When I was in junior high school many years ago, we had a class called Civics, where we discussed current governmental issues and generally learned what it meant to hold U.S. citizenship; both the rights and the responsibilities. Those days seem like ancient history, but I can still hear kindly Mrs. Boyd, her voice choked with emotion, as she lectured us on the importance of hard work and patriotism, while informing us that our country was “built on years of years of blood, sweat, and tears.” She did not deserve the giggles that greeted her impassioned speech; unaware as she was of the rock band of the same name whose hits were zooming up the charts in 1969.
I would like to repay the debt we owe to Mrs. Boyd and to all those who endeavored to pass on the sacred memory of American sacrifice to those who grew up in earlier times, by saying: you were right. America was indeed built on the blood, sweat, and tears of generations of those who shaped the history of our country and dreamt of her greatness. And it was nourished on that of those who came after who cherished it. And how much more poignant does this lesson seem now that this precious heritage seems to be slipping away, maybe around the next corner; all the more reason to preserve and sustain it.
The blood of Americans was first shed here on our own soil; first on Lexington Green and then up and down our shores from Bunker Hill to Cowpens, to establish a nation that was based on the idea that all men are created equal. Decades later, much, much more blood was spilled in defense of that idea, when over half a million Americans died to secure the pursuit of it for their posterity. And pursue it they did, fighting around the globe to free human beings enslaved by those who dictated that some people were more deserving of liberty than others.
The sweat was first evidenced by men who, freed from England’s proscription on the manufacture of goods made from our own vast natural resources, ushered in the American Industrial Revolution. Innovators like Eli Whitney, Samuel Slater, and Robert Fulton were instrumental in the explosion of prosperity which spawned countless roads, railways, and waterways that stretched across the wilderness from shore to shore; a prodigy unseen since the Roman Empire,.
These were followed by men like Cornelius Vanderbilt, John D. Rockefeller, and Andrew Carnegie who — modern liberal propaganda notwithstanding — started out with nothing and built enormous fortunes which enriched not only themselves, their employees, and their communities, but set the blueprint for American philanthropy, so that future Americans could have the same, or better, chances than they had. And it worked; as each generation passed on to the next, the message that hard work and personal responsibility would lead to a stronger and more perfect union.
The tears were shed by millions of immigrants, sad to leave their native lands, but believing unequivocally in the hope and promise of their new home; this most blessed Land of Opportunity. And who, one ethnic and racial group after the other, were first met with the disdain and suspicion of their neighbors, but soon won their admiration by carrying the railroads across the country on their backs, harvesting crops until their hands bled, suffering disease and depredation in the coal mines, and digging the foundations of great cities one ditch at a time.
Further tears were shed by Americans of all stripes who lived through the dismal days of the Great Depression, when the fortunes of those who worked a lifetime to earn them were washed away in days, and when those who had next to nothing were forced by lack of food and shelter into accepting government “relief”; a noxious experience for any American of that time. And the grief of the mothers of the Depression was to increase when their sons went off to war just a few years later.
Today, the current administration mocks the blood of our soldiers through immoral social experimentation in the military, while welfare and food stamps dull the desire of our citizens to sweat for their share of the American Dream; all that seems left to us is the tears. But through all of our history, Americans have never given up and hopefully never will. John Adams said it best in his famous letter to his wife Abigail on the adoption of the Declaration of Independence:
You will think me transported with enthusiasm but I am not. I am well aware of the toil and blood and treasure, that it will cost us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. Yet through all the gloom I can see the rays of ravishing light and glory. I can see that the end is more than worth all the means. And that posterity will triumph in that day’s transaction, even although we should rue it, which I trust in God we shall not.
I would like to dedicate this column to the memory of my mother, Frances: a fiercely patriotic American whose father came to this country through Ellis Island in 1918, whose brother and husband fought in WWII, and who was blessed to see every one of her college-aged grandchildren earn degrees before passing away last week.