born into an era of slavery planted the seeds of liberty, than to be part of a generation that born into an era of liberty, plants the seeds of renewed slavery and bondage.
And sadly my friends, as we gather here on the 225th anniversary, I think we need to recognize that we are in danger of being that generation. The assault on the reputation of our founders is in fact a reflection of an effort to assault the principles that they laid down as the basis for the nation's existence, principles that we observe on this day, clearly and explicitly articulated. They cannot be lost in the mists of time, they cannot be obscured, because they have been written down and transmitted and clearly remembered generation-to-generation as we do here today. But there are those embarrassed by them now, embarrassed especially by those great words which acknowledge, as we must acknowledge if we mean to sustain the discipline of liberty, that our independence was not an act of will \u2013 I think that that is exemplified in the very day on which we celebrate here, it's July 4th, we celebrate the signing of the Declaration. The act of will through which the people of that time declared their independence was actually done on July 2nd. We do not celebrate the act of will, we celebrate the declaration of principles. And in that declaration of principles the founding generation did what we must in every generation do if we mean to preserve our liberty. They acknowledged the Will beyond their will, they acknowledged the Power beyond their power that is in fact the source of all our justice and all our hopes for human freedom. They did not say that our rights derived from our strength, they did not claim that they would derive from our victory, they understood that each and every human being, whatever their station or condition, strong or weak, successful or unsuccessful, victorious or defeated, nonetheless enjoy the dignity which comes to them, not by the choice of human will, but by the will of Almighty God. We are today the heirs and we ought to be the practitioners of that declaration of principle. And it wasn't just, as we all know, words on paper. The founding generation had to go forth then and stand up for those words in ways that may not be so much appreciated now. We think of freedom as a source of strength, a source of comfort, a source of the wonderful economic abundance that we enjoy, the respect that we have in the world and so forth and so on. This was not what liberty meant to them. At that time liberty was a risk. Liberty meant the possibility that you would lose all the comforts, that you would watch the burning and destruction of your homestead, that your very life would be forfeited to those who if victorious would consider you not the patriots of liberty, but the careless rebels who represented that which they had to defeat and destroy. No, they understood the risks and the sacrifices as have other generations as well; for though it is true, as some say for instance, that the American flag flew over the era of slavery, it also flew over the carnage and sacrifice of the Civil War. It flew over all of those who though they themselves did not own slaves were not complicit in the injustice of slavery and were nonetheless willing, at eighteen and nineteen and twenty years old, to go forward and in their diaries and from their hearts they declared that they stood on the battle lines of freedom in order that that principle of human equality and freedom would be vindicated, even at the cost of their lives. It is their blood and their sacrifice that washed this nation clean. It was washed clean on the battlefields of Antietam and Gettysburg, it was washed clean by the spiritual result of all of those who were willing to stand, regardless of sacrifice, in conscientious opposition to human enslavement and despotism.
And in the course of generation after generation we have done so in this nation, more and more peoples coming from all over the world have joined, in the confluence of our liberty, have joined together to stand as we now stand, representative of the whole human race. We are a nation of nations, a people of many peoples, bound together not because we are of common race and background and nationality and so forth, bound together because we stand on a common ground of those principles which we are here today to respect and to observe. Principles that promise to every human being, as they come from the hand of Almighty God, respect for their equal moral dignity, for their equal human rights.
But, even as we stand before principles that promise that dignity, we live in a country in which that promise is no longer extended, not just to a few but in principle to every new generation as it is born. We have, for the sake it seems of our self-indulgence, our sexual liberties, withdrawn the guarantee of liberty from that seed which is the physical manifestation of our walk into future generations. For though we sit today, each and every one of us walking free and claiming our rights, yet every new generation now comes through the shadow of death in the womb, because we have withdrawn the principle of that truth from those generations yet unborn. We have violated the principles stated clearly as the very aim of our Constitution: to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, that is to say, to ALL Americans, born and not yet born. But don't fool yourselves. We fool ourselves with the belief that somehow that withdrawal of our promise is just affecting the unborn \u2013 but that's not true. Have you been listening to the discussions these days of stem cell research and cloning and all these things? Do you know what's really going on? The same thing that was going on in slavery times, the same thing that has gone on throughout human history; they try to pretend that slavery was an institution motivated in the end by racism and prejudice \u2013 that is a lie! Racism and prejudice were invoked to defend slavery but it was rooted in human greed! \u2013 and in the willingness to disregard the dignity of human beings for the sake of profit and success. And my friends, we're seeing the same thing begin today as people come forward to tell us that we must disregard the humanity of human beings based on how they are conceived. Conceived after the fashion of the bedroom and you are entitled to your rights it seems, so long as you can make it to birth. Conceived in a petri dish we won't respect your humanity. Do you realize that once we've adopted that principle others are going to come forward to extend it even further? For our human ingenuity will soon come up with ways, as you and I both know, to bring whole human beings forth without the benefit of the normal process of procreation. That's what cloning is all about; this is not science fiction anymore, this is not the future that will come, this is the moral issue that we confront. And the seeds that we plant in our thinking today will decide whether or not, in the course of this century, we shall see whole new classes of human beings brought into existence by our ingenuity but condemned to indignity and injustice and slavery just as my ancestors were condemned. I can think of a fate worse than being born into a generation that accepted slavery. It is to be born into the generation that renewed the horrors of slavery for millions yet unborn. And if we are not careful, that will be our fate.
