Speech Delivered by Assistant Governor Janet A. Springer on the occasion of the rededication of the Pilgrim monument on Kelly Drive, Philadelphia on May 3, 1998.
By Janet A. Springer
Friends, Philadelphians and fellow Americans, every great city is dotted with statues. Most people pass by them without giving them a second thought, which is unfortunate, because the statues are there to teach us something. They are there to remind us of the great deeds done by our forebears. They are there to remind us of things we should never forget.
Our city has statues of our Philadelphia heroes, such as William Penn and Benjamin Franklin and John Wanamaker. It has statues of great Americans, such as George Washington. But this one is different. It doesn't honor a single person, it honors a whole group of people.
Three hundred and seventy eight years ago, a little band of people we now call the Pilgrims, who wanted to worship God in their own way and build a community based on brotherhood, left their friends and relations in England and came to a strange country none of them had ever seen.
If you have ever seen Massachusetts in December, you will know they did not receive a warm welcome. Half of them died that first winter, and probably the whole colony would have died out had it not been for the help of the Indians with whom they made friends, concluded treaties and—we are proud to say—with whom the never broke their word or cheated them out of their property.
But what is it that we should remember about these people? What is the lesson this statue has to teach us? Simply this: That these people were the first to lay the foundations of our Freedoms as Americans. The Mayflower Compact, which they signed on board their tiny ship before they ever came ashore, was the seed of democratic government in this land.
The Pilgrims were the first Americans to realize that all power in a community stems, not from a king or a dictator or a small group of elite nobles, but from the people themselves. By the consent of the people is the great idea we inherit from the Pilgrim fathers. It is the fundamental principle of this city, of this Commonwealth and of this Nation. It is the shining idea we taught to the rest of the world, encouraging each country to govern itself, not by storm troopers or secret police, but by the will of the majority freely expressed at the polls.
This is the great idea which toppled the French aristocrats and gave birth to democracy in Europe. This is the great idea which changed the British parliament from a select group of king's cronies into a freely elected popular assembly. This is the great idea which inspired the Allies to defeat the forces of fascism. this is the great idea which only recently tore down the Berlin Wall and freed the countries of eastern Europe from the tyranny of communism.
When the Pilgrims agreed in their Mayflower Compact that they would form a community of self-governing individuals, they started something which has spread throughout the world, so that the countries still under the heel of undemocratic regimes now form an isolated minority. The democracy which started in the cabin of the Mayflower is on the march. It has swept through Latin America and Europe and the Pacific Ocean, and is now hammering on the doors of the few remaining dictatorships in Africa and Asia, and nothing can stop it.
The lesson taught by this statue is one that Americans have returned to at every crisis in our history. When Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence that all men are born free and endowed by their Creator with certain rights. When Thomas Paine wrote The Present Crisis, a pamphlet to encourage the freezing and starving Continental Army at Valley Forge, he hammered home the principles of the Mayflower Compact. When James Madison crafted the Constitution that continues as the world's oldest form of republican government, he was echoing the Mayflower Compact. When Abraham Lincoln spoke of government of the people, by the people and for the people he was virtually quoting the Mayflower Compact.
When the United Nations formulated a statement of basic freedoms and human rights in direct contradiction to Nazi ideas of military dictatorship and racial inequality, they were restating the ideas of the Mayflower Compact. When Nelson Mandela continued to press for democratic principles, even from a prison cell where he was held for twenty-seven years, he appealed to the basic Americanism of the Mayflower Compact. And when the Chinese students shook their fists and held up their posters and erected their own Statue of Liberty in Tienanmen Square, one of the documents the quoted in support of their beliefs was the Mayflower Compact. Wherever there are freedom fighters, the Pilgrim Fathers are smiling down on them with heartfelt approval.
This statue is here to remind us that freedom in only won with sacrifices and, if the people do not continually protect it, can easily be lost. It is here to call to remembrance our priceless heritage as Americans.
And, therefore it is appropriate to note that on the gravestone of Governor Bradford, one of the greatest of the Pilgrim fathers, is a Latin inscription which captures the very essence of the message this statue has for us, now and for all time, it says "What the Fathers achieved with such great difficulty, do not go easily."
Thank you and God bless you all.