Call him old fashioned if you’d like… actually, you’d be crazy not to call him old fashioned, but I agree with him at any rate…
John Adams (that’s our nation’s second president, for those of you who are presidentially challenged) said that it is the civic duty of an American to READ. What he really said was that it was the duty of his commonwealth, Massachusetts, to “cherish the interests of literature and the sciences”. Adams even wrote this exhortation into the pages of the Massachusetts constitution, that legislators must be committed to cultivating an atmosphere of education “to countenance and inculcate the principles of humanity and general benevolence, public and private charity, industry and frugality, honesty and punctuality in their dealings, sincerity, good humor, and all social affections, and generous sentiments among the people.”
Adams believed that unless wisdom and knowledge were within the ready grasp of Americans, it would be impossible to preserve our God-given rights and liberties. Access to books, ideas, and the stimulation that such access provides were key in Adams’ opinion to the very fabric of an independent nation. “I must judge for myself,” he wrote, “but how can I judge, how can any man judge, unless his mind has been opened and enlarged by reading.”
Bingo, Mr. President. Bingo.
What will become of a nation that will not educate itself? Not a day goes by that I do not fear we are witnessing such a thing even as I write this. We vote for candidates and issues we have not bothered to examine. We can recite thousands of vapid song lyrics but cannot recount the day’s news headlines. We know hundreds of athletes, musicians and actors by sight, but cannot name vice presidents, supreme court justices, or recent legislation… all of which impact our lives beyond what any of our habitual voyeuristic activities will ever manage to do.
One world leader said it like this: “How fortunate for governments that the people they administer don’t think.”
It is our civic duty to think. To read. To allow history to teach us and science to challenge us and literature to open our minds to new ideas. Hitler burned books. American slaves were not taught to read or write, nor were women for many years. It’s brilliant if you think about it, and so simple. Take away the ability to know – take away information and make man rely on trust… or mistrust. It really doesn’t matter which. The power swings in the direction of knowing.
How could we possibly make the personal choice, however, to be kept in the dark? To surrender our liberties, as it were, of our own accord? We are not an oppressed people. In just two days I will be celebrating our nation’s independence by watching one of the finest fireworks displays in the country – little State College, PA does July 4 in a big way. 14,000 shells fired during 45 minutes of fireworks timed with perfection to a selection of patriotic music. I always sit at the foot of Mt. Nittany with about 100 other party goers (yeah, that’s just one party – there will be about eighty thousand people downtown) and together we ooh and aaah as massive splashes of light paint the sky over Beaver Stadium.
This year I’m armed with a little extra knowledge. It was actually July 2 when the Declaration of Independence was signed by the first delegates – the last signees wouldn’t get their “John Hancocks” on there until a few weeks after ratification. John Adams originally expected that July 2 would be a day that America would remember forever. He’d probably be okay with the fact that we celebrate instead on the fourth – he was more of a big-picture guy, and we’re doing what he envisioned all along:
The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.
Thanks to the fact that so many Americans have given their lives so that I, a woman, might have the freedom to study, to read, to vote, and to add to a history that is still being written… I know these things. It is my duty to know these things, just as it is my duty to continue to learn.
Have a happy 4th. God bless America. God bless her faithful citizens.
A Case For Books: 365 Days. 1 Hour a day. It’s your civic duty!