Google+
Close
Happy Fourth, Despite It All
Even with all the worrying developments, there remains much to celebrate about America.

(Dreamstime)

Text  


Mona Charen

On July 4th, I plan to celebrate this nation’s birth with something approaching devotion. I will so despite the fact that each day’s news brings fresh reasons to worry about the future.

I could list the things that worry me, but you know what they are. They probably worry you too, but the Fourth of July is a time to elevate and celebrate rather than fret. So here’s a story:

Advertisement
Last week, I was in Europe and had dinner with a European gentleman. He is very successful and pretty happy with his lot. As sometimes happens when people of different cultures speak, I didn’t understand something he was telling me. He kept emphasizing how important it was, when he was young, that he was good at sports, because he was an immigrant to the country he grew up in. I was a little slow to see the relevance of this until, at length, I got the picture. As the son of immigrants to Germany, he wasn’t accepted by his peers. He felt his outsider status acutely. Excelling at soccer gave him some measure of acceptance.

We are again embroiled in a domestic fight over immigration policy. The Obama administration is confronting the consequences of its unilateral decision to grant permanent residency to the children of illegal immigrants as a wave of unaccompanied minors is dropped at our borders. Characteristically, Obama sees the problem not as (a) something his own policies created; or (b) something he must grapple with as leader of the nation in a conscientious fashion. No, he sees it only as an opportunity to score political points against Republicans.

But putting all of that aside for the moment and thinking back to my “German” dinner companion, our American capacity to adopt immigrants and accept them as fully American remains remarkable and probably unequalled anywhere in the world. It’s a confirmation of the cliché that you cannot become French, or Irish, or Italian by immigration. You’ll always be viewed as a transplant. But anyone from anywhere can become an American. What defines us is not language or ethnicity or religion but a shared dedication to certain propositions. I can’t prove this, but I suspect that even the most die-hard opponent of illegal immigration would be generous and open to any legal immigrant who happened to cross his path. He’d make an effort to pronounce his name correctly and would ask after his family. In fact, that die-hard would probably be kind even to a known illegal, because most Americans are generous. Welcoming newcomers is written into our DNA.

If anything, we’ve leaned too far in recent years toward multiculturalism and separatist identities. Some of our thought leaders appear to think it’s presumptuous to teach our ways to immigrants — though most immigrants are eager to assimilate and sacrificed much to join us. The liberal project to make Americans adapt to immigrants rather than the other way around is one of the reasons some Americans balk at increasing immigration.

Charles Murray argues in his short monograph for the American Enterprise Institute that American exceptionalism is composed of four elements that, taken together, constitute the unique civic culture of the nation. The four traits are: industriousness, egalitarianism, religiosity, and community life.

Religious belief and engagement are declining but remain relatively strong. A Harris poll found that 23 percent of Americans describe themselves as “not at all religious” in 2013, almost double the number who said that in 2007. The percentage of Americans who profess a belief in God (74) remains significantly higher than in most European nations. Seventy-three percent of Frenchmen told Gallup in 2007–2008 that religion is not important in their lives, along with 63 percent of Russians, 71 percent of the British, and 59 percent of Spaniards.

Industriousness is strained by the deadening hand of the regulatory state, but remains more robust than in other countries.

Egalitarianism, by which Murray means the belief that each person is of equal worth, whatever his income or family, remains a firm conviction.

And civic engagement, though shouldered aside in a thousand ways by the vast octopus of government, continues to chug along, creating associations, committees, councils, and clubs to improve life for all. Out of curiosity, I googled “English as a Second Language” classes in my area and discovered a vast network, including ESLIM (English as a Second Language and Immigrant Ministries), a program of the Methodist Church, the Northern Virginia Community Colleges, and many others.

Worth some fireworks, I’d say.

— Mona Charen is a nationally syndicated columnist and a Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. © 2014 Creators Syndicate, Inc.


