Mo Rocca’s profile of Millard Fillmore

April 7, 2014

You may view Mo Rocca’s “profile” of President Millard Fillmore for CBS Sunday Morning, on YouTube:

“CBS Sunday Morning” correspondent Mo Rocca, far left, poses with Kathy Frost, curator of the Millard Fillmore Presidential Site, and Robert Lowell Goller, town historian and director of the Aurora Historical Society, during his recent visit to East Aurora.  Photo by  Robert Lowell Goller

East Aurora Advertiser caption: CBS Visits East Aurora “CBS Sunday Morning” correspondent Mo Rocca, far left, poses with Kathy Frost, curator of the Millard Fillmore Presidential Site, and Robert Lowell Goller, town historian and director of the Aurora Historical Society, during his recent visit to East Aurora. Photo by Robert Lowell Goller

CBS broadcast this piece on February 16, 2014.

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Honoring James Madison, the go-to guy, on his birthday

March 16, 2014

James Madison, the fourth President of the United States, and the Father of the Constitution, was born March 16, 1751, in the Tidewater area of Virginia.

Is it sinful that we do not celebrate his birthday with a federal holiday, fireworks, picnics and speeches and concerts?

Maybe you could fly your flag to day.  If the neighbors ask why, tell them you’re flying it for freedom on James Madison’s birthday.  They’ll say, “Oh,” and run off to Google Madison.  You will have struck a blow for the education that undergirds democracy.

A few years ago I was asked to talk about freedom to a group of freedom lovers in North Texas.  I chose to speak about James Madison’s remarkable, and too-often unremarked-upon life. Later, when I started this blog, I posted it here, with an introduction.  All of that is below, in honor of the birth of James Madison.

Did you know that Madison is the shortest man ever to have been president?  His stature is measured in freedom, not in feet and inches.

(Originally a post on July 31, 2006)

James Madison, 1783, by Charles Wilson Peale.  Library of Congress collection

James Madison, 1783, miniature by Charles Wilson Peale. Madison would have been 32. Library of Congress collection

I don’t blame students when they tell me they “hate history.”  Heaven knows, they probably have been boringly taught boring stuff.

For example, history classes study the founding of the United States. Especially under the topical restrictions imposed by standardized testing, many kids will get a short-form version of history that leaves out some of the most interesting stuff.

Who could like that?

Worse, that sort of stuff does damage to the history and the people who made it, too.

James Madison gets short shrift in the current canon, in my opinion. Madison was the fourth president, sure, and many textbooks note his role in the convention at Philadelphia that wrote the Constitution in 1787. But I think Madison’s larger career, especially his advocacy for freedom from 1776 to his death, is overlooked.

Madison was the “essential man” in the founding of the nation, in many ways. He was able to collaborate with people as few others could, in order to get things done, including his work with George Mason on the Virginia Bill of Rights, with George Washington on the Constitution and national government structure, Thomas Jefferson on the structure and preservation of freedom, Alexander Hamilton on the Constitution and national bank, and James Monroe on continuing the American Revolution.

We need to look harder at the methods and philosophy, and life, of James Madison. This is an opinion I’ve held for a long time. Below the fold I reproduce a “sermon” I delivered to the North Texas Church of Freethought in November 2001.

James Madison White House portrait, John Vanderlyn, 1816

James Madison’s official White House portrait, by John Vanderlyn in 1816; in the White House collection

I have left this exactly as it was delivered, though I would change a few things today, especially emphasizing more the key role George Washington played in pushing Madison to get the Constitution — a view I came to courtesy of the Bill of Rights Insitute and their outstanding, week-long seminar, Shaping the Constitution: A View from Mount Vernon 1783-1789. The Bill of Rights Institute provides outstanding training for teachers, and this particular session, at Washington’s home at Mount Vernon, Virginia, is well worth the time (check with the Institute to see whether it will be offered next year — and apply!). I am especially grateful to have had the opportunity to discuss these times and issues with outstanding scholars like Dr. Gordon Lloyd of Pepperdine University, Dr. Adam Tate of Morrow College, and Dr. Stuart Leibiger of LaSalle University, during my stay at Mount Vernon.

James Madison by Gilbert Stuart c. 1821

James Madison, portrait by Gilbert Stuart c. 1821; National Portrait Gallery

My presentation to the skeptics of North Texas centered around the theme of what a skeptic might give thanks for at Thanksgiving. (It is available on the web — a misspelling of my name in the program carried over to the web, which has provided me a source of amusement for several years.)

Here is the presentation:

Being Thankful For Religious Liberty

As Presented at the November, 2001 Sunday Service of The North Texas Church of Freethought

Historians rethink the past at least every generation, mining history for new insights or, at least, a new book. About the founders of this nation there has been a good deal of rethinking lately. David McCullough reminds us that John Adams really was a good guy, and that we shouldn’t think of him simply as the Federalist foil to Thomas Jefferson’s more democratic view of the world. Jefferson himself is greatly scrutinized, and perhaps out of favor — “American Sphinx,” Joseph Ellis calls him. The science of DNA testing shows that perhaps Jefferson had more to be quiet about than even he confessed in his journals. While Jefferson himself questioned his own weakness in his not freeing his slaves in his lifetime, historians and fans of Jefferson’s great writings wrestle with the likelihood of his relationship with one of his own slaves (the old Sally Hemings stories came back, and DNA indicates her children were fathered by a member of the Jefferson clan; some critics argue that Jefferson was a hypocrite, but that was Jefferson’s own criticism of himself; defenders point out that the affair most likely was consensual, but could not be openly acknowledged in Virginia at that time). Hamilton’s gift to America was a financial system capable of carrying a noble nation to great achievement, we are told – don’t think of him simply as the fellow Aaron Burr killed in a duel. Washington is recast as one of the earliest guerrilla fighters, and in one book as a typical gentleman who couldn’t control his expenses. Franklin becomes in recent books the “First American,” the model after which we are all made, somehow.

Of the major figures of these founding eras, James Madison is left out of the rethinking, at least for now. There has been no major biography of Madison for a decade or more, not since Ralph Ketcham’s book for the University of Virginia press. Madison has a role in Joseph Ellis’s Founding Brothers, but he shares his spotlight with Hamilton and Jefferson. I think this is an oversight. As we enter into the first Thanksgiving season of the 21st century, we would do well to take a look back at Madison’s life. Madison gives us a model of reason, and more important, a model of action coupled to reason. America’s founding is often depicted as a time of great thunder — if not the thunder of the lightning Ben Franklin experimented with, an experiment he parlayed into worldwide respect for Americans, it is the thunder of the pronouncements of Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence, or of George Washington, just generally thundering through history.

The use of a bolt of lightning as a symbol for this group is inspired, I think. I’m a great fan of Mark Twain, and when I see that bolt of electricity depicted I think of Twain’s observation:

“Thunder is good; thunder is impressive. But it is lightning that does the work.”

Thunder at the founding is impressive; where was the lightning?

I’d like to point out two themes that run through Madison’s life, or rather, two activities that we find him in time and again. Madison’s life was marked by periods of reflection, followed by action as a result of that reflection.

We don’t know a lot about Madison’s youth. He was the oldest son of a wealthy Virginia planter, growing up in the Orange County area of Tidewater Virginia. We know he was boarded out for schooling with good teachers – usually clergymen, but occasionally to someone with expertise in a particular subject – and we know that he won admission to Princeton to study under the Rev. John Witherspoon, a recent Presbyterian transplant from across the Atlantic. Madison broke with tradition a bit in attending an American rather than an English school. And after completing his course of study he remained at Princeton for another year to study theology directly under Witherspoon, with an eye toward becoming a preacher.

Witherspoon is often held up as an example of how religion influenced the founders, but he was much more of a rationalist than some would have us believe. He persuaded the young Madison that a career in law and politics would be a great service to the people of Virginia and America, and might be a higher calling. After a year of this reflection, Madison returned to Virginia and won election to local government.

In his role as a county official Madison traveled the area. He inspected the works of government, including the jails. He was surprised to find in jail in Virginia people accused of — gasp! — practicing adult baptism. In fact Baptists and Presbyterians were jailed on occasion, because the Anglican church was the state church of Virginia, and their practicing their faith was against the common law. This troubled Madison greatly, and it directed an important part of his work for the rest of his life. In January of 1774, Madison wrote about it to another prominent Virginian, William Bradford:

“Poverty and Luxury prevail among all sorts: Pride ignorance and Knavery among the Priesthood and Vice and Wickedness among the Laity. This is bad enough. But it is not the worst I have to tell you. That diabolical Hell conceived principle of persecution rages among some and to their eternal infamy the Clergy can furnish their Quota of Imps for such business. This vexes me the most of any thing whatever. There are at this time in the adjacent County not less than 5 or 6 well meaning men in close Gaol for publishing their religious Sentiments which in the main are very orthodox. I have neither patience to hear talk or think of any thing relative to this matter, for I have squabbled and scolded abused and ridiculed so long about it, to so little purpose that I am without common patience. So I leave you to pity me and pray for Liberty of Conscience to revive among us.”

By April, Madison’s views on the matter had been boiled down to the essences, and he wrote Bradford again more bluntly:

“Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise.”

Madison must have done a fine job at his county duties, whatever they were, because in 1776 when Virginia was organizing its government to survive hostilities with England, Madison was elected to the legislative body.

Madison was 25, and still raw in Virginia politics. He was appointed to the committee headed by George Mason to review the laws and charter of the colony. Another who would serve on this committee when he was back from Philadelphia was Thomas Jefferson. George Mason was already a giant in Virginia politics, and by the time Madison got to Williamsburg, Mason had already completed much of the work on a bill of rights to undergird the new Virginia government. Madison noted that freedom of religion was not among the rights enumerated in Mason’s version — but it was too late, Mason said. The work was done.

