An “Informed” Patriotism

“We see and hear again the echoes of our past: a general falls to his knees in the hard snow of Valley Forge; a lonely President paces the darkened halls and ponders his struggle to preserve the Union; the men of the Alamo call out encouragement to each other; a settler pushes west and sings a song, and the song echoes out forever and fills the unknowing air. It is the American sound. It is hopeful, idealistic, daring, decent and fair. That’s our heritage, that’s our song.”

Reagan’s mastery of the civic and ceremonial aspects of the presidency, coupled with his optimistic yet humble and often humorous self-deprecating personal demeanor, communicated at all times a special respect for America and for American history and heroes that had been greatly diminished since the social and political upheavals of the 1960s. Reagan unabashedly embodied American “exceptionalism,” speaking often of his vision of that “City on a Hill,” first invoked over two centuries before by the Pilgrim settler John Smith. From simple gestures (such as refusing to ever remove his suit jacket in the Oval Office and in returning the salutes of uniformed military aides) to grand occasions (such as the 40th Anniversary of D-Day and Centennial of the Statue of Liberty), Reagan imparted a special sense of reverence for American institutions and achievements and for America’s special place in the world. Upon leaving office, he said he was most proud of the “new patriotism” he had helped kindle in the land, but warned that it would not last unless it was grounded and informed more deeply in the true stories of America’s past throughout the country’s unending struggle to perfect, preserve and extend freedom.

Key Reagan Optimistic and Patriotic Moments

  • Joking in the wake of the 1981 assassination attempt: “Honey, I forgot to duck.”
  • D-Day speeches (1984) in France invoking the heroism of the Greatest Generation
  • “It’s Morning Again in America”: 1984 reelection campaign
  • With Lee Greenwood and Ray Charles at the Republican National Convention (1984)
  • Second Inaugural Address invoking “the American sound.” (1985)
  • Address to the Nation on the loss of the Space Shuttle Challenger (1986)
  • Fourth of July tributes in NY harbor at the Centennial of the Statue of Liberty (1986)
  • Farewell Address to the Nation (1989)
  • Farewell Letter to the American People (1994)

In His Own Words

“My fellow citizens, our nation is poised for greatness. We must do what we know is right, and do it with all our might.”
Second Inaugural Address, Washington D.C., January 21, 1985

“Once again we feel the surge of pride that comes from knowing we are the best, and we are so because we are free.”
Message to the Columbia Astronauts on the Inaugural Flight of the Space Shuttle, April 9, 1981

“We Americans have never been pessimists. We conquer fear with faith, and we overwhelm threats and hardship with courage, work, opportunity, and freedom.”
Radio Address to the Nation, December 18, 1982

“One of the things I’m proudest of in the past eight years: the resurgence of national pride that I call the new patriotism.”
Farewell Address to the Nation, January 11, 1989