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The Strength of the U.S.A.

By Remy Benoit

AOL TV is asking for a vote on The Greatest American.

I have given a great deal of thought to this question. If you look at the Top 25 they have at the site there are Presidents, Einstein, Disney, Franklin, Ali, Presley, Oprah, Parks, Gates,

There is no doubt that each of them is outstanding in each of their respective fields but....

But is the most qualifying word in the English language.

But the work of the individuals listed on this page stands on the backs of those who came before them, just as the work we do stands on theirs.

In 1776 the American Colonials decided it was time; time for a revolution.

The astonishingly brilliant red-head from Virginia wrote these words. They were important to him; he wanted his authorship of them carved into his tombstone. As a friend of mine would say, 'he was just a man;" a man of his time, a man with foibles, but also a man with great vision and trust in the dream of a democracy. If you haven't read these words in a long time, please, do read them now. They are President Jefferson's legacy to you, just as the state I sit in now to type this, Louisiana, is as part of the Louisiana Purchase that just about doubled the size of the country:

The Declaration of Independence of the Thirteen Colonies
In CONGRESS, July 4, 1776

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

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. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. —Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain [George III] is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

Mr. Jefferson altered Mr. Locke's words; pursuit of happiness from pursuit of property. Words have great, great power. Happiness had never before been a consideration. Their work, their words, grew from the work of countless others from thousands of years before them in many, many places.

FDR is there too. Some love him, some hate him, today as they did then. But he did hold the country together is a desperate time. How many of you actually read in school the words to this song?

"Brother, Can You Spare a Dime," lyrics by Yip Harburg, music by Gorney Harburg (1931)

They used to tell me I was building a dream, and so I followed the mob,
When there was earth to plow, or guns to bear, I was always there right on the job.
They used to tell me I was building a dream, with peace and glory ahead,
Why should I be standing in line, just waiting for bread?

Once I built a railroad, I made it run, made it race against time.
Once I built a railroad; now it's done. Brother, can you spare a dime?
Once I built a tower, up to the sun, brick, and rivet, and lime;
Once I built a tower, now it's done. Brother, can you spare a dime?

Once in khaki suits, gee we looked swell,
Full of that Yankee Doodly Dum,
Half a million boots went slogging through Hell,
And I was the kid with the drum!

Say, don't you remember, they called me Al; it was Al all the time.
Why don't you remember, I'm your pal? Buddy, can you spare a dime?

Once in khaki suits, gee we looked swell,
Full of that Yankee Doodly Dum,
Half a million boots went slogging through Hell,
And I was the kid with the drum!

Say, don't you remember, they called me Al; it was Al all the time.
Say, don't you remember, I'm your pal? Buddy, can you spare a dime?

A number of years ago in one of my honors history classes, a young man did an oral history paper concerning the "Ma and Pa Store" that his grandparents ran through the depression. They extended credit to their neighbors and they were paid back, every cent.

Our sons were sent "Over There" more than once.

Over there / George M. Cohan

Johnnie get your gun, get your gun, get your gun,
Take it on the run, on the run, on the run,
Hear them calling you and me,
Ev'ry son of liberty.
Hurry right away, no delay, go today,
Make your daddy glad to have had such a lad,
Tell your sweetheart not to pine,
To be proud her boy's in line.

Over there over there
Send the word, send the word over there
That the Yanks are coming, the Yanks are coming,
The drums rum-tumming ev'rywhere
So prepare say a pray'r
Send the word, send the word to beware
We'll be over, we're coming over,
And we won't come back till it's over over there!

Johnnie get your gun, get your gun, get your gun,
Johnnie show the Hun you're a son of a gun,
Hoist the flag and let her fly,
Yankee Doodle do or die.
Pack your little kit, show your grit, do your bit,
Yankees to the ranks from the towns and the tanks,
Make your mother proud of you
And the old Red White and Blue.

When the Yanks, the Doughboys, arrived in France for the first one, their cry was "Nous voilà, Lafayette!"

"Lafayette, we are here." Pay back time for his help in our Revolution.

