Grateful to our Fathers – Lincoln at Lyceum

Showing gratitude to our fathers for American government is a good idea for us today

“We, when mounting the stage of existence, found ourselves the legal inheritors of these fundamental blessings. We toiled not in the acquirement or establishment of them–they are a legacy bequeathed us, by a once hardy, brave, and patriotic, but now lamented and departed race of ancestors. Their’s was the task (and nobly they performed it) to possess themselves, and through themselves, us, of this goodly land; and to uprear upon its hills and its valleys, a political edifice of liberty and equal rights; ’tis ours only, to transmit these, the former, unprofaned by the foot of an invader; the latter, undecayed by the lapse of time and untorn by usurpation, to the latest generation that fate shall permit the world to know. This task of gratitude to our fathers, justice to ourselves, duty to posterity, and love for our species in general, all imperatively require us faithfully to perform.”

I have been personally involved in three political miracles. I stood in the cold rain on the Washington Mall at the Inauguration of George W. Bush (20 Jan 2001), I was second in command of Fort Belvoir’s military medical contingent at the Inauguration of Barack Obama (20 Jan 2009), and I was the deputy commander of all Fort Belvoir and Walter Reed military medical forces on the Washington Mall at Obama’s second inauguration (21 Jan 2013). Why were these events political miracles? Because they were peaceful transitions of power. America is not like ancient Rome, which had four emperors in one year (69 AD). We are not like modern China, which has an unelected ruler for life. And we are not like most nations for most of human history, in which rulers were chosen by their “royal” blood, and the blood they spilled from others. Why do we enjoy such political miracles? Because of the work of our forebears – fathers and mothers.

I have spent many hours in Washington working with the Departments of Defense, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, and others. I have met with members of Congress and worked with their staffers on important issues. I have also studied totalitarian regimes and seen Baghdad immediately after Saddam Hussein, when some Baathists still clung to whatever they could keep. Our government is a model of stability, and even cooperation, compared to Louis XIV’s France, Frederick’s Prussia, and Stalin’s Soviet Union. Why do we enjoy such political stability? Because of the work of our forebears – fathers and mothers.

I did Christian missions work in Guatemala, and traveling in Cairo, with machine gun armed police officers and soldiers everywhere. I took Chinese Bibles from then-British Hong Kong into Red China (via Shenzhen and Quangzhou) in December of 1988 and more than once stared down the barrel of an AK-47. I traveled in Erdogan’s Turkey, where they copy the passport of every traveler every day, ensuring that the watchful eye of Big Government knows who is in their country and what they are doing. By contrast, citizens rarely experience the heavy hand of the military, and visitors to America travel freely from sea to shining sea. Why do we enjoy such political freedom? Because of the work of our forebears – fathers and mothers.

Why aren’t we grateful to our fathers for the wonderful system of government they have left us?
1. We cannot see the good in this heritage, focusing instead in what is bad, or at least what we don’t like. This blindness may in intentional or unintentional.
2. We know nothing of history, or current events in many countries of the world, and don’t care enough to find out, so we have nothing to compare our political system with.
3. We don’t like “dead white men.”
4. We are chronological snobs, believing that our era is far more enlightened than the “primitives” of the past, and that we have little to learn from them, never realizing that our descendants will think the same thing about us.
5. We live “lives of quiet desperation”, unwilling to take the time to be thankful to anyone for anything.

America is not perfect. Our transitions of power are less smooth, our politics are less stable, and our freedoms are more skewed, than they should be. Our politicians are sometimes corrupt, and institutions can be overbearing, but compared to the rest of the world, and to almost all of history, we have so much to be thankful for.
Let’s be grateful to our fathers (and mothers, of course) for the amazing land we call the United States.

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