Anne Armstrong, Presidential Counselor
February 12, 1974
Crisis and Challenge
As many of you know, I have been involved in politics and government for a number of years. Just a few years back, I used to often say to audiences when speaking of women's role in politics that, yes, we were counted on for the nitty-gritty. We stuffed the envelopes, we made the coffee, we took the brochures from door to door. And I used to say that the cock croweth but the hen delivereth the goods. But now things have changed in politics, in government, in your student government here at Kansas State. They have changed throughout the country, not rapidly enough to suit us women, but I am particularly honored by this milestone today which allows a woman's voice to be heard from the podium of one of the most prestigious lecture series in the world.
The day of this convocation is significant, for it falls on the day we set aside to commemorate the life of a great American, President Abraham Lincoln, and it occurs under the watchful eye of Alf Landon, America's most distinguished elder statesman. These two men, at separate moments in American history, exemplify so much of what our Nation is all about.
Like President Lincoln, Governor Landon tasted the exhilaration of victory as well as the heartbreak of defeat. Like Abraham Lincoln, Alf Landon is a product of the American heartland, the best America has to offer. But even more importantly, I think, Governor Landon and Abraham Lincoln share the noble quest for peace.
For President Lincoln, that quest took place during the dark hour of our history when the Union confronted its most painful test. He sought peace, and he attained it. With that peace, he preserved nearly a century of American history and prepared the Nation for centuries to come for an even greater history.
Alf Landon didn't command armies or assume his country's post of national leadership, but his quest has been every bit as important. He has expended great ethical and moral treasure for the cause of conciliation and international brotherhood. His life has been a living symbol of the search for international peace and cooperation.
Therefore, it is highly appropriate that, on this day, we pay tribute to not one but two gifted patriots and statesmen without whom the lives of every American citizen, and indeed every citizen of the world, would be measurably diminished.
We Americans have traveled a tremendous distance. I don't mean simply in a physical sense, though, of course, in our brief history we have moved the Nation westward, expanded our frontiers, and linked the continent.
In a much more profound sense we have traveled a great distance in moral, cultural and spiritual terms. Each step has been faced with challenge and with crisis. We have come to the present to find that in some instances the crisis, and in all instances, the challenge, still face us as importantly as they ever have.
We are approaching America's Bicentennial, and as we do, we think about the path our country has taken. It is a time for looking to the past even as we look into the future.
Several months ago, the President asked me to serve as his personal representative to the American Revolution Bicentennial Commission. It has been one of my most exciting and rewarding tasks in Washington. It has proved to me that great things can happen in Washington even in the most difficult of times. And these times have been difficult.
Working on the Bicentennial has also been one of the most inspirational things I have ever done. Because there are so many young people in the audience, and because the way in which we celebrate it will have a great impact on their lives, I would like to share some of my thoughts on our nation's Bicentennial anniversary.
First, let us carry ourselves back to the time of our revolution. There were thirteen dependent colonies, divided by time and distance, divided even in the desire to break with Great Britain. There wasn't much of an economy then. We were a small, poor country dependent on others for so many other things. We were a nation of farmers and artisans; we lacked any significant industrial capacity.
Yet, there was a bond which existed among those colonies, and which has carried America through its great history. That bond is known to us today as the "Spirit of '76."
What was that spirit and, indeed, what is that spirit?
It is the spirit of liberty coursing through our national veins and the knowledge that one man's freedom, one woman's freedom, is more precious than anything else on earth.
It is the spirit of sacrifice the willingness to share burdens and hardships.
It is the spirit of optimism knowing that if we unite together, we can always make things better.
It is the spirit of the frontier of not fearing to go where man has never gone before.
It is the spirit of confidence of not being constrained by earthly boundaries, of being certain that man can master his fate.
It is the spirit of diversity of allowing every one his own view and distinctive ways, of not just tolerating the differences in our society but welcoming them.
Indeed, the "Spirit of 76" was, and is, many things, each of which has been a building block of our national greatness. Our country grew on that spirit and prospered on it. When all else fails, it is that spirit that will be there to guide us and keep us strong.
Even with that bond, that spirit, perhaps not even the Founding Fathers conceived where those 13 weak colonies would go. Though their vision was not slighted by the short-term, I doubt they could have fully grasped the distance we would eventually travel.
Let's look back at our Centennial celebration, our 100th anniversary, for a telescopic view of what America was after its first 100 years. Our Centennial celebration was one big splash. It was held in Philadelphia in 1876. There were only 40 million Americans then; Kansas had just come in as a State in the past decade, and Kansas State University had been designated as the first land-grant college only 13 years earlier. In those days, growth, expansion and progress were the watchwords of the celebration. We were no longer worried about our very existence. The 1876 celebration was America's first world's fair. The top attractions were inventions which gave our citizens a glimpse into the future.
There was Alexander Graham Bell's talking box, a strange and ingenious device which defied nature by carrying a human voice beyond any sensible distance.