Signers of the Declaration of Independence
As Americans celebrate the Fourth of July, here's a look at the men who signed their name to the nation's founding document, the Declaration of Independence.
Fifty six names appear on the Declaration of Independence, representatives to the Continental Congress from the original thirteen colonies. Most were born in America, with eight born abroad. They were men of means, more than half of them lawyers, along with merchants from a variety of trades. All had much to lose if the fight for independence were to fail.
Some of the signers went on to play key roles in the early years of the new nation, including helping to draft the federal Constitution.; two later became president. Others are less well known to history, with a few having done little in public service save for their time on the Continental Congress.
As a group they pledged to each other “our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor,” a pact with terrible gravity given the threats issued by King George against the independence movement and the Continental Congress itself.
Their assertion of the right of independence, and the inalienable rights of all men, would echo through the nation's founding and beyond.
John Adams (Massachusetts): Adams, who would go on to become the first vice-president (under George Washington) and the second president of the United States, was one of the core Founding Fathers, whose work in advocating independence earned him the appellation "Atlas of American Independence."
Samuel Adams (Massachusetts): The "Firebrand of the Revolution" was a true believer in independence who played a major part in the agitation that led to the Revolution, most famously in helping to incite the Boston Tea Party. His spirited and successful career as a polemicist contrasted with his personal and professional shortcomings.
Josiah Barlett (New Hampshire): One of several physicians serving in the Continental Congress, and would put those skills to use with a Continental army regiment from New Hampshire during the Revolutionary War.
Carter Braxton (Virginia): Braxton had signed on to the Virginia Resolves, which protested British regulation of colonial affairs, in 1769, but initially opposed the independence movement as a congressman.
Charles Carroll (Maryland): The lone Roman Catholic signer, Carroll was also one of the wealthiest men in the colonies, and once travelled with Benjamin Franklin to try to obtain a union between Canada and the colonies.
Samuel Chase (Maryland): A lawyer known as the "Demosthenes of Maryland" for his skilled oratories, Chase would later serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Abraham Clark (New Jersey): Though he failed to be admitted to the bar, Clark was known as a "poor man's counselor" who would give legal advice in trade for goods. Two of Clark's sons were captured by the British and kept on the prison ship Jersey.
George Clymer (Pennsylvania): A financier who acted as a Continental treasurer before the Revolution, Clymer represented Pennsylvania at the Constitutional Convention in 1787, where he signed that founding document as well.
William Ellery (Rhode Island): Ellery tried his hand at several professions before settling on law, and after the Revolution — during which his Newport home was destroyed by British troops — he worked in the Continental Loan Office.
William Floyd (New York): British soldiers used Floyd's home on Long Island as a barracks during the Revolutionary War, and drove his family to exile in Connecticut. He later deeded the estate to his son and built a new home in Westernville.
Benjamin Franklin (Pennsylvania): The oldest signer of the Declaration, at 70, Franklin was a self-educated renaissance man, scholar, scientist, inventor, and philanthropist who helped develop the first draft of the Declaration, and later served as commissioner to France.
Elbridge Gerry (Massachusetts): Gerry served on the Continental Congress's council of safety, which prepared the colonies for war, and barely eluded capture by British troops in 1775. He was nicknamed the "soldiers' friend" for his advocacy of better pay and equipment.
Button Gwinnett (Georgia): Born in England, Gwinnett lost his island estate to creditors, and was forced to watch as British troops replenished their supplies from the livestock on his estate. A year after the Revolution, he was killed in a duel.
Lyman Hall (Georgia): Trained as a Congregationalist minister, Hall later hung a shingle as a physician, and put his medical skills to work dealing with the malarial swamps that bordered his estate.
John Hancock (Massachusetts): Famous for his oversized signature on the Declaration, Hancock was a wealthy Boston merchant wooed by Samuel and John Adams to join the independence movement. Though lacking military experience, he entertained hopes of heading the Continental Army, a job that went instead to George Washington.
Benjamin Harrison (Virginia): The "Falstaff of Congress" was an early agitator for separation from Britain, and would later serve three terms as governor of Virginia.
