Our second president on "God Bless America"

As noted here more than a few times (eg this), U.S. presidents before Ronald Reagan did not end their major addresses with "God Bless America!" to indicate "The speech is now over, and I'm not going to bother thinking of a real concluding sentence." Presidents from Reagan onward have used the phrase in an "Amen!" sense. The anonymous author of the Jotman blog writes in with new historico-linguistic evidence, of the biopic variety:

"In a recent post you complained -- yet again -- "about the trite hackneyedvacuousportento-pious lazy comforting and beloved three-word ending for all presidential addresses since the time of Ronald Reagan: 'God bless America!'" 

"You are clearly mistaken.  If I may set the record straight...

"The "God bless America" tradition did not begin with Reagan.  In fact, the tradition goes all the way back to the the first reading of the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia. 

"The proof is on video.  Watch this YouTube clip from about the 6:00 mark until 6:40 and you will see what I mean."

Then Jotman moves out of sarcastic mode:

"P.S.  Of course, Americans of the founding generation weren't such ninnies.  They would not have sought  "comfort" in such a banality as this phrase.   The inclusion of this modern abomination not only ruined the whole scene for for me, it also broke the "historical spell."  I no longer believed I was watching a serious attempt to portray events as they might have actually have happened in 1776.  The director lost my trust.   Actually, hearing the phrase misused in a historical drama irritated me exponentially more than having to listen to any modern American politician.   It's one thing when politicians help to ruin the American character of the present generation through repetition of a lousy rhetorical innovation, but it's far worse when the custodians of American culture project our flaws backward in time; when they make it appear as if the lamest, most pathetic inventions of our own times have deep historical roots. 

"It's a slippery slope.  At this rate, some future documentary about the Revolutionary War is bound to include a water-boarding scene. Or show Alexander Hamilton founding Homeland Security in 1790."

After the jump, a Marine combat veteran with thoughts on patriotism.

A reader in Washington state writes:

"God Bless America" et cetera, et cetera, et cetera...............      I love my country. I've traveled the world over and there isn't a place I'd rather live 'warts and all'. But really isn't this phrase starting to get a little over used??? Just like the theater of bringing "Poster People" to your major speeches to pull them out as props. Can't we bury this Reagan ploy too???

"I fought as a combat Marine in Vietnam. My father and father-in-law were career and senior Army Officers. I worked as a Federal civilian employee for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for nearly 37 years. My wife and mother-in-law had equally long careers as Federal employees. We are ALL PATRIOTS. But I must say, I'm getting a little tired of "God Bless this and that". The more I hear it the more disingenuous it sounds. Perhaps it's me and at the ripe old age of 62 I've become a little jaded, but I say enough's enough - use it when it is really needed and heartfelt, NOT just as a filler."

Tell it to John Adams!

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.


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