Thoughts for Memorial Day – Part 1

Thank you, Bill, for honoring military veterans as first responders. The purpose of our armed forces, ladies and gentlemen, is to provide national security. Our warriors protect our freedom. We veterans understand that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance against all enemies, whether foreign or domestic, so even though we’re not in the armed forces any more, we’re still on duty. That’s the responsibility of citizenship. Whether you’ve left the service or never were in it, you’re always on duty as an American citizen to preserve freedom and keep our nation strong.

When we were in the military, we reported to the President, who is Commander-in-Chief. However, as civilians, we don’t report to the Commander-in-chief; we report to the Founding Fathers, to the Constitution and to God, who is the source of our liberty, our sovereignty, our equality, our rights, our justice and our human dignity. That is what the Declaration of Independence says this nation is all about and that is what we veterans uphold.

So I ask you today: What are you doing to meet that obligation?

Your children and other young people are going to inherit this great nation someday, but will they keep it? The strength of America resides in citizens who understand and perform their obligations in a country dedicated to a way of life based on self-government, with liberty and justice for all. Young people must understand the sacred debt they owe to the men and women of the armed forces who have kept America safe and strong for them. Many died in defense of liberty; they gave up their tomorrows for your today. Without your understanding and performance of the duties of citizenship, America will weaken and eventually cease to exist. I say that because youth is 20% of the population but 100% of the future. If young people don’t understand what America is all about, soon there won’t be an America.
But whose fault would that be? If young people don’t learn patriotism and the significance of America at home, in school, in church, temple and mosque, and from the words and deeds of public officials and opinion leaders, it is not their fault. It is ours.

(To be concluded)

The Name of our Country – Part 2

The New World had no name until 1507. The name “America” stems from a letter Vespucci wrote about the beauty of the New World, which was widely read in Europe. A copy of it came into the hands of a German professor, Martin Waldseemueller, a teacher of geography in a little college at Saint-Dié-des-Vosges, in eastern France. In 1507 this letter and others by Vespucci were printed by the college press as an appendix to a new edition of the popular Geography of Ptolemy. The book contained a map which was the first to show the New World surrounded by water and, therefore, definitely not part of Asia. It also contained the suggestion that the newly found land should be named America in honor of Vespucci because Waldseemueller supposed he had discovered it. “The New World having been discovered by Americus Vespucius…I do not see what fairly hinders us from calling it Amerige or America, viz., the land of Americus,” he wrote.

The name “America” was placed on the maps of that time. (Other names given the southern land mass about that time were “New India” and “Land of the Parrots”.) Waldseemueller wrote it across the space for Brazil, but intending it to name all of South America. Waldseemueller’s map was the first to depict the Americas as a separate land mass, not connected to Asia. The northern continent was left unnamed on the map, possibly because it was not yet recognized as a separate continent. However, by 1528 Columbus’s Indies were known as the Americas. (In 2003 the Library of Congress acquired the only known surviving copy of the Waldseemueller map. It is a woodcut print on paper in 12 sections, measuring 8’ x 4.5’ altogether. It has been called America’s “birth certificate” and “baptismal certificate” and is on display at the library.)

Mercator, the Flemish geographer, was the first to use the name for the entire land mass of the Americas, and others followed his lead, extending the name of America to the entire Western Hemisphere. The first geography of America was issued by Enciso at Saragossa, Spain, in 1519. By the 1530s, nearly all of Europe referred to the new land as America. When it became clear there were two continents, they were designated North America and South America.

So it came about that the continents were named by an obscure German professor in a French college for an Italian navigator in the service of the king of Spain.

The Name of our Country – Part 1

How did our country get its name?
The word “America” is derived from the name of an Italian merchant and traveler, Amerigo Vespucci of Florence (1454-1512). The Latinized form of his name is Americus Vespucius. He was skilled in astronomy and navigation, and explored the New World at the end of the 15th century and in the early 16th century.

Christopher Columbus is credited with discovering the New World in 1492 in the name of the King of Spain. (Previously he had approached King Henry VII of England for financial aid in undertaking a westward voyage in search of India, but Henry turned him down.) Columbus made three other westward voyages—in 1495, 1498 and 1502. Convinced he had had sailed to Asia and found a new way to the old world, he called the islands the Indies.

