President Bush Caps Celebration Of Success in Face of Adversity

By Fredrick Kunkle and Steve Vogel
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, May 14, 2007

JAMESTOWN, Va., May 13 -- President Bush marked the 400th anniversary of Jamestown's founding Sunday by praising colonists' indomitable spirit in the face of disaster and holding up the English settlement as a milestone on the path toward building American democracy.

"The story of Jamestown will always have a special place in American history," said Bush, whose speech capped a three-day commemoration. "It's the story of a great migration from the Old World to the New. It is a story of hardship overcome by resolve. It's a story of the Tidewater settlement that laid the foundation of our great democracy."

Bush said the United States should use the occasion to renew its commitment to expanding liberty in the world, and he drew parallels between the nearly hopeless condition of the settlement's first days and current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Jamestown's adventurers set out imagining gold and paradise in the New World, he said. The reality was far more grim.

"Looking back 400 years later, it's easy to forget how close the Jamestown colony came to failure," Bush said. "Back in London, one courtier summed up the situation this way: 'This is an unlucky beginning. I pray God the end may prove happier.' Well, the prayers were answered."

As the first permanent English settlement, Jamestown planted the seeds of free enterprise, rule by law and representative government, he said. But Bush noted that its legacy has a dark side in the displacement of Native Americans and the enslavement of African Americans.

The showstopper came when Bush took a turn as maestro. As a 400-piece orchestra broke into an exuberant rendition of John Philip Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever," the president playfully took the baton. The musicians, including the Virginia Symphony Orchestra and students, gamely followed while the crowd of about 24,000 stood and cheered.

"He conducted with a great deal of panache," Virginia Symphony Music Director JoAnn Falletta said.

The president's appearance ended a weekend of celebration that drew an estimated 69,000 people, took more than 10 years of planning, cost millions of dollars and involved archaeological excavations and new historical exhibitions. Queen Elizabeth II visited, as she had done for the 350th anniversary.

The theme of the festivities, which were meteorologically marred only by a shower or two, centered on the rise of a new nation from the collision of three cultures: Native American, African and English. Some, particularly Native Americans, expressed mixed feelings about the gaiety.

Kenneth Adams, chief of the Upper Mattaponi tribe, expressed frustration that a bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives to confer federal recognition and sovereign status on six Virginia tribes has not advanced in the Senate.

"I'm beginning to feel we're going back to some of the olden ways," Adams said. "They tell us one story, and then something else is thrown in our path."

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