What I want to see above all else is that this country remains a country where someone can always get rich. That's the thing that we have and that must be preserved.--President Reagan
I agree with you that there is a natural aristocracy among men. The grounds of this are virtue and talents . . . . There is also an artificial aristocracy, founded on wealth and birth, without either virtue or talents . . . . The natural aristocracy I consider as the most precious gift of nature, for the instruction, the trusts, and government of society.--Thomas Jefferson to John Adams
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--that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among Men . . . .--The Declaration of Independence
When a reporter asked President Reagan whether he was concerned about being thought a rich man's president, Reagan surely replied from the heart, and in so doing perhaps unwittingly underscored his basic political philosophy. Getting rich is what America is all about.
Reagan is certainly not alone in that belief. Going from rags to riches, in the Horatio Alger manner, remains an enduring American dream. And with good reason. Part of the original promise of the new land lay in providing the opportunity for self-improvement.
To the immigrants forging the new society, many of them penniless or in servitude, the acquisition of riches always was central to their hopes for themselves and their children.
Even the revered Founders, those wonders of enlightenment and learning, were men of property concerned about protecting the goods they had amassed. Among "the long Train of Abuses and Usurpations" that they cited in the Declaration of Independence was the imposing of unjust taxes.
But the Revolution they led into history 207 years ago was based on much more than material concerns.
Take the few minutes necessary to read the 32 paragraphs in that extraordinary Declaration, and I think you'll be struck by the passion and fire it contains. It remains today, no less than it was two centuries ago, a document that breathes the spirit of liberty.
It is about freedom, abuses of power, weak, complaisant or corrupt judges, obstruction of justice, imposing military authority over civilian, denying representative government and free elections, depriving citizens of the benefits of trial by jury, "abolishing the free system of English laws."
But most of all it is about rights, whether "Invasions on the Rights of the People" or the stating of the principle that "it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish" any form of government that becomes destructive of those "certain unalienable Rights."
To those Americans, the Revolution meant something far more precious than material bounty and worldly possessions.
The riches they sought were of the mind and spirit. They involved ideas about the right to differ and experiment, to dissent and move, wherever and whenever they wished, to worship or not, to speak and to publish without fear of reprisal. And they involved the radical notion of the right to be wrong. Out of all these disparate parts they believed a common good and a common country would come, and so it did.
In the procession of major news passing before us--of war to the south of our borders and fateful confrontations in eastern Europe, of an active Supreme Court handing down momentous decisions and a passive president seeking to turn back history's clock--coupled with minor headlines such as who got the briefing books, perhaps consideration of these old questions holds no significance, but I think not.
President Reagan is right when he expresses the hope that this country will remain a place where people can prosper and become rich. Horatio Alger lives, and in many respects Reagan personifies him. He lives in the Silicon Valleys of America and in countless other places. No one would want to denigrate, or in any way to stifle, the sort of energy and enterprise he represents.
I just wish this president would show he understands there's more to America than that.