The American Ideal

Independence Day Address by R. E. Elmore

Honor all men. — 1 Pet. 2: 17.

WHEN John Brashear, roller-mill workman and
astronomer of Pittsburgh, affectionately known
to the people as ”Uncle John,” was offered an hon-
orary degree by the University of Pennsylvania with
the request that he select the title, this plain philan-
thropist replied: ”I do not know whether you confer
such degree, but, if so, I would like the degree. Doc-
tor of Humanity.”

On presenting to the Continental Congress a res-
olution directing that the sessions be opened with daily
prayers to almighty God, Benjamin Franklin said:
”If a sparrow can not fall without His notice, is it
probable that an empire can rise without His aid?”

A tablet marking the ruins of Jamestown, the
cradle of the Republic, bears the inscription: “In
honor of Chanco, the Christian Indian boy, whose
warning saved the colony of Virginia from destruc-
tion in the massacre of 22nd Mch., 1622.”

Lincoln at Gettysburg molded the sentiment in
immortal language: “Our fathers brought forth upon
this continent a nation, conceived in liberty and dedi-
cated to the proposition that all men are created
equal.”

Emerging from the heroic Colonial background,
taking form in the covenant of constitutional govern-

ment, developing in strength and beauty through
seven-score years of national history, the American
ideal — honor all men — rises like a tower of universal
hope, ”bathed all in light, with open gates of gold”

I.

Underlying the doctrines of human liberty is the
grand conception of human worth. The Venus de
Milo, though broken, is still priceless and immortal.

But the eyes of the multitudes have been holden.
The veil of materialism covers the heart and obscures
the greatness of human nature. Time and circum-
stance, the accident of birth or station, and degraded
worldly standards, vitiate the popular judgment. ”The
greatest man I ever knew,” remarked an eminent
journalist, “I indifferently passed, or feigned some
condescension, and hesitated to know socially.” This
is the most pitiable aspect of our fallen race. Few
minds are willing to pay the price of investigation, of
going behind external trappings and defying the
social verdict in search of the invisible and timeless
beauties of the soul of the common man. Lord Mor-
ley’s characterization of Voltaire describes the cult
of unbelief: “He has no ear for the finer vibrations
of the spiritual voice.” Content with hearsay evi-
dences, we miss the essential glory of human life.
“And hast thou not known me?” is man’s inarticu-
late cry to man.

Inhumanity is the rock on which mighty nations
have been broken and ground to powder. It is the
crude and hateful opinion of the materialist that
might makes right, that the strong should prevail over
the weak, that the fit must climb to dominion over the
bodies of the unfit — this falsehood of the so-called

scientist, this doctrine of the unlearned educator, this
philosophy of the cult of paganism — it is from this
polluted fountain that all oppression flows. Moved
by such spirit, a nation may rise to the peak of
worldly power by the spoils of tyranny, by inhuman-
ity to man;’ but disaster will at last overtake that
people which sacrifices the human element and sub-
ordinates personality to property. Even Plato’s ideal
state, conceived in the atmosphere of the most en-
lightened nation of antiquity in the height of its
splendor, proposed a government by elect souls who
do no work while depending on craftsmen and slaves
for all menial labor.

The progress of the race has waited upon those
shining souls who lift all men above the price-labels
of the marketplace; who value a man more than a
sheep; who despise the sophistry of the self-seeker,
be his brutality the soft voice of the conceited scholar
or the iron hand of the pillaging warrior; who know
that a human being is worth more than all the piled-
up material riches of an empire, and who are willing
to die for their faith. The thin, red line of liberty
comes up unbroken through the centuries, traced by
the sacrifice of the lonely martyrs, who chose death
rather than the dishonor of oppression. Christiana
and her children came to the scene of Christian’s
combat with Apollyon. *’ There are footprints on the
path. Pilgrims have gone this way before us.”
”Look,” said Greatheart, ”did not I tell you? Here
is some of your husband’s blood upon these stones!
Verily Christian did here play the man.”