Madison quietly went to work on Mason, in committee, over dinner, during social occasions — noting the great injustice of jailing people solely because of their beliefs, and urging to Mason that it did Virginia no good to keep these fathers from providing for their families.

Mason ultimately agreed to accept the amendment.

The pattern was set.

Perhaps a better example of this reflection and action cycle occurred nearly a decade later. By 1785 the war was over, independence was won, but the business of government continued. While serving as governor of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson had drafted about 150 proposals for laws, really a blueprint for a free government. About half of these proposals had been passed into law. By 1785, Jefferson was away from Virginia, representing the Confederation of colonies in Paris. Jefferson had provided several laws to disestablish religion in Virginia, and to separate out the functions of church and state. With Jefferson gone, however, his old nemesis Patrick Henry sought to roll back some of that work. Henry proposed to bring back state support for the clergy, for the stated purpose of promoting education. (Yes, this is the same battle we fight today for church and state separation.) After Jefferson’s troubled term as governor, Virginia turned again to Henry – Henry ultimately served six terms as governor. His proposal was set for a quick approval in the Virginia assembly. It was late in the term, and everyone wanted to get home.

Henry was, of course, a thundering orator of great note. Madison was a small man with a nervous speaking style, but a man who knew the issues better than anyone else in almost any room he could be in. Madison came up with an interesting proposal. Picking the religion for the state was serious stuff, he said. A state doesn’t want to pick the wrong religion, and get stuck with the wrong god, surely – and such weighty matters deserve widespread support and discussion, Madison said. His motion to delay Henry’s bill until the next session, in order to let the public know and approve, was agreed to handily.

You probably know the rest of this story. With a year for the state to reflect on the idea, Madison wrote up a petition on the issue, which he called a “Memorial and Remonstrance.” In the petition he laid out 15 reasons why separation of church and state was a superior form of government, concluding that in the previous 1,500 years, every marriage of church and state produced a lazy and corrupt church, and despotic government. Madison’s petition circulated everywhere, and away from Patrick Henry’s thundering orations, the people of Virginia chose Madison’s cool reason.

When the legislature reconvened in 1786, it rejected Henry’s proposal. But Madison’s petition had been so persuasive, the legislature also brought up a proposal Thomas Jefferson had made six years earlier, and passed into law the Virginia Statue for Religious Freedom.

This was a great victory for Madison, and for Virginia. He celebrated by convening a convention to settle disputes between Virginia and Maryland about navigation on the Chesapeake Bay. Having reflected on the nature of this issue — a dispute between colonies — Madison had sought advice from others having the same problems, such as New York and New Jersey. In that effort he got the support of a New Yorker working on the same problems, Alexander Hamilton. In the course of these discussions Madison thought it clear that the difficulty lay with the form of government that bound the colonies together under the Articles of Confederation. Hamilton agreed, and they got their respective states and conferences to agree to meet in Philadelphia in 1787 to try to fix those problems. [Since I first wrote this, I've learned that it was George Washington's desire to get a federal government, to facilitate the settling of the Ohio River Valley where Washington had several thousands of acres to sell, that prompted him to push Madison into the Annapolis Convention, and who made the introduction between Madison and Washington's old aide and friend, Alexander Hamilton; Madison's work with Washington runs much deeper than I orignally saw.]

James Madison, 1792 portrait by Charles Wilson Peale, Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa

James Madison, 1792 portrait by Charles Wilson Peale, Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa

Amending the Articles of Confederation was a doomed effort, many thought. The colonies would go their separate ways, no longer bound by the need to hang together against the Parliament of England. Perhaps George Washington could have got a council together to propose a new system, but Washington had stayed out of these debates. Washington’s model for action was the Roman general Cincinnatus, who went from his plow to lead the Romans to victory, then returned to his farm, and finding his plow where he had left it, took it up again.

Madison invited Washington, and persuaded Washington to attend. Washington was elected president of the convention, and in retrospect that election guaranteed that whatever the convention produced, the colonies would pay attention to it.

You know that history, too. The convention quickly decided the Articles of Confederation were beyond repair. Instead, they wrote a new charter for a new form of government. The charter was based in part on Jefferson’s Virginia Plan, with lots of modifications. Because the Constitution resembles so much the blueprint that Jefferson had written, and because Jefferson was a great founder, many Americans believe Jefferson was a guiding light at that Philadelphia convention. It’s often good to reflect that Jefferson was in Paris the entire time. While America remembers the thunder of Washington’s presiding, Franklin’s timely contributions and Jefferson’s ideas, it was Madison who did the heavy lifting, who got Washington and Franklin to attend the meeting Madison had set up, and got Jefferson’s ideas presented and explained.

It was Madison who decided, in late August of 1787, that the convention could not hang together long enough to create a bill of rights, and instead got approval for the basic framework of the U.S. government. In Virginia a few months later, while Patrick Henry thundered against what he described as a power grab by a new government, it was Madison who assembled the coalitions that got the Constitution ratified by the Virginia ratifying convention. And when even Jefferson complained that a constitution was dangerous without a bill of rights, it was Madison who first calmed Jefferson, then promised that one of the first actions of the new government would be a bill of rights. He delivered on that promise as a Member of the House of Representatives in 1789.

It is difficult to appreciate just how deeply insinuated into the creation of America was James Madison. In big ways and small, he made America work. He took the lofty ideas of Jefferson, and made them into laws that are still on the books, unamended and unedited, more than 200 years later.

When the ratification battle was won, when Madison had won election to the House over Patrick Henry’s strong objection, partly by befriending the man Henry had picked to defeat Madison, James Monroe, Madison could have savored the moment and been assured a place in history.

James Madison in 1804, by Gilbert Stuart

James Madison in 1804, by Gilbert Stuart. Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Williamsburg, Virginia. Gift of Mrs. George S. Robbins

That’s not what a lightning bolt does. Journeying to New York for the opening of the First Congress and the inauguration of Washington as president, Madison stopped off at Mount Vernon to visit with Washington, apparently at Washington’s request. In what was a few hours, really, Madison wrote Washington’s inaugural address. While there at Mount Vernon, Madison stumbled into a discussion by several others on their way to New York, wondering what high honorific to apply to the new president. “Excellency” was winning out over “Your highness,” until Washington turned to Madison for an opinion. Madison said the president should be called, simply, “Mr. President.” We still do.

Once in New York, Madison saw to the organizing of the Congress, then to the organizing of the inauguration. And upon hearing Washington’s inauguration address — which Madison had ghosted, remember — Congress appointed Madison to write the official Congressional response.

Years later, in Washington, Madison engineered the candidacy of Thomas Jefferson for president, and after Jefferson was elected, Madison had the dubious honor as Secretary of State of lending his name to the Supreme Court case that established the Supreme Court as the arbiter of what is Constitutional under our scheme of government, in Marbury v. Madison.

Wherever there was action needed to make this government work, it seemed, there was James Madison providing the spark.

James Madison was the lightning behind the thunder of the founding of America. We should be grateful that he lived when he did, where he did, for we all share the fruits of the freedoms he worked to obtain. And in this Thanksgiving season, let us look for appropriate ways to honor his work.

James Madison circa 1829-1839, portrait by Chester Harding.  National Portrait Gallery

James Madison, 1829, portrait by Chester Harding. National Portrait Gallery. “In 1829, Madison came out of retirement to attend a convention for revising Virginia’s constitution. While there, he posed for this portrait by the Massachusetts painter Chester Harding.”

The Madisonian model of thoughtful reflection leading to action is one that is solidly established in psychological research. It is the model for leadership taught in business schools and military academies.

I would compare religious liberty to a mighty oak tree, under which we might seek shade on a hot summer day, from which we might draw wood for our fires to warm us in winter, or lumber to build great and strong buildings. That big oak we enjoy began its life long before ours. We enjoy its shade because someone earlier planted the seed. We enjoy our freedoms today because of men like James Madison.

How do we give thanks? As we pass around the turkey to our family, our friends, we would do well to reflect on the freedoms we enjoy, and how we got them.

Finally, remembering that someone had to plant those seeds, we need to ask: What seeds must we plant now for those who will come after us? We can demonstrate our being grateful for the actions of those who came before us by giving to those who come after us, something more to be grateful for. A life like Madison’s is a rarity. Improving on the freedoms he gave us might be difficult. Preserving those freedoms seems to me a solemn duty, however. Speaking out to defend those freedoms is an almost-tangible way to thank James Madison, and as fate would have it, there is plenty of material to speak out about. A postcard to your senators and representative giving your reasoned views on the re- introduction of the Istook Amendment might be timely now – with America’s attention turned overseas for a moment, people have adopted Patrick Henry’s tactic of trying to undo religious freedom during the distraction. I have had a lot of fun, and done some good I hope, in our local school system by asking our sons’ science and biology teachers what they plan to teach about evolution. Whatever they nervously answer — and they always nervously answer that question — I tell them that I want them to cover the topic fully and completely, and if they have any opposition to that I would be pleased to lend my name to a suit demanding it be done. We might take a moment of reflection to ponder our views about a proposed Texas “moment of silence” bill to be introduced, and then let our state representatives have our thoughts on the issue.

Do you need inspiration? Turn to James Madison’s writings. In laying out his 15-point defense of religious freedom in 1785, Madison wrote that separation of church and state is essential to our form of government:

“The preservation of a free Government requires not merely, that the metes and bounds which separate each department of power be invariably maintained; but more especially that neither of them be suffered to overleap the great Barrier which defends the rights of the people.”

