The Course of American Democratic Thought

By Ralph Henry Gabriel; Robert H. Walker | Go to book overview

Chapter 28
THE FUNDAMENTAL LAW AND THE GREAT LIBERATION, 1918-1941

0N APRIL 13, 1943, there occured an event in the national capital that had larger implications than appeared on the surface. The President laid aside for an hour the task of directing the war effort of a nation engaged in a new and global struggle and drove to a marble memorial standing beside the Potomac. It housed a statue of Thomas Jefferson. On the walls were graven words of Jefferson that spoke a warm humanism and faith in the reason of free men. "We hold these truths." The phrases that followed affirmed natural rights, man's endowment from the Author of Nature, and declared liberty and reason to be the only sound foundation on which to set a nation. The President, dedicating the memorial, commented that, at the moment, Americans fought for the ideas and ideals suggested by the phrases. On this, as on many other occasions, he reminded his fellow countrymen of the reality of their democratic faith, a faith that the principles of liberty and humanity do not find the boundaries of their validity at the border of the American jurisdiction but that they have relevance for men everywhere. In the nineteenth century men commonly spoke of these principles of liberty and humanity as a fundamental law undergirding the good society.

One would expect a ceremony on that day, for April 13, 1943, was the two-hundredth anniversary of Jefferson's birth. But the affair was more than perfunctory. The creation of the Jefferson Memorial was more than an isolated event. It demonstrated again, as the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial had done before, a national need and desire for symbols that both citizens and strangers can understand. Americans, having no living monarch to personify the nation and the ideals on which it rests, have found compensating and unifying symbols in the memories of the great men of earlier

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