"Americanism -- An Old-Fashioned Ideal"...where did it go?
On this Independence Day weekend, as we celebrate the birth of our nation through a War against England -- and the establishment of a Constitutional “Republic” with intentionally limited powers -- I wanted to share a few values of America’s first President, George Washington and his era, that still strike me as ideals worth pursuing.
Back in 1967, when I was in junior high school, my brother Ron & I visited our grandparents out in California, and we went to Disney- Land and Knott’s Berry Farm. At Knott’s, which was a low-key history-based American heritage-type theme park on those days (no “wild rides” like there are today), I bought a souvenir: a little book called “The Americanism of Washington” by Henry Van Dyke, originally published in 1906. (That’s 113 years ago!) It deeply influenced me 52 years ago, and it helped form my civic values. Today’s sermon will largely consist of turn-of-the-century oratory. (Turn-of-the-century of the last Century, that is… 113 years ago.)
I use the word Americanism in my title this morning, knowing full well that it is antiquated. The new rhetoric of “Make America Great Again” has by-and-large supplanted what people used to think actually made America great in the first place! The values of “Americanism”. … How else can we speak about the true values of our nation’s founders without sounding a bit “old-fashioned“?
I invite you to listen to these comments about George Washington… who used to be called the “Father of his Country”…
… a man who served as commander-in- chief of the American forces in the 1776 War for Independence, and who became our first elected President… as described by Henry van Dyke in 1906:
Dignified and reserved he was, undoubtedly; and as this manner was natural to him, he won more true friends by using it than if he had disguised himself in a forced familiarity and worn his heart on his sleeve.
But from first to last, [Washington] was a man who did his work in the bonds of companionship, who trusted his comrades in the great enterprise even though they were not his intimates, and who neither sought nor occupied a lonely eminence of unshared glory.
He was not of the jealous [type]… nor of the temper of George III, who chose his ministers for their vacuous compliancy [today we would say “cronyism”]. Washington was surrounded by men of similar (though not of equal) strength: Benjamin Franklin, Hamilton, Knox, Greene, the Adamses, Jefferson, Madison. He stands in history not as a lonely pinnacle like Mount Shasta… but as the central summit of a mountain range, with all his noble fellowship of kindred peaks about him…
Among these men whose union in purpose and action made the strength and stability of the Republic, Washington was first, not only in the largeness of his nature, the loftiness of his desires, and the vigor of his will, but also in that representative quality which makes a man able to stand as the true hero of a great people. …[And yet]… You shall hear historians describe him as a transplanted English commoner (as the second edition of John Hampden does). You shall read, in a famous poem, of Lincoln as [and I quote]: “New birth of our new soil, the first American.”
That [Abraham] Lincoln was one of the greatest Americans, glorious in the largeness of his heart, the vigor of his manhood, the heroism of his soul, none can doubt.