Friends of Padre Steve’s World,
Yesterday was refreshing, after a week of the unrelenting apocalyptic fearmongering of the Donald Trump Party National Convention, Virginia Senator Time Kaine emphasized what is really true about our great country. Instead of the specter of fear presented by Trump, a humble yet comfortable Kaine made the point that this country was not built on fear, but on hope and opportunity. We do not deny problems or challenges, but by facing them with courage, imagination, and determination to succeed and prevail. In the darkest days of the Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt reminded a fearful nation that “we have nothing to fear but fear itself.” We do not solve problems by demonizing other citizens, wallowing in cynicism, or by building walls, but by standing together as Americans.
The message that we are all Americans is something that we have nearly all forgotten, but it is a message that and I am so happy that he set that tone, it was something that after a week of unrelenting fear-mongering, ethno-nationalism coming from Donald Trump and his minions at the Republican National Convention that we needed to hear, whether we are the descendants of the colonists who first came here, a citizen, or an immigrant who embraces the proposition of the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address, that “we hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal…”
In 1858 Lincoln spoke in Chicago, and in that speech he linked the common connection of all Americans share, even recent immigrants, through the Declaration. It was an era of intense anti-immigrant passions, the American Party, which sprang from the Know Nothing movement which founded upon extreme hatred of immigrants, and Roman Catholics, and violence against them, had run former President Millard Fillmore for election as at heir candidate in 1856 following the collapse of the Whig Party.
In opposition to this party and movement Lincoln proclaimed that immigrants, “cannot carry themselves back into that glorious epoch and make themselves feel a part of us, but when they look through that old Declaration of Independence, they find those old men say that “we hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal,… That is the father of all moral principle to them, and they have a right to claim it as if they were blood of the blood, and flesh of the flesh of the men who wrote the Declaration, and so they are. That is the electric cord in the 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.”
Interestingly enough another Virginian was reminded what it is to be an American on April 9th 1865. After Robert E. Lee surrendered the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, Lee learned that Grant’s Aide-de-Camp, Colonel Ely Parker, was a full-blooded Seneca Indian. Lee stared at Parker’s dark features and said: “It is good to have one real American here.” Parker, a man whose people had known the brutality of the white man, a man who was not considered a citizen, and who in his lifetime would never gain the right to vote, replied, “Sir, we are all Americans.” That afternoon Parker would receive a commission as a Brevet Brigadier General of Volunteers, making him the first Native American to hold that rank in the United States Army. He would later be made a Brigadier General in the Regular Army, without ever being granted the right to vote.
Today and everyday we need to remember what both Kaine and Ely Parker said, we are all Americans. We don’t need to “make America great again,” but it is our responsibility to embrace these words as Americans, and embrace the vision that made American great. As we do so we need to labor incessantly to achieve what Lincoln talked about at Gettysburg in November 1863, as he spoke of the men who fought and died at Gettysburg:
“It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us–that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion–that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”