God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!
. . . .
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!
Katherine Lee Bates, “America the Beautiful”
It’s a song we learned in school as children–people my age, at least. Brotherhood and self-control–one does not happen without the other.
There is little evidence that Bates’s message has slipped into the hearts of our public discourse today.
Self-control is a necessary component for every patriot. But self-control is only one virtue of a patriot.
Courage to speak the truth is another. But it is a courage that must come with love–love defined as that which seeks the best for the other person.
Today is a day to celebrate and be together. But tomorrow is not a day for just winning the argument at the expense of the opponent. It is a day for courteous discourse–for polite exchange.
Each person only controls his half of the conversation. But when neither side succeeds in self-control, the nation becomes a shouting match. We begin by controlling our side of the discussion. We begin with self-control.
Where self-control abounds, liberty prevails.
So liberty is not license. Liberty frees me to do something good–not something selfish.
Liberty is limited. “Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others,” wrote Thomas Jefferson in 1819.
- The equal rights of others. That is what today is all about because if others do not have equal rights, none of us can claim any rights at all.
- And that is no longer America.