What Makes a Nation Strong?

Archibald Willard, Spirit of’ 76

Thursday – 4th of July

Despite a D.C. celebration featuring tanks and planes, presided over by a preening president with special seats reserved for rich Republican donors, we know in our hearts that none of these define America. For that, I turn to Ralph Waldo Emerson, who understood our country as well as anyone ever has.

A few years ago, Emerson’s “A Nation’s Strength” would have struck me as self-evident. Now it seems urgent and timely.

What makes a nation's pillars high
And its foundations strong?
What makes it mighty to defy
The foes that round it throng?

It is not gold. Its kingdoms grand
Go down in battle shock;
Its shafts are laid on sinking sand,
Not on abiding rock.

Is it the sword? Ask the red dust
Of empires passed away;
The blood has turned their stones to rust,
Their glory to decay.

And is it pride? Ah, that bright crown
Has seemed to nations sweet;
But God has struck its luster down
In ashes at his feet.

Not gold but only men can make
A people great and strong;
Men who for truth and honor's sake
Stand fast and suffer long.

Brave men who work while others sleep,
Who dare while others fly...
They build a nation's pillars deep
And lift them to the sky.

Amen.

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