From the recording American Promise
“American Promise” is both a celebration of the ideas that make the USA what it is and a challenge to live up to those principles. The words of Abraham Lincoln, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Calvin Coolidge remind us of both our successes and failures as a people. The purpose is neither to gloat nor to berate, but to fix our sights on the promise of liberty and equality. It is to remind us not only what we should guard against, but also what is worth fighting for.
The principle of “Liberty to all,” the principle that clears the path for all—gives hope to all.
The assertion of that principle, at that time, was the word, “fitly spoken” which has proved an “apple of gold” to us.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
When the architects of our great republic wrote [these] magnificent words they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
We refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds. So we have come to cash this check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and security of justice. This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning, “My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty…” And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.
If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people.
Those who wish to proceed in that direction can not lay claim to progress. They are reactionary. Their ideas are not more modern, but more ancient, than those of the Revolutionary fathers. The real heart of the American Government depends upon the heart of the people. It is from that source that we must look for all genuine reform. It is to that cause that we must ascribe all our results.
It was in the contemplation of these truths that the fathers made their declaration. As a result of these methods enterprise has been duly protected from confiscation, the people have been free from oppression, and there has been an ever-broadening and deepening of the humanities of life.
We live in an age of science and of abounding accumulation of material things. These did not create our Declaration. Our Declaration created them. The things of the spirit come first. Unless we cling to that, all our material prosperity, overwhelming though it may appear, will turn to a barren sceptre in our grasp.
If we are to maintain the great heritage which has been bequeathed to us, we must be like-minded as the fathers who created it. We must not sink into a pagan materialism. We must cultivate the reverence which they had for the things that are holy. We must follow the spiritual and moral leadership which they showed. We must keep replenished, that they may glow with a more compelling flame, the altar fires before which they worshiped.
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.
It is for us the living to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us - that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion - that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain - that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom - and that government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.