How can we avoid it? I think it's simple. I think we simply need to do in truth what we today observe in form, show our respect and allegiance for the great principles of our Declaration. But if we're going to do that then we'll have to face the uncomfortable truth that that Declaration not only promises our rights, it implies a discipline, it implies a limit to will and power in our use of those rights. For even as it determines that it shall be by vote and consent and majority will that representatives are chosen and laws made and justices and magistrates placed, so it determines that the basis for that claim to rights and votes and due process and liberty is our willingness to acknowledge the limits of human power, the limits of human willfulness, the fact that there is a transcendent good, a transcendent will, a transcendent power beyond our reach that dictates the requirement that we respect the life and dignity and rights of every human being, regardless of their station, of their strength, of their condition or the circumstances of their birth. If we are willing to renew our commitment, in truth, to that great principle, then we shall avoid the dark shadow of renewed oppression and instead lay the foundations in the 21st century for the perpetuation of that liberty for which we have fought and for which so many have sacrificed in the course of the 20th. I think that we are in fact, on the 225th anniversary of our nation's founding, in the midst of a great crisis of our Declaration principles. And like the crisis of our birth it will require that we be willing to stand up and take the risks and accept the challenges of unpopularity and difficulty and political loss for the sake of sustaining into the future, a real commitment to the meaning of those principles. It's one thing to enjoy the fruits. It's another to be willing to sacrifice even those fruits in order to perpetuate the reality of liberty.
It's a hard message I know, for we are a time and people accustomed to believe that freedom is comfort, freedom is universal healthcare, freedom is a job, freedom is money, freedom is being taken care of and having all the material conditions satisfied. How can this be? How can freedom be material comfort when so many have sacrificed material comfort for freedom? How can freedom be having all these good things when, if necessary, we must be willing to put each and every one of them on the line so that we may all be free? I think it's time we remember that at the true heart of freedom is this promise of moral dignity, a promise that does not depend on our material circumstances, on our wealth or poverty, on our riches or strength, a promise that depends instead on our willingness in conscience and truth and will and action, to acknowledge the gift that we cannot give ourselves but that comes instead from Almighty God, our Creator. And to do so in a way that affirms that whatever the outward appearance of a human life, there is an inner light, an inner dignity that reflects the full dignity of God in all His divine glory. And that as we respect our God, so we shall respect the spark of His divinity in each and every human being, in each and every human life. If we are willing in fact to make this our commitment, then I think we can move forward from this day as generations have year after year, decade after decade, generation after generation in this great country of ours. For all the challenges, for all of those who can become the negative voices and the [nay sayers], I think that the allegiance to the principles of the Declaration burns bright and deep in the hearts of most every American. I think there is still within us that reserve that will be needed in order to assure that through good times and bad, that promise of human dignity will continue to be held aloft in this land, to be an inspiration to all those peoples from whom we come. For it is truly to be said that we come from every nation and every continent and every creed and every background. We feel with people all over the world because we are of those people, Blacks and Jews and Poles and Italians and people of all different creeds and backgrounds, everyone of us representing a thread of humanity come together to be woven into the fabric of human liberty, of human dignity, as God wills it forever. If we are indeed cognizant of that obligation which we owe, not just to ourselves and to our children but to all the posterity of the earth, then I think we shall fulfill that great promise with which our nation began, that great promise which in fact reflects, not a human decision, but rather the promise of God Himself for the better destiny of all the human race. God bless you.