Thou, too sail on, O ship of State!
Sail on, O Union, strong and great!
Humanity with all its fears,
With all the hopes of future years,
Is hanging breathless on thy fate!
We know what Master laid thy keel,
What Workmen wrought thy ribs of steel,
Who made each mast, and sail, and rope,
What anvils rang, what hammers beat,
In what a forge and what a heat
Were shaped the anchors of thy hope!
Fear not each sudden sound and shock,
‘Tis of the wave and not the rock;
‘Tis but the flapping of the sail,
And not a rent made by the gale!
In spite of rock and tempest’s roar,
In spite of false lights on the shore,
Sail on, nor fear to breast the sea!
Our hearts, our hopes, are still with thee,
Our hearts, our hopes, our prayers, our tears,
Our faith triumphant o’er our fears,
Are all with thee, – are all with thee!
“The Building of the Ship”
Henry W. Longfellow
What exactly has happened in the United States over the past eight years since the Reagan presidency began? What was this thing that has been called by some the “Reagan Revolution?” Have things really changed that much? Did the presidency of Ronald Reagan really make a difference?
Some of his critics propose that Ronald Reagan just “made everyone feel good.” It is true that he was not able to accomplish all that he had hoped for, yet in some respects he accomplished more than he ever dreamed was possible.
Mr. Reagan has remarked that after he referred to the Soviet Union as an “evil empire,” he never dreamed he would one day stand on the steps of Moscow State University, in front of the mural of the Bolshevik Revolution, and talk to Russian university students about what it means to be a free nation. It was then, he said, that he sensed on the horizon a great possibility that the nations would indeed one day live together in peace without the threat of war.
Perhaps he was thinking of the age old prophecies from the book of Isaiah: “They will hammer their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation and never again will they learn war” (Isaiah 2:4). If this was his thinking, his thoughts were flowing along the same stream as our founding fathers. Perhaps nowhere is the idea of world peace expressed so well as in one of early America’s best loved carols, “It Came upon a Midnight Clear,” written by Isaac Watts:
And lo, the days are hastening on,
By prophets, bards, foretold.
When through the ever encircling years
Comes round the age of gold.
When peace shall over all the earth,
It’s ancient splendor fling,
And the whole world give back the song,
Which now the angels sing.
It was the widespread belief of early Americans that their new experiment in free government would replace the old order of tyranny and bring the world into a new order of things – which would ultimately bring the nations of the world into universal freedom, peace, prosperity, and brotherhood. President Reagan showed his agreement with the intentions of the founding father generation in his last State of the Union message. He observed:
“We’ve seen such changes in the world in seven years: as totalitarianism struggles to avoid being overwhelmed by the forces of economic advance and the aspiration for human freedom, it is the free nations that are resilient and resurgent. As the global democratic revolution has put totalitarianism on the defensive, we have left behind the days of retreat – America is again a vigorous leader of the free world, a nation that acts decisively and firmly in the furtherance of her principles and vital interests.”
That belief was expressed by Isaac Watts in another Christmas carol, “Joy to the World”:
No more let sin or sorrow grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground.
He’s come to make His blessings flow,
Far as the curse is found!
The Beginning of a New World
Concerning the early settlers of this land, historian Samuel Morrison wrote, “doubting nothing and fearing no man, they undertook to set all crooked ways straight and create a new heaven and new earth. If they were not permitted to do that in England, they would find some other place to establish their city of God.” America was that place.1
Jonathan Edwards, early America’s greatest theologian, wrote concerning this belief that God was instituting a new order of things here in America. He believed that this nation was destined to usher in a new era for the human race. Speaking of the First Great Awakening, he wrote,
“It is not unlikely that this work of God’s Spirit, so extraordinary and wonderful, is the dawning, or, at least, a prelude of the glorious work of God, so often foretold in Scripture which … shall renew the world of mankind. God has made two worlds here below, two great habitable continents, far separated one from the other …This new world is probably now discovered too, that the new and most glorious state of God’s Church on earth might commence there; that God might in it begin a new world in a spiritual respect, when He creates the new heavens and new earth.