How can we express our gratitude for such a foundation for religious liberty? Let loose a few lightning bolts, in remembrance of Madison.

Copyright © 2001 and 2006 by Ed Darrell. You may reproduce with attribution. Links added in May 2013.

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If you’re not remembered as much as Millard Fillmore . . .

January 10, 2014

The University of Buffalo honored Millard Fillmore today in a graveside ceremony on Thursdaypostponed from Fillmore’s birthday on January 7 due to cold and icy weather.

Is Fillmore forgotten as much as many claim?

Compare to notes on the births of other presidents.

Richard Nixon was born on January 9, 1913 (same year as my mother!)  He’d be 101 today, and still not a crook in his view.

US Senate History tweeted:

Not quite so good as a graveside ceremony.  Funnier picture, perhaps.

But consider Andrew Johnson.  His birthday was a couple of weeks ago, on December 29.

Andrew Johnson, the seventeenth president of the United States, was born in Raleigh, North Carolina, on December 29, 1808. His father’s death when the boy was three left the family in poverty. From age fourteen to age seventeen, young Johnson was apprenticed to a tailor. He then moved with his mother and stepfather to Greeneville, Tennessee, where he established himself as a tailor. Johnson never attended school but taught himself to read and write—he all but memorized the U.S. Constitution—and after his 1827 marriage to Eliza McCardle, a shoemaker’s daughter, acquired a good common education under her tutelage.

A gifted orator, Johnson quickly ascended the political ladder. In 1829, he won his first office, as an alderman. In steady succession he became mayor of Greeneville, a member of the Tennessee state legislature (1835-37, 1839-43), U.S. congressman (1843-53), governor of Tennessee (1853-57), and U.S. senator (1857-62). In Congress, Johnson supported the annexation of Texas and the Mexican-American War, and sponsored a homestead bill that anticipated the 1862 Homestead Act. He also was the only Southern senator who firmly supported the Union and remained in the Senate throughout both the secession crisis and the Civil War. In the spring of 1862, after federal forces captured portions of Tennessee, President Lincoln appointed him military governor of the state, an office he held despite constant danger to his life.

Two years later, influential moderates such as William Seward worked to secure Andrew Johnson, a Democrat, as Lincoln’s running mate on the Republican Party ticket. According to a May 20, 1865, editorial in Harper’s Weekly, Seward had seen in Johnson “that his fellow-Senator, a land-reformer, a stern Union man, a trusted representative of the people of the South as distinguished from the planting aristocracy, was the very kind of leader by whom the political power of the aristocracy was ultimately to be overthrown in its own section.”

After Lincoln’s assassination in April 1865, little more than a month after their inauguration, Johnson assumed the presidency. His administration ran more smoothly in the foreign than the domestic arena: in 1867, Secretary of State Seward purchased Alaska and helped negotiate France’s withdrawal of troops from Mexico.

If nothing else, Johnson is notorious for having been the first president to be impeached (he was acquitted at trial by the Senate; best account probably in John Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage).

Was there much of a peep in popular media on his birthday?

Any note?  I didn’t find it except in a very few of the “Today in History” columns.

Johnson may be forgettable, though — not considered a good president (who could be following Lincoln!).

What about Woodrow Wilson?  His birthday also cropped up a couple of weeks ago, on December 28, the day before Johnson’s.

It is not needful or possible at this time, whilst yet he lives, to say that Wilson is a Washington or another Lincoln, but he is a great American. He is one of the great presidents of American history.

Rabbi Stephen A. Wise in a tribute to Woodrow Wilson.
American Leaders Speak: Recordings from World War I and the 1920 Election, 1918-1920

Anyone notice?  I mean, anyone outside of Staunton, Virginia, his birthplace?  (Well, yeah — see below.)

What is a fair measure of ignominy? If the world forgets the great man’s birthday, is that a sign?

Photo by Michael Bupp, The Carlisle Sentinel:

Photo by Michael Bupp, The Carlisle Sentinel: “For 88 years, there has been a Woodrow Wilson Birthday Association of Cumberland County that organized an annual observance around Dec. 28 to remember Wilson. Pat Stumbaugh is the current treasurer and has been involved in the association since she was a little girl.”

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Stretching celebration of Millard Fillmore’s birthday through the week

January 7, 2014

Summerhill, New York, got a jump on celebrating Millard Fillmore’s birthday with a Sunday ceremony; today’s scheduled graveside commemoration is postponed due to weather, to Thursday — nearly a full week of Millard Fillmore!

Summerhill’s annual birthday party continued a tradition of uncertain age.  Fillmore was born in a log cabin in Summerhill.

Details come from the Auburn, New York, Citizen:

Three members of Flock of Free Range Children John Davis, from left, Ron Van Nostrand and Don Watkins perform at the birthday party for former President Millard Fillmore Sunday in the Summerhill Town Hall.   (Photo by Jessica Soule)

Music for the Summerhill, New York, celebration of Millard Fillmore’s 214th birthday was provided, again, by Flock of Free Range Children. Caption from the Auburn Citizen: Three members of Flock of Free Range Children John Davis, from left, Ron Van Nostrand and Don Watkins perform at the birthday party for former President Millard Fillmore Sunday in the Summerhill Town Hall. (Photo by Jessica Soule)

SUMMERHILL | Summerhill’s town hall was taken over Sunday with the delights of a birthday party – cake, live music and community members coming together in celebration. Millard Fillmore was born 214 years ago, on Jan. 7, 1800, in a log cabin there.

In honor of his birthday, the Cayuga Owasco Lakes Historical Society partnered with the town of Summerhill to put on a party for the 13th president of the United States of America. This annual celebration has happened for years, society President Joyce Hackett Smith-Moore said.

Three members of the Flock of Free Range Children performed in the hall, as people munched on food and chatted. A banner with Fillmore’s birth year hung from the wall above a birthday cake.

“This is our opportunity for the town and our members to keep the memory of Fillmore alive,” Smith-Moore said. “After all, there’s not a lot of counties that have a president from there. There is a lot of history, but there’s so much more.”

The historical society also hosts an annual fundraiser in August. This year, the money gathered will benefit the pavilion that commemorates Fillmore’s birthplace. Specifically, the society wants to install bathrooms. The path that connects his birthplace and Fillmore Glen State Park was recently cleared, giving walkers another trail to learn more about the president who was responsible for adding indoor plumbing to the White House.

Commemorating the president with origins in Cayuga County is especially important, as he hasn’t gotten his due from national historians.

“All presidents have a library or museum, except Fillmore. We’re the only executive of his effects,” Smith-Moore said.

Fillmore only recently became the subject of his first biography, completed by a former Moravia teacher. The birthday celebration is an effort to raise awareness of his accomplishments and the many positive effects of his work on the nation, Smith-Moore said.

The historical society presented the town a frame that contained coins, one bearing Fillmore’s image and another of his wife, a photo of the deputy director of the United States Mint dedicating the Fillmore coin in 2010 and a flier of the coin dedication.

In an effort to remind the community of their local treasure, fifth-graders will be treated to a sit down between Fillmore and Abraham Lincoln in their curriculum.

“People just don’t know anything about Millard Fillmore,” Smith-Moore said.

She said one of his biggest accomplishments was to order the military to start surveying in preparation for what would become the Transcontinental Railroad. Meanwhile, town historian Florence Lansdowne said Fillmore opening up trade with Japan led to major benefits.

“We want to instill in people how important he was,” Lansdowne said.

Lansdowne is retiring, and will work with her replacement Patricia McCloy this year. McCloy lauded Lansdowne for her work in gaining recognition for the 13th president.

McCloy said she is excited to take over as local historian. She’s going to try to encourage more use of the pavilion that commemorates Fillmore’s birthplace.

“Is it amazing,” she said. “There aren’t many towns in American that can say they had a president.”

From the Auburn Citizen:  New Summerhill town historian Patricia McCloy, right, smiles during a presentation by the Cayuga Owasco Lakes Historical Society as retiring town historian Florence Lansdowne, left, and society President Joyce Hackett Smith-Moore look on. (Photo by Jessica Soule)

From the Auburn Citizen: New Summerhill town historian Patricia McCloy, right, smiles during a presentation by the Cayuga Owasco Lakes Historical Society as retiring town historian Florence Lansdowne, left, and society President Joyce Hackett Smith-Moore look on. (Photo by Jessica Soule)

What other celebrations might there be out there?  Does anyone race bathtubs anymore?

More, perhaps related:


Two presidents, a study in blue

September 27, 2013

Pete Souza photo - Pres Obama talks backstage with Pres Clinton as Hillary Clinton waits to be introduced at CGI event 9-24-2013

White House photographer Pete Souza: ‏@petesouza 24 Sep Pres Obama talks backstage with Pres Clinton as Hillary Clinton waits to be introduced at CGI [Clinton Global Initiative] event today [September 24, 2013] pic.twitter.com/TCYqyxMZa8

Pete Souza’s work as White House photographer continues to fascinate me.  He’s got more opportunity than most of us have to get great shots — but he’s also got a keen eye for a good story-telling photo, and a good eye for great photo composition on the fly.

In this photo, Souza captures two presidents lost in conversation, bathed in blue stage lights, awaiting their time on the stage; but next up is Hillary Clinton, who will introduce them.  Mrs. Clinton awaits her cue.  The presidents met at the annual meetings for the Clinton Global Initiative.

Hold on to this photo; depending on events of 2016, it may yet have many more stories to tell.


President Lincoln and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in the Oval Office

August 28, 2013

I remember, just a year ago, when the GOP candidate for president promised to make this photo impossible, replacing King with an Englishman.

150 years later, 50 years later, change gotta come, still.