There was the Corliss steam locomotive, an engine forty feet high and probably considered the spaceship of its day.
There was a new, fancy carbonated drink being peddled by a fellow named Charles Hires, and it was called root beer.
There were Mr. Singer's sewing machine and the Pullman berths and the fantastic agricultural machinery that was to put American agriculture ahead of the rest of the world. What amazing progress in technology had been achieved in the first hundred years of our country!
But there were some problems as well. The Union had been saved, but the country was going through a divisive period of shock. It was the Reconstruction era. It was a time when America was supposed to be healing its wounds, but the wounds festered as we struggled to achieve that goal. For too many, the Civil War had never ended.
There had been an economic panic in 1873, and the United States was suffering a depression in the celebration year of 1876.
These and other problems faced our country on our 100th birthday. But what a people we are! Americans 100 years ago didn't fold up their tents and sulk away from the troubles which faced us. Instead, we reached back into the spirit of 1776 and sought once again those attributes of optimism, confidence, and sacrifice, and we continued on.
Now we approach another hundred years, and we will be asking some of the same questions that our citizens were asking during the Philadelphia celebration. In the midst of all of our sophisticated gadgetry and communications system, how can we be in so much trouble?
Virtually every American institution is under attack. Our national debate has become bitter and rancorous. We can't drive our cars because we can't get gasoline. We shiver in our homes to preserve the energy which provides our heat. Our food costs more and our homes cost more. Our cars are too big, and we all think our paychecks are too small. The Judiciary says the courts are overcrowded; the Legislature says that the Executive Branch has usurped its power; and the Executive says that the Legislature should have thought of that when it asked the Executive to wield that power.
Are we going to be thinking about those problems as we enter the Bicentennial? I hope so. But I hope we don't think about them to the exclusion of the many good things we will do in 1976. And there are many good things we can do within the three encompassing themes which have been adopted for our Bicentennial.
The first theme is "Heritage" we will reaffirm the principles of our Founding Fathers. The second theme is "Festival" the fun part of the centennial, a celebration of the present, of the greatness and the goodness of America. The third theme is "Horizons" looking toward making America better and continuing the revolution which has truly never stopped.
We will be doing many extraordinary things during this period because the Bicentennial is going to be a human celebration. You will not be able to fold it and spindle it. You will be able to touch it because it will be alive and a part of all of us.
The Bicentennial Commission has been in contact with more than a thousand organizations and associations of every kind. Hundreds of cities, towns, counties and Indian tribes have been invited to join the Bicentennial Communities Program since it was inaugurated last summer. As of today, 370 communities have been designated and within months there will be hundreds more.
While there is active participation, guidance, and coordination from the Federal sector, we would not really meet our expectations without tremendous support from the private sector, from the academic world, from labor and business.
To give you just one example of what a combination of businesses and other organizations are doing, there will be a Freedom Train. It will be powered by a steam locomotive pulling 25 decorated cars. It will take the basic treasures of our country, or replicas of them, such as the Liberty Bell, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, to every state, to Alaska and Hawaii by a boat, and to at least 76 cities in a 21-month, 26,000-mile journey beginning in the spring of next year. Its stops will be within easy reach of 90 percent of the American people.
I am particularly proud, as you might imagine, of the role that women will play in the Bicentennial. One of the great unfulfilled promises of our forefathers is equality of opportunity.
We have labored long and yet women, Blacks, Spanish-surnamed and others in too many instances still do not have an equal opportunity to become a part of the mainstream of American life. And so a meeting of 48 very diverse women's organizations, including minority groups, religious groups, labor and business groups, held in Washington in December, was greatly heartening to me. These women's organizations decided on several Bicentennial projects they would unite upon and carry through together. They include a Women's Art Festival and a Women's History Center.
One of the other exciting things to me about the Bicentennial is that unlike our Centennial which was limited to one city primarily, and unlike the early thinking that we should only celebrate our Bicentennial in the 13 original colonies, the final decision has been that our Bicentennial will be celebrated throughout our country. It will be in the homes and towns of every American. Every city or state participating will be doing something special, unique to itself, to contribute to the celebration.
Here in Kansas, to take just a few examples of the many things going on here, and most of them just beginning to blossom, you are going to restore Fort Scott. Riley County is thinking of having a historical museum and an amphitheater and, of course, Kansas State, with its special strength of foreign students, is thinking of doing something in the international area which will be a first for this Bicentennial celebration.
These activities are only a part of what the Bicentennial is all about. They are physical commemorations of our history. They are physical ways to try to make this a better country in the future. The more important commemoration is going to take place in our hearts and our minds. For we will have to think about where we have been and where we have yet to go. We will have to ask some fundamental questions about ourselves, our society, our institutions, and our culture.
