Posts Tagged ‘winthrop’

19th January
2009
written by Sean Noble

“For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us.” 

These were the words of pilgrim John Winthrop nearly 400 years ago.  Since that time, America has been the product of that vision, welcoming those who have yearned for freedom.

Our Founding Fathers recognized the unique nature of America when they signed their names to one of the most powerful documents in the history of mankind.  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, among them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”  The Declaration of Independence codified the vision Winthrop had of a city upon a hill.

 What makes the message of the Declaration of Independence so powerful is the promise of freedom and human rights for all people.  The Founders were not writing a document just for those in the American colonies, but for all people who sought liberty.  This promise of freedom, and the protection of the rights afforded us by our Creator, is what makes the United States the greatest nation on earth.

No other country provides so much opportunity to so many.  Rather than a system of government like the former Soviet Union, that people risked death to escape, we offer the protection of God-given rights that enables liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  It is a blessing worth dying to attain and defend.

 American history is one of determination and success.  For generations, people seeking a better life have left all behind in their home country and come to America.  In general, America has welcomed these new faces in the spirit of the inscription on the Statue of Liberty:

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” (“The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus)

The history of immigration to America is not one in which the wealthy and successful uproot from their home and come here.  It is, as Emma Lazarus described, the poor, yearning to breathe free.  That is the greatness of the American dream – come here with nothing, and through hard work and dedication become productive and successful members of our free society.

America remains the place people want to come for a better life.  Unfortunately, our policies of the last few decades makes getting here legally a process which can take more than a decade, creating an incentive for people to come illegally.  This creates conflict for those who resent people who “cut in line.”  The conflict builds to the point that otherwise rational and generous people forget about America as an ideal.  Rather than embracing those willing to risk their lives to participate in the American dream, some shout that they “must go back.”

One of our nation’s greatest conservative leaders, Ronald Reagan, envisioned a different America than what some seem to want.  In his final address to the nation from the Oval office he spoke of the success of America as a place for all to come to enjoy freedom. 

“I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it.  But in my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it, and see it still.”

Yes, we are a nation of laws, but we must make sure the laws work, as Sen. Barry Goldwater said, “to maximize freedom.”  And to enact those laws we must be Americans: a welcoming, inviting people.  America can only remain great when its people recognize that those who are willing to risk all, even their life, are worthy inhabitants.  They embody the spirit of Winthrop, Jefferson and Reagan through their yearning for the full benefit of their God-given right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Our obligation, as Americans, is to continue to be the shining city on a hill, lifting our lamp beside the golden door.