Says Mommsen: “The grandest system of civili-
zation has its orbit and may complete its course; but
not so the human race, to which, just when it seems

to have reached its goal, the old task is ever set anew
with a wider range and with a deeper meaning.”

The old task took its wider range and deeper
meaning in the Declaration of Independence, whose
good tidings of human worth and freedom we honor
in our hearts to-day.

The nation has upheld its faith unstained and at
utmost cost from Saratoga to Sedan. We hate war,
but we hate tyranny more; we love peace, but we
love righteousness more. Writing of the American
soldiers’ part in the battles of the final campaign
against Kaiserism, a London editor said: ” These
troops, but newly trained, inheriting no long military
tradition and molded by no iron-bound system, have
overcome the pick of the German legions.” These
troops were sprung from a people trained in the school
of self-government, inheriting the holy tradition of
human rights, safeguarded under the majesty of
equitable law and molded by the system which honors
all men and which gives to the world its Washington
and Lincoln and Roosevelt.

The awe experienced by Bayard Taylor when first
looking up at the colossal arch of marble and gold of
St. Peter’s must be felt by all true Americans when
walking amid the splendors of the invisible temple of
our national faith, whose foundation is the supreme
valuation of man made in the image of God, whose
corner-stone is freedom, and whose superstructure is
the fellowship of righteousness and the fraternity of
peace and good will. We feel exalted, ennobled.
”Beings in the form we wear, planned the glorious
edifice, and it seems that in godlike power and per-
severance they were indeed but a little lower than the
angels.”

 

II.

“With profound insight the founders of the
Republic traced the American ideal to divine revela-
tion, and, with precision, embodied in the national
conscience their confession of faith in the Christian’s
God.

The author of the Declaration bore witness that
”the God who gave us life, gave us liberty at the
same time.” Guarded with reverent care, sheltering
the national tradition, the tower of the old Christian
church at Jamestown is a perpetual monument of
our people’s faith in Jesus Christ — America’s first and
best statue of liberty. The compact framed by the
Pilgrims before leaving the ”Mayflower” declared that
the voyage had been undertaken “for the glory of
God and the advancement of the Christian faith.”
According to the recital of the charter of William
and Mary College, founded in Virginia in 1692, the
institution was established “to the end that the
church of Virginia may be furnished with a semi-
nary of ministers of the gospel, and that the youth
may be piously educated in good letters and man-
ners, and that the Christian faith may be propa-
gated among the Western Indians to the glory of al-
mighty God.” The Patrick Henry pew is marked
in St. John’s Church, Richmond, and that of Betsy
Ross in old Christ Church, Philadelphia. Bancroft
asserts that “every great American enterprise began
from God.” Washington prayed at Valley Forge.
Before assuming the duties of the Presidency, to his
friends at Springfield, Lincoln said: “Without the
assistance of that divine Being who ever attended him
(Washington), I can not succeed.” Our Presidents

take the oath of office with their lips pressed upon
the pages of the open Bible. To his fellow-citizens
at Marion, President-elect Harding thus pledged his
faith: ”I want you to know that there is an individ-
ual who believes in the reconsecration of a religious
republic. I have for my inheritance a Christian be-
lief, and I have in my veins the blood of Christian
parentage. ‘^ In his inaugural he made this avowal:
”I accept my part with singleness of purpose and
humility of spirit, and implore the favor and guidance
of God.” Andrew Jackson affirmed that ”the Bible
is the rock on which the Republic rests.” Grant ex-
horted his countrymen to ”hold fast to the Bible as
the sheet-anchor of their liberties.”

The Christian Scriptures are the spring and root
of human happiness and progress. It is here we find
the ennobling doctrines of man’s high origin, his god-
like nature and his glorious destiny. “Honor all
men” is the enlightened word of a once exclusive Jew
now emancipated by Christian truth, truth incarnate
in Jesus, the Son of God, the author of the parables
of the prodigal son and the good Samaritan; whose
beautiful words were fulfilled in benevolent deeds ; who
honored the lame and blind and halt, the broken
and unfit and outcast; who stamped with divine worth
the common man— the Redeemer and Liberator and
Restorer of the fallen race.

