Today, July 4th, I grant myself independence from reporting on any badge tasks. But I’d really like to share some remarks written by Eleanor Roosevelt about this day.
As a private citizen as well as First Lady, Mrs. Roosevelt was a tireless citizen advocate and prolific writer. These remarks appeared as part of her My Day series of articles, all of which are archived in the My Day Project. Consider clicking on any date to read her words — they will probably not disappoint.
Context and history matter, and Mrs. Roosevelt’s remarks from this summer of 1940 deserve a quick bit of both for contemporary readers. On September 1, 1939, the Nazis invaded Poland, marking the beginning of World War II. Germany’s march across Europe was going strong in 1940, and here in the U.S., over dinner tables and across the aisles in Congress, we debated the complexities of our possible role in this war. Of course, the argument was simplified our base in Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941.
We often refer to those Americans who lived through the Great Depression and World War II as The Greatest Generation. We admire their commitment to hard work, sacrifice, and sharing. We respect their suffering and loss. But we do it through a dusty lens, as if to deliberately ignore the lessons that generation and those times might teach us today.
So here is but one small reminder for 2011. I hope you find Mrs. Roosevelt’s remarks as inspiring in their simple clarity as I do.
Tomorrow is the Fourth of July, and this year it seems to me that this particular date should have a very deep meaning for all of us.
Our forefathers wrote the Declaration of Independence and on that Declaration our Constitution was based. We fought as a young nation for the ideas that were expressed by the men who wrote this document. Though sometimes it seems as though, during the intervening years, we had forgotten all that document implies, the events of the last few months have made many of us think over carefully what are the things which really matter to us as individuals in the United States of America.
We will have to be very sure what we want for ourselves and our fellow citizens in order really to organize our strength and live or die for the things in which we believe.
I personally want to continue to live in a country where I can think as I please, go to any church I please, or to none if that is my desire; say what I please, and within the limits of any free society, do what I please.
Long ago we decided here that if we held views opposing those of other people, it was against the interests of our country to try to persuade those others by force to agree with us. We could go on talking about our own ideas in the hope of eventually winning a majority, and it seems to me that this is the essence of democracy.
I am willing to be asked to sacrifice time and money for the good of the country as a whole. I am willing to be asked to share what I am able to earn with other less fortunate people, and I am willing to consider any curtailment of personal liberty which I can be persuaded is for the good of the majority, but I want to be able to discuss it.
I want the right to work, and I want that opportunity to be extended to all my fellow citizens. I want them to have an equal opportunity for educational development, for health and for recreation, which is all part of the building of a human being capable of coping with the modern world.
I want to have within my own hands the choice of my leaders, and if the majority opinion is against me at any time, I want the right to differ, while recognizing the necessity of cooperation on my part in order to prove fairly whether the majority opinion is right or not.
On this Fourth of July morning I hope each and every one of us will dedicate ourselves to the service of our country and the service of our fellow citizens, never forgetting that we hope through our example to strengthen the ultimate brotherhood of man throughout the world. — E.R.
No matter what you and your family are doing today, if you’re here in the U.S., may it be a great day, indeed. As for me, there’s no other place I’d rather live.