A better version of the photo:

Painting of Abraham Lincoln, bust of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., together in the Oval Office, White House. (Pete Souza photo?)

Painting of Abraham Lincoln, bust of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., together in the Oval Office, White House. (Pete Souza photo?) Photo published on August 28, 2013, the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.

Oval office, Martin Luther King, March on Washington, Abraham Lincoln

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90 years ago: Harding died in San Francisco; Coolidge rose to presidency

August 11, 2013

It’s another one of those mostly-unexplored crevices of history.  90 years ago this August, President Warren G. Harding died in a San Francisco hotel, while on a trip visiting western states.  Harding’s death promoted Calvin Coolidge to the presidency.  They were Republican presidents in one of the hottest stock market eras of all time, during the Roaring ’20s.  Their policies probably helped lead the nation to the financial ruin after the dramatic stock market crash of 1929.

Perhaps its no wonder people would like to forget that fascinating time — but shouldn’t we really give Harding and Coolidge some diligent study?  Consider: Harding and Coolidge would be the last ticket to defeat Franklin Delano Roosevelt for anything; FDR’s reputation rests on his rollback of Harding-Coolidge-Hoover policies.  But in 1920, FDR’s ticket ran on policies more similar to those policies than opposed to them.  Odd how history turns sometimes.

Warren Gamaliel Harding won the election to succeed Woodrow Wilson, some said simply because he looked like a president.  Harding was a little laid back for the times — considering McKinley was assassinated, his successor, the hyper-caffeinated Teddy Roosevelt would die young of a heart attack, obesity nearly took out Teddy’s successor, William H. Taft, and Wilson had suffered a stroke about half-way through his second term.  It was an era when high blood pressure had no particular treatment, and the Type A men who presided over the nation could suffer from all the syndromes high blood pressure can cause.  At the White House website [links added here]:

In 1921, President Warren Harding spoke into a recording apparatus to create a phonographic copy of one of his speeches.  Photo from the Miller Center, University of Virginia

In 1921, President Warren Harding spoke into a recording apparatus to create a phonographic copy of one of his speeches. Photo from the Miller Center, University of Virginia

Before his nomination, Warren G. Harding declared, “America’s present need is not heroics, but healing; not nostrums, but normalcy; not revolution, but restoration; not agitation, but adjustment; not surgery, but serenity; not the dramatic, but the dispassionate; not experiment, but equipoise; not submergence in internationality, but sustainment in triumphant nationality….”

A Democratic leader, William Gibbs McAdoo, called Harding’s speeches “an army of pompous phrases moving across the landscape in search of an idea.” Their very murkiness was effective, since Harding’s pronouncements remained unclear on the League of Nations, in contrast to the impassioned crusade of the Democratic candidates, Governor James M. Cox of Ohio and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Thirty-one distinguished Republicans had signed a manifesto assuring voters that a vote for Harding was a vote for the League. But Harding interpreted his election as a mandate to stay out of the League of Nations.

Harding took office promising to be a business-friendly president, meaning he supported the big money guys.  Laying out a lesson of history that too many today never learned, Harding led Washington to cut taxes on the upper income levels and bigger businesses, and set up the Roaring ’20s economy that would lead to the financial collapse of the U.S. in 1929, plunging the nation into the Great Depression.  Off the job, he played poker at the White House with bootleg whiskey on the table.  No Treasury “revenuer” would bust the President and his high-rolling friends.

In 1923, Harding’s luck started to run out.  Stories of corruption in his administration began to circulate.  The Miller Center describes what led to his unexpected death:

Death of the President

Shaken by the talk of corruption among the friends he had appointed to office, Warren and Florence Harding began a tour on June 20, 1923 of the West and Alaska. He hoped to get out and meet people, to shake hands and explain his policies. Although suffering from high blood pressure and an enlarged heart, he seemed to enjoy himself—especially in Alaska. On his return journey, he became ill with what was then attributed to a touch of ptomaine (food) poisoning. The presidential train rushed to San Francisco, where his condition worsened. On August 2, he most likely suffered a heart attack in the evening, while his wife was reading to him. He died quietly and instantaneously.

Word quickly spread that Mrs. Harding, the last person to be with him that evening, had poisoned him to prevent him from being brought up on charges of corruption that soon engulfed his administration. A sensationalist book published in 1930 detailed the allegations against her. Her refusal to allow an autopsy of the President only fed the rumors. Harding left the bulk of his estate, valued at $850,000, to his wife.

It was August, after all.  Coolidge retreated from Washington to his home in Vermont.  The Miller Center’s account is a good one:

On August 2, 1923, John Coolidge woke his vacationing son and daughter-in-law at the family home in Plymouth Notch, Vermont, to tell them of President Harding’s death from a heart attack. Coolidge knelt, prayed, and went downstairs. Although the old house had no phone, it was soon abuzz with reporters. At 2:24 a.m., with the newspaper men settled and a copy of the Constitution retrieved, the elder Coolidge, a justice of the peace, administered the oath of office to his son by the light of a kerosene lamp. Soon after, Calvin Coolidge went back to bed as the 30th President of the United States.

Coolidge is the only president to have been sworn in by a close family member.  The “Constitution retrieved”  should be a point of study of presidential aides.  After the assassination of President John Kennedy in Dallas, federal Judge Sarah Hughes got a call to administer the oath of office to Lyndon Johnson before Johnson flew back to Washington.  Hughes said she’d do it, but she needed a copy of the oath.  Apparently not giving adequate thought, this spurred a furious search for a copy of the oath.  After too long, a lawyer in the U.S. attorney’s office recalled the oath is in the Constitution, and a copy in a law book was taken to where Johnson and the presidential entourage awaited aboard Air Force 1 at Love Field.

You never know when you’re going to need to remember history, and know where to retrieve some bit of law.

Coolidge used a calm hand at the tiller during his presidency, continuing what he and others thought to be wise policies to encourage the growth of business.  He’s always struck me as one of the better balanced men in the White House.  Coolidge brought Scouting into the mansion, for his two sons, John, and Calvin, Jr. — he was devoted to his family, and to outdoor recreation (though usually in a coat and tie — the fashion of the time).  John attended Amherst College during his father’s term.

He won his own term of office in 1924, but lost his younger son.  Calvin, Jr., played his brother in tennis, but developed a blister on his foot from the match.  The blister got infected, and the boy developed blood poisoning, which took his life on July 7, 1924.  Although Coolidge, Sr., won the election that fall, after his son’s death he appeared anxious to get out of the White House.  Using the “two-term” precedent as his excuse, and claiming the small part of Harding’s term as his first, Coolidge did not run for re-election in 1928.

Coolidge enjoyed wearing various hats, and did not blanch at posing in clothing created for him, which means we have a rich (though limited) catalog of photographs of Coolidge in strange attire.  Campaign staffs for presidential candidates since at least 1960 have made a study of this, working hard to avoid such photos, failing with some consequences.

President Calvin Coolidge and a 10-gallon hat.  Library of Congress image

President Calvin Coolidge and a 10-gallon hat. Library of Congress image

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Presidents and umbrellas, continued: Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth

May 20, 2013

This is just so odd that it merits our attention, so long as we’re talking about presidents and umbrellas.

In 1864, John Wilkes Booth wrote to President Abraham Lincoln asking for money to purchase an umbrella.

Yes, Booth, the man who would eventually assassinate that same Abraham Lincoln.

Page 1 of John Wilkes Booth's 1864 letter to President Abraham Lincoln

Page 1 of John Wilkes Booth’s 1864 letter to President Abraham Lincoln

Booth to Lincoln, page 2

Booth to Lincoln, page 2

Booth to Lincoln, page 3

Booth to Lincoln, page 3

Booth to Lincoln, page 4

Booth to Lincoln, page 4

Booth to Lincoln, page 5

Booth to Lincoln, page 5

Booth to Lincoln, page 6

Booth to Lincoln, page 6

The letter is in the collection of Lincoln papers at the Library of Congress, described as “John Wilkes to Abraham Lincoln, Thursday, November 17, 1864 (Congratulations; request that Lincoln send him money to buy an umbrella).”

I have found no official transcript of the letter.

Of all the richochets of umbrellas in the history of the American presidency, this must be the strangest.

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Presidents and umbrellas

May 19, 2013

A few photos from history:

President Dwight D. Eisenhower:

President Dwight D. Eisenhower with Indian President Rajendra Prasad, in India

Two Countries, One Umbrella – President Dwight D. Eisenhower with Indian President Rajendra Prasad, in India, December 11, 1959 (anyone have the year?) 

President John F. Kennedy

Aide holds umbrella for First Lady Jacqueline and President John F. Kennedy, inaugural night, 1961.

Aide holds umbrella for First Lady Jacqueline and President John F. Kennedy, inaugural night, 1961.

President Lyndon B. Johnson

Johnson in Honololulu 1966, with umbrella

President Lyndon B. Johnson arrives for church services in Honolulu, February 6, 1966, during Vietnam negotiations. To Johnson’s immediate right, Rep. Spark Matsunaga; on Johnson’s left, a Secret Service agent. National Archives photo

President Richard M. Nixon

Nixon campaigning in the rain in Hawaii, 1960

Caption from The AtlanticWire: In 1960, Richard Nixon pledged to campaign in all 50 states. He was not even rewarded for this foolishness with nice weather in Hawaii.

My memory is that no other presidential candidate has campaigned in Hawaii since then.  Has any other candidate campaigned in Alaska?

