I Swear

THE scene is the naturalization court. I stand in the doorway amid a motley crowd, and my heart beats high with expectancy. This is the day for which I have wailed so long. At last I am to take my part in the duties and privileges of American citizenship. My mind is stirred by a vision of that day of travail one hundred and fifty years ago, when the voice was raised of a newborn child among the nations. I see the long procession of those that have held high the torch, of those for whom ‘Rather deathe than false of faythe’ has been a natural instinct rather than an act of heroism. Solemnly in the procession moves the noble figure of Lincoln, brooding over the wayward children he must guide. How can I hope to be worthy of following these pioneers?

My dream is shattered by a voice — a crude and grating voice which invites me to ‘ make up your mind and come in or get out.’ I come in, holding in my hand a slip of paper with a number on it. Each time a clerk drones out a number, a man pushes forward and stands before the judge. My eyes arc riveted on a picture at his back — it is Justice, holding the scales. Gradually I move closer to the judge. The solemn moment is approaching when I shall be weighed in those pitiless scales outlined behind his shoulder. Now I am within earshot as another number is called. A man shuffles to the front, and the examiner, looking absent-mindedly at a pigeon perched on the coping outside, says, ‘ Who was the first, president of the United States?’ The man looks bewildered and fingers the brim of his hat. In a voice betraying boredom and irritation, the examiner is forced to answer the question himself, and then asks, ‘Who made him president?’ The man is afraid to leave the second question unanswered and replies desperately, ‘Columbus,’ Before I have recovered from my dazed astonishment another number is called, and the applicant is asked, ‘Who is Mr. Dawes?’ He docs not know, and admits it in accents which are positive, though broken. The examiner seems willing to give each candidate as much assistance as possible. ‘Well, who comes next after the first man of the land?’ The applicant smiles confidently and answers without hesitation, ‘The second man of the land.’

I begin to think there must be a mistake somewhere, when I hear a number which my subconscious mind tolls me is the number on the paper which trembles in my hand. I move to the front of the tribunal. The examiner is about to formulate some question mechanically, then raises his eyes to look at me and says, ‘You may pass on.’

More numbers, more questions, more mumbling and halting replies. O Lincoln! Was it for this you suffered?

At last it is finished. The applicants arc horded together in the same casual spirit which has marked the whole ceremony. By countries they are called upon to stand up and renounce allegiance to all foreign potentates and sovereigns, and to swear to uphold the Constitution and laws of the United States.

The court adjourns, and out in the corridor there is a confused jostling of new citizens with their American witnesses.

‘Come on, Tony,’ says a florid man, chewing the stub of a cigar, ‘let’s go and celebrate. I know where you can get some good liquor — the real stuff!’