“The other continent hath slain Christ, and has from age to age shed the blood of the saints and martyrs of Jesus and has often been deluged with the Church’s blood. God has probably reserved the honor of building the glorious temple to the daughter that has not shed so much blood, when those times of the peace, prosperity, and glory of the Church, typified by the reign of Solomon, shall commence.
“And it is worthy to be noted, that America was discovered about the time of the reformation or but little before: which reformation was the first thing that God did towards the glorious renovation of the world, after it had sunk into the depths of darkness and ruin, under the great anti-Christian apostasy.
“It seems to me … that the light will rise in the west, till it shines through the world like the sun in its meridian brightness. The same seems also to be represented by the course of the waters of the sanctuary in Ezekiel 47 which was from west to east; which water undoubtedly represented the Holy Spirit in the progress of His saving influences, in the latter ages of the world … And, if these things be so, it gives us more abundant reason to hope that what is now seen in America … may prove the dawn of that glorious day … that God intends it as the beginning or forerunner of something vastly great …“2
Those were heady days in colonial America. It was this divine sense of destiny that enabled the founding fathers to carve out a nation that became the forerunner of a new order of things in the history of the world.
Referring to his practice of drawing on the doctrines and principles of the founding fathers, Reagan commented in his Farewell Address, “I won the nickname of ‘The Great Communicator.’ But it wasn’t so much the style, it was the content. I wasn’t a great communicator, but I communicated great things. But they didn’t spring full bloom from my brow. They came from the heart of a great nation, from our experience, from our wisdom, and our belief in the principles that have guided us for two centuries. They called it the ‘Reagan Revolution.’ Well I’ll accept that, but for me it seemed more like ‘The Great Rediscovery,’ a rediscovery of our values and our common sense.”
Peace Through Strength
The doctrine of peace through strength is another one of those values which Reagan helped America rediscover, and he made it a principle cornerstone of his presidency. Just how President Reagan applied this “Peace through Strength” doctrine can be readily seen in his own summary of the state of our national defense and the changes he made when he took office:
“Our national defense was so weakened that the Soviet Union had begun to engage in wreckless aggression, including the occupation of Afghanistan … We had military aircraft that couldn’t fly for lack of spare parts and ships that couldn’t leave port for the same reason or for lack of crew. Our embassy in Pakistan was burned to the ground and one in Iran was stormed with all Americans held as hostages. The world began to question the constancy of the U. S.; President Carter said our people were at fault, they had lost their confidence, a malaise had set in…
“But in January of 1981 we focused on hope, not despair … Together we pulled out of a tail spin … We rebuilt our armed forces. We liberated Grenada from the Communists and helped to turn that island to democracy. We struck a firm blow against Libyan terrorism. We’ve seen the growth of democracy in 90 percent of Latin America. The Soviets have begun to pull out of Afghanistan. The bloody Iran/Iraq War is coming to an end and for the first time we have the prospects of peace in Southwest Africa. And in the 2765 days of our administration not one inch of ground has fallen to the Communists. Today we have the first treaty in world history to eliminate an entire class of U.S./Soviet nuclear missiles, we are working on SDI to defend ourselves against nuclear terror, and American and Soviet relations are the best they’ve been since World War II.“4
To see that Reagan’s strengthening of our defenses was a bedrock principle of the founding fathers, one has to look no further than the Preamble to the Constitution, a small paragraph of introduction which was at one time memorized by every American schoolchild. It states:
“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.”
Allocating money to provide for the common defense to make sure that our military is strong and properly maintained is fundamental to the Constitution and one of the few purposes for which our government was founded.
