What Is A Nation’s Strength?


A Nation’s Strength

William Ralph Emerson

What makes a nation’s pillars high
And its foundations strong?
What makes it mighty to defy
The foes that round it throng?

It is not gold. Its kingdoms grand
Go down in battle shock;
Its shafts are laid on sinking sand,
Not on abiding rock.

Is it the sword? Ask the red dust
Of empires passed away;
The blood has turned their stones to rust,
Their glory to decay.

And is it pride? Ah, that bright crown
Has seemed to nations sweet;
But God has struck its luster down
In ashes at his feet.

Not gold but only men can make
A people great and strong;
Men who for truth and honor’s sake
Stand fast and suffer long.

Brave men who work while others sleep,
Who dare while others fly…
They build a nation’s pillars deep
And lift them to the sky.

I thought we all needed to read that.

I remember this from an elementary school book. I recall pondering the words and working out the meaning even then. It said what we were taught in those days, that a nation was not made strong, or made right by the power of the sword, or by the power of gold, or the elation of pride!

We seem to have forgotten that. We seem to think now that might is right, that riches bestow strength and that God has enriched us to show he favors us, and that in itself is pride!

Nothing that has been gained here in this land, was possible without the dedication and sacrifice of men and women, soldiers and civilians, who, because of that dedication to a supreme idea persisted in the tasks at hand.

We must, if we want to get back to that former greatness, regain that focus, resist the temptation to be blindly patriotic, to think that we somehow deserve all the best everything, simply because we are Americans.

We must get back to the foundations and strengthen what remains. We must educate ourselves and our progeny on the precepts of the constitution. Learn that we can not somehow choose a side on an issue based on an emotional reaction without even thinking about it. We have to again stand for the right things even though they make us unpopular with our friends or our political party!

It is time to get back to the foundations before there is no foundation left on which to stand!


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