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For Immediate Release
Office of Lynne Cheney
September 17, 2007
Mrs. Cheney's Remarks to the National Constitution Center Naturalization Ceremony
(As Prepared for Delivery)
MRS. CHENEY: It's a great pleasure to be here with you today on this happy occasion. And it is altogether fitting that we celebrate citizenship and your citizenship in particular here in Philadelphia, where America became a nation. At Independence Hall, just a few steps from where we are, patriots signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776, proclaiming to the world our independence from Britain and asserting that "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
We sometimes forget that the journey on which the Declaration's signers embarked was not an easy one, not one that was sure to turn out right. Britain was a mighty power, and we were not. George Washington's ragtag army was pushed out of New York by the British, all the way across New Jersey and across the Delaware River in the first months after the Declaration was signed. Washington pushed back in a daring campaign that began by recrossing the Delaware on Christmas night in 1776 and dealing two defeats to Britain, one at Trenton and another at Princeton, but even after that, the going was very tough. Valley Forge, a cold and starving time for the American army, still lay ahead.
I tell this story often to help me remember and to encourage others to remember how fortunate we are to be citizens of this great country. The United States did succeed in our Revolution, but there were many times when it was a very close thing, and it might have turned out otherwise. There was nothing inevitable about the path that brought us here-and there is nothing inevitable about the future. The blessings that we enjoy are not merely a privilege but a responsibility. We have to work at freedom and defend it-and I know you, like me, are grateful today to the fine men and women in our military who fight to keep our nation safe and secure.
There's another document, less eloquent, perhaps, than the Declaration of Independence, but even more important, and that is the Constitution of the United States, to which this building we are in is dedicated. You have sworn to support and defend it-just as my husband and President Bush swore to support and defend it when they were inaugurated in 2000 and 2004. The Constitution wasn't created until 1787, eleven years after the Declaration of Independence, and by the time it was written, our new nation was in a perilous state. Although we had defeated the British, we had no president, no independent judiciary, only a Congress that was so weak it could not raise money to pay the government's debts. Henry Knox, who had helped Washington cross the Delaware in 1776, wrote, "Our present federal government is a name, a shadow, without power or effect." States were fighting with one another, foreign powers were taking advantage of our weakness, and, most frightening of all, citizens were rising up against the government. In Massachusetts, farmers prevented courts from convening and staged a bloody raid on the arsenal at Springfield.
Which is why there was a convention in Philadelphia in 1787. A new form of government was needed, one that could strengthen the Union. The delegates to this convention met through a long, hot summer, and many times their deliberations threatened to come to an end before they succeeded in agreeing on a new course for the country. About the middle of July, George Washington himself was despairing of any successful outcome. The delegates are "scarce held together by a hair," a Maryland delegate declared. But they struggled on and by September 17th, two hundred and twenty years ago today, did have a Constitution, but then a long battle ensued to get the states to accept it. It was a close thing-as it has often been for the United States of America, and I think it is good to remind ourselves often of that, to remind ourselves how fortunate we are that events have turned out well for our great country and to remember the role that committed citizens have played.
It takes work to create a country and work to keep a country, and part of that work lies in appreciating our history-and it is our history, whether our ancestors were here or not in the early days. Some of my forebears were Mormon immigrants from Wales who came in the middle of the nineteenth century, long after George Washington and the other founding fathers had departed from this life, but what the founders accomplished affected those immigrants mightily. The one I know most about was a woman, who though she lost loved ones managed the long trek to Utah, a frontier wilderness then. But before she died it became a state. Before she died she was a citizen of a state that was the equal of all other states already in the Union-and that was because of the Constitution and the form of government the founders created. This was not to be a country where states created later would be considered lesser. Equality was the driving idea, and although not every person in this country had equal rights when the Constitution was written, the founders gave us a document that could be changed. And so, even though my Mormon ancestor could not vote and neither could women whose families had been here since the Mayflower, the female descendents of these women voted-because the Constitution was amended in 1920, just as it had been earlier amended to end slavery and extend the vote to African American men. The Constitution, the framework for our government, has made it possible over the past 220 years for the United States to make the circle of equality in America greater and ever greater, ever and ever more inclusive.
The document that you have just sworn to protect and defend is worth your attention, as are so many other aspects of our American heritage, and I encourage you to read about them, study them, take joy in them, because the American story is a happy one, not in every detail, to be sure, but in a steady movement toward justice.
My heartfelt congratulations to you on this momentous occasion. I look forward to offering each of you my personal best wishes on your becoming citizens of this remarkable country, our country, the United States of America.
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