After Columbus’s initial success, France, England and Portugal realized its importance and quickly joined in the exploration, competing for territory and resources. In 1497 Henry commissioned John Cabot, who sailed to Labrador or Cape Breton—the exact site is uncertain—and claimed what is now the east coast of the United States in the name of the king of England. The first French explorers in the New World are unknown, but by 1504 Cape Breton had been named; it is the oldest French place- name in North America.

In 1497, Vespucci went as one of the pilots on a voyage to the northern coast of South America; the expedition was authorized by the King of Spain. In 1501, Vespucci sailed from Lisbon in a Portuguese fleet of three ships to Brazil and skirted the coast as far south as the La Plata River. He made a third expedition to the southern continent and in 1504 wrote letters giving an account of what he had seen in the novus mundus, the “new world,” as he called it to distinguish it from the Old World. He declared that he had found a continent in the south “more populous and full of animals than our Europe or Asia or Africa and even more temperate and pleasant than any other region known to us.”
Vespucci’s account found its way into print in 1504 at Augsburg, Germany. It was the first published narrative of any discovery of the mainland.

The account went through many editions; the 1505 edition, published in Strassburg, mentioned Vespucci on its title page as having discovered a new “Southern Land.” This is the first instance hinting at the continental nature of the new discovery, as separate from Asia.

Vespucci’s voyages were of great importance because they proved the existence of a new continent. They showed that South America was not part of the Indies discovered by Columbus, who had insisted he had found a new way to the old world. He therefore failed to realize the true situation. Previously, some geographers had suspected there was a great southern continent; they called it the “Fourth Part,” with Europe, Asia and Africa being the three known parts of the world. Vespucci’s voyages confirmed the existence of this Fourth Part; they also secured Brazil for the Portuguese crown and resulted in giving the name “America” to the Western Hemisphere.

Church and State v. God and State—Part 1

Even though our Founders wisely separated church and state in the Constitution,  they did not separate God and state.  How could they?  The Declaration of Independence—our founding document—has four references to deity (Creator, nature’s God, Supreme Judge of the world, Divine Providence) which collectively make clear that our Founders saw God as the mighty author of our existence and the moral authority for our laws.

We have a secular government but a religious society.  Our government makes no religious test of civic officials but nevertheless requires moral behavior of them, using moral standards arising from religious traditions, especially the Ten Commandments of Judeo-Christianity which became the basis of English—and hence American—civil law.  God and nation are one.

However, the Creator whom we recognize as the fountainhead of American government and society is not the exclusive property of any denomination.  The First Amendment prohibits any denomination from becoming the established, official religion of America; likewise it prohibits government from interfering with religious freedom and thereby allows We the People to have full public expression of religion according to one’s conscience. 

Moreover, the First Amendment’s clause prohibiting an establishment of religion applied to the federal government, not the states.  It clearly says “Congress [not the states] shall make no law…”  It was publicly understood and acknowledged that the Constitution was intended to govern the federal government itself, not the people.  The states were to be left alone to govern themselves as they saw fit.

Why not the states?  Many of them already had establishments of religion.  At the time of the War for Independence, Massachusetts had a state church, Puritanism (or Calvinism).  Connecticut’s official religion was Congregationalism.  Rhode Island’s established church was Baptist.  Pennsylvania’s was Quakerism.  Maryland’s was Roman Catholicism.  Virginia’s was the Anglican Church of England (which, after the war, became the Episcopal Church of America).  

In fact, most of the thirteen states at one time had their own official churches/establishments of religion and five of the thirteen had their own at the time the First Amendment was ratified.  When James Madison was writing the Constitution, no mention of a guarantee of religious liberty was at first included because he feared that states such as Massachusetts and Virginia, with their strong state churches, would otherwise not accept the Constitution.  However, he was persuaded to include the “no religious test” clause of Article VI.  The Bill of Rights, Amendment I, which he later supported, provided the final corrective to the situation.  The last of the state religions was disestablished in 1833.  Thy were disestablished not by the Supreme Court but by the states’ own free will.  The states voluntarily gave up their establishments of religion in the name of freedom of conscience.

(To be continued)