Closing Remarks, Naturalization Ceremony, December 16, 2008
Closing Remarks, Naturalization Ceremony
Archivist of the United States Allen Weinstein
Rotunda of the National Archives Building, Washington, DC
December 16, 2008
Congratulations and welcome to all of you new citizens of the United States of America.
You now assume the common responsibilities of all American citizens, just as my own parents did as new citizens after they arrived from Russia early in the 20th century. The day they became citizens remained special for them for the rest of their lives—and it remains special for me even now, many years later.
When President Harry Truman left the White House in 1953 and was no longer an elected official, he boasted that he finally received his “promotion” to Citizen Truman. He understood that in this country, our elected leaders govern with the consent of the governed.
And the “governed” in the United States have important responsibilities, beginning with learning about our system of government. Their other obligations as American citizens include registering to vote, voting in every election, and knowing our rights under the Constitution.
A leading American politician and public servant, Adlai Stevenson, said this about what it takes to serve as an effective leader in our democracy:
Trust the people. Trust their good sense, their decency, their fortitude, their faith. Trust them with the facts. Trust them with the great decisions . . . [Help to] create a society where people can fulfill their own best selves—where no American is held down by race or color, by worldly condition or social status, from gaining what his character earns him as an American citizen, as a human being, and as a child of God.
We gather this morning on hallowed ground. This building contains the originals of three of the most important documents in American history—the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. It is the Constitution, along with its amendments, that continues to sustain the structure of our government even today.
But it is in the Preamble to the Constitution that provides the rationale and purposes behind the document that follows. It reads:
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 Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
Those first three words—“We the People”—are perhaps the most important words in all of the founding documents. They are the foundation of our democracy and of this government—of the people, by the people, and for the people—as Abraham Lincoln would describe it.
And as President John F. Kennedy reminded us: “This Nation was founded by men [and women] of many nations and backgrounds. It was founded on the principle that all men are created equal, and that the rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.”
You can also find in this building, among the billions of pages of documents, the original Emancipation Proclamation and even an original Magna Carta.
You have become citizens at an important and historic time in our nation’s history. The political, economic, and social relationships of the country are changing dramatically—and, we hope, for the better.
The strength and responsiveness of this democracy, our Constitution and we citizens will be tested in the years ahead. This will require a commitment by all of our citizens to show the rest of the world that American democracy, rooted in our Constitution, still commands the passionate support of all its citizens, old and new.
Congratulations. Your new country and your fellow citizens welcome you.