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Don’t think that our Founding Fathers always agreed on everything. No. Each one came prepared to support his view in the strongest possible language. Many of their most favorite convictions were in total opposition to each other. Their secret was that they were determined to find a way to come together on the main issues, and therefore one of the greatest traditions we have as Americans is that of compromise.
To some folks today, “compromise” is a dirty word. But if you will look at the failure of many nations in our own hemisphere and elsewhere, you will see that often the lack of a desire or ability to compromise has been at the root of that failure.
When I have to select someone from our founders to emulate, I invariably come up with the Father of our Country — George Washington. And I believe he passes the Murchison Law test in that he didn’t want to be prince, king, or even president, but took on the job out of a sense of duty to his country.
Washington was a man of few words, but some of his speeches and letters, in my opinion, are remarkably helpful to us as the succeeding generations of Americans. How cogent are the recommendations he presented in his Farewell Address! Number one was to protect National unity. He said these memorable words: “The name of America, which belongs to you, in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of patriotism, more than any appellation derived from local discriminations.” He realized that political parties are tempted to “misrepresent the opinions and aims” of one another to gain votes. He emphasized that, no matter what our party affiliation, we are all Americans.
Yet another document written by Washington fills me with thanksgiving and pride in him as our first and greatest American patriot and leader. This document is a Letter to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island, dated Aug. 21, 1790. In this letter, Washington expresses his belief in the future of our nation: “If we have wisdom to make the best use of the advantages with which we are now favored, we cannot fail, under the just administration of a good Government, to become a great and happy people.”
In this missive he also thanks the Hebrew Congregation for a kind reception of him when he visited and he passes a very great compliment on his fellow country men. Listen to what he thought most deserving of praise: “The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy worthy of imitation.” He continues with these words: “It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent rights.” And he then emphasizes that Americans are required only to “demean themselves as good citizens” and give to the government “their effectual support.”
I had a professor once who said that all expressions can be classified as either a blessing or a curse. I believe in blessings and have a kind of collection— mostly Irish in origin because of my ancestry. But Washington’s closing to his letter to the Hebrew Congregation is an especial favorite of mine: “May the children of the stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants while everyone shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.”
I have always felt that whatever a person wishes for another person often comes back on the person who did the original wishing. Also I think that the words of a blessing taste sweet; whereas those of a curse are very bitter to the one who utters them.
The second part of Washington’s blessing covers us all: “May the father of all mercies scatter light and not darkness in our paths and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in his own due time and way everlastingly happy.”
Now you know why I loved to hear Kate Smith sing “God Bless America.” I think we are going “through the night with the light from above” as our only beacon. I hope we are cherishing this holy light and not just trusting in our own machinations, catchy slogans, and cash values.
The second part of the blessing mentions being “useful” in our various “vocations,” and I think that will go a long way toward bringing us happiness.
Gelene Simpson is a Daily Sun columnist. Her column appears on Tuesdays. Want to “Soundoff” on this column? Email: email@example.com