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Gifts of Ideas that Inspire
By Rich Meiss • Thursday, May 29, 2008

I have been inspired by the wisdom of great American leaders and documents, and have kept a collection of their quotes and words. These leaders have included presidents, authors, poets, generals, statesmen, civil rights leaders and first ladies. And the documents include our Constitution, inaugural addresses, Bible verses, monument inscriptions, and building inscriptions. 
It is my hope and prayer that these words and sketches will inspire you to continue living your life with courage and purpose.
George W. Bush, 43rd U.S. President, addressing the nation on 9/11/01:
“Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shattered steel but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve. America was targeted for attack because we are the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world, and no one will keep that light from shining.”
Dedication: This book is dedicated to all the victims and families tragically affected by the events of 9/11, and a portion of the proceeds from the sale of the books will go to relief agencies supporting these people. 
Do you remember where you were on the morning of September 11, 2002 when you first heard the news about what was happening in New York and Washington? Do you remember your reactions, and how for a time we Americans felt a deep sense of pride in our country, how we pulled together, and how we thought much more about those really important things in our lives? And what about today? Have we lost some of those early lessons that seemed so important at the time? Have you? Think about the important people in your life, and tell them you love them. Spend time doing the things that you have determined have the most value in your life. Take time to smell the roses, to watch the sunset, to play with a child or a dog, to read a good book. Keep that “Spirit of 9/11” alive in your life!
Thomas Jefferson, Jefferson Memorial, from the Declaration of Independence, 1776:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, that to secure these rights governments are instituted among men. We … solemnly publish and declare, that these colonies are and of right ought to be free and independent states…. And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence, we mutually pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honour.” 
Little did the men who signed this Declaration know of the price they would have to pay for their courage. …      
Preamble to the Constitution of the United States of America:
“We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of our posterity, do ordain and establish this constitution for the United States of America.”
What an incredible document, this Constitution. I remember when the original copy of it went on tour across the country, and I took my children to St. Paul to see it. Such a small document, but so incredibly powerful in shaping the lives of millions of people. Only 26 amendments have been added to something that was written in 1776! What can I write that will have an impact on society? Can I write with such clarity and build on such eternal principles that my document might last over 200 years? What a great goal to shoot for!
George Washington:
“To be prepared for war is one of the most effective means of preserving peace.”
I was raised as a peacemaker. Because of spiritual convictions, I registered as a Conscientious Objector when I turned draft age – 18. Several of my church buddies from my youth went off to Viet Nam as medics, and several returned home with shrapnel in their bodies. I too would have served in that capacity except for a high draft number in that first lottery. And while I still believe in peace, I have become a believer that as a free country we must be prepared for war. I agree with Washington’s statement. The challenge, of course, is how to balance our preparation for war with our investment in peace. This is the continual “fine line” that bedevils each succeeding administration.
Thomas Jefferson:
“Equal and exact justice to all men, of whatever state of persuasion, religious or political: Commerce and honest friendship with all nations – entangling alliance with none.”
Micah 6:8 in the Old Testament calls Justice one of the essential things that God requires of us: “To be fair, and just, and merciful – and to walk humbly with your God.” This justice is to be afforded to all, according to Jefferson.
Patrick Henry:
“I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death.”
This famous statement, delivered by Patrick Henry … was a war cry that many American students learned in school. I know I did. And only now, looking back on the value of freedom that we enjoy in America do I really appreciate what he was talking about. How precious that freedom is. Would you be willing to die for it? Would I?
United States Penny:
E Pluribus Unum – (One out of many.)
In 1972, fresh out of college, I visited Europe for the first time. I took a whole month to travel with a high school buddy who was stationed in Germany, and we visited 13 countries in that time. I was struck by the fact that many of the COUNTRIES in Europe were no larger than our states, and yet each time we crossed a border, we had to exchange money, show our passports, try to speak a new language, and do our best to uphold the customs of that country. Germans, Dutch, Swedes, Norwegians. Englishmen, Scots, Irish, French, Swiss, Italians and more were some of the people we interacted with on that trip. On returning home, I began to appreciate what an incredible feat it was that this “United States” could accommodate so many different people with so little hassle. We truly are “one out of many”.