John Hart (New Jersey): Hart was a jurist and legislator before joining the Continental Congress, Hart lost his wife to illness when British redcoats sacked his home and his family was scattered. He died a few years after the Revolution.
Joseph Hewes (North Carolina): A very successful merchant from a Quaker family, Hewes would later leave the faith. At first opposed separation while serving in the Continental Congress, he is said to have had a transformation during a debate, pronouncing: "It is done! And I will abide by it."
Thomas Heyward (South Carolina): A lawyer who served in the South Carolina militia, Heyward was captured by the British in 1780 and spent a year in prison. Shortly before his release he celebrated Independence Day by substituting patriotic verses into the British national anthem.
William Hooper (North Carolina): Raised in an aristocratic loyalist family, Hooper spent ten months on the run from the British in 1781, but due to his aristocratic airs as a politician he lost favor with the public after the war.
Stephen Hopkins (Rhode Island): An early supporter of revolutionary politics, Hopkins suffered from palsy, which affected his signature on the Declaration. Said Hopkins: "My hand trembles, but my heart does not!"
Francis Hopkinson (New Jersey): Hopkins supplemented his work as a lawyer with a talent for art and music, making hime one of the America's first native-born composers, and he frequently penned satirical essays that advanced the patriot cause. His eldest son Joseph would later write "Hail Columbia."
Samuel Huntington (Connecticut): A self-made man born to humble origins, Huntington tight himself law, and later served as the King's Attorney before resigning to join the revolution. As a presidential elector in 1789, he earned two votes himself as a "favorite son."
Thomas Jefferson (Virginia): The chief author of the first draft of the Declaration and a man of wide-ranging curiosity and erudition, Jefferson would later serve as secretary of state, vice president, and the third president of the country he did so much to bring into being.
Francis Lightfoot Lee (Virginia): Joining the cause of revolution at the time of the Stamp Act in 1765, Lee participated in many protests and assembles in Virginia. After the revolution he largely retired from a life of public service.
Richard Henry Lee (Virginia): It was Lee who formally introduced the resolution for independence on June 7, 1776. At the Constitutional Convention his opposition to a strong central government led him to oppose the federal constitution and campaign for the inclusion of a bill of rights.
Francis Lewis (New York): Lewis was once captured during the French and Indian War and served time in a French prison, quickly rebuilding his fortune upon his return. Lewis was an early revolutionary, and was one of the Sons of Liberty. His wife suffered during imprisonment by the British, and died in 1779.
Philip Livingston (New York): A prosperous merchant, Livingston stood with the Whigs in their quarrel with the royal governor but resented the tactics of the Sons of Liberty. During the war General George Washington planned the evacuation of Long Island in his home.
Thomas Lynch (South Carolina): The second-youngest signer, Lynch was an aristocratic farmer who served alongside his father on the Continental Congress. Both were seriously ill at the time of the signing. Lynch died just three years later when his shop foundered in the West Indies.
Thomas McKean (Delaware): Thought he broke a crucial tie vote on Delaware's delegation to the Continental Congress, McKean was the last to actually sign the Declaration, waiting until January 18, 1777. During and after the Revolution he served three stormy terms as governor of Pennsylvania.
Arthur Middleton (South Carolina): A graduate of Cambridge from a wealthy aristocratic family, Middleton campaigned against the royal governor of South Carolina and advocated the tarring and feathering of Loyalists. He was captured by the British during the siege of Charleston.
Lewis Morris (New York): During the Revolutionary War Morris served as a brigadier general in the Westchester County militia, and his three eldest sons served under General Washington.
Robert Morris (Pennsylvania): Morris was dubbed the "Financier of the Revolution" for his work in keeping the Continental Army supplied, which sometimes meant taking out personal loans to fund General Washington's war effort. After wild financial speculation in his later years, Morris died penniless in 1806.
John Morton (Pennsylvania): A surveyor and farmer, Morton was a crucial swing vote in favor of independence on the Pennsylvania delegation, where he served alongside Benjamin Franklin and James Wilson. Morton was the first to die, passing away in the spring of 1777.
Thomas Nelson (Virginia): An outspoken proponent of separation from Britain, Nelson helped obtain munitions and supplies for the Continental Army when his own poor health preventing him from serving, sometimes personally guaranteeing loans from wealthy plantation owners.
William Paca (Maryland): Paca worked tireless to drum up support at home to help push the Maryland delegation to vote for independence, and during the war outfitted troops with his own money.
