Burton Gintell comments on 4th of July 2015 to The American Club of the Riviera
We are gathered today in France to celebrate the 239th anniversary of American Independence Day.
We have observed before the vital importance of France and Frenchmen to our country’s Independence, and perhaps need not dwell today on the vital contributions of General Rochambeau, Admiral de Grasse, the Marquis de Lafayette and Pierre L’Enfant
In the 21st Century, current events can often remind us of the past. We see leadership crises in emerging countries, and I would wish for these struggling new nations that their first five presidents might be – as ours were – George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe, supported by John Jay, John Marshall, Samuel Adams, Alexander Hamilton and Benjamin Franklin. None perfect, all white males, but all dedicated to freedom and democracy. Yes, the author of our Declaration of Independence –Thomas Jefferson was a slave owner, and racism persists today. Yes, women were unable to vote until the 20th Century, and the glass ceiling still persists, albeit weakened. But the Founding Fathers did preside over a true revolution of freedom and democracy, and, if the subsequent elaboration has been flawed, the inspiration was sublime.
And Washington’s 4 successors all had visited France before acceding to the Presidency, and Jefferson famously had been in our region and tasted the wines at Bellet in 1787 (was that a good year?)
And in the late 19th Century, France gave to America the Statue of Liberty – “La Liberté éclairant le monde” (Liberty enlightening the world). Designed by Frédéric Bartholdi, built by Gustave Eiffel , and assembled in New York harbor.
In these days of turmoil about immigration, I will end with the words of the New York-born poet Emma Lazarus that appear on the Statue of Liberty:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”