Holy Bible, Deuteronomy 6:9
“Only guard yourself and guard your soul carefully, lest you forget the things your eyes saw, and lest these things depart your heart all the days of your life. And you shall make them known to your children, and to your children’s children.
A famous statesman once observed that a history forgotten is a history that is doomed to repeat itself. How do we avoid repeating history? By learning to tell stories about our lives, our experiences, our traditions, our history. Pass on the values of your traditions and culture through the telling of stories, in both written and oral form. Make them know to your children so that they can then pass them on to their children. Have I done enough to pass the stories along to my children?
Department of Justice Inscription, attributed to Carl Paul Jennewein, building decorator:
“Justice alone sustains society: Founded on the principles of right, expressed in the national laws, administered by public officers. No free government can survive that is not based on the supremacy of law. Where law ends tyranny begins. Law alone can give us freedom.”
Ronald Reagan:
“In this storm-tossed world of terrorists and totalitarians, America must always champion freedom, for freedom is the one tide that will lead us to the safe and open harbor of peace.”
Eleanor Roosevelt:
It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.”
Thomas Jefferson:
“Whenever any form of government becomes destructive… it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it.”
James Madison:
“The happy union of these states is a wonder, their constitution a miracle: Their example the hope of liberty throughout the world.”
Franklin Delano Roosevelt:
“We defend and we build a way of life, not for America alone, but for all mankind.
We must remember that any oppression, any injustice, any hatred, is a wedge designed
to attack our civilization.”
National Postal Museum Inscription, from Harvard U. President Charles W. Eliot:
“Messenger of sympathy and love, servant of parted friends. Consoler of the lonely, bond of the scattered family. Enlarger of the common life, carrier of news and knowledge. Instrument of trade and industry, promoter of mutual acquaintance. Of peace and good will among men and nations.”
Holy Bible, Micah 6:8
“What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.”
Martin Luther King, Jr., 1963:
“I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream and, if America is to be a great nation, this must become true. Let freedom ring from every hill…. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.”
John F. Kennedy, Inscription on Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts:
“I am certain that after the dust of centuries has passed over our cities, we, too, will be remembered not for victories or defeats in battle or politics, but for our contribution to the human spirit.”
Constitution Hall Inscription, from George Washington:
“Let us raise a standard to which the wise and honest can repair. The event is in the hands of God.”
Fireplace Mantel of the State Dining Room at the White House, from John Adams:
“I pray Heaven to Bestow the Best of Blessings on THIS HOUSE and All that shall hereafter Inhabit it. May none but Honest and Wise Men ever rule under this Roof.”
From the Gettysburg Address, by Abraham Lincoln:
“That this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
U.S. Holocaust Museum, 1979:
“Out of our memory … of the Holocaust we must forge an unshakable oath with all civilized people that never again will the world stand silent, never again will the world … fail to act in time to prevent this terrible crime of genocide…. We must harness the outrage of our memories to stamp out oppression wherever it exists. We must understand that human rights and human dignity are indivisible.”   - Jimmy Carter –
John Adams Building Inscription:
“The ground of liberty is to be gained by inches. We must be contented to secure what we can get from time to time and eternally press forward for what is yet to get. It takes time to persuade men to do even what is for their own good.”
Holy Bible, Deutoronomy 30:19
“I call heaven and earth to witness this day: I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life – that you and your offspring shall live.”
Thomas Jefferson:
“We act not for ourselves alone but for the whole human race. I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of men.”
Thomas Paine:
“Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must undergo the fatigue of supporting it.”
Lincoln Memorial, Gettysburg Address:
“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal…. That we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth
Dwight D. Eisenhower
“Human dignity, economic freedom, individual responsibility – these are the characteristics that distinguish democracy from all other forms devised by man.”
Helen Keller:
“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through trial and suffering is the soul strengthened.”
Theodore Roosevelt:
“Our first duty as citizens of the nation is owed to the United States, but if we are true to our principles we must also think of serving the interests of mankind at large.”
