Are you running with me, Jesus?
across the wilderness . . .
from 'O Beautiful for Spacious Skies'
There is in us a tendency to judge a race, a nation, or an organization by its least worthy members. The tendency is manifestly perverse and unfair; yet it has some justification. For the quality and destiny of a nation are determined to a considerable extent by the nature and potentialities of its inferior elements. The inert mass of a nation is in its middle section. The industrious, decent, well-to-do, and satisfied middle-classes -- whether in cities or on the land -- are worked upon and shaped by minorities at both extremes the best and the worst.
The superior individual, whether in politics, business, industry, science, literature or religion, undoubtedly plays a major role in the shaping of a nation. But so do individuals at the other extreme: the poor, the outcasts, the misfits, and those who are in the grip of some overpowering passion. The importance of these inferior elements as formative factors lies in the readiness with which they are swayed in any direction. This peculiarity is due to their inclination to take risks ("not giving a damn") and their propensity for united action. They crave to merge their drab, wasted lives into something grand and complete. Thus, they are the first and most fervent adherents of new religions, political upheavals, patriotic hysteria, gangs, and mass rushes to new lands.
And the quality of a nation -- its innermost worth -- is made manifest by its dregs as they rise to the top: by how brave they are, how humane, how orderly, how skilled, how generous, how independent or servile; by the bounds they will not transgress in their dealings with a man's soul, with truth, and with honor.
The average American of today bristles with indignation when he is told that this country was built, largely, by hordes of undesirables from Europe. Yet, far from being derogatory, this statement, if true, should be a cause for rejoicing, should fortify our pride in the stock from which we have sprung.
This vast continent with its towns, farms, factories, dams, aqueducts, docks, railroads, highways, powerhouses, schools, and parks is the product of the common folk from the Old World, where for centuries men of their kind had been beasts of burden, the property of their masters -- kings, nobles, and priests -- and with no will and no aspirations of their own. When on rare occasions one of the lowly had reached the top in Europe he had kept the pattern intact and, if anything, tightened the screws. The stuffy little corporal from Corsica harnessed the lusty forces released by the French Revolution to a gilded state coach, and could think of nothing grander than mixing his blood with that of the Hapsburg masters and establishing a new dynasty. In our day a bricklayer in Italy, a housepainter in Germany, and a shoemakers son in Russia have made themselves masters of their nations; and what they did was to re-establish and reinforce the old pattern.
Only here, in America, were the common folk of the Old World given a chance to show what they could do on their own, without a master to push and order them about. History contrived an earth-shaking joke when it lifted by the nape of the neck lowly peasants, shopkeepers, laborers, paupers, jailbirds, and drunks from the midst of Europe, dumped them on a vast, virgin continent and said: "Go to it; it is yours!"
And the lowly were not awed by the magnitude of the task. A hunger for action, pent up for centuries, found an outlet. They went into it with ax, pick, shovel, plow, and rifle; on foot, on horse, in wagons, and on flatboats. They went into it praying, howling, singing, brawling, drinking, and fighting. Make way for the people! This is how I read the statement that this country was built by hordes of undesirables from the Old World.
Small wonder that we in this country have a deeply ingrained faith in human regeneration. We believe that, given a chance, even the degraded and the apparently worthless are capable of constructive work and great deeds. It is a faith founded on experience, not on some idealistic theory. And no matter what some anthropologists, sociologists, and geneticists may tell us, we shall go on believing that man, unlike other forms of live, is not a captive of his past -- of his heredity and habits -- but is possessed of infinite plasticity, and his potentialities for good and for evil are never wholly exhausted.
- Ellis Island and Statue of Liberty -
Come to me,
The New Colossus
Who We Americans Are
Receive the fugitive, and prepare in time an asylum for mankind!
President Franklin D. Roosevelt reminded a convention of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), "Remember, remember always, that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionaries."
Walt Whitman said
These States are the amplest poem,And back at the beginning, in the day of the Founders,
Tom Paine declared:
"O ! Ye that love mankind! Ye that dare oppose not only tyranny but the tyrant, stand forth! Every spot of the old world is overrun with oppression. Freedom hath been hunted around the globe. Asia and Africa have long expelled her. Europe regards her as a stranger, and England hath given her warning to depart. O! receive the fugitive, and prepare in time an asylum for mankind."
The hardness of heart of the elites
God uses Sinners - the Story of King James
Ellis Island - New York City - Port of Entry
Timely essay - our priceless new immigrants
Our cultural heritage - not the monopoly of elites
Needed now more than ever: a fresh memory of old traditions
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