I was going through some old papers recently and found a brochure published by the National Association of Manufacturers. It’s from around 1940. I want to share it with you. I am posting this as it was written in the brochure. I did not change wording or punctuation. Not only does it make for an interesting read, but it’s a part of history. It’s one of those things that bears reading more than once. As you read it, keep in mind, that it was written around 83 years ago. Sometimes we need to be reminded of things, remember where we came from, and think about where we are headed.
To be an American – does it mean anything? Your best friend, or your next-door neighbor, is a person quite different from you in many ways. The people who get together in your church or other organization, who you meet elsewhere in your community, whom you see on the street – how different they are from one another! What a variety of backgrounds they represent! Americans – they include people of many races and religions – many ways of thinking, working, and living. Yet we say of them: they are Americans!
To be known as an American – does it mean merely that a person happens to have his home within rather than outside of certain boundaries you find on a map, and is a citizen subject to one government rather than another? It does mean that, of course. But it means more – far more.
He is, first of all, a free member of one of the freest societies on earth.
He worships God in the way he chooses, with any group of like preference. In his religion, he may follow the dictates of his own conscience, if it does not lead him to trespass on the rights of others.
He belongs to such clubs and groups and associations as he wishes with no limit except his own convenience and the peace and security of all.
He expresses freely his own opinion on any subject, to anybody willing to listen to him, or he may write or print it; restricted only by common standards of decency and respect for others.
He listens to or reads what he will, with the widest range of choice among speakers and writers whose reliability and accuracy he may judge for himself.
He travels within his country or changes his residence as he pleases, nor must he seek government permission or report to the police.
He has opportunities for education unequaled in any other country – an abundance of free schools, libraries, museums, and other agencies of public instruction – whereby he may lift himself to higher economic and cultural levels according to his ability and inclination, and ambition.
He chooses his own occupation, whether as an individualist enterprise or in voluntary association with others and may pursue it with the maximum freedom that the people themselves, not some arbitrary ruler or ruling group, regard as consistent with the common welfare.
He may spend or save his earnings as he wishes, employ his savings as he thinks best and own and use property without dictation other than restrictions which he has a voice in making or removing.
He may join a political party, whether the majority party or a minority party, support or find fault with its policies as he sees fit and change his membership at will.
He has a free vote for representatives in government, local, state, and national, whose authority is limited by constitutions and statutes and who are periodically accountable to the people.
He knows that the people among whom he lives do not believe in change by violent or revolutionary methods; that their institutions provide for orderly changes as new conditions and public opinion may require; and that they are inclined to hold fast to what is good and construct and reconstruct rather than destroy.
He is proud that the people of his country do not covet the land or resources of other nations or desire to rule over them; and that they are eager to live with other peoples in peace, tolerance, and mutual goodwill.
He is confident that with all his problems, his troubles, and his uncertainties, he is better off here than elsewhere, and that in such a free society a wider range of individual opportunity and a higher level of living are attainable than where arbitrary power controls the mind and work and destinies of men.
All this, in rights, in satisfactions, in hopes, it means to be an American.
We are conscious also of great advantages that are less personal but affect the lives of all of us.
Here in America are 130 million people occupying 3 million square miles of territory. There is plenty of room. We are not crowded, we are not pushed, we are not driven. There is no problem of surplus population. We have ample natural resources – a favorable climate, plenty of fertile soil, abundant forests, great mineral wealth, and almost limitless water power. We have an industrial structure able to provide the manufactures we need. We have marvelous systems of transportation and communication. With full use of our productive resources, we can meet all the needs of all our people for goods and services.
To be an American is to be a sharer of these advantages and of what we can do with them.
Fortunate we are, but let us not be boastful or complacent. It is not we of this generation that won the freedom we enjoy, nor did we alone create this America we live in.
The struggle for human freedom has been a long struggle, not yet finished. It goes back into the Old World, where the ancestors of the peoples who settled America carried it on. They handed on their achievements for Americans to build on, their aspirations for Americans to try to realize. Today the world is undergoing a terrible ordeal again – trying to maintain freedom against a tide of brutal reaction that threatens civilization. We have a heritage of which free people may well be proud. No sacrifice is too great to preserve it. It becomes more precious to us than ever before as we build an arsenal for defense of a civilization in which free institutions can flourish and in which men, women, and children can be free.
The job of preserving this country, these institutions – this freedom – is especially the responsibility of the oncoming generation. Youth especially wants opportunity to grow, to express itself. Freedom is vital to it if it is to fulfill its destiny.
Our heritage will remain ours only as we appreciate its priceless value, defend it with vigilance and valor against foes within and without, and use it for the purpose our ancestors had in building it. Our tradition, the fundamental principle of our civilization, is that the individual matters, that he has the right to live his own life as far as it does not interfere with the welfare and happiness of others. Individuals are the end; institutions, even the state, only the means. If we hold to that principle, and are alert to maintain it, we shall remain free and continue to be fortunate. We shall continue to say: “I’m glad I’m an American!”