In honor of our Veterans, here’s a speech I gave before the American Legion back in 1999. The speech took first place at the local and district levels and runner up at State. I would have won State and given it at the Nationals if not for my final “thank you” going one second over the time limit during a secondary impromptu speech, garnering a mandatory and steep point penalty.
It was always a privilege to speak before our Veterans and in some small way say thank you for their service and sacrifice.
Christopher Paul Landauer
Cherry Creek High School
Given on several occasions in 1999
In the last words of the Declaration of Independence, the signers made a solemn promise to the cause of freedom: “With a firm Reliance on the Protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.” To the English king these words were high treason. In the War of Independence that followed, all the signers became hunted men. Five of them paid with their lives. Seventeen lost everything they owned. But in the end, they kept their promise of freedom and independence to all Americans who followed them.
Our Constitution is the fulfillment of their sacred promise. It stands as a flaming torch above the tidal waves of tyranny that have swept country after country into oceans of despair. It is an elegant, simple document based on a profound principle: that common men can govern themselves, turnover power peaceably, and become great nations—without kings, without dictators, and without privileged classes.
The endurance of our Constitution lies in the first three words: “We the people.” Every citizen is included in all three branches of our government. All citizens influence these branches by direct vote, by representative vote, and by direct participation. We the people decide who will be chief executive, we the people decide who will make our laws. We the people sit on juries that decide justice and we the people vote for who will judge us. These are the rights of all free men. And these are the duties of each American citizen.
The Constitution forged a mighty chain made up of American citizens that stretches from you and me, across two centuries of time, to Washington and Jefferson. The chains of our Constitution have endured the searing red flames of invasion, civil war, world wars, economic depressions, and a succession of evil ideologies that would rob us of our freedoms. But will the chains of our Constitution survive the rust and corrosion of our own apathy, cynicism, and laziness?
It is ominous that in 1999 many Americans demand more rights, but reject their duties. The centuries have dimmed their understanding that every one of our hard-earned rights comes with a duty. A duty that cannot be ignored, or avoided, or shunted aside.
Before all other duties, we owe our country the duty to defend it from our enemies. To serve when called. If need be, to give up our lives. As Thomas Jefferson foresaw, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” Our Constitution is written in the blood of a million patriots. In every generation, thousands of Americans have paid with their lives so that the rest of us can enjoy the blessings of liberty. Yet, many of my generation reject this duty to serve and defend our country just as many did in the generation before mine, sitting out the Vietnam War in Canada or Sweden. When the war ended, they returned home to enjoy all of the same rights as those who had served.
Look next at our sacred duty to vote. In the presidential election of 1896, 79% of eligible Americans voted. One hundred years later in 1996, only 54% voted. In its original form, the Constitution allowed only free white men over the age of twenty-one to vote. After five hundred thousand Americans died in the Civil War, Congress passed the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, freeing the slaves, making them citizens and giving them the right to vote. In 1996, only 50% of African Americans voted, and only 27% of Hispanics voted. In 1920 the 19th Amendment was passed by Congress giving women the right to vote. In 1996, only 55% of women voted. In 1971, the 26th Amendment lowered the voting age to eighteen from twenty-one. In 1996, only 31% of the eighteen to twenty year olds voted. 31%. The trivial reasons for not voting would make Washington and Jefferson and all patriots weep.
Our government is made up of imperfect men. When our government fails, the cause is not the Constitution. The cause is the failure of the electorate to vote for honorable leaders. Millions of Americans have cast aside their sacred right to vote, the one and only weapon that can drive out of our government the morally bankrupt, the incompetent, and the tyrants to be. The deadly silence of the electorate allows a minority of voters to elect presidents, special interests to dictate our agenda, and a handful of men to squander our tax dollars. Our founders saw in a majority of common men the collective wisdom to see through lies, false promises and blind ambition. Surely, we have among us men and women with noble hearts and with fine minds willing to lead.
The judicial branch defines the scope of our morality as a people, our tolerance, and our commitment to equality under the law. This duty has become sorely abused and twisted. Our best-educated citizens shun jury duty. We have allowed lawyers to pervert the system by demanding only jurors with little education and little experience. We allow politicians to appoint more judges and take from us the right to elect them. There can only be justice when we all participate.
We deserve better. Our founders deserve better. Our future demands better. 49% of our high school seniors do not know that our right to freedom of religion comes from the Constitution. It is clear that we must restore our Constitution in the minds of each of our citizens, our school children, and our immigrants. We must teach this generation that knows only peace, the price of that peace and the duties that keep us strong. In every classroom, in every newspaper, on every television we should demand that our living Constitution be taught, explained, and understood. We must insist that all citizens learn the Constitution, unvarnished and untainted.
Throughout the land we must restore and renew all the duties upon which our Constitutional rights depend. We must vote. We must serve on juries. We must pay taxes. We must reject fanatics that despise all government and see only conspiracy and evil wherever they look. We must flog with disgust the cowards who mock us for loving our country while they desecrate our flag.
Our Constitution is the envy of the world. It is the bane of tyrants. It is a bastion of hope for the oppressed of Earth. We must protect it from those who fear greatness, worship weakness and preach hopelessness. We cannot let our precious inheritance to be stolen away by the dark and silent thieves, ignorance and indifference.
We must each of us, take upon ourselves the duties of free men. To read our Constitution, to understand it, and to live the Constitution. To insist that our lawmakers and judges follow it. In an imperfect world, governed by the imperfect, our Constitution is the safe broad path between the claws of tyranny and the teeth of anarchy. On our journey from a glorious past to a noble and glorious future, let no man drop the torch! Let no man throw away our fire!
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