Reexamining a Presidential Debate Quote

Hillary Clinton invoked a famous quote in at least two of her speeches now, and it occurred to me to put it into perspective for those who did not recognize the quote or know its true author. The quote is this: “America is great because America is good.”

She was quoting Alexis de Tocqueville, famous 19th century French historian, philosopher, and statesman. The way Hillary used the quote indicated she (or her speech writers) believed it to stand on its own, but I hope she and those who endeavor to lead this country will study more of de Tocqueville’s work, for he clearly and strongly identified his belief as to the source of American goodness. Let me explain.

Alexis de Tocqueville travelled to America in the mid-1800s to learn for himself the reasons for the amazing success of this young nation. Afterward, he wrote a work entitled, Democracy in America, and he went to great lengths to explain why he concluded America was good. Here are some excerpts:

Upon my arrival in the United States the religious aspect of the country was the first thing that struck my attention… 

In America I found (the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom) were intimately united and that they reigned in common over the same country. 

I do not know whether all Americans have a sincere faith in their religion — for who can search the human heart? But I am certain that they hold it to be indispensable to the maintenance of republican institutions. This opinion is not peculiar to a class of citizens or a party, but it belongs to the whole nation and to every rank of society. 

…there is no country in the world where the Christian religion retains a greater influence over the souls of men than in America, and there can be no greater proof of its utility and of its conformity to human nature than that its influence is powerfully felt over the most enlightened and free nation of the earth. 

In the United States, the influence of religion is not confined to the manners, but it extends to the intelligence of the people… 

I sought for the key to the greatness and genius of America in her harbors… her fertile fields and boundless forests; in her rich mines and vast world commerce; in her… institutions of learning. I sought for it in her democratic Congress and in her matchless Constitution. 

Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. 

America is great because America is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great. 

The Americans combine the notions of Christianity and of liberty so intimately in their minds, that it is impossible to make them conceive the one without the other.

Christianity is the companion of liberty in all its conflicts — the cradle of its infancy, and the divine source of its claims.

To Alexis de Tocqueville’s words, I say, “Amen!”

Hillary was right in repeating his statement, ‘America is great because America is good’. But, American goodness has been connected to something. It came out of unchanging, bedrock, Judeo-Christian values. And, according to de Toqueville, that was the true heart of our greatness.

Final thoughts: within de Tocqueville’s work is a very sober warning. American goodness and greatness are directly linked to Biblical values. Divorce the culture from those values, and we break ourselves away from all that made us great. How long will we stand detached from our foundation? It is something to think about.

Resources:One Nation Under God: Alexis de Tocqueville, pulled June 10, 2016 from http://www.leaderu.com/orgs/cdf/onug/detocq.html

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