NASA Administrator Dr. Thomas Paine holding umbrella for Nixon

Collection: NASA Great Images in Nasa Collection Title: Nixon and Paine at Apollo 12 Launch Full Description: Dr. Thomas Paine, NASA Administrator, shields First Lady, Mrs. Richard M. Nixon, from rain while the President and daughter Tricia, foreground, watch Apollo 12 prelaunch activities at the Kennedy Space Center viewing area. Following the successful liftoff, the President congratulated the launch crew from within the control center. Date: 11/14/1969 NASA photo, on Flickr

The image of Nixon in the rain was captured several times.

Nixon, staff and security, in the rain

From the AtlanticWire: Even amid his staff and security, Nixon looks like a lonely man helpless against the elements. (AP photo?)

President Gerald R. Ford

Gerald Ford in the rain

Wally McNamee photo, University of Texas Center for American History.  UPI caption for their photos:  As Betty Ford holds the umbrella, a military aide rushes forward to assist President Ford as he trips and falls on the lower steps of the plane ramp following his arrival in Salzburg, Austria on June 1, 1975. (UPI Photo/Files)

President Ronald Reagan:

President Reagan in the rain

Undated photo of First Lady Nancy and President Ronald Reagan being sheltered on an airport in an unnamed place. Image from BigotBasher.

Reagan at the White House, in the rain:

White House staff shelter President Reagan's waving.  Freakout Nation image

White House staff shelter President Reagan’s waving. Freakout Nation image

President George H. W. Bush:

G H W Bush in the rain July 1989, AtlanticWire

Barbara Bush held the umbrella for President George H. W. Bush in July 1989 (in Italy?). From The AtlanticWire.

G H W Bush in the rain, late 1989

President George H. W. Bush found himself in the rain again, in late 1989. AtlanticWire image

President Barack Obama:

Obama at Lincoln National Cemetery, Memorial Day 2010

President Barack Obama took the stage amidst a downpour at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood, Illinois, on Memorial Day. He announced that the event was being canceled because of the severe weather, and he told the crowd to seek shelter, May 31, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

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Millard Fillmore waxes on

April 5, 2013

Millard Fillmore at Madame Tussaud's, D.C.

President Millard Fillmore, as displayed at Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum, Washington, D.C.; photo from About.com

Ever on the lookout for images of Millard Fillmore, I found this photo at About.com.  This is the “wax” sculpture of Fillmore displayed at Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum – D.C.

Is it art?

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Monument to brevity: Remembering William Henry Harrison

April 4, 2013

(There are a few minutes left in April 4, at least in the Central Time Zone.  Bad day for posting, here.)

William Henry Harrison died on April 4, 1841, 31 days after his inauguration as president of the United States.

Perhaps during the cold and rainy inauguration, perhaps from a well-wisher, Harrison caught a cold. The cold developed into pneumonia. The pneumonia killed him.

William Henry Harrison, circa 1813, painted by Rembrandt Peale.  Naitonal Portrait Gallery

William Henry Harrison, circa 1813, painted by Rembrandt Peale. National Portrait Gallery

Harrison, a Whig, was the first president to die in office. His vice president, John Tyler, was a converted Democrat who abandoned the Whig platform as president.

Harrison won fame pushing Indians off of lands coveted by white settlers in the Northwest Territories. Harrison defeated Tecumseh’s Shawnee tribe without Tecumseh at the Battle of Tippecanoe, then beat Tecumseh in a battle with the English in which Tecumseh died in the War of 1812.

Schoolchildren of my era learned Harrison’s election slogan: “Tippecanoe, and Tyler, too!”

Congress voted Harrison’s widow a payment of $25,000 since he had died nearly penniless. This may be the first example of a president or his survivors getting a payment from the government after leaving office.

In the annals of brief presidencies, there is likely to be none shorter than Harrison’s for a long time. As you toast him today, you can honestly say he did not overstay his White House tenure. Others could have learned from his example.

This is an encore post, from 2008; new links added.

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Millard Fillmore: Still dead, still misquoted, 139 years later

March 8, 2013

Millard Fillmore wax head

A wax likeness of Millard Fillmore’s head, appearing to be for sale for $950.00 back in 2007. Did anyone ever buy it? Yes, it does bear an unusual resemblance to Tom Peters.

March 8, 2013, is the 139th anniversary of Millard Fillmore’s death.  Famous lore claims Fillmore’s last words were, “The nourishment is palatable.”

What a crock!

Manus reprints the text from the New York Times obituary that appeared on March 9:

Buffalo, N.Y., March 8 — 12 o’clock, midnight. — Ex-President Millard Fillmore died at his residence in this city at 11:10 to-night. He was conscious up to the time. At 8 o’clock, in reply to a question by his physician, he said the nourishment was palatable; these were his last words. His death was painless.

First, I wonder how the devil the writer could possibly know whether Fillmore’s death was painless?

And second, accuracy obsessed as I am, I wonder whether this is the source of the often-attributed to Fillmore quote, “The nourishment is palatable.” Several sources that one might hope would be more careful attribute the quote to Fillmore as accurate — none with any citation that I can find. Thinkexist charges ahead full speed; Brainyquote removed the quote after I complained in 2007. Wikipedia lists it. Snopes.com says the quote is “alleged,” in a discussion thread.

I’ll wager no one can offer a citation for the quote. I’ll wager Fillmore didn’t say it.

Let’s be more stolid:  The quote alleged to be Fillmore’s last words, isn’t.  No one says “palatable” when they’re dying, not even the man about whom it is claimed that Queen Victoria pronounced him the hansomest man she ever met (just try tracking that one down), and whose strongest legacy is a hoax about a bathtub, started 43 years after he died.  No one calls soup “sustenance.”

The alleged quote, the misquote, the distortion of history, was stolen from the obituary in the New York Times.  Millard Fillmore did not say, “The sustenance is palatable.”

What were Millard Fillmore’s last words?  They may be buried in the notebook of one of his doctors.  They may be recorded in some odd notebook held in the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society, or in the Library of SUNY Buffalo, or in the New York State Library‘s dusty archives.

But the dying President Fillmore did not say, “The sustenance is palatable.”

Millard Fillmore: We’d protect his legacy, if only anyone could figure out what it is.

This is partly an encore post, based on a post from 2007.

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A very young John Kennedy asks his father for a raise in his allowance, to cover Boy Scout dues

March 3, 2013

Can your students write this well?  This kid was 12:

JFK asking his father for a raise in his allowance

Letter from 12 year-old John Kennedy, asking his father for a raise in his allowance, in 1929.  Click image for larger view.  Photo from Peter Lenahan

Found the image at the U.S. Scouting Service Project site, part of their celebration of the history of Scouting.

John Fitzgerald Francis Kennedy, President of the United States, was a Scout in Troop 2 in the Bronxville, NY, from 1929 to 1931. This letter was written when he was 12 years old in 1929.

Transcript:   A Plea for a raise

By Jack Kennedy

Dedicated to my

Mr. J. P. Kennedy

     Chapter I

My recent allowance is 40¢. This I used for areoplanes and other playthings of child- hood but now I am a scout and I put away my childish things. Before I would spend 20¢ of my ¢.40 allowance and In five minutes I would have empty pockets and nothing to gain and 20¢ to lose. When I a a scout I have to buy canteens, haversacks, blankets, searchlidgs [searchlights] poncho things that will last for years and I can always use it while I cant use a cholcalote marshmellow sunday with vanilla ice cream and so I put in my plea for a raise of thirty cents for me to buy scout things and pay my own way more around.

Finis

John Fitzgerald Francis Kennedy

Contributed by: Peter Lenahan, Bronxville, NY


Quote of the moment: Should we reconsider Millard Fillmore?

February 23, 2013

For an accidental president, a man who no one expected to take the office; for a guy whose term was marked by his party’s rejection of his policies so much that they did not even entertain the idea he might be the nominee in the next election; for the last Whig president, an obvious dinosaur of a dying political view; for a guy so obscure that a hoax more than a half-century later remains his greatest acknowledged point of reference, Millard Fillmore left the U.S. in good shape.

Should that be his real legacy?

Millard Fillmore for President, campaign poster from 1856 (American Party)

Campaign poster for Millard Fillmore, running for president in 1856 on the American Party ticket. He carried Maryland, which is probably ironic, considering Maryland’s Catholic roots, and the American Party’s anti-Catholic views, views probably not entirely shared by Fillmore; the American Party is more often known as the “Know-Nothings.”  Image from the Library of Congress American Memory files.

These are the last two paragraphs of his final State of the Union message, delivered on paper on December 6, 1852.  Perhaps establishing a tradition, he made the message a listing of current zeitgeist, starting out mourning the recent passing of Daniel Webster, and the abatement of epidemics of mosquito-borne plagues in several cities.  He recited activities of the government, including the abolishment of corporal punishment in the Navy and improvements in the Naval Academy; he mentioned U.S. exploration around the world, in the Pacific, in the Amazon River, in Africa, and especially his project to send a fleet to Japan to open trade there.  He noted great opportunities for trade, domestically across an expanded, Atlantic-to-Pacific United States, and in foreign markets reachable through both oceans.

The last two paragraphs would be considered greatly exaggerated had any president in the 20th century delivered them; but from Millard Fillmore, they were not.  He gave credit for these achievements to others, not himself.

In closing this my last annual communication, permit me, fellow-citizens, to congratulate you on the prosperous condition of our beloved country. Abroad its relations with all foreign powers are friendly, its rights are respected, and its high place in the family of nations cheerfully recognized. At home we enjoy an amount of happiness, public and private, which has probably never fallen to the lot of any other people. Besides affording to our own citizens a degree of prosperity of which on so large a scale I know of no other instance, our country is annually affording a refuge and a home to multitudes, altogether without example, from the Old World.