Holy Bible, Proverbs 4:7
“Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: And with all thy getting get understanding.”
Library of Congress Inscription:
Litera Scripta Manet
(The Written Word Remains)
John F. Kennedy, Inaugural Address:
“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”
John F. Kennedy Inaugural Address:
“And so, my fellow Americans: Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: Ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.”
Supreme Court Building Inscription, from Cohens v. Virginia, 1821:
“The people made the constitution and the people can unmake it. It is a creature of their will, and lives only by their will.”
Daniel Webster:
“Let our object be our country, our whole country, and nothing but our country. Thank God I also am an American.”
Herbert Hoover, on the city of Washington, D.C., as found at Freedom Plaza:
“Washington… is the symbol of America. By its dignity and architectural inspiration … We encourage that elevation of thought and character which come from a great architecture.”
Edmund Burke, 1729-1797:
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
Department of Commerce Dedicatory Inscription, 1932:
“Based upon foundations of devotion and labor, the United States is enriched by other golden threads in the genius of its people. Inventive daring illumines their diligence. Adventurous ardor invigorates the work of their hands. Under governmental guardianship their ideals and their activities are assured the liberty that is the soul of achievement.”
Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Flagpole Inscription:
This flagpole represents the service rendered to our country by the veterans of the Vietnam War. The flag affirms the principles of freedom for which they fought and their pride in having served under difficult circumstances.”
George Washington:
“Liberty, when it begins to take root, is a plant of rapid growth.”
Holy Bible, Psalm 16:1:
“Preserve me, O God: for in thee do I put my trust.”
Inscription on former Post Office Building, from Postmaster General Joseph Holt, 1859:
“The post office department, in its ceaseless labors, pervades every channel of commerce and every theatre of human enterprise, and, while visiting, as it does kindly, every fireside, mingles with the throbbings of almost every heart in the land. In the amplitude of its beneficence, it ministers to all climes, and creeds, all pursuits, with the same eager readiness and equal fullness of fidelity. It is the delicate ear trump through which alike nations and families and isolated individuals whisper their joys and their sorrows, their convictions and their sympathies, to all who listen for their coming.”
Arlington Memorial Amphitheater:
Dulce Et Decorum Est Pro Patria Mori.
(“It is a sweet thing to die for one’s country.”)
Abraham Lincoln, 2nd Inaugural Address:
“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
Mary McLeod Bethune “Last Will and Testament”:
“I leave you love. I leave you hope. I leave you the challenge of developing confidence in one another. I leave you a thirst for education. I leave you a respect for the use of power. I leave you faith. I leave you racial dignity. I leave you also a desire to live harmoniously with your fellowman.”
Ronald Reagan, dedicating the Holocaust Museum Cornerstone, 1988:
“We who did not go their way owe them this: We must make sure that their deaths have posthumous meaning. We must make sure that from now until the end of days humankind stares this evil in the face … and only then can we be sure that it will never arise again.”
Holy Bible, II Timothy, 1:7:
“For God did not give us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” (TLB)
Reinhold Niebuhr:
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.”
National Archives Inscription, from John P. Curran:
“Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”
Inscription at the United States Capitol, by William Ellery Channing:
“Labor is discovered to be the grand conqueror enriching and building up nations more surely than the proudest battles.”
Robert A. Taft, Ohio Senator and Son of President William Howard Taft:
“Liberty has been the key to our progress in the past, and is the key to our progress in the future.  If we can preserve liberty in all its essentials, there is no limit to the future of the American people.”
Frederick Douglass, 1877, on the city of Washington, D.C.:
“It is our national center. It belongs to us, and whether it is mean or majestic, whether arrayed in glory or covered with shame, we cannot but share its character and its destiny.
Wherever the American citizen may be a stranger, he is at home here.”
Theodore Roosevelt:
Only those are fit to live who do not fear to die; and none are fit to die who have shrunk from the joy of life and the duty of life.”

© Copyright 2008.  Meiss Education Institute.  All rights reserved.

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