A Country Founded on an Ideal
The core of American patriotism is a commitment to the American ideal. The United States is a country founded on an ideal, which is expressed in our Declaration of Independence. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed….”
Many countries are based on historical, ethnic identities. France is the country of the French; Germany is the country of the Germans; China is the country of the Chinese. The United States is different. To say that a person is an American says nothing about his/her ethnic identity. It merely says that he/she is a citizen of the United States – a person who has voluntarily accepted a duty to fulfill the responsibilities of a citizen and to uphold the ideal that it represents.
We have never lived up to our ideal fully, but we have struggled toward it, and over time, we have moved closer to it. Out struggle has included a four-year Civil War during which our commitment to our ideal was reaffirmed.
“Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate-we cannot consecrate-we cannot hallow-this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us-that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion-that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain-that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom-and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”
We must Be Committed to the American Ideal
Commitment to the ideal on which our country was founded is at the core of American patriotism. A real American patriot must have an unwavering commitment to uphold the ideal of a country in which all are created equal and all share equally in liberty and justice. The public display of reverence for American symbols – like the flag – is not patriotism unless it represents that commitment. Without that commitment, it is false patriotism.
Liberty and Justice for All
What does a commitment to liberty and justice for all mean? What is liberty? What is justice?
Liberty is not merely the right to vote for my representatives or the right to use my private property in any way I choose. It also means that I am free – as our founders put it – to engage in the pursuit of happiness on an equal basis with everyone else. If my ethnic background, race or gender creates barriers that hinder my pursuit of happiness, I am not really free. If I have been priced out of the market for the education that would further my pursuit of happiness, I am not really free. If I cannot afford to pay for the health care that I need to be happy, I am not really free. A country with liberty for all must do what it can to provide real, practical freedom for all of its people, and a real, American patriot must work toward that end.
Justice is not only a legal process that provides a fair trial to anyone accused of a crime. Justice means that the legal and economic system is not skewed to give unfair advantages to some people. Workers who cannot live on the wages they receive are not receiving justice; people who cannot retire with dignity after a lifetime of work are not receiving justice. People who are harassed in public places because of the color of their skins are not receiving justice. A country that provides justice for all must do what it can to provide real, practical justice to all of its people, and an American patriot must work toward that end.
An American Patriot Works for Liberty and Justice for All
An American patriot must work to advance the cause of liberty and justice for all. If I wave our flag but deny liberty and justice to some of our people, I am not a patriot. I am a traitor to the ideals on which our country was founded.
Real American patriots love their country because of the ideals which it upholds, and real American patriots suffer pain when it fails to live up to those ideals. Real American patriots know that the struggle to realize those ideals must continue until we are truly the country that we aspire to be with liberty and justice for all.