A forgotten American privilege

During the United States’ 276-year lifespan, the people have spoken. This underappreciated privilege — the right to speak and be heard — is a fundamental feature of our American republic.

The word republic derives its meaning from the Latin, “res publica,” which literally translates to public things.  Our Founding Fathers established this to ensure that every citizen hold distinguished merit in the matters of the state. This duty manifests itself via statewide suffrage, namely the principle of voting.

Every time we have the opportunity to engage in this integral process we ought to remind ourselves of times in history when such a right didn’t exist.

As Patrick Henry, a Founding Father and champion of freedom, stated in his famous “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” speech, “I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience. I know of no way of judging of the future, but by the past.”

The spirit of this speech, given in 1775, breathes as fervently today as it did when it was initially articulated.  The rousing exhortation was delivered at the pinnacle of the American Revolution amidst the fight for independence and liberty, but the ideology of his words ring true throughout the course of humanity.

Take, for instance, the atrocious political realities of Eastern Europe during the mid-to-early 20thCentury. During this period of dictatorial rule, the voices of the people became subjected to the voices of power — lusting totalitarian regimes. This practice succeeded in nullifying individual freedoms and rendering citizens as total subjects of the state. The atrocities that resulted are well documented.

Of course, these dictators, notably Adolf Hitler, preached of hope and prosperity to peoples who were eager for such ideals. He subtly induced the masses into buying into his agenda and used his influence as a speaker to promote this superficially benign course of action. Before most could realize what had happened, Hitler had assumed total control.

In reflecting on the lessons of history, as Patrick Henry so urged us, we would do well to acknowledge that we are privileged to reside in a country where the opportunity to participate in public forum is relatively unhindered.

We have the responsibility to ensure that we carefully evaluate the political arena.

In order to preserve the individual freedoms that we are endowed with, it is in our power to ensure that these freedoms are not compromised. This requires a thorough examination of the candidates and where they truly stand in order to avoid reliance on the media, which often purports biased agendas.

Although this process can be demanding, it is necessary.  Yves Simon, a modern political philosopher and author of “Philosophy of a Democratic Government,” asserts, “Universal suffrage, by giving all a share in the control of the government, makes it mandatory for every man to become a statesman.”

History reminds us that we ought not to take this for granted.


Reach the columnist at Matthew.R.Rich@asu.edu or follow him at @cshmneyrichard.

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