The Pharisee forever hates the humanitarian. Cel-
sus, to the end of time, will ridicule the advocate
of spiritual values, who finds infinite possibilities and
awakens infinite hope in the hearts of the lowly and
obscure; but the Christ whom we adore keeps driving
home the gospel of the sanctity of human life, the
greatness of the soul.

By the great mountains the acacia forever burns,
and from its inextinguishable flame God calls to him
who has ears to hear and a heart to understand:
*’I will send thee that thou mayest bring forth my
people” This is the faith of our fathers; this is
America’s holy faith.

III.

Our national unity rests upon the conception
of the worth of the common man,^ expresses itself in
freedom under the discipline of democratic rule and
is maintained and promoted by mutual service, which
is the bond of perfectness.

”Honor all men” flowers in ministry to all men.
”I am among you as one who serves” is the self-
revelation of Him whose humane teaching is woven
into the fabric of the American ideal.

An ancient seer thus describes the ideal state:
”They help every one his neighbor, and every one
saith to his brother, Be of good courage. So the car-
penter encourageth the goldsmith, and he that smooth-
eth with the hammer him that smiteth the anvil,
saying of the soldering, It is good; and he fasteneth
it with nails, that it should not be moved.”

The principle of equal rights has been variously
and happily applied, in the privilege of public trust,
in our jurisprudence, in professional and industrial
opportunity, and in religion, where freedom is granted
to every man to worship God in accord with his
conscience. Our duty is to carry the principle, as a
working reality, more and more into every department
of life. But parallel with equal rights must be ap-
plied the principle of co-operative service. The per-
fection and extension of this principle, in the experi-

ence of the entire citizenship, must be the concern
of all. ”Come and comfort me” was Burns’ appeal
to Cunningham. It is the common heart-cry of man
to man. We must not, we can not, refuse to hear.

In an ancient Jewish city lived a man named
Joseph. He became famous for helping people. One
day some of his friends led this modest man to the
front in a public assembly and invested him with
knighthood. ”Let him no longer be called Joseph, but
Sir Barnabas,” said they; “Barnabas the En-
courager. ‘ ‘

Ruthless self-interest is the law of the jungle.
Competition, which sets at naught one’s neighbor, is
on the same level. “We rise from the jungle life as
we abandon the jungle law.

All men who have attained true eminence trace
their success to the help which took its rise outside
of themselves. Plutarch, the mild and humane
philosopher, has left on record this testimony of all
great souls: “Though fortune has, on many occasions,
been favorable to me, yet I have no obligations to
her so great as the enjoyment of my brother Timon’s
invariable friendship and kindness.” “Greet Onesi-
phorus,” said Paul, “for he oft refreshed me.”

No dreamer can overcolor the prosperity and hap-
piness in store for a nation true to this sacred view
of life, a people who build each other up, who help
forward one another worthily of God.

In that noble parchment, the Roman letter, Saul
of Tarsus appropriately brings his stately argument
to its climax, in the closing chapter, by the exhibit
of a list of persons in whose hearts lived the great
doctrine and in whose acts the great doctrine found
avenues of practical expression — his friends, the

princely line of fellow-helpers. The personal notes
conclude with a salutation from ”Quartus the
brother/’ a biography in three words, than which
there is none nobler. A half-million words could not
honor him more or reveal more glory to the discern-
ing reader.

”Walking through a country churchyard last
week” wrote “Walter Bagehot, ”I saw the most de-
lightful epitaph I ever remember. It was simply
this: ‘George Phillip Tyson died Oct. 7, 1871. He
was a helpful man.’ This is the only epitaph I ever
envied.”

IV.

The privilege and responsibility of citizenship in
a state which recognizes the principle — “honor all
men” — can not be overemphasized. “The land we
live in,” said Grover Cleveland, “seems to be strong
and active. But how fares the land that lives in us?”

We miss the high summons if our hearts are set
mainly on material things. The inspiration of the
American ideal is in the ends at which we aim — the
larger inner life, the liberty of spirit, the happiness
of the soul. The test is spiritual. How fares the
land that lives in us?