We were back again at Normandy.

Those Yanks certainly deserve Top 25.

I do not see our soldiers who came home, if they came home, mentally wounded, physically wounded, bound to wheelchairs and forgotten.

I do not see in this list of the Top 25 Rosie the Riveter.
I do not see the countless members of sit-ins that helped foment Civil Rights legislation.

I do not see the artists who beautified it, the musicians who sang it, the farmers who fed it, the newspaper people and writers who reported it, the photographers who captured it, the historians who recorded it.

I do not see the CCC workers who built tree lines; the WPA workers who built bridges; the carpenters who housed it. I do not see countless others who built, improved, and expanded the country.

I do not see the workers who stood up to the bosses in the Railroad Strike of 1877. or the workers who took on the Homestead and Pullman Strikes.

I do not see the Muckrakers who got us legislation for Pure Food and Drugs, for education, for help for the mentally ill, for countless other things we take for granted. Between 1902 and 1912 they published over a thousand articles to fight for decency in life.

I do not see the millions who demonstrated through the decades for what they felt was right, who had a dream, who had many dreams, some of which have come to fruition.

I do not see the women who said, "Oh, yes, we will vote" and were called witches and worse for it.

I do not see the women who demanded equal pay for equal work.

I do not see the teachers who handed down the legacy, the doctors who healed us, the lawyers who protected its intent, the electricians who wired it, the plumbers who brought it water. I do not see thousands upon thousands of others who did their best for it.

I do not see so very many decades of those who gave everything to support the American dream.

In thinking about this question, another arose.

What is the strength of America?

The strength is in the people, We the People, working together for the Common Good.

Do we always agree what that is? No, probably we never have except for one thing:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

That means dialogue.
That means working together for the common good.
That does not mean "them" and "us."
That does not mean "reds" and "blues."

That means the common good.
That means a free and independent press that is doing its job.
That means voters going to the polls.
That means active participation in governing; legislators responsive to the public.

The Framers of the Constitution did not like political parties. They felt they would get lost in self-interest; in partisanship and that that would be destructive of the dream that the world said couldn't work. Well, work it has, not perfectly, not always in the best interests of us and the world, but still it has survived.

Once we built a country, made it run....

You continue doing that each morning when you get up and get out there working on the dream, when you vote, when you let your legislators know what you are really thinking.

You continue doing that when you sit down and learn some history about where all that we face is coming from.

You continue doing that when you remember the words of those who came before; when you remember the sacrifices of those who came before. When you honor them and your Constitution.

The Framers worked hard and still some demanded more. Some refused to sign that document until these words were added:

Amendments 1-10 of the Constitution

The Conventions of a number of the States having, at the time of adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added, and as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government will best insure the beneficent ends of its institution;

Resolved, by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, two-thirds of both Houses concurring, that the following articles be proposed to the Legislatures of the several States, as amendments to the Constitution of the United States; all or any of which articles, when ratified by three-fourths of the said Legislatures, to be valid to all intents and purposes as part of the said Constitution, namely:

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Amendment II

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

Amendment III

No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

Amendment IV

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Amendment V

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Amendment VI

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.

Amendment VII

In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

Amendment VIII

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

Amendment IX

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Amendment X

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

There are 17 more Amendments. Do you know what they are?

Who is the Greatest American? Each and everyone who has fought for, worked for, thought of, and handed down the dream that everyone said was impossible and we kept alive.

What is the duty of every America? To preserve that dream for the next generation.

Duty, Honor, Country are not just about West Point; they are our legacy, our right, and our obligation.

The strength of the U.S.A. is in its people, working together for the common good. Right now, at this moment in time, we have a lot of work to do and we need to pull together to do it. Presidents, Legislators, Judges come and go. The Dream abides if we, only if we, Preserve, Protect and Defend it.


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This item is part of historian, author, editor, and educator Remy Benoit's ongoing weblog for Veterans, writers, students, and others who believe in learning from and making history; including thousands of articles and posts and the free writing seminar, Using History for Healing and Writing.

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