In his Farewell Address, Reagan said, “I have been reflecting on what the past eight years have meant and mean – and the image that comes like a refrain is a nautical one – a small story about a big ship and a refugee and a sailor. It was back in the early ’80s … A sailor was hard at work on the carrier Midway which was patrolling the South China Sea. The crew spied on the horizon a leaky little boat and crammed inside were refugees hoping to get to America.
“The Midway sent a small launch to bring them to the ship and safety. As the refugees made their way through the chopping seas, one refugee saw the sailor standing on deck and called out to him, ‘Hello, American sailor! Hello, Freedom Man!’ A small moment, but a big meeting … When I heard the story I couldn’t get it out of my mind, for that was what it was to be an American in the 1980s. We stood again for freedom!
“I know we always have, but in the past few years the world again and, in a way, we ourselves ‘rediscovered’ it … The fact is from Grenada to the Washington and Moscow summits, from the recession of ’81 and ’82 to the expansion that began in late ’82 and continues to this day, we’ve made a difference.”
Reagan stated that the two greatest triumphs for which he was the proudest was the economic recovery in which Americans created and filled 19 million new jobs, and the recovery of our morale. “America is respected again in the world and looked to for leadership,” President Reagan noted.
Referring to the economic recovery and what it meant to the world, Reagan related the following account: “In 1981 I was attending my first big economic summit held that year in Canada. The opening meeting was for the heads of government for the seven industrialized nations. Well, I sat like a new kid in school and listened. They dropped titles and spoke to one another on a first name basis. I sort of leaned in and said, ‘My name is Ron.’
“That same year we began the actions that we felt would ignite an economic comeback, cut taxes and regulations, started to cut spending, and soon the recovery began. Two years later there was another economic summit. At the opening meeting we all got together. All of a sudden, just for a moment, I saw everyone was looking at me. Then one of them broke the silence and said, “Tell us about the American miracle.”
To understand why the leaders of the free world called America’s economic recovery a miracle we only need to do a little remembering – and look at how bad things use to be. Summing that up in New Orleans this August, Reagan explained:
“Eight years ago America was in economic chaos … I took office after the two worst back to back years of inflation America had suffered in sixty years. … Interest rates had jumped to over 21 percent, the highest they had been in 120 years. …The average weekly wage plunged 9 percent. The median family income fell 5-1/2 percent. Congress had passed the single highest tax bill in our 200 year history. Auto loans went up to 17 percent. Factories shut down. Fuel costs had doubled. People waited in gas and unemployment lines. The misery index, a combination of unemployment and inflation rates, had risen to 21 percent. Inflation was 19 percent in 1980. It has been reduced to 3-1/2 to 4 percent. Interest rates are less than half of what they were …“5
In a tribute to Ronald Reagan, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said, “Mr. President, the free world thanks you!” Following Reagan’s lead, Mrs. Thatcher has led England in deregulation and privatization of many of England’s nationally owned enterprises. This alone has transformed England from a failing socialist economy to a nation that is thriving on free enterprise.
Yasuhiro Nakasone, former Prime Minister of Japan, remarked, “I once called him the ‘Great Architect.’ He put the tumble-down house called the Free World back in shape again, shoring up the pillars and tightening the loose bolts. Finally he managed to persuade the Soviet Union to come out with a new harmonious foreign policy.
“When people asked me why I liked him, I said, ‘Because I’m a fan of John Wayne.’ Mr. Reagan projects the image of a brave man with great compassion. I also said, ‘He is a gentleman who displays all the American virtues and remarkably few of what we might see as negative American traits. I often said to Mr. Reagan, ‘You are the pitcher and I am the catcher. Throw me a good pitch … If the Reagan legacy continues, the pitcher-catcher relationship between the United States and Japan will last, with mutual trust and cooperation for the foreseeable future.“6
Addressing the Republicans this August, Reagan explained, “In 1902 Teddy Roosevelt told Americans not to hold back from dangers ahead but to rejoice with our hearts lifted, with the faith that unto us and to our children it shall be given to make this republic the mightiest among the peoples of mankind.
