Good morning. It’s July 3, 2020 -- a federal holiday -- but also a Friday, the day of the week when I reprise a quotation intended to be instructive or inspirational. Today’s comes from Gerald R. Ford, whom I wrote about yesterday on the occasion of America’s bicentennial. In 1976, Ford made numerous speeches and statements in conjunction with the 200th anniversary of our nation’s founding. He’s not remembered as an exceptionally articulate president, but he had a good sense of humor about it: He referred to himself as “a Ford, not a Lincoln.”
But in these bicentennial speeches, Ford was often quite eloquent when discussing the meaning of America. He invoked Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson, another president known for felicity of expression, as we’ll see after I point you to RealClearPolitics’ front page. First, however, a quick order of business: Because I’ll be traveling, next week’s morning historical homilies will come from the vault -- from previous years -- so if one sounds familiar to you, that well may be the case. Happy Fourth!
On the evening of July 3, 1976, Gerald Ford spoke in the Concert Hall at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. He was there to give opening remarks, actually. Yes, the president of the United States was the warm-up act. The man he handed the microphone over to was comedian Bob Hope, emcee of that night’s “Honor America” program.
“There are times for solemn ceremonies, and there will be many reverent thanksgivings all over America this week and next,” Ford began. “But we Americans are uncomfortable with too much solemnity. We like to make a joyful noise unto the Lord, to sing our country's praise with grateful hearts. Laughter and liberty go well together.
“Ragtime and jazz, marches as well as hymns and spirituals set the beat of the American adventure,” Ford continued. “We have exported America's happiness to the world with our gramophones, our movies, and our own talented performers. Americans sang on riverboats, danced around the wagon trains, joked as they marched into battle. We took all of the arts of those who came to join the American adventure and made new arts of our own.
“No nation has a richer heritage than we do, for America has it all. The United States is probably the only country on Earth that puts the pursuit of happiness right after life and liberty among the God-given rights of every human being.”
Ford added that Thomas Jefferson and America’s other Founders had pulled off a defining rhetorical sleight-of-hand in replacing the common British guarantee of a right to “life, liberty, and property” with “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
But the 38th U.S. president also noted that our third president never explained precisely what he meant by “pursuit of happiness.” So Ford took a stab at it himself.
“If we have liberty, how each of us pursues happiness is up to us,” he said. “However you define it, the United States of America has been a happy nation over the past 200 years. Nobody is happy all the time, but most of the people have been happy most of the time. Even in our darkest hours, we have managed a little fun.”
And that’s your quote of the week.
Carl M. Cannon is the Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.