“The Making of a Miracle”
Ladies and gentlemen, students, teachers, distinguished guests:
First of all, thank you for attending our brief ceremony today. I hope that what we do and say here will help you to better understand and appreciate something which all of us lucky enough to live in these United States enjoy in such amazing abundance. That is really what this get-together is all about — sort of a celebration of our very good fortune of this wonderful gift which we all share. We receive this gift automatically because we were born Americans.
That gift, of course, is freedom — the freedom to live our lives in just about any way we choose; the freedom to gather together wherever and whenever we want; to pursue the career of our choice; the freedom to say what we think needs saying; to practice any religion; and the freedom to do so much more.
For nearly all of us, this precious gift of freedom has come free of charge. But for others, there has been a price. Perhaps you know someone who has paid or is paying for our freedom — a soldier, a sailor, a marine, an airman, a coast guardsman. The men and women in our armed forces are one example of how some people dedicate a part of their lives to protect our freedom. In years past, others have also paid a high price. Thousands of Americans sacrificed all they had, their homes, property, lives — all in pursuit of human freedom.
That is one of the reasons why the Exchange Clubs of America decided nearly fifty years ago to assemble what we call the Freedom Shrine. We organized the effort so that Americans, especially young Americans to whom freedom comes automatically, could see for themselves how freedom was actually purchased for us. Our freedom was earned at great cost by thousands and thousands of people over a span of hundreds of years.
That is why Exchangites think the Freedom Shrine is much more than just documents hanging in neat rows. If you look hard at those documents, study them, understand them and use your imagination, those Freedom Shrine plaques become transparent. They magically turn into wondrous windows through which you can see back through the centuries, deep into our nation’s past.
It is a past filled with adventure and drama, with heroes and heroines who are larger than life. The history of our nation is more than just names, dates and old fashioned faces wearing beards and bonnets. It is the fascinating story of human triumphs, failures and unflinching determination.
Consider the Mayflower Compact, called America’s first constitution, written in 1641. There’s a copy of it in the 28-piece Freedom Shrine. That document was originally signed by half-starved pilgrims huddled together aboard a tiny wooden ship. These courageous men and women abandoned their homes and braved a storm-tossed ocean to seek that which they could not find at home: the freedom to worship God in their own way. Today, we call that freedom of religion. But back in the 1 600s freedom of religion did not exist.
Then, there is the Declaration of Independence which was penned by a brilliant young man named Thomas Jefferson who summarized the stinging grievances of England’s colonists against their king. Writing for all Ameri cans, Jefferson put on paper what then was just a dream — that all men are created equal. And because they are, they have the right to tell the government what to do, not the other way around. To the English King, those ideas were treason. So, in 1776 the war of revolution began.
Despite the fact that the colonists were outmanned, outgunned, untrained and considered unlikely to win, they overcame the odds and actually won the revolutionary war. But that is only the beginning of the story. Although our forefathers were certainly talented and courageous, for a time they failed to see that even free men needed a plan to follow if they were to enjoy the fruits of their freedom.
So after the war, each of the 13 new states insisted on running things their own way. The new nation called America started to crack at the seams. Instead of cooperating, the states began to fight among themselves. It appeared that this brand new nation called the United States of America would soon crumble into 13 separate, snarling countries.
It was the U.S. Constitution that saved the day. In fact, if it had not been written two-hundred years ago, we might not have any freedom left to talk about. And, as far as human freedom is concerned, it may well be the most important collection of words ever put on paper.
These days it’s really hard to do a good job of completely describing the importance of the Constitution, or the Constitution’s Bill of Rights. That is because few of us have ever experienced fife under any other form of government. Then we would know what it is like to have our lives controlled by a constitution other than our own. Yes, other nations also have constitutions. But ours is special.
In other constitutions the government tells the people what they are allowed to do. In our Constitution, we the people tell the government what it can and cannot do.
I hope that you will take the time to not only read the Constitution and the other Freedom Shrine documents, but I encourage you to go to the library and read the great stories behind each of the documents.
Exchange Clubs are proud of the Freedom Shrine. We hope you will be too. This Shrine is one of thousands which exist all across America. All of them tell the same exciting story of freedom by presenting some of America’s great landmarks of work and deed which have made freedom a reality in our lifetimes. But the Freedom Shrine documents represent only part of the epic. For just as freedom is one of the most sought after of human possessions, it is also among the most fragile. Which is why we who enjoy freedom must forever guard and protect it?
Perhaps that is the most important message the Freedom Shrine brings us. It continually reminds us of the great debt we owe to those thousands of Americans who fought for and won the freedom we enjoy today. It also reminds us that freedom, after all, does not come without cost. And, if we the people are to keep it, we the people must always be prepared to defend it.