We are a young nation in terms of history. It is hard to believe all we have accomplished in the short span of 200 years. But one of the faults of being a young nation is that we tend to think in shorter spans an instant, a day, a year. The older countries of Western Europe, The Peoples Republic of China a new nation based on a very ancient culture these nations think in terms of 25 years, 50 years, 100 years. And so in 1976, I hope that America will think in more than the immediate sense, will think in the larger sense of where history beckons us 25, 50, 100 years hence.
Where will the American spirit lead us?
To begin with, I think it will lead us to a rededication to the spirit in which we were founded. We look for a rejuvenation of purpose and commitment, to fulfill those promises of our forefathers as yet unfulfilled. It is a sense of anticipation which permits, and even demands, that we be better than we are and aspire to more than we are.
What will be the significant difference in this celebration? At the birth of our country, what was on the minds of most Americans was the very survival of this nation. At the Centennial celebration, Americans were thinking about how to make our country mightier. I believe that at our Bicentennial celebration, we should think about how to make our country better.
How can we give new meaning to what Thomas Jefferson called the "pursuit of happiness" and which many today call "the quality of life"? The wonderful thing about America is that our problems can be solved. When we really sit down and think about it, many of our challenges and our crises stem from our so-called "good problems" of affluence, of peace, and of prosperity. We are the first nation in the world militarily, diplomatically, and economically. With all this strength we cannot fail to do more. We have the natural resources, we have the human resources. The big question is: have we the will to solve our problems, to tap the reservoir of the American soul, to rekindle the spark that blazed forth 200 years ago?
Our gross national product has doubled over the last few years, but are Americans twice as happy as they were? New technology leaps at us with such alacrity as to startle the human mind, but has it contributed fundamentally to our stature as a people? We have gone to the moon and back, but have we gone to the well of life? These are the questions which will haunt the future America.
Our cities may gleam with tall buildings; our farms may overflow with the abundance of our toil; our children may never suffer the illnesses that we know now; and our leisure hours are expanding with a suddenness which would shock our parents and their parents. We can have all this and more, but unless we now join this material progress with a renewal of our spirit and an enrichment of our souls, we may have nothing.
That is why as we enter our third century of independence we will be searching for more.
We will be looking for ways to perpetuate and give new meaning to the truths which Jefferson wrote of as being "self-evident."
We will be looking for new ways to make freedom not only a word written into our national charter, but a condition which is brought to life in the way we go forward.
We will be, we must be, seeking new values. But we must do so in a way which gives new meaning and sustenance to the values which have preserved our civilization through the stresses of war and domestic conflict.
Where will the neighborhood be in the year 2076? Will it be maintained as the nucleus of our immediate environment, a better, cleaner environment, or will it be torn away in a coldly disintegrating disruption of our way of life?
Where will the family be? Will we, as some prophets predict, tear down mankind's oldest social institutions, or will there be new relationships between husbands and wives, and will we realize that the family must be reaffirmed as the mortar which holds our very existence together?
Where will our spiritual beliefs be? Will they disappear in a smog of materialism, or will they be renewed to give us the strength to match what one author has called "Future Shock"?
These are not easy questions, and they shouldn't be easy questions. So as we enter the year of our Bicentennial, which officially begins next March just a year away, we will be crossing institutional boundaries and generational lines. We will be looking forward to positive things which will enrich the quality of life and breathe new meaning into the pursuit of happiness. Even the past few difficult years give us cause for optimism for the future.
After all, look at what we have done in the last half-decade. A prolonged and dispiriting war was brought to an end in a way in which peace, as we always asked, had a chance. Negotiation and detente replaced America's twentieth century hazardous relationship with the Soviet Union. Doors were opened with the largest nation in the world doors to China which were closed for so very long. American agriculture has been freed of the shackles which kept it down and is once again the wonder of the world not only for our own citizens but for our international trade. Domestic tranquility has been brought nearer, and the bombings and arson and mass rioting of the '60s' are now virtually nonexistent. We can be thankful for all these things.
But still there remains a full agenda which speaks eloquently of our national commitment to be ever restless, never satisfied. High-quality health care is a priority to which your government will be devoting its immediate attention. New strides will be made to strengthen our economy. We will move to reform education, to reform the outmoded welfare system which degrades so many of our fellow human beings. We can be thankful that we are not going to avoid the problems immediately ahead.
Will we despair or will we move forward toward the far future with hope? I think it will be the latter, because when the sea churns and the rudder quivers, we will look back to that spirit which brought us where we are today. We will reach out and find that spirit of optimism, confidence and sacrifice which has always characterized the American people.
Weep for America? The answer is "no." We will rejoice for America because the crises and challenges of today are opportunities for a better, more splendid future. We can be guided by these words of Abraham Lincoln: "Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith let us to the end dare to do our duty as we understand it."
With that faith, and with America's gift of indomitable perseverance, we will see the light which draws us into history. And following that light, it is my conviction that on our 300th birthday history will say of the American people of today: "They lived their lives with distinction; they lived their lives with honor. They found happiness because they pursued it with the strength of their fathers."