“In 1980 we needed every bit of that kind of faith. That year it was our dream that we could rescue America and make a new beginning, to create anew that ‘shining city on the hill.’ The dream we shared was to reclaim our government, to transform it from one which was consuming our prosperity … A dream of making our nation strong enough to preserve world freedom and to recapture our national destiny.
“We made a determination that our dream would not be built on a foundation of sand, something called ‘trust me’ government, but we would trust instead the American spirit. And, yes, we were unashamed to believe that this dream was driven by a community of shared values, family work, neighborhood, peace, and freedom. On July 17, 1980, we left with a mutual pledge to conduct a national crusade to make America great again. We had faith because the heroes in our midst had never failed us before…”
Change in Soviet Policy
Perhaps the most far reaching effects of the Reagan Revolution and the rebirth of America was the response of the Soviet Union. Reporting on Gorbachev’s latest visit to the U. S., U.S. News and World Report correspondent Roger Rosenblatt observed, “Among several stunning propositions in Mikhail Gorbachev’s speech to the U.N. last week, the most dizzying was that his country could no longer live a lie. We (the United States) may be stumbling about a bit, having learned that the Soviet Union appears to wish to remove itself from the top of our Enemies List … but one ought not lose sight of the fact that, if last week represented a brief moment of American confusion, it was also a moment of American triumph. Gorbachev has in effect said to his astonished people: ‘Sorry. It’s all been a terrible mistake. On to new times and new ideas!’“7
Another reporter commented, “At first, the headlines obscured Gorbachev’s deeper message … But it was his less direct message, emerging between the lines, that was truly breathtaking. Though couched in idealistic, one-world terms, it was directed at the democratic capitalist West: Our system has failed; yours has won. We are reforming. Accept us as a respected partner. Without quite saying so, Gorbachev junked 70 years of ‘scientific’ Soviet dogma. There was an air of desperation, politely overlooked by official listeners, in the words. But it was a masterful performance, setting the democracies groping for a response that would both test Gorbachev and calm enraptured publics who did not hear the desperation that could foretell his doom.
“Nikita Khrushchev was the last Soviet leader to address the United Nations, 28 years ago, in September of 1960. Khrushchev took off his shoe and beat it on the desk and said to the United States, ‘We will bury you!’ A comparison of his speech with the one delivered last week by Mikhail Gorbachev demonstrates how unreservedly the Soviet Union’s current head of state has buried the ‘we will bury you’ mentality that dominated the Khrushchev era.
“The drastic change in ideology is apparent. Khrushchev once stated in regards to communism, ‘No force in the world can stop this mighty movement … The socialist system is replacing capitalism.’ Gorbachev reflects: ‘Today, further world progress is only possible through a search for universal human consensus. Efforts to solve global problems require a new quality of interaction regardless of ideological or other differences.
“On violent revolution Khrushchev stated, ‘Ours is the age of the struggle for freedom, when the peoples are shaking the foreign yoke off their shoulders. The peoples want a worthy life and are fighting for it.’ Today Gorbachev reflects, ‘The understanding of the need for a period of peace is gaining ground and beginning to prevail.“8
Reflecting perhaps on all these developments, President Reagan commented in his Farewell Address, “Once you begin a great movement there is no telling where it will lead – we meant to change a nation and instead we changed a world. Countries across the globe are turning to free markets and free speech and turning away from the ideologies of the past. For them “The Great Rediscovery” of the 1980s is that, lo and behold, the moral way of government is also the practical way of government. That democracy, the profoundly good, is also the profoundly productive.”
Speaking of the new developments with the Soviets, Reagan advised, “We must trust, but verify; play, but cut the cards; watch closely, but don’t be afraid to say what you see.”
