New Citizens Ceremony
August 23, 2017
New Citizens Ceremony
August 23, 2017
I am honored to join you today on this auspicious occasion of your assumption of American citizenship.
America is not just a nation. America is also a notion – an idea – that is unique among the nations of the world. There are many democracies and republics around the world today – but only one to my knowledge, founded on the uniquely American principles given voice in the American Declaration of Independence and given life in the American Constitution.
In 1858, Abraham Lincoln observed that in the 82 years since the American founding, many could trace their roots back to that first generation, but many had arrived since then. He said,
“If they look back through this history to trace their connection with those days by blood, they find they have none, they cannot carry themselves back into that glorious epoch and make themselves feel that they are part of us, but when they look through that old Declaration of Independence they find that those old men say that "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal," and then they feel that that moral sentiment taught in that day evidences their relation to those men, that it is the father of all moral principle in them, and that they have a right to claim it as though they were blood of the blood, and flesh of the flesh of the men who wrote that Declaration, and so they are. That is the electric cord in that Declaration that links the hearts of patriotic and liberty-loving men together, that will link those patriotic hearts as long as the love of freedom exists in the minds of men throughout the world.”
The Declaration proclaims the self-evident truth that we are all born with certain rights that come to us not from government, but from the laws of nature and of nature’s God. We know instinctively what these rights are because we would have them if we were alone in the world. They make no demands on others but to respect those rights. The right to the fruit of our own labor; the right to our opinions and beliefs and to express and practice them freely; the right to enter into voluntary associations with others; the right to raise our children according to our own values; the right to defend ourselves from those who would deny us these rights. Life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness.
Government does not create these rights; rather WE create governments to protect these rights.
In other countries, government is the sovereign and rights flow from it to the people. In America, the people are sovereign and loan to their government certain enumerated powers defined by the Constitution.
And as Ronald Reagan once said, “The Constitution is not the government’s document telling the people what it can and cannot do. The Constitution is the people’s document, telling the government those things that we will allow it to do.”
Upon becoming a citizen, or taking up arms, or assuming office, Americans do not swear allegiance to the country or to the government. The Oath you are about to take is to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. The reason is this – if we ever lose our Constitution, we have already lost our country. It is the Constitution that defines what our government may do and that protects our liberty. But it can only work as long as those who exercise its powers are obedient to it and that only works if “We, the People” insist on it through the votes we cast. And if we ever cease to insist upon it, we will forfeit the Constitution and the liberty it protects.
The ancient Athenians had a word for citizen that continues into modern usage today. The Greeks called a citizen a “politis,” from which we get the word, “politician.” In the Athenian view, when one accepted the rights and privileges of citizenship, he also accepted the responsibilities to be an active participant in the politics of the community. And in the American view, the ultimate aim of that participation is the preservation of our Constitution – what Daniel Webster called “the sacred and inviolable palladium.” He said, “Whatever variety of opinion may exist on other subjects, on this there must be but one.”
You now join ten generations of Americans whose Constitution has produced the most productive, happy, prosperous and moral society in the history of human civilization. You now take ownership of that Constitution and become “We the People of the United States.” And you assume the sacred duty and obligation to preserve it, support and defend it, honor it, and pass it intact and inviolate to your children and their children to the latest generation.
Congratulations, fellow citizens.