Can American culture be captured by a single, well-turned phrase? Can a nugget of wisdom reveal something significant abour our national character?
The answer is yes, if it’s the right phrase, according to Stephen Prothero in his latest book: The American Bible. By “Bible,” he means a collection of secular works that unite, divide and define our nation. He collects a number of wise American sayings and groups them into the Proverbs section of his new Bible. As you know from our discussion since Monday, Prothero organizes his book by the major sections of the Old and New Testament.
Here’s what he includes in his collection of American Proverbs, beginning with two by Benjamin Franklin: “Remember that time is money” and “God helps those who help themselves.”
Then we have two more from the same revolutionary era: “Give me liberty or give me death” by Patrick Henry and “Remember the ladies” by Abigail Adams—a call to her husband, John, to remember women’s rights.
Moving into the mid and late 1800s, Prothero offers these: “Ain’t I a woman?” by Sojourner Truth; “With malice toward none, with charity for all” by Abraham Lincoln; and “I will fight no more forever” by Chief Joseph.
Continuing into the 1990s and ending in 1983, he includes: “The business of America is business” by Calvin Coolidge; “I pledge you, I pledge, myself, to a new deal for the American people” by FDR; “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” by JFK—and, last, “evil empire” by Ronald Reagan.
Do you know all these American sayings?
How well do they sum up America?
What’s missing from the list?
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Originally published at www.OurValues.org, an experiment in civil dialogue about American values.