The Significance of Independence Day


By WENDELL L. WILLKIE, Presidential Candidate of the Republican Party in 1940

Broadcast July 4, 1941 from National Broadcasting System

Vital Speeches of the Day , Vol. VII, pp. 617-618.

MEN and women, I want to talk to you today very simply and very sincerely about the things that are in my heart and in my mind. All over America people are gathered in city, in village and in town, celebrating the Fourth of July, which is America's patriotic holiday. Speakers are telling of our heroic past, reciting the deeds, the gallant deeds, of our soldiers, recalling to our people our long struggle for liberty and the developments of our free system.

Songs are being sung, songs that move the hearts of men. Prayers are being offered all over America. Men are re-dedicating themselves to the principles of human freedom. But there is not a thoughtful person in all our broad land but understands that this Fourth of July celebration is in many ways more significant than any one of the celebrations we have had in the last one hundred and fifty years.

Hope of Freedom for Others

We understand, we appreciate and try to realize that as we celebrate liberty in America we must also celebratethe hope that liberty will return to many peoples who have been deprived of it in other countries.

Since the last celebration of this holiday in America millions of people, just like us, who lived peaceful, contented lives, lived free lives, with the right to go about their way of life as they pleased, have been deprived of their liberty. And we also know that unless their liberty is restored liberty cannot remain a permanent possession of America.

Liberty, like all doctrines, must be an expanding doctrine. It must be constantly searching out for new areas, or else it will die. We understand that if we permit the last stronghold of liberty in Europe to fall before the onslaught of totalitarianism the opportunity to save liberty in America will be lessened and, therefore, the overwhelming percentage of the American people are resolved that at whatever hazard or cost we will sustain the fighting men of Britain.

Every minute more and more people in America are coming to realize that the hope of Britain standing up depends upon our seeing to it that the products of our factories andour farms are delivered to her, and I am quite sure that before long now the great force of the American Navy will be brought into play to insure the delivery of those products to the fighting men of Britain.

Meaning of American Liberty

American liberty means, of course, certain governmental processes. It means the right of men to vote in free election for public officials of their own choice, responsive to their will; it means, of course, the right of men to have their differences determined in courts undominated by government and the powerful.

It means, of course, the right of freedom of religion and freedom of speech and freedom from another thing that has come into the world with the cruelty of totalitarianism—the freedom from espionage, the freedom from interference with one's private life and one's daily doings and one's daily habits.

But American liberty means much more than that. American liberty is a religion. It is a thing of the spirit. It is an aspiration on the part of people for not alone a free life but a better life; and so I say to you people of the world, I think I know the heart of the American people. I have lived among them; I know them well. And despite the occasional hesitation and doubts, the American people will reach out, will give their utmost to see that this precious thing we call liberty shall not disappear from the world, either in Europe or in Asia or in America.

Yet none of us underestimates either the cost or the effort that will be required to do this. The forces of totalitarianism have harnessed and directed this mechanical age for the creation of the greatest military machine that the world has ever seen. It has directed the energies of 80,000,000 people toward one end—toward aggression, toward the destruction of other people; and we with our free way of life, with our individual desires and opinions, did not learn until lately how to meet such a menace.

Nation Now Aroused

But I am proud to say of my fellow-citizens in the United States that they are beginning to realize it now and that the vast industrial and agricultural resources of our nation are being brought into a firm and cohesive force. The spirit of our people is arising to direct that force so that totalitarianism will disappear from this world.

I was talking recently to some of my fellow-soldiers of the World War of 1917 to 1919, and I told them howproud I was that it is the soldiers of that war who are the leaders in the movement in America today against isolationism and defeatism. It is the soldiers of 1917 to 1919 that are calling America to a re-dedication to the spirit of liberty.

Many people preached for many years to those soldiers that all they did in the last war was futile and to no avail. As I told them, they did not make a mistake in fighting that first World War—as a matter of fact, if they had not, perhaps today there would be no liberty to fight for. Their mistake was in not fighting after the war as citizens to see that the kind of world was brought into being in which there could exist no such force as totalitarianism today.

When we have triumphed in this war, all men who fought in the last war must see to it that there is a peace drawn not in bitterness and in hatred, not of unpayable indemnities, not of the kind that produces inevitably another war, but that we must draw a peace in which the defeated people have the same right to the aspiration of, liberty and of a full life as the conquered.

Artificial Barriers Must Go

We must see to it that the trade areas of the world are enlarged, that artificial barriers between men are removed, so that there will be a constantly rising standard of living for all men who work, in which men of all races and creeds and religions and nations can live in peace and harmony, in which the just fruits of enterprise will find their just fulfillment, in which children may look forward to a constantly better world, free of hatred and bitterness and narrow isolationism and of economic degradation.

I speak tonight not alone to my fellow-citizens of America: I speak to the citizens of the remaining free country of Europe. I speak to the people of the enslaved countries of Europe. I speak to the people of Germany, where my forebears came from, and I say to all of you, American liberty is a generous thing. We reach out to all of you and only hope and pray that every one of you may have liberty.

We want to share it with you all. All we seek to do is to remove from the world the menace of a doctrine of government and a system of economics that lives by the enslavement of men, lives by the enslavement of men under its own rule, lives by the enslavement of men that it conquers.

Surely before another Fourth of July celebration comes about all the world will join with America in celebrating the principles of human freedom.