“The first warning of Rome’s ruin,” said Gib-
bon, “was not in the hostile armies mobilizing against
her, but in the feasting and boasting and riotous
living in her vicious capital.” America’s worst foes
are they of her own household who find no place
for reverence, who hold the unspiritual estimate of
human life and who follow the low-set purpose of
self-seeking and personal profit to the disadvantage
of their fellow-citizens.

”Let not the wise man [or nation] glory in his
wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his
might, let not the rich man glory in his riches; but
let him that glorieth, glory in this, that he under
standeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord who
exerciseth mercy, judgment, and righteousness in the
earth, for in these things I delight.” Worldly wis-
dom can not make a people great, nor might, nor
riches, nor scientific knowledge, nor progress in let-
ters and art, nor efficiency in politics and industry.
A nation’s life consisteth not in an abundance of
things. Is the Government God-fearing, are its insti-
tutions humane, do our social and economic relations
proceed from a common conviction of human worth
and kinship, and operate in behalf of the public
weal? Browning profoundly observes that ”love with
defective knowledge is of more spiritual worth than
knowledge with defective love,” which is another way
of saying that mutual esteem and affection and ser-
vice are worth more than all the accumulated knowl-
edge and fine-spun worldly wisdom of all the theorists.

Theodore Roosevelt said: “After a certain, not
very high, level of material well-being has been reached,
then the things that really count in life are the things
of the spirit. Factories and railways are good up
to a certain point; but courage and endurance, love
of wife and child, love of home and country, love of
lover for sweetheart, love of beauty in man’s work
and in nature, love and emulation of daring and of
lofty endeavor, the homely workaday virtues and the
heroic virtues — ^these are better still, and if they are
lacking, no piled-up riches, no roaring, clanging in-
dustrialism, no feverish and many-sided activity, shall
avail either the individual or the nation. I do not

undervalue these things of a nation’s body; I only
desire that they shall not make us forget that besides
the nation’s body there is also the nation’s soul.”

Americanization is a favorite term these days, but
the trouble is the shallowness of its content to the
popular mind. Naturalization papers do not make
an American. The immigrant needs more than lan-
guage-study and parrot-like knowledge of the Con-
stitution. Free birth does not make an American.
The homeborn need more than the soft inheritance of
the rights of citizenship. To salute the flag, to buy
Liberty bonds, to lustily sing ”America” in the hour
of the nation’s distress — this is not conclusive evi-
dence of patriotism. The deeper ”hyphenism” is a
thing of the soul, which not only expresses itself
in divided national allegiance, but which represents
itself in antagonism to the things for which the flag
stands, and holds contempt for ”the subtle thing
that’s spirit.”

We are blind to the plainest lesson of history if
we fail to see, in the rising tide of materialism, the
nation’s gravest peril. If we save our soul, we must
fight, we must make war on the enemies within. The
, chief seat of danger, no doubt, is found in our schools
and colleges where eighteenth century pedagogues
plant the seeds of atheism, teach the jungle theory
of life, and subordinate character to success. If, as
Robert Louis Stevenson said, “mankind was never
so happily inspired as when it built a cathedral,”
how degraded humanity must be when it damages
a cathedral.

To value every man, to walk humbly before God, to
live the life of service, to elevate the spiritual above the
material — this is the American ideal.

 

It was the custom of a good man to daily enter
the family gallery and stand reverently before the
portraits of his forefathers. When his son attained
the age of twelve, the lad was permitted to accom-
pany his father into this holy place, and was advised
to make the custom his own. ** These are our noble
ancestors,’* said he, **and their eyes watch over us.
We can hear their voices still whispering to us, *Keep
fresh the honor of the family name.’ ”

Each recurring anniversary of the nation’s inde-
pendence should be the occasion of communion with
its illustrious founders, and reaffirmation of the
national principles and rededication of our lives to
their perpetuity. The eyes of our forefathers watch
over us. Their voices still whisper to us from the
grave, ”Keep fresh the honor of America’s good
name. ‘ ‘

”Faith of our fathers, holy faith,
We will be true to thee till death.”