Robert Treat Paine (Massachusetts): Paine served as a prosecuting attorney at the Boston Massacre trial, arguing against defense counsel, and later fellow Contingental Congress delegate, John Adams. His habit of contesting proposals earned him the nickname "Objection Maker."
John Penn (North Carolina): A country lawyer whose time at the Continental Congress comprised most of his time in public service, Penn was once challenged to a duel but managed to talk his way out of it.
George Read (Delaware): Read was the only signer to vote against independence on the final congressional vote on July 2, 1776. At the Constitutional Convention, Read defended the rights of smaller states.
Caesar Rodney (Delaware): One of only two bachelor signers, Rodney once road all night through a thunderstorm to cast an affirmative vote for independence after learning of fellow Delaware delegate George Read's no-vote.
George Ross (Pennsylvania): A latecomer to the revolutionary cause, Ross leaned to the loyalist side when he was elected to the Continental Congress, but was not actually seated during the voting on July 1-2, signing the Declaration a month later.
Benjamin Rush (Pennsylvania): A pioneering physician, Rush's time serving on the Continental Congress was brief. He served as a surgeon in the Philadelphia militia during Washington's New Jersey campaign. He was later a vocal advocate of abolition.
Edward Rudledge (South Carolina): The youngest signer, at 26, Rutledge initially opposed independence in favor of first securing a confederation and forging foreign alliances. After voting against the resolution on July 1, Rutledge convinced his peers to change their vote for the sake of unanimity.
Roger Sherman (Connecticut): A member of the Declaration's drafting committee, Sherman was one of only two men (the other was Robert Morris) to sign all three founding documents: the Declaration, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution.
James Smith (Pennsylvania): Born in Ireland, the eccentric Smith was an early Whig Party leader who found politics after attempts at working as a lawyer and iron maker failed to pan out.
Richard Stockton (New Jersey): Politicized in part by the Stamp Act crisis, Stockton at first advocated colonial self-rule under the British crown. In the early months of the Revolutionary War he was turned out by loyalists and imprisoned by the British under harsh conditions.
Thomas Stone (Maryland): Stone heartily advocated reconciliation with the British crown right up until voting on independence, and argued for peace negotiations with British Lord Howe just two months after signing. Serving on the committee that drafted the Articles of Confederation, Stone did not sign them.
George Taylor (Pennsylvania): Born in Ireland, Taylor came to America as an indentured worker, later taking control of his employer's business (and marrying the man's widow). During the war his Durham Furnace turned out bullets and cannonballs for the army.
Matthew Thornton (New Hampshire): Born in Ireland one of a handful of physicians among the signers, Thornton did not enter the Continental Congress until three months after the formal signing, but was allowed to affix his signature.
George Walton (Georgia): Wounded and captured during the British siege of Savannah and held prisoner for nearly a year, Walton had been an early advocate for independence while in the same city.
William Whipple (New Hampshire): Whipple left his maritime shipping business in 1775 to devote time to public affairs. He advocated for an aggressive military campaign over negotiation in confronting the excesses of British rule, and favored severe punishment for loyalists and speculators.
William Williams (Connecticut): After studying for the ministry during the French and Indian War, Williams later became a merchant. During the Revolutionary War, Williams wrote newspaper tracts promoting the colonial viewpoint.
James Wilson (Pennsylvania): As a Whig leader, Wilson denied the British Parliament's authority over the colonies but did not question allegiance to the Crown. He later became a leading voice in the debate over and drafting of the Constitution, and went on to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.
John Witherspoon (New Jersey): The only active clergyman among the signers, Witherspoon, born in Scotland, gravitated to revolutionary sentiments against the British, and while president of the College of New Jersey he advocated resistance to the crown during a commencement address.
Oliver Wolcott (Connecticut): A soldier as well as a lawyer, Wolcott found his martial experience invaluable during the Revolutionary War, where he served as a brigadier general during the New York campaigns of 1776-77.
George Wythe (Virginia): As a law professor Wythe counted among his students future American presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe. Wythe was an early advocate of separate nationhood for the colonies.
Updated: Jul. 04, 2014

ADVERTISEMENT


Text  


Sign up for free NRO e-mails today:

NRO Polls on LockerDome

Subscribe to National Review