Justice Antonin Scalia at Gettysburg

20 11 2013

ScaliaYesterday, as I watched via live streaming video and the commemoration of the sesquicentennial of the Gettysburg Address at Gettysburg National Cemetery drew to a close, it struck me that I was witnessing something special. No, not the roll of usual suspects who delivered speeches that were, well, nice. Not memorable, but nice. Everything rolled along. But then, the Director of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, Alejandro Mayorkas, took the podium to recognize sixteen immigrants who would become citizens as part of the ceremony. Each candidate citizen rose by country, and then Mr. Mayorkas introduced the official who was to administer the oath, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. And I knew it as I heard it – Scalia’s apparently extemporaneous words were capturing the spirit of Abraham Lincoln’s famous little speech better than had anyone else that day. Here’s the text:

Before I administer the oath, I want to say a few words of welcome to the new citizens. What makes us Americans, what unites us, is quite different from that which unites other countries.

There’s a word, ‘unAmerican.’ We used to have a House unAmerican Activities Committee. There’s no equivalent word in foreign languages. It would mean nothing in French political discourse to refer to something as unFrench, or in German political discourse to refer to something as unGerman. It is only Americans, we Americans, who identify ourselves not by our blood or by our color, or by our race or by where we were born, but rather by our fidelity to certain political principles.

That’s very strange. It’s unique in human history, I believe.

We are, as you heard from the Director a nation of immigrants, who have come here mostly for two reasons. First, for freedom. From the pilgrims in the 17th century to the Cubans and the North Koreans in the 20th and 21st centuries.

And that freedom, of course, is not free, as the dead who rest buried here can demonstrate. The last line of our ‘Star Spangled Banner’ is, ‘the land of the free and the home of the brave.’ The two go together. Freedom is for the brave.

The second reason they came, these immigrants, was for opportunity. My father, who was the most patriotic man I ever knew, used to say that in the old country, if your father was a shoemaker, you would be a shoemaker. And in America, you could be whatever you were willing to work hard enough to be and had the talent to be.

And his son ended up on the Supreme Court.

My Grandmother expected me to be President; I didn’t quite make that. But it was possible. It is possible in America.

So welcome, my soon-to-be fellow citizens, to the nation of Americans. May America bring you all that you expect from it. And may you give it all that it expects from you.

Thanks to Interpreting the Civil War for the transcript.



6 responses

20 11 2013
Theodore P. Savas

I love Scalia, his grasp of our Founding, and his opinions and thought process. A very smart guy. One of my friend’s sons had dinner with him at a small college (10 people around a table), and he said he was one of the funniest guys he had ever talked with. Thanks for the post.


20 11 2013
Harry Smeltzer

Hi Ted, I get that you like him. Another reader went on a political rant about him and I had to delete the comment as it clearly violated the rules of this blog. Let’s just keep comments regarding the man’s politics (pro or con) at a minimum and we’ll be OK here.


21 11 2013
Harry Smeltzer

The more I think about Scalia’s talk, the more I am struck with how it dovetails with Lincoln’s address. The Union men who died at Gettysburg were not fighting for king or country, but rather for a system of political beliefs – a system which was the primary reason (along with opportunity) that they or their forebears came here. For a nation conceived in liberty, which was unique in world history. The only such country would perish from the earth if the Civil War was lost. The unique experiment would fail.


22 11 2013
Chris Evans

Sort of reminds me of the wonderful speech that Shaara wrote for Joshua Chamberlain that was performed so excellently by Jeff Daniels in the movie ‘Gettysburg’ (which is worth quoting in full):

“This regiment was formed last summer in Maine. There were a thousand of us then. There are less than three hundred of us now. All of us volunteered to fight for the union, just as you did. Some came mainly because we were bored at home — thought this looked like it might be fun. Some came because we were ashamed not to. Many of us came because it was the right thing to do. And all of us have seen men die.

This is a different kind of army. If you look back through history, you will see men fighting for pay, for women, for some other kind of loot. They fight for land, power, because a king leads them or — or just because they like killing. But we are here for something new. This has not happened much in the history of the world. We are an army out to set other men free.

America should be free ground — all of it. Not divided by a line between slave state and free — all the way, from here to the Pacific Ocean. No man has to bow. No man born to royalty. Here, we judge you by what you do, not by who your father was. Here, you can be something. Here, is the place to build a home.

But it’s not the land. There’s always more land.

It’s the idea that we all have value — you and me.

What we’re fighting for, in the end, we’re fighting for each other.

Sorry, I didn’t mean to preach. You, you go ahead. You talk for awhile. If you — If you choose to join us, you want your muskets back, you can have ’em. Nothing more will be said by anybody anywhere. If you choose not to join us, well you can come along under guard, and when this is all over I will do what I can to see you get a fair treatment. But for now, we’re moving out.

Gentlemen, I think if we lose this fight, we lose the war. So if you choose to join us, I’ll be personally very grateful.”



4 12 2013
Ed Cummingham

Scalia…as divisive as Roger Taney. I was there. 9th row. As a lawyer, I was aghast. Scalia…and Lincoln? No way. And Savas…you would find any politician, Judge or President interesting in private discourse away from the media. Even Harry Reid!


4 12 2013
Harry Smeltzer

It’d be great to focus on what was said, but some can’t resist the temptation, I guess. Just be careful…there are some opinion pieces out there that miss the point of the talk so widely it can only be purposely.


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