Reporting on President Reagan’s visit to the Soviet Union last spring, and his address at Moscow State University, one correspondent remarked that Reagan appeared to be less a President and more of a preacher, a role the reporter noted that Reagan seems to like the best. In perhaps the greatest speech President Reagan ever made, he explained to the future leaders of the Soviet Union just what freedom means. (An edited text of this speech appears on page 13.)
Reagan remarked that one of the most eloquent contemporary passages on human freedom came from Russian writer Boris Pasternak in the novel Dr. Zhivago: “He writes, ‘I think that if the beast who sleeps in man could be held down by threats – any kind of threat, whether of jail or of retribution after death – then the highest emblem of humanity would be the lion tamer in the circus with his whip, not the prophet who sacrificed himself. But this is just the point – what has for centuries raised man above the beast is not the cudgel, but an inward music – the power of unarmed truth.”
Concluding that speech, Reagan said, “Your generation is living in one of the most exciting hopeful times in Soviet history. It is a time when the first breath of freedom stirs the air and the heart beats to the accelerated rhythm of hope, when the accumulated spiritual energies of a long silence yearn to break free. I am reminded of the famous passage near the end of Gogol’s Dead Souls. Comparing his nation to a speeding troika, Gogol asks what will be its destination. But he writes, ‘there was no answer save the bell pouring forth marvelous sound.’
“We do not know what the conclusion will be of this journey, but we’re hopeful that the promise of reform will be fulfilled. In this Moscow spring, this May 1988, we may be allowed that hope – that freedom, like the fresh green sapling planted over Tolstoi’s grave, will blossom forth at last in the rich fertile soil of your people and culture. We may be allowed to hope that the marvelous sound of a new openness will keep rising through, ringing through, leading to a new world of reconciliation, friendship and peace.”
A Christian View of the Future
Those who think that this optimism is unfounded need only read the prophet Isaiah, through whom the Lord assures us, “The time is coming to gather all nations and tongues. And they shall come and see My glory. And I will set a sign among them and will send survivors from them to the nations; Tarshish, Put, Lud, Meshech, Rosh and Tubal and Javan (Meshech, Rosh and Tubal are now the Soviet Union), to the distant coastlands that have neither heard My fame nor seen My glory. And they will declare My glory among the nations … And it shall be … that all mankind will come to bow down before Me,’ says the Lord.”
Columnist George Will recently observed, “Rhetoric has been central to Reagan’s presidency because Reagan has intended his stagecraft to be soulcraft. His aim has been to restore the plain language of right and wrong, good and evil, for the purpose of enabling people to make the most of freedom. In his long career of crisscrossing the country, practicing the exacting ethic of democratic persuasion, he has resembled a political John Wesley. Here then is the crowning paradox of Reagan’s career. For all his disparagement of government, he has given it the highest possible purpose, the improvement of the soul of the nation.
“Reagan believes the American people are ‘lumpy with unrealized potentialities.’ The fruits of American talents will be bountiful when Americans are optimistic. When they are optimistic they make the most of freedom … It is no accident that Reagan rose to the pinnacle of power at a moment when there was a rising wave of intellectual pessimism. Numerous theories were being offered as to why the American experiment has passed its apogee. Reagan’s greatest gift to his country has been his soaring sense of possibilities.“9
Mr. Reagan once said that the reason he entered politics was not because he wanted to make politics a career but because he wanted to protect something precious. “I went into politics to put up my hand and say stop. I was a citizen politician and it seemed the right thing for a citizen to do. Man is not free unless government is limited.“10
On many occasions, Reagan said that it was his dream to see America recapture her destiny. Explaining that destiny, he said, “I believe that God put this land between two great oceans to be found by a special people from every corner of the world who had that extra love of freedom that prompted them to leave their homeland and come to this land to make it a brilliant light beam of freedom to the world.
