September 8, 2011
To the Members of the 112th Congress:
9-11 changed everything: so many have said. But as we reflect on that day, it is good to recall what has not changed in the ten intervening years.
Seasons have come and gone. Leaves have turned color in New England’s fall; flowers bloomed in the desert southwest with the spring rain. Snow has piled high in the western mountains and filled rivers and reservoirs. Drought has beset new areas, as it ended in others. Torrential rains have brought flood waters; hurricanes have wreaked havoc; earthquakes shaken the West, the East, and points in between. And the land has brought forth harvest after harvest.
Couples have fallen in love; babies have been born; the young have aged; some of the old, the famous and the unknown alike, have passed away, disease and time taking their toll. But as always, the population of the United States has increased steadily, by more than 30 million. Over 11 million people not born citizens became citizens. All of them, like the millions who have come to us one way or another throughout our history, were drawn by the hope of a better life.
We have held two Presidential elections; over 130 elections to the Senate; over 1700 elections to the House of Representatives; and almost countless elections of Governors, state legislatures, judges, district attorneys, sheriffs, school boards, municipal commissions, and numerous other offices of public trust. Some of these elections were barely contested, others bitterly fought, all part of the oldest continuing tradition of democratic politics known to history.
All of these events and many others have unfolded since 9-11, following a pattern unbroken since our Republic came into existence. They manifest the unending concerns of the American people and of the republican government of, for, and by the people that has been ours for over 200 years.
Like floods, hurricanes and droughts, enemies remain part of our life as a people. Among our current foes are those who oppose us because they do not accept the idea of the sovereignty of the people. Only God, they believe, can be sovereign or all-powerful. God must rule, therefore, not the will of the people. Calling the people sovereign is blasphemous, and blasphemers must be punished or destroyed.
Americans know that on this earth the rule of God always means only the rule of men, who claim to act in God’s name and with his unlimited power and act merely in their own self-interest. Americans reject such tyranny. They long ago concluded that an all-powerful God may be disappointed in what His creatures do but could not be threatened by their exercise of his gift of freedom. We suspect that those who kill and destroy in the name of a supposedly threatened God actually kill and destroy to defend their own privileges or their fragile sense of self-righteousness.
In attacking the rule of the people, our current enemies are like those we have confronted and defeated before. Nazis and Marxists similarly disparaged the sovereignty of the people, in favor of rule by a supposed master race or master class. Not only did these former enemies disparage American principles, they disdained the American people. They thought us cowards or too soft and divided to defend ourselves. Our current foes made the same mistake.
It is understandable that our enemies underestimate the resolve and power of the people. We do on occasion ourselves. But when we do, we should recall what Thomas Jefferson understood, something else that has not changed. A regime resting on the sovereignty of the people, a regime of liberty, will release immense energy and creative force. More important, only such a regime can satisfy the age-old longing for justice—a human longing that will not be denied. That is the true source of our power and our resilience. It is in the light of this fact that we should contemplate the demands of peoples across the Middle East, especially the young, for governments based on the sovereignty of the people. A sign of the weakness of our current enemies, of their impending defeat, is not their death but the rejection of their ideas by their own children.
As for ourselves, we should remember that government of, for, and by the people has never been easy, but it is best. And it will endure and prosper, as will the people it serves.