GROUP OF AMERICANS
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
NARRATOR (MORGAN FREEMAN)
Almost 250 years ago in Philadelphia, a dream was born.
In a time of emperors and kings, it was an astounding, revolutionary dream—that we, the people, should choose our own leaders. That they should be one of us.
This was a dream born of violence, safeguarded by sacrifice during a brutal winter at Valley Forge. Yet it was a dream that was almost over before it had truly begun. The War for Independence had left the American colonies bankrupt. Leaders argued; unpaid troops rebelled; and some even cried out for a return to monarchy, and for General George Washington to be crowned King of America. But the man who had led an army of farmers to victory over the mighty British Empire made it clear that the only title he desired was “citizen of the United States of America.”
I am at a loss to conceive what part of my conduct could have given encouragement to an idea which, to me, seems the greatest mischief that could befall our country. If you have any regard for yourself, banish these thoughts from your mind!
But when the new nation finally adopted his Constitution and it came time to elect its first president, there were no doubts about who that president should be. Only he had such doubts.
I fear my countrymen will expect too much of me. I walk on untrodden ground. There is scarcely any part of my conduct which may not hereafter be drawn into precedent.
In the end, Washington set the most important precedent of all: the man who could have been king stepped down after two terms in office and took his place again amongst the people. By insisting that he was, above all other things, “one of us,” he made it possible for any of us to dream of serving the nation in its highest office. And one day, sure enough, it came to pass that a man who wasn’t an aristocrat aspired to the office of president.
Andrew Jackson was a battle-forged frontiersman, and according to his predecessor, President John Quincy Adams…
JOHN QUIINCY ADAMS
A barbarian, who cannot write a sentence of grammar and can hardly spell his own name!
To which Jackson merely replied…
It’s a damn poor mind indeed can’t think of at least two ways to spell a word.
He may have lacked formal education, but he was tough and brilliant—just the ticket for a new nation of Americans, struggling to turn a dream into an enduring reality. They swept Jackson into office by a landslide, and then descended on his inauguration—determined to shake his hand in person.
1ST ARISTOCRATIC WOMAN
Why, 20,000 country people shoved to get in the door…
2ND ARISTOCRATIC WOMAN
1ST ARISTOCRATIC WOMAN
And tracked their muddy boots across the carpet. And my dear, they would be here still if we hadn’t placed tubs of punch out on the lawn.
Washington’s elite fumed—but Jackson loved it, for these were his people. He was proud to be “one of us.”
I do not forget that the planter, the farmer, the mechanic, and the laborer form the great body of the people of the United States. They are the bone and sinew of this country.
But Andrew Jackson would wage a mighty struggle to keep that great body of people together. State by state, a monstrous injustice that had haunted the country since its beginning was now tearing it apart.
As civil war threatened, we searched deep in our heartland for a leader equal to the ordeal ahead. It was, perhaps, a vindication of the American dream that we found a plainspoken, self-taught lawyer from Illinois, whose campaign platform could be summed up in five simple words: “all men are created equal.”
I say this government cannot endure permanently, half-slave and half-free. A house divided against itself cannot stand!
Abraham Lincoln’s words touched the hearts of reasonable men. And in 1860, we sent him to Washington, where he would face the hardest task that any American president would ever face.
I know there is a God, and that He hates injustice and slavery. I see the storm coming; I know His hand is in it. If He has a place of work for me—and I think He has—I believe I am ready. I am nothing, but truth is everything. And with God’s help, I shall not fail.
(Cannons and guns fire loudly.)
April 12th, 1861: Fort Sumpter. The cannons spoke for war—bitter, violent, and devastating.
The blood of half-a-million Americans was shed in the dark days of our Civil War. But as the sun rose on a cold November day in 1863, thousands of Americans gathered on the battlefield in Gettysburg to hear President Abraham Lincoln give meaning to our sacrifice.
(The curtain rises to reveal the Abraham Lincoln audio-animatronic figure. He stands up from his chair.)
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
(Curtain falls to the tune of “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”)
This nation did have a new birth of freedom. And as our frontiers pushed west, we looked for new leaders that embodied our bold new spirit.
