The Babylonians of Mesopotamia formed a written code of laws designed to resolve all human needs and control all human behavior. That was over 3,500 years ago. It did not guarantee Freedom of Speech.
Fear not, after the Babylonians the Hebrews took a shot at it and adopted, after first rejecting, the Ten Commandments that were supplanted by first Greek then Roman laws. None of these directly recognized the essential right to publicly disagree.
Then along came history’s greatest conquerors, the British, who promulgated a system of law that encompassed much of prior legal systems. What each Code contained was a written desire to account for all human behavior. But the right to peaceably assemble and tell the rulers they were either great or full of bug dust was not specifically included.
In 1787-89 a small group of white, Anglo-Saxon men made up largely of lawyers put forth the U.S. Constitution that was amended ten times before it was even adopted. The first of these amendments attempted to provide for free speech and assembly, an ideal that has helped preserve our democracy for over 200 years. Perhaps those prior legal systems should have included it.
I was musing about these attempts to avoid conflict by applying written words when I watched and read the accounts of President Trump’s campaign stop in Evansville, Indiana on August 30, 2018. And I was transported back to when I took our son out of school to see President Ford when he led a motorcade down Main Street in Evansville on Friday, April 23, 1976.
Jim and I were crushed by the crowd of about 20,000; however, we managed to not only see President Ford but to even get to shake his hand. I thought such an opportunity was of more educational value than one day of sixth grade class. The school disagreed and still marked his absence “unexcused”.
Regardless, while Peg and I did not take the opportunity to praise or protest President Trump, it was not due to politics or philosophy but simply an inability to be two places at once; we were previously committed and our absence from the conflicting event would most assuredly have been “unexcused”. Had President Clinton, Hillary that is, been the campaigner we would have wanted to see her too. In other words, that First Amendment was and still is quite a good idea.
I am appending my column on President Ford’s visit that was first published the week of January 8, 2007. I hope you find it worthwhile if you are seeing it for the first time and not excessively boring if this is a repeat for you. There were many Americans pro and con then too.
Pardon Me, President Ford
(Originally Published Week of January 8, 2007)
President Gerald Ford died December 26, 2006. In a life filled with public service, he will always be best known for his pardon of President Nixon in 1974.
President Nixon personally chose Gerald Ford to replace the disgraced Vice-President Spiro Agnew who resigned in 1973 amid disclosures of bribery while Agnew was Governor of Maryland.
Vice-President Ford served under President Nixon until Nixon resigned in August of 1974. One month after President Nixon resigned, President Ford issued him a full pardon for any crimes he may have committed while president.
At the time, I and most Americans were calling for a complete investigation of the Watergate debacle and especially Nixon’s involvement in it. It was a time of a media feeding frenzy and blood in the water.
President Ford took the unprecedented step of going personally before Congress and flatly stating that President Nixon and then Vice-President Ford had no deal to pardon Nixon if he would resign.
I recall how dubious I was when President Ford stated that he issued the pardon only to help our country to start healing from the loss of confidence caused by Watergate.
Yet, after a few months I began to have second thoughts about my initial reaction to the pardon. I began to see how much courage it took for President Ford to go straight into the anti-Nixon firestorm sweeping the United States.
As a country, we were almost paralyzed by the partisan fighting at home and the War in Vietnam. We needed a new direction and a renewed spirit.
Surely President Ford with his twenty-two (22) years in Congress knew he was committing political suicide by not giving us our pound of flesh. Still, he put his country first. Of course, the country rewarded his sacrifice by booting him from office and electing President Jimmy Carter to replace him.
But during the campaign of 1976, when President Ford came to Evansville on April the 23rd, I took my son, Jim, out of school and we went to the Downtown Walkway to cheer the man who put country above self.
For while William Shakespeare may almost always get his character analysis right, when it came to President Ford, “The good he did lived after him.” Julius Caesar, Act III, sc. ii.
Even President Carter, one of America’s most courageous and best former presidents said of President Ford:
“President Ford was one of the most admirable
public servants I have ever known.”
And when it came to the pardon of President Nixon, Senator Ted Kennedy, while admitting that he had severely criticized the pardon in 1974, said that he had come to realize that:
“The pardon was an extraordinary act of courage
that historians recognize was truly in the national
So, President Ford, since even your political opponents came to appreciate your courage and goodness, I am confident that you have long ago “pardoned” all of us who doubted you back when we needed your leadership.