We owe these blessings, under Heaven, to the happy Constitution and Government which were bequeathed to us by our fathers, and which it is our sacred duty to transmit in all their integrity to our children. We must all consider it a great distinction and privilege to have been chosen by the people to bear a part in the administration of such a Government. Called by an unexpected dispensation to its highest trust at a season of embarrassment and alarm, I entered upon its arduous duties with extreme diffidence. I claim only to have discharged them to the best of an humble ability, with a single eye to the public good, and it is with devout gratitude in retiring from office that I leave the country in a state of peace and prosperity.

What president would not have been happy to have been able to claim as much?  Historians often offer back-handed criticism to Fillmore for the Compromise of 1850; in retrospect it did not prevent the Civil War.  In the circumstances of 1850, in the circumstances of Fillmore’s presidential career, should we expect more?  Compared to Buchanan’s presidency and the events accelerating toward war, did Fillmore do so badly?

Have we underestimated Millard Fillmore?  Discuss.

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Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech, 2013

February 12, 2013

Transcript of President Obama’s speech, as released from the White House:

The White House
Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release

February 12, 2013

President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address

Remarks of President Barack Obama – As Prepared for Delivery

State of the Union Address

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Washington, DC

Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, Members of Congress, fellow citizens:

Fifty-one years ago, John F. Kennedy declared to this Chamber that “the Constitution makes us not rivals for power but partners for progress…It is my task,” he said, “to report the State of the Union – to improve it is the task of us all.”

Tonight, thanks to the grit and determination of the American people, there is much progress to report.  After a decade of grinding war, our brave men and women in uniform are coming home.  After years of grueling recession, our businesses have created over six million new jobs.  We buy more American cars than we have in five years, and less foreign oil than we have in twenty.  Our housing market is healing, our stock market is rebounding, and consumers, patients, and homeowners enjoy stronger protections than ever before.

Together, we have cleared away the rubble of crisis, and can say with renewed confidence that the state of our union is stronger.

But we gather here knowing that there are millions of Americans whose hard work and dedication have not yet been rewarded.  Our economy is adding jobs – but too many people still can’t find full-time employment.  Corporate profits have rocketed to all-time highs – but for more than a decade, wages and incomes have barely budged.

It is our generation’s task, then, to reignite the true engine of America’s economic growth – a rising, thriving middle class.

It is our unfinished task to restore the basic bargain that built this country – the idea that if you work hard and meet your responsibilities, you can get ahead, no matter where you come from, what you look like, or who you love.

It is our unfinished task to make sure that this government works on behalf of the many, and not just the few; that it encourages free enterprise, rewards individual initiative, and opens the doors of opportunity to every child across this great nation.

The American people don’t expect government to solve every problem.  They don’t expect those of us in this chamber to agree on every issue.  But they do expect us to put the nation’s interests before party.  They do expect us to forge reasonable compromise where we can.  For they know that America moves forward only when we do so together; and that the responsibility of improving this union remains the task of us all.

Our work must begin by making some basic decisions about our budget – decisions that will have a huge impact on the strength of our recovery.

Over the last few years, both parties have worked together to reduce the deficit by more than $2.5 trillion – mostly through spending cuts, but also by raising tax rates on the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans.  As a result, we are more than halfway towards the goal of $4 trillion in deficit reduction that economists say we need to stabilize our finances.

Now we need to finish the job.  And the question is, how?

In 2011, Congress passed a law saying that if both parties couldn’t agree on a plan to reach our deficit goal, about a trillion dollars’ worth of budget cuts would automatically go into effect this year.  These sudden, harsh, arbitrary cuts would jeopardize our military readiness.  They’d devastate priorities like education, energy, and medical research. They would certainly slow our recovery, and cost us hundreds of thousands of jobs.  That’s why Democrats, Republicans, business leaders, and economists have already said that these cuts, known here in Washington as “the sequester,” are a really bad idea.

Now, some in this Congress have proposed preventing only the defense cuts by making even bigger cuts to things like education and job training; Medicare and Social Security benefits.

That idea is even worse.  Yes, the biggest driver of our long-term debt is the rising cost of health care for an aging population.  And those of us who care deeply about programs like Medicare must embrace the need for modest reforms – otherwise, our retirement programs will crowd out the investments we need for our children, and jeopardize the promise of a secure retirement for future generations.

But we can’t ask senior citizens and working families to shoulder the entire burden of deficit reduction while asking nothing more from the wealthiest and most powerful.  We won’t grow the middle class simply by shifting the cost of health care or college onto families that are already struggling, or by forcing communities to lay off more teachers, cops, and firefighters.  Most Americans – Democrats, Republicans, and Independents – understand that we can’t just cut our way to prosperity.  They know that broad-based economic growth requires a balanced approach to deficit reduction, with spending cuts and revenue, and with everybody doing their fair share.   And that’s the approach I offer tonight.

On Medicare, I’m prepared to enact reforms that will achieve the same amount of health care savings by the beginning of the next decade as the reforms proposed by the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles commission.  Already, the Affordable Care Act is helping to slow the growth of health care costs.  The reforms I’m proposing go even further.  We’ll reduce taxpayer subsidies to prescription drug companies and ask more from the wealthiest seniors.  We’ll bring down costs by changing the way our government pays for Medicare, because our medical bills shouldn’t be based on the number of tests ordered or days spent in the hospital – they should be based on the quality of care that our seniors receive.  And I am open to additional reforms from both parties, so long as they don’t violate the guarantee of a secure retirement.  Our government shouldn’t make promises we cannot keep – but we must keep the promises we’ve already made.

To hit the rest of our deficit reduction target, we should do what leaders in both parties have already suggested, and save hundreds of billions of dollars by getting rid of tax loopholes and deductions for the well-off and well-connected.  After all, why would we choose to make deeper cuts to education and Medicare just to protect special interest tax breaks?  How is that fair?  How does that promote growth?

Now is our best chance for bipartisan, comprehensive tax reform that encourages job creation and helps bring down the deficit.  The American people deserve a tax code that helps small businesses spend less time filling out complicated forms, and more time expanding and hiring; a tax code that ensures billionaires with high-powered accountants can’t pay a lower rate than their hard-working secretaries; a tax code that lowers incentives to move jobs overseas, and lowers tax rates for businesses and manufacturers that create jobs right here in America.  That’s what tax reform can deliver.  That’s what we can do together.

I realize that tax reform and entitlement reform won’t be easy.  The politics will be hard for both sides.  None of us will get 100 percent of what we want.  But the alternative will cost us jobs, hurt our economy, and visit hardship on millions of hardworking Americans.  So let’s set party interests aside, and work to pass a budget that replaces reckless cuts with smart savings and wise investments in our future.  And let’s do it without the brinksmanship that stresses consumers and scares off investors.  The greatest nation on Earth cannot keep conducting its business by drifting from one manufactured crisis to the next.  Let’s agree, right here, right now, to keep the people’s government open, pay our bills on time, and always uphold the full faith and credit of the United States of America.  The American people have worked too hard, for too long, rebuilding from one crisis to see their elected officials cause another.

Now, most of us agree that a plan to reduce the deficit must be part of our agenda.  But let’s be clear: deficit reduction alone is not an economic plan.  A growing economy that creates good, middle-class jobs – that must be the North Star that guides our efforts.  Every day, we should ask ourselves three questions as a nation:  How do we attract more jobs to our shores?  How do we equip our people with the skills needed to do those jobs?  And how do we make sure that hard work leads to a decent living?

A year and a half ago, I put forward an American Jobs Act that independent economists said would create more than one million new jobs.  I thank the last Congress for passing some of that agenda, and I urge this Congress to pass the rest.  Tonight, I’ll lay out additional proposals that are fully paid for and fully consistent with the budget framework both parties agreed to just 18 months ago.  Let me repeat – nothing I’m proposing tonight should increase our deficit by a single dime.  It’s not a bigger government we need, but a smarter government that sets priorities and invests in broad-based growth.

Our first priority is making America a magnet for new jobs and manufacturing.

After shedding jobs for more than 10 years, our manufacturers have added about 500,000 jobs over the past three. Caterpillar is bringing jobs back from Japan.  Ford is bringing jobs back from Mexico. After locating plants in other countries like China, Intel is opening its most advanced plant right here at home.  And this year, Apple will start making Macs in America again.

There are things we can do, right now, to accelerate this trend.  Last year, we created our first manufacturing innovation institute in Youngstown, Ohio.  A once-shuttered warehouse is now a state-of-the art lab where new workers are mastering the 3D printing that has the potential to revolutionize the way we make almost everything.  There’s no reason this can’t happen in other towns.  So tonight, I’m announcing the launch of three more of these manufacturing hubs, where businesses will partner with the Departments of Defense and Energy to turn regions left behind by globalization into global centers of high-tech jobs.  And I ask this Congress to help create a network of fifteen of these hubs and guarantee that the next revolution in manufacturing is Made in America.

If we want to make the best products, we also have to invest in the best ideas.  Every dollar we invested to map the human genome returned $140 to our economy. Today, our scientists are mapping the human brain to unlock the answers to Alzheimer’s; developing drugs to regenerate damaged organs; devising new material to make batteries ten times more powerful.  Now is not the time to gut these job-creating investments in science and innovation.  Now is the time to reach a level of research and development not seen since the height of the Space Race.  And today, no area holds more promise than our investments in American energy.

After years of talking about it, we are finally poised to control our own energy future.  We produce more oil at home than we have in 15 years.  We have doubled the distance our cars will go on a gallon of gas, and the amount of renewable energy we generate from sources like wind and solar – with tens of thousands of good, American jobs to show for it.  We produce more natural gas than ever before – and nearly everyone’s energy bill is lower because of it.  And over the last four years, our emissions of the dangerous carbon pollution that threatens our planet have actually fallen.

