Some rather quaint statements were made this week by a New Jersey businessman to a Tennessee chapter of a nationally known patriotic (so-called) organization for men. Some of his more bland and ambiguous, some downright inaccurate, gems include: “Today, more that ever in our history, it is vital that we preserve the traditions of early America, the America of George Washington…. to preserve these traditions is vital because conditions of the past 150 years have given us a melting pot – a great mixtures of races, religions, and ideologies. And some of these are antagonistic to the traditions for which Washington fought and for which patriot blood was shed all the way from Boston to King’s Mountain.”
“From 1760 to 1780, Americans were racially one, of one mind, grounded in the principles and traditions of America. Today, the influx of peoples from other lands with ideas hostile to those woven into this Republic and sealed with the blood of patriots has diluted these early traditions…. Now with peoples split and with much intermarriage, especially in the North, of pure American stock to foreigners, we have a problem that presses upward for solution. How are we to keep Americanism pure?” and he goes on to answer this purely rhetorical question by saying, “We, the descendants of the founders of America must unite and stand as one together as never before, not only to justify our existence, but to make certain that the traditions of our great past become the traditions of future generations of Americans.”
Well, there is more of the same, but it is largely repetition. But let us look for a moment at this series of statements, or misstatements. In the first place, there is much in our history that we wish to preserve. It all started with the Revolution, so we want to preserve that right as basic to our philosophy and perhaps our continued existence. If revolution is wrong, then we started out from an untenable assumption and action based on that assumption, and hence we have no moral or historical justification for existence as a nation. But perhaps the speaker did not realize that what he was urging was contradictory to the events that give his organization justification for existence.
George Washington was not fighting to preserve tradition, but to break with it. Had the Revolution ended in defeat for the American forces, Washington would probably have been the first to be executed as a traitor, and he would have gone down in history – British history – as a traitor, just as we now so firmly regard Benedict Arnold. And the verdict of history would have sustained his executioners, for Washington was definitely subversive, from the British point of view. Obviously, the speaker is the son of a Revolution, for which he is proud, but he would shrink from being the father of one.
As to his assertion that “From1760 to 1780, Americans were racially one, of one mind, grounded in the principles and traditions of America,” well, it is a beautiful thought; the only thing wrong with it is that it is simply is not true. Even an elementary glance at the ethnological make-up of our population at the time of the Revolution, reveals that there were Negro slaves, British, Dutch, French exiles, incidentally Huguenot Protestants, Maryland Catholics, Pennsylvania Quakers, Irish Catholics, Scotch Covenanters, Jews, Swedes, and others to numerous to mention.
We started out as a polyglot people, heterogeneous in our make-up, diverse in our political outlook. Many Americans for example, supported the loyalist cause. And, as a matter of historical fact, there was intermingling and inter-marriage among these foreigners from the start. If by “pure,” one means “race, religion, or nationality,” then we started out as an impure nation, and as Americans we (the majority of us) are proud of it. Perhaps the tradition demonstrated by the fact that diverse peoples from many nations and religions and races can find common political bonds of agreement under our constitutional system is the greatest tradition that we have created, and the one of which we can be the most proud. There is no race, religion, or nationality group that has a monopoly upon Americans (whatever that means). In every war we have fought, if you wish to use participation in war as a criterion of patriotism, all of our races, nationalities, and religious groups have taken part and acquitted themselves with honor. And that holds true whether their descendants came over on the Mayflower or arrived since World War II as refugees from tyranny. The words “displaced persons,” so disturbing to some, may mean “delayed pilgrims.” After all, anyone could come here in 1760 for there were no immigration laws, and it is likely that many who came then could not get past the barriers of the watchdogs of our State Department [today].
So let us keep these things in mind as we see, hear, or read such nonsense as our, undoubtedly sincere, but uninformed, speaker presented this past week. Ten days from now Americans of all national, racial, and religious backgrounds will go to the polls and vote for candidates of their own choice. They will, it is hoped, make their choices in the light of the problems of 1956 rather than any blind adherence to some mythical tradition of our past. Americans generally have, if anything, been realists: holding on to those things in our tradition that history has proved to be good, but willing to cast aside those that are either not good, or having been good once, are now outdated and useless as a result of the passing of time and changing of problems we face. And certainly it is not in the American tradition to acquiesce in the idea that a numerically small group is the self-appointed keeper of American purity, destiny, or anything else. It was that against which we revolted in 1776.
And in this connection, may I pass on to you a short poem by T. Moore Atkinson, who says:
Gone are the old frontiers, the unexplored,
The borderlands on which our fathers wrought
To tame the wild or, at some rocky ford,
To plant a town; a culture dearly bought.
The lands are mapped now, schools have come, and trade
The niceties of social grace abound.
The ancient dangers, stark romance are laid
Away where only legendary tales are found.
Still, one frontier remains as old as men,
As rude and lone as Vineland’s lonely shore,
The realm of man’s own spirit past the ken
Of men to weigh, still waits beyond the door.
These pasts persist, a dare to pioneers,
The soul and minds unconquered lands, our last frontiers.
During the past two weeks we have heard much “’tis so” “’taint so’” about cessation of H-bomb experiments, disarmament, etc., all of which has been both enlightening and confusing. Perhaps it is the unshackled common sense of the general public that will have to guide the nations to a disarmament agreement that the world’s political and military leaders have been unable to achieve. In both the United States and the Soviet Union, military leaders, some not now in uniform, have a virtual veto power over their country’s disarmament proposals. Political heads, sensitive to public pressure, try to move forward, but the military leaders have shown very little faith in a security system through disarmament. As a result, disarmament negotiations have been a sort of minuet, where partners advance mincingly toward each other, then coyly back away. But public demands for a disarmament treaty continue to mount. A generation that has unleashed the power of the atom and that has devised cures for dread diseases must certainly have capacity to create the political devices which will ensure world peace. This is a must, for if this generation fails to do so, it will have failed to meet its rendezvous with destiny and will be responsible for the awful effects upon future generations. In fact, it may well determine whether there will be any future generations.