“Freedom of association, freedom of worship, freedom of the pursuit of happiness … that’s America. That’s why we are a magnet for the world – for those who dodged bullets and gave their lives to come over the Berlin Wall and for others, only a few of whom avoided death coming on tiny boats on turbulent oceans. This land, its people, the dream that unfolds here and the freedom to bring it all together, well those are what make America soar up where you can see hope billowing in those freedom winds.”
Concluding his Farewell Address, Reagan eloquently summed up his vision for America: “The past few days I’ve thought a lot about the shining city set upon a hill. The phrase came from John Winthrop, who wrote it to describe the America he imagined. What he imagined was important because he was an early Pilgrim, an early ‘freedom man.’ He journeyed here on what we would call a little wooden boat and like the other pilgrims he was looking for a home that would be free.
“I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life. What I imagined was a tall proud city built on the rocks, stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace. A city with free ports that hummed with commerce and activity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here – that’s how I saw it and see it still…
“And how stands the city on this winter night? – more happy, more secure, more prosperous than it was eight years ago. But, after two centuries, she still stands strong and true on the granite ridge and her glow is held steady no matter what storm. And she’s still a beacon, still a magnet for all who must have freedom, – for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness toward home.”
Meditating on this analogy, one familiar with the Bible cannot avoid the distinct resemblance this city has to the city John saw coming down from heaven in the book of Revelation. In John’s vision, he was carried away to a great and high mountain, and shown a city having the glory of God. Her brilliance was like a very costly stone. The foundation stones of the city wall were adorned with every kind of jewel. The twelve gates were twelve pearls. And the city was illumined by the glory of God and its lamp was the Lamb. John wrote that the nations of the world were destined to walk by its light, and that the kings of the earth would bring their glory into it.
It was this city that Massachusetts governor John Winthrop had in mind when he and a band of 50 pilgrims knelt at Plymouth Rock and dedicated this nation and those who would inhabit it to God for the furtherance of His kingdom. The vision for this city also fueled Ronald Reagan’s hope and optimism in regards to the future. It was for the establishing of this city that Jesus Christ taught his disciples to pray, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Our founders believed that the old world and its form and manner of tyranny would be vanquished, and here in this new world God would create a new heaven and a new earth where righteousness would dwell.
We see the light of that city beginning to shine. But before America can realize her God-given calling, we must have a spiritual awakening and repent from our immoral way of life. While President Reagan did much to restore some of our basic foundations, let us continue to work to see Christian morality and truth become our strongest cornerstones for the future. Ronald Reagan admonished, “We lit a prairie fire a few years back. Those flames were fed by passionate ideas and convictions. And we were determined to make them burn all across America. But we can never let the fire go out or quit the fight, because the battle is never over. H. G. Wells wrote, ‘the past is but the beginning of a beginning, and all that is and has been is but the twilight of the dawn.’
“That’s a new day – our sunlit new day – to keep alive the fires so that when we look back at the time of choosing we can say that we did all that could be done, never less.”
1 David R. Shepherd, Ronald Reagan, In God I Trust (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House, 1984), p.47.
2 The Works of Jonathan Edwards,Vol. I (The Banner of Truth Trust), pp. 381-383.
3 Peter Marshall and David Manuel, The Light and the Glory (Revell Co., 1977), p. 291.
4 Ronald Reagan, address before the Republican Convention, August 1988.
6 Yasuhiro Nakasone, “The Pitcher and the Catcher,” Newsweek, Jan. 9, l989, p.20.
7 Roger Rosenblatt, “He Saw the Past and It Did Not Work,” U. S. News and World Report, Dec. 19, 1988, p. 9.
8 “Responding to Gorbachev,” and “We Won’t Bury You After All,” U.S. News and World Report, Dec. 19, 1988, p. 17, 20.
9 George Will, “How Reagan Changed America,” Newsweek, January 9, 1989, p. 17, 15.
10 from President Ronald Regan’s Farewell Address, January 11, 1989.
Copyright © Bob and Rose Weiner 2007, All Rights Reserved