The political machine is always in motion, exploiting semantics, “syntactic destruction” and social sensibilities to its advantage, thereby trampling the liberty of the people, who are often found in celebration of their own sacrifice.
This is true across all of political history, and the story of America is no exception. One striking example of this is found in the pronouncements of President John F. Kennedy, in his September 19, 1960, speech at the United Steelworkers of America Convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
In his speech, Kennedy sought to “present to the American people an alternative course of action” for the country. By this he intended that “the period of the 1960's [be] a period in which we [cannot] conserve, in which we stand still.” On the contrary, Kennedy declared this “a time for new go-ahead for this country and the American people.” He implored his audience to join him in his campaign, to “Give me your help, your hand, your voice, and we can move this country ahead.”
In Kennedy’s view, “the great issue in 1960 is for us to take the kind of decisions which will preserve freedom around the world.” To corroborate his view, Kennedy promptly called upon the revolutionary Thomas Paine:
“Thomas Paine said in the Revolution of 1776 that the cause of America is the cause of all mankind. I think in 1960 the cause of all mankind is the cause of America. If we fail, I think the case of freedom fails, not only in the United States, but every place. If we succeed, if we meet our responsibilities, if we bear our burdens, than I think freedom succeeds here and also it succeeds around the world.”
It is true, as in the words of Thomas Paine during the American Revolution, that “the cause of America is the cause of mankind.” It is not true, however, as President John F. Kennedy quipped in his coining of the “Revolution of 1960” that “the cause of mankind is the cause of America.” While it is true, mathematically speaking, that, by the reflexive property, the two claims are virtually identical, it is simply untrue linguistically.
The first, promulgated by Paine, celebrated the cause of America as symbolic of the dearest of causes for all of mankind; in their sacrifice, the American Patriots waged a fight domestically whose consequences would reverberate across the globe as inspiration for the rest of mankind in their new appreciation for concepts not limited to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Their cause at home, indirectly and without their knowledge, advanced the cause of the world, away from the institution of rights from monarchs and despots, and other mortal men, to the assumption of rights as endowed organically upon mankind by their Creator. This was, and will forever remain, the cause of mankind; and it was the American Patriot who took up the cause in his own backyard to declare the sovereignty of man, and to consequently blaze the trail for the rest of the world.
However, just as President George Washington cautioned “friends and the fellow-citizens” of America in his farewell address, the United States would be best served by the avoidance of “foreign alliances” and “the mischiefs of foreign intrigue”. Washington appreciated the threats posed by those alliances and others attending the kind of overgrown military which would develop as a consequence of maintaining those alliances. Washington and his contemporaries understood that these were anathema to our constitutional republic and the jewel of the public liberty; a form of liberty that Washington described as “Republican liberty”.
Washington also understood that the authority of the general government extended to the affairs between states and to their mutual defense; it did not, in any way, and for good reason, appoint the general government of the United States as the moderator or policeman of the entire world. These demands, once embraced by the United States, in “the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of [any political] party” would predictably jeopardize their “Republican liberty” while influencing government policy at their own expense for the benefit of their allies. In the words of Washington, “It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions.”
Whereas President John F. Kennedy might have described Washington’s designs as “a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference,” just as he characterized his contemporaries in their misgivings toward the burgeoning welfare state, these were never, and ought never to be, the causes of America.
Washington instead urged that Americans embrace their auspicious isolation from the rest of the world. He thus inquired:
“Why forego the advantages of so peculiar a situation? Why quit our own to stand upon foreign ground? Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humor or caprice?”
Washington then promptly asserted, “It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world.” After all, the best that any people can seek to accomplish is the defense of their own liberty, and this is precisely where they have the power and the authority to secure it; wherever they stand to forfeit any measure of that liberty, whether for personal profit, political expedience or “the cause of mankind,” they stand to undermine their own cause.
It is precisely in the view of Washington, as he had laid out in the profoundest of prose, that America undertook the cause of mankind; not by force of arms around the globe, but as an example of a people and a country committed to the defense of their own liberty.
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