But for the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change.  Yes, it’s true that no single event makes a trend.  But the fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15.  Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and floods – all are now more frequent and intense.  We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence.  Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science – and act before it’s too late.

The good news is, we can make meaningful progress on this issue while driving strong economic growth.  I urge this Congress to pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change, like the one John McCain and Joe Lieberman worked on together a few years ago.  But if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will.  I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.

Four years ago, other countries dominated the clean energy market and the jobs that came with it.  We’ve begun to change that.  Last year, wind energy added nearly half of all new power capacity in America.  So let’s generate even more.  Solar energy gets cheaper by the year – so let’s drive costs down even further.  As long as countries like China keep going all-in on clean energy, so must we.

In the meantime, the natural gas boom has led to cleaner power and greater energy independence.  That’s why my Administration will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits.  But I also want to work with this Congress to encourage the research and technology that helps natural gas burn even cleaner and protects our air and water.

Indeed, much of our new-found energy is drawn from lands and waters that we, the public, own together.  So tonight, I propose we use some of our oil and gas revenues to fund an Energy Security Trust that will drive new research and technology to shift our cars and trucks off oil for good.  If a non-partisan coalition of CEOs and retired generals and admirals can get behind this idea, then so can we.  Let’s take their advice and free our families and businesses from the painful spikes in gas prices we’ve put up with for far too long.  I’m also issuing a new goal for America: let’s cut in half the energy wasted by our homes and businesses over the next twenty years.  The states with the best ideas to create jobs and lower energy bills by constructing more efficient buildings will receive federal support to help make it happen.

America’s energy sector is just one part of an aging infrastructure badly in need of repair.  Ask any CEO where they’d rather locate and hire: a country with deteriorating roads and bridges, or one with high-speed rail and internet; high-tech schools and self-healing power grids.  The CEO of Siemens America – a company that brought hundreds of new jobs to North Carolina – has said that if we upgrade our infrastructure, they’ll bring even more jobs.  And I know that you want these job-creating projects in your districts.  I’ve seen you all at the ribbon-cuttings.

Tonight, I propose a “Fix-It-First” program to put people to work as soon as possible on our most urgent repairs, like the nearly 70,000 structurally deficient bridges across the country.  And to make sure taxpayers don’t shoulder the whole burden, I’m also proposing a Partnership to Rebuild America that attracts private capital to upgrade what our businesses need most: modern ports to move our goods; modern pipelines to withstand a storm; modern schools worthy of our children.  Let’s prove that there is no better place to do business than the United States of America.  And let’s start right away.

Part of our rebuilding effort must also involve our housing sector.  Today, our housing market is finally healing from the collapse of 2007.  Home prices are rising at the fastest pace in six years, home purchases are up nearly 50 percent, and construction is expanding again.

But even with mortgage rates near a 50-year low, too many families with solid credit who want to buy a home are being rejected.  Too many families who have never missed a payment and want to refinance are being told no.  That’s holding our entire economy back, and we need to fix it.  Right now, there’s a bill in this Congress that would give every responsible homeowner in America the chance to save $3,000 a year by refinancing at today’s rates.  Democrats and Republicans have supported it before.  What are we waiting for?  Take a vote, and send me that bill.  Right now, overlapping regulations keep responsible young families from buying their first home.  What’s holding us back?  Let’s streamline the process, and help our economy grow.

These initiatives in manufacturing, energy, infrastructure, and housing will help entrepreneurs and small business owners expand and create new jobs.  But none of it will matter unless we also equip our citizens with the skills and training to fill those jobs.  And that has to start at the earliest possible age.

Study after study shows that the sooner a child begins learning, the better he or she does down the road.  But today, fewer than 3 in 10 four year-olds are enrolled in a high-quality preschool program.  Most middle-class parents can’t afford a few hundred bucks a week for private preschool.  And for poor kids who need help the most, this lack of access to preschool education can shadow them for the rest of their lives.

Tonight, I propose working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America.  Every dollar we invest in high-quality early education can save more than seven dollars later on – by boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, even reducing violent crime.  In states that make it a priority to educate our youngest children, like Georgia or Oklahoma, studies show students grow up more likely to read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, and form more stable families of their own.  So let’s do what works, and make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind.  Let’s give our kids that chance.

Let’s also make sure that a high school diploma puts our kids on a path to a good job.  Right now, countries like Germany focus on graduating their high school students with the equivalent of a technical degree from one of our community colleges, so that they’re ready for a job.  At schools like P-Tech in Brooklyn, a collaboration between New York Public Schools, the City University of New York, and IBM, students will graduate with a high school diploma and an associate degree in computers or engineering.

We need to give every American student opportunities like this.  Four years ago, we started Race to the Top – a competition that convinced almost every state to develop smarter curricula and higher standards, for about 1 percent of what we spend on education each year.  Tonight, I’m announcing a new challenge to redesign America’s high schools so they better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy.  We’ll reward schools that develop new partnerships with colleges and employers, and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering, and math – the skills today’s employers are looking for to fill jobs right now and in the future.

Now, even with better high schools, most young people will need some higher education.  It’s a simple fact: the more education you have, the more likely you are to have a job and work your way into the middle class.  But today, skyrocketing costs price way too many young people out of a higher education, or saddle them with unsustainable debt.

Through tax credits, grants, and better loans, we have made college more affordable for millions of students and families over the last few years.  But taxpayers cannot continue to subsidize the soaring cost of higher education.  Colleges must do their part to keep costs down, and it’s our job to make sure they do.  Tonight, I ask Congress to change the Higher Education Act, so that affordability and value are included in determining which colleges receive certain types of federal aid.  And tomorrow, my Administration will release a new “College Scorecard” that parents and students can use to compare schools based on a simple criteria: where you can get the most bang for your educational buck.

To grow our middle class, our citizens must have access to the education and training that today’s jobs require.  But we also have to make sure that America remains a place where everyone who’s willing to work hard has the chance to get ahead.

Our economy is stronger when we harness the talents and ingenuity of striving, hopeful immigrants.  And right now, leaders from the business, labor, law enforcement, and faith communities all agree that the time has come to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

Real reform means strong border security, and we can build on the progress my Administration has already made – putting more boots on the southern border than at any time in our history, and reducing illegal crossings to their lowest levels in 40 years.

Real reform means establishing a responsible pathway to earned citizenship – a path that includes passing a background check, paying taxes and a meaningful penalty, learning English, and going to the back of the line behind the folks trying to come here legally.

And real reform means fixing the legal immigration system to cut waiting periods, reduce bureaucracy, and attract the highly-skilled entrepreneurs and engineers that will help create jobs and grow our economy.

In other words, we know what needs to be done.  As we speak, bipartisan groups in both chambers are working diligently to draft a bill, and I applaud their efforts.  Now let’s get this done.  Send me a comprehensive immigration reform bill in the next few months, and I will sign it right away.

But we can’t stop there.  We know our economy is stronger when our wives, mothers, and daughters can live their lives free from discrimination in the workplace, and free from the fear of domestic violence.  Today, the Senate passed the Violence Against Women Act that Joe Biden originally wrote almost 20 years ago.  I urge the House to do the same.  And I ask this Congress to declare that women should earn a living equal to their efforts, and finally pass the Paycheck Fairness Act this year.

We know our economy is stronger when we reward an honest day’s work with honest wages.  But today, a full-time worker making the minimum wage earns $14,500 a year.  Even with the tax relief we’ve put in place, a family with two kids that earns the minimum wage still lives below the poverty line.  That’s wrong.  That’s why, since the last time this Congress raised the minimum wage, nineteen states have chosen to bump theirs even higher.

Tonight, let’s declare that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty, and raise the federal minimum wage to $9.00 an hour.  This single step would raise the incomes of millions of working families.  It could mean the difference between groceries or the food bank; rent or eviction; scraping by or finally getting ahead.  For businesses across the country, it would mean customers with more money in their pockets.  In fact, working folks shouldn’t have to wait year after year for the minimum wage to go up while CEO pay has never been higher.  So here’s an idea that Governor Romney and I actually agreed on last year: let’s tie the minimum wage to the cost of living, so that it finally becomes a wage you can live on.

Tonight, let’s also recognize that there are communities in this country where no matter how hard you work, it’s virtually impossible to get ahead.  Factory towns decimated from years of plants packing up.  Inescapable pockets of poverty, urban and rural, where young adults are still fighting for their first job.  America is not a place where chance of birth or circumstance should decide our destiny.  And that is why we need to build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class for all who are willing to climb them.

Let’s offer incentives to companies that hire Americans who’ve got what it takes to fill that job opening, but have been out of work so long that no one will give them a chance.  Let’s put people back to work rebuilding vacant homes in run-down neighborhoods.  And this year, my Administration will begin to partner with 20 of the hardest-hit towns in America to get these communities back on their feet.  We’ll work with local leaders to target resources at public safety, education, and housing.  We’ll give new tax credits to businesses that hire and invest.  And we’ll work to strengthen families by removing the financial deterrents to marriage for low-income couples, and doing more to encourage fatherhood – because what makes you a man isn’t the ability to conceive a child; it’s having the courage to raise one.

Stronger families.  Stronger communities.  A stronger America.  It is this kind of prosperity – broad, shared, and built on a thriving middle class – that has always been the source of our progress at home.  It is also the foundation of our power and influence throughout the world.