Leaders like Theodore Roosevelt—born to wealth and privilege, but imbued with a spirit of the American frontier. He rode with cowboys and led his “Rough Riders” up San Juan Hill during the Spanish-American War. This kindhearted tough guy fought against monopolies and for the working class. We called him “Teddy”—anything else would have been far too formal. He even refused to call his official residence the Executive Mansion. To him, it was just a house—it was just a White House. And so it would always be called.
Three decades later, his distant cousin Franklin Delano Roosevelt would occupy that same White House and lead the country through its hardest trials since the Civil War. A World War was looming, and the Great Depression had paralyzed a great nation. The president we called upon to lead us through those hard times was himself paralyzed, by polio—but with determined optimism, he had triumphed. And now he was ready to share his cheerful strength with a badly frightened people. During FDR’s “fireside chats” on the radio, entire cities came to a standstill and listened.
FRANKLIN DELANO ROOSEVELT
…And that is the confidence of the people themselves. Let us unite in banishing fear. Together, we cannot fail.
In a calm and reassuring voice, he called out to America—and America answered back!
VOICE OF 1ST LETTER WRITER
We’re just modest, middle-class people, having lost what little we had….
VOICE OF 2ND LETTER WRITER (Overlapping)
My savings are tied up in a closed bank…
VOICE OF 3RD LETTER WRITER (Overlapping)
I believe that you will guide us through these hard days…
VOICE OF 4TH LETTER WRITER (Overlapping)
Protect us from that conflict in Europe, dear president…
VOICE OF 5TH LETTER WRITER (Overlapping)
…My birthday, and I expect to be in service shortly…
VOICE OF 6TH LETTER WRITER (Overlapping)
Now we know we are not fighting alone…
VOICE OF 7TH LETTER WRITER (Overlapping)
I feel that at last we can hope.
With that hope, we began to believe in the future again. FDR had reminded us of the power of the American dream.
16 years later, America’s youngest-elected president once again called on the power of the people to change the world.
JOHN F. KENNEDY
Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans.
John F. Kennedy’s stirring words ushered in a historic decade of civic activism, in which ordinary Americans struggled to right old wrongs and chart new frontiers of possibility.
It has always been the role of presidents to remind us of our roots—to call us to the future. In their best moments, they speak words that are already there in our hearts—especially in times of tragedy.
LYNDON B. JOHNSON
(After the death of JFK.) All I have I would have given gladly not to be standing here today.
(Over images of the Challenger astronauts.) We mourn seven heroes. We mourn their loss as a nation together.
(After the Oklahoma City bombings.) You have lost too much, but you have certainly not lost America, for we will stand with you.
GEORGE W. BUSH
(After the 9/11 attacks.) I can hear you! I can hear you; the rest of the world hears you!
(Crowd cheers and chants “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!, etc.”)
Nothing ends here. Our hopes and our journeys continue.
(Curtains begin to rise and part to reveal all the president audio-animatronics.)
And as our journeys continue, what once seemed revolutionary now seems profoundly simple—that we should choose our own leaders; that our hopes should be their hopes; our fears their fears; our dreams their dreams.
Ladies and gentlemen, the Presidents of the United States: George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, James K. Polk, Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, James A. Garfield, Chester A. Arthur, Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard M. Nixon, Gerald R. Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush.
And now, we come to the present—a present that is rooted in our past. For all of liberty’s leaders have one thing in common—one trust they all accepted.
My fellow citizens, no event could have filled me with greater anxiety than that notification on the 14th day of April, 1789, that you had selected me to lead our nation. But it was with the confidence of my fellow citizens that I took an oath—35 simple words that have been repeated by every American president throughout history. As long as that oath is taken and solemnly fulfilled, the American dream will endure.
I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, so help me God.
Ladies and gentlemen, President Barack Obama!
The American dream is as old as our founding, but as timeless as our hopes. It is reborn every day, in the heart of every child who wakes up in a land of limitless possibilities, in a country where “we the people” means all the people. We may come from different places and believe in different things, but what makes us American is a shared spirit—a spirit of courage and determination; of kindness and generosity. It is a spirit grounded in the wisdom of the generations that have gone before us, but open to the unimagined discoveries and possibilities on the horizon that lies ahead. Let us enjoy it, cherish it, defend it, and pass it on to our children as the bright and beautiful blessing it is—this enduring American dream.
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
His truth is marching on.
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