|Mary Morris Phelps with her husband Bill Phelps at Cat Island near Georgetown, South Carolina.|
I remember a time about forty-five years ago when I sat drinking corn whiskey with my great-aunt on an island in South Carolina at her winter retreat known as Blackout. We drank the whiskey from a tall, glass demijohn with a cork made from a candle stub wrapped with a paper napkin. The whiskey was some of the finest I had ever tasted but I strongly suspected that certain federal taxes were never offered or paid for our libation. But this is all setting and not point.
My reason for recalling this moment in time is that we were not only drinking neat and eating crab claws from a can, we were talking politics. My aunt, Mary Morris Phelps, was arguing that Ronald Reagan would never be elected to a national office because he had been divorced. Her argument was that politicians had to be squeaky clean and beyond reproach. They had to be paragons of virtue. I was fresh out of the 1960s and argued that the times were a’changing. In retrospect, I was wrong to dismiss her concerns.
|Parson Weems and his legend.|
Science and inventiveness were also emphasized when I was a child. We all wanted to fly kites like Ben Franklin or invent things or processes like Thomas Edison or Eli Whitney. And we were constantly reminded of Alexander Graham Bell because of Bell Laboratories and educational films (see above video excerpt).
|Robert Morris Ferris about the time that I started learning these lessons.|
|Elizabeth Gouverneur Morris Ramsay Ferris my grandmother.|
The idea of these changes seems monumentally prohibitive. Scary even. But quintessentially American in scale and stretch. We have only to remember those lessons and exemplars from so long ago. We have only to remember what we were taught and commit to pursuing it in the future. The American Dream has never been gained by bemoaning its demise in our rear-view mirror, but rather looking over the ship’s bow, oxen team, hood or whatever comes next and accelerating.
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”I inject the Preamble to the US Constitution as written by Gouverneur Morris here for several reasons. I know that this simple paragraph is often disregarded as not really an essential part of the US Constitution or even enforceable. But I would argue it is the most important part as it defines the character of the envisioned nation and should influence all legislation that flows from the aegis provided by this document. That Gouverneur and his half-brother Lewis Morris—my relative and ancestor respectively—gave up much of their status and wealth in order to form this union should be another of those American threads that is exemplified rather than forgotten.
So it is a tall order with many pieces. The pathway to success is unknown but we know that our current direction spells nothing but disaster for us and future generations. It comes down to what it always has for us and that is courage, sacrifice, and leadership. We need to remember what those are and then seek ways find them within ourselves and others.