Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Being American

What makes an American on this Fourth of July, asks an editorial? Good answer.

Discussions - 15 Comments

Whoever wrote that piece, great job.

If we do hold those truths to be self-evident, which I do, why then can we not believe that the millions who flock to America every year, legally and illegally, can become Americans? Perhaps they need help and time, but I see no reason not to let them into our country. I think that it should be much easier to emigrate to the United States and we should do our best to keep the best of them here.

An "electric cord"? Where’s that from?


It can be found here.

It is his July 10, 1858 at Chicago, Illinois.


Sincerest thanks. This is news to me, and I thought I knew Lincoln fairly well. It is a truly odd phrase for 1858, don’t you think? "Mystic chords" would be the vast improvement.

Anyway, thanks again. I would have lost a bit of money on that (foolish) bet. Not an anachronism, after all!

Allan, I think there is a very simple answer to your question. It is true, that all one needs to become an American is an embrace of its ideals and self-evident truths of equality and natural rights. On the other hand, we are a nation of laws and a written Constitution in which there are rational, legitimate procedures for becoming an American citizen. Illegal aliens may be embracing the ideas of the country (or not) but they cannot break the law in order to do so.

Alan if you search backwards to a post originally about birth right citizenship you will find that I made a similar comment. Of course Tony Williams is right...but it does seem as if the illegal immigrant shouldn’t care. If the choice is between comming here illegally and living under a despotic regime...then he has to do what is best for himself. Everyone does have a right to life liberty and the persuit of happiness but it requires an effort to secure it...if in the United States that effort includes breaking the law then so be it. It still seems to be an improvement over the alternative...and really it is when it ceases to be an improvement over the alternative that we should all begin to worry about the decline of america.


I’ve never thought about the possible significance of the difference between the use of "electric chord" in the speech referenced as opposed to "mystic chords" when Lincoln in his First Inaugural said:

The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

At first glance and without much thought, it seems that, if the different use was intentional, Lincoln did it because "mystic chord" generates an image of the intangible, spiritual aspects of the human condition; a sense of an interconnectedness across time and an indebtedness to causes fought for and established. It leaves me with the picture of a far-reaching mist stretched thin. The use of "electric chord" brings about a different image; a more substantive and direct connection, infusing into each man, woman, and child a certain avenue by which to recognize the source. The reference is to natural rights that are self-evident. I like the rhetorical purposes it serves. Yet, you say “mystic chords” would be preferable. Why?

It is true, that all one needs to become an American is an embrace of its ideals and self-evident truths of equality and natural rights. On the other hand, we are a nation of laws and a written Constitution in which there are rational, legitimate procedures for becoming an American citizen. Illegal aliens may be embracing the ideas of the country (or not) but they cannot break the law in order to do so.

But doesn’t the doctrine of natural rights imply that laws can be unjust, and that there is no duty to obey an unjust law?


You make an interesting point. I wish I knew what experience Lincoln and his audience had had with electricity and a "cord." It must have referred to something besides the wire to the coffee maker. We do know that Lincoln had a lifelong interest in practical gadgets and technology.

Nor do I know -- I just assumed -- that there is a connection in Lincoln’s ear between cord and chord. You point out a difference in meaning, and I agree. Still, to me "electric cord" sounds cartoonish: will I be zapped by self-evident truths? "Mystic chords of memory" is poetry.

We would all be a little more American if we got Bush out of office and righted the wrongs that he has created.

What if somebody was born in America and felt that he was born in the wrong place? Then you guys would be all over this person proclaiming him to be dangerously unpatriotic. So, perhaps the idea of being born in the wrong place is just plain silly. Isn’t Peter Schramm’s self-congratulary piece on being born in the wrong place a slap in the face to all Hungarians who decided to stay and try to defend the country and improve it? After all, they were born in the same place as Schramm and his father. Certainly, things weren’t easy for those who decided to stay and fight. Maybe "born American, but in the wrong place" was just a euphemism for "I give up. We’ll do what’s easier for us, let others decide the fate of our homeland." Why not stay, fight the Communists at every turn, and work for a Hungary that follows the American model?


You entirely (and dishonestly?) miss the point of the piece. Being "American" is about accepting an idea(l) as the basis for a political regime. It has nothing to do with blood or the land. Membership is open; a person not born French will never be a Frenchman (or Frank, what have you), but a Frenchman can become an American. Those Hungarians that stayed and fought against Communism for the same reasons Dr. Schramm’s essay reveals to be worthy would also be "born American, but in the wrong place."


I’ve not written anything "dishonestly", so I don’t appreciate your suggestion otherwise. I think such "born in the wrong place" claims could simply be used as convenient justifications for disengaging oneself in shaping the future of one’s native country. If it’s all about "accepting an idea(l) as the basis for a political regime," well, those ideas and ideals can and do change. I see "born in the wrong place" as the flipside to the ignorant "America: love it or leave it" mentality.

To Rita:
A too quick of a response, I know. Yet, here it is. I fought the communists at every turn after we left, both here and there; and I returned in the Fall of 1989 (and following) to help finish the job, and we did. I am not in debt to Hungary and the Hungarians. I paid and so have "my people" over the centuries. They tried liberalization innumerable times in their history (not only 1956, but 1820’, 1830’2, 1848, etc). They always failed. The costs were great. Your great grandfather is a slave, your grandfather is a political prisoner, as is your father. Your family starves. You remain human. You help those who are even worse off than you. You save a few Jews here and there, you risk yourself and yours. You sacrifice a family member here and there. You think, you brood, you act; you always hope and pray. How many generations of this can you take before you "give up?" How many generations before you become one of them (fascists, Nazis, Communists, monarchists, etc), just to feed your family and have a modicum of peace and tranquility in your life? How many generations of noble action are required before you pay your dues? How many generations of sacrifice before you admit that you are not an angel but merely a man? How many generations of slaughter before you say it is more important to be a human being than a "Hungarian"? How many wars do you have to lose--how many souls debased or extinguished--before you say enough? This is why we all want to come here, and no one (almost no one) ever leaves. God bless this people, and the things for which they stand, and may the country live just so as long as there is a mankind. And I am not going to apologize for my love of your people and that on which their freedom is built.

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