Tonight, we stand united in saluting the troops and civilians who sacrifice every day to protect us. Because of them, we can say with confidence that America will complete its mission in Afghanistan, and achieve our objective of defeating the core of al Qaeda.  Already, we have brought home 33,000 of our brave servicemen and women.  This spring, our forces will move into a support role, while Afghan security forces take the lead.  Tonight, I can announce that over the next year, another 34,000 American troops will come home from Afghanistan.  This drawdown will continue.  And by the end of next year, our war in Afghanistan will be over.

Beyond 2014, America’s commitment to a unified and sovereign Afghanistan will endure, but the nature of our commitment will change.  We are negotiating an agreement with the Afghan government that focuses on two missions: training and equipping Afghan forces so that the country does not again slip into chaos, and counter-terrorism efforts that allow us to pursue the remnants of al Qaeda and their affiliates.

Today, the organization that attacked us on 9/11 is a shadow of its former self.  Different al Qaeda affiliates and extremist groups have emerged – from the Arabian Peninsula to Africa.  The threat these groups pose is evolving.  But to meet this threat, we don’t need to send tens of thousands of our sons and daughters abroad, or occupy other nations.  Instead, we will need to help countries like Yemen, Libya, and Somalia provide for their own security, and help allies who take the fight to terrorists, as we have in Mali.  And, where necessary, through a range of capabilities, we will continue to take direct action against those terrorists who pose the gravest threat to Americans.

As we do, we must enlist our values in the fight.  That is why my Administration has worked tirelessly to forge a durable legal and policy framework to guide our counterterrorism operations.  Throughout, we have kept Congress fully informed of our efforts.  I recognize that in our democracy, no one should just take my word that we’re doing things the right way.  So, in the months ahead, I will continue to engage with Congress to ensure not only that our targeting, detention, and prosecution of terrorists remains consistent with our laws and system of checks and balances, but that our efforts are even more transparent to the American people and to the world.

Of course, our challenges don’t end with al Qaeda.  America will continue to lead the effort to prevent the spread of the world’s most dangerous weapons.  The regime in North Korea must know that they will only achieve security and prosperity by meeting their international obligations.  Provocations of the sort we saw last night will only isolate them further, as we stand by our allies, strengthen our own missile defense, and lead the world in taking firm action in response to these threats.

Likewise, the leaders of Iran must recognize that now is the time for a diplomatic solution, because a coalition stands united in demanding that they meet their obligations, and we will do what is necessary to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon.  At the same time, we will engage Russia to seek further reductions in our nuclear arsenals, and continue leading the global effort to secure nuclear materials that could fall into the wrong hands – because our ability to influence others depends on our willingness to lead.

America must also face the rapidly growing threat from cyber-attacks.  We know hackers steal people’s identities and infiltrate private e-mail.  We know foreign countries and companies swipe our corporate secrets.  Now our enemies are also seeking the ability to sabotage our power grid, our financial institutions, and our air traffic control systems.  We cannot look back years from now and wonder why we did nothing in the face of real threats to our security and our economy.

That’s why, earlier today, I signed a new executive order that will strengthen our cyber defenses by increasing information sharing, and developing standards to protect our national security, our jobs, and our privacy.  Now, Congress must act as well, by passing legislation to give our government a greater capacity to secure our networks and deter attacks.

Even as we protect our people, we should remember that today’s world presents not only dangers, but opportunities.  To boost American exports, support American jobs, and level the playing field in the growing markets of Asia, we intend to complete negotiations on a Trans-Pacific Partnership.  And tonight, I am announcing that we will launch talks on a comprehensive Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the European Union – because trade that is free and fair across the Atlantic supports millions of good-paying American jobs.

We also know that progress in the most impoverished parts of our world enriches us all.  In many places, people live on little more than a dollar a day.  So the United States will join with our allies to eradicate such extreme poverty in the next two decades: by connecting more people to the global economy and empowering women; by giving our young and brightest minds new opportunities to serve and helping communities to feed, power, and educate themselves; by saving the world’s children from preventable deaths; and by realizing the promise of an AIDS-free generation.

Above all, America must remain a beacon to all who seek freedom during this period of historic change.  I saw the power of hope last year in Rangoon – when Aung San Suu Kyi welcomed an American President into the home where she had been imprisoned for years; when thousands of Burmese lined the streets, waving American flags, including a man who said, “There is justice and law in the United States.  I want our country to be like that.”

In defense of freedom, we will remain the anchor of strong alliances from the Americas to Africa; from Europe to Asia.  In the Middle East, we will stand with citizens as they demand their universal rights, and support stable transitions to democracy.  The process will be messy, and we cannot presume to dictate the course of change in countries like Egypt; but we can – and will – insist on respect for the fundamental rights of all people.  We will keep the pressure on a Syrian regime that has murdered its own people, and support opposition leaders that respect the rights of every Syrian.  And we will stand steadfast with Israel in pursuit of security and a lasting peace.  These are the messages I will deliver when I travel to the Middle East next month.

All this work depends on the courage and sacrifice of those who serve in dangerous places at great personal risk – our diplomats, our intelligence officers, and the men and women of the United States Armed Forces.  As long as I’m Commander-in-Chief, we will do whatever we must to protect those who serve their country abroad, and we will maintain the best military in the world.  We will invest in new capabilities, even as we reduce waste and wartime spending.  We will ensure equal treatment for all service members, and equal benefits for their families – gay and straight.  We will draw upon the courage and skills of our sisters and daughters, because women have proven under fire that they are ready for combat.  We will keep faith with our veterans – investing in world-class care, including mental health care, for our wounded warriors; supporting our military families; and giving our veterans the benefits, education, and job opportunities they have earned.  And I want to thank my wife Michelle and Dr. Jill Biden for their continued dedication to serving our military families as well as they serve us.

But defending our freedom is not the job of our military alone.  We must all do our part to make sure our God-given rights are protected here at home.  That includes our most fundamental right as citizens:  the right to vote.  When any Americans – no matter where they live or what their party – are denied that right simply because they can’t wait for five, six, seven hours just to cast their ballot, we are betraying our ideals.  That’s why, tonight, I’m announcing a non-partisan commission to improve the voting experience in America.  And I’m asking two long-time experts in the field, who’ve recently served as the top attorneys for my campaign and for Governor Romney’s campaign, to lead it.  We can fix this, and we will.  The American people demand it.  And so does our democracy.

Of course, what I’ve said tonight matters little if we don’t come together to protect our most precious resource – our children.

It has been two months since Newtown.  I know this is not the first time this country has debated how to reduce gun violence.  But this time is different.  Overwhelming majorities of Americans – Americans who believe in the 2nd Amendment – have come together around commonsense reform – like background checks that will make it harder for criminals to get their hands on a gun.  Senators of both parties are working together on tough new laws to prevent anyone from buying guns for resale to criminals.  Police chiefs are asking our help to get weapons of war and massive ammunition magazines off our streets, because they are tired of being outgunned.

Each of these proposals deserves a vote in Congress.  If you want to vote no, that’s your choice.  But these proposals deserve a vote.  Because in the two months since Newtown, more than a thousand birthdays, graduations, and anniversaries have been stolen from our lives by a bullet from a gun.

One of those we lost was a young girl named Hadiya Pendleton.  She was 15 years old.  She loved Fig Newtons and lip gloss.  She was a majorette.  She was so good to her friends, they all thought they were her best friend.  Just three weeks ago, she was here, in Washington, with her classmates, performing for her country at my inauguration.  And a week later, she was shot and killed in a Chicago park after school, just a mile away from my house.

Hadiya’s parents, Nate and Cleo, are in this chamber tonight, along with more than two dozen Americans whose lives have been torn apart by gun violence.  They deserve a vote.

Gabby Giffords deserves a vote.

The families of Newtown deserve a vote.

The families of Aurora deserve a vote.

The families of Oak Creek, and Tucson, and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence – they deserve a simple vote.

Our actions will not prevent every senseless act of violence in this country.  Indeed, no laws, no initiatives, no administrative acts will perfectly solve all the challenges I’ve outlined tonight.  But we were never sent here to be perfect.  We were sent here to make what difference we can, to secure this nation, expand opportunity, and uphold our ideals through the hard, often frustrating, but absolutely necessary work of self-government.

We were sent here to look out for our fellow Americans the same way they look out for one another, every single day, usually without fanfare, all across this country.  We should follow their example.

We should follow the example of a New York City nurse named Menchu Sanchez.  When Hurricane Sandy plunged her hospital into darkness, her thoughts were not with how her own home was faring – they were with the twenty precious newborns in her care and the rescue plan she devised that kept them all safe.

We should follow the example of a North Miami woman named Desiline Victor.  When she arrived at her polling place, she was told the wait to vote might be six hours.  And as time ticked by, her concern was not with her tired body or aching feet, but whether folks like her would get to have their say.  Hour after hour, a throng of people stayed in line in support of her.  Because Desiline is 102 years old.  And they erupted in cheers when she finally put on a sticker that read “I Voted.”

We should follow the example of a police officer named Brian Murphy.  When a gunman opened fire on a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, and Brian was the first to arrive, he did not consider his own safety.  He fought back until help arrived, and ordered his fellow officers to protect the safety of the Americans worshiping inside – even as he lay bleeding from twelve bullet wounds.

When asked how he did that, Brian said, “That’s just the way we’re made.”

That’s just the way we’re made.

We may do different jobs, and wear different uniforms, and hold different views than the person beside us.  But as Americans, we all share the same proud title:

We are citizens.  It’s a word that doesn’t just describe our nationality or legal status.  It describes the way we’re made.  It describes what we believe.  It captures the enduring idea that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations; that our rights are wrapped up in the rights of others; and that well into our third century as a nation, it remains the task of us all, as citizens of these United States, to be the authors of the next great chapter in our American story.

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.

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