Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks at Naturalization Ceremonies for New United States Citizens in Detroit, Michigan

October 01, 1984

Thank you all very much, and thank you very much, Judge Feikens. My fellow Americans-and I'm very proud to be the first to address you with those words—my fellow Americans, welcome to your country. Of all the things that a President does, nothing is as rewarding as events such as this. This is a ceremony of renewal. With you, today the American dream is reborn.

As you were saying the Pledge of Allegiance, it was clear to me, even from up here, that you weren't just reciting words that you'd memorized. You spoke with belief, and it was good to see, because the pledge not only contains the best definition of our country, it contains our greatest hope: to always remain "one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

Today you've joined a people who are among the freest on the face of the Earth. We're a nation greatly blessed. We were founded by men and women who wanted it said of our country: Here the people rule. They created a philosophy of freedom that is expressed in the document by which our country was established, the preamble of which was read to you, the Constitution.

Now, I know that most Americans are immigrants from other countries, and most of those countries have constitutions. I haven't read all the constitutions of all the nations of the world, but of all that I have read, I've noticed a difference that is so subtle it almost escapes you, and yet it is so tremendous it describes the difference. Those other constitutions give the people, or grant the people, in most instances, many of the same rights that our Constitution says are yours. But those constitutions say that government grants you those rights. Our Constitution says we, the people, have those rights by grace of God by our birth, and we, the people, will grant to the government the following rights.

Our government—now your government-has no power or rights that we, the people, have not freely given to it. Now, this may seem a small distinction, but as I said, it is everything.

You've joined a country that has been called "The least exclusive club in the world—with the highest dues." America was founded by men and women who understood that freedom doesn't come free. It has a cost. But I don't suppose anyone would know the cost of freedom, the price of freedom better than you who have taken this oath today.

Some of you came from places that, sadly, have not known freedom and liberty. Some of you have come from places that don't offer opportunity. Some of you are probably here because you are, by nature, adventurous. And some of you have no doubt come here for a new start, to wipe the slate clean and begin your life anew.

These strike me as all good reasons. In fact, they're the very same reasons that our forefathers came here. And they did pretty well—so well, in fact, that two centuries after they invented this country it is still what they intended it to be: A place where the oppressed, the lost, the adventurous, can come for sanctuary and comfort and chance.

It's long been my belief that America is a chosen place, a rich and fertile continent placed by some Divine Providence here between the two great oceans, and only those who really wanted to get here would get here. Only those who most yearned for freedom would make the terrible trek that it took to get here. America has drawn the stoutest hearts from every corner of the world, from every nation of the world. And that was lucky for America, because if it was going to endure and grow and protect its freedoms for 200 years, it was going to need stout hearts.

Fifty million immigrants came to this country in the last 200 years. Some of the most recent have crawled over walls and under barbed wire and through mine fields, and some of them risked their lives in makeshift boats.

And I know that all of them felt as the immigrants of the early part of this century felt. So many of them steamed into New York, and as they would see the approaching skyline and the Statute of Liberty, they'd crowd to the side of the boat and say, "America! America!" And in that word they heard the sound of a New World. In that word they heard everything.

And all of them have added to the sum total of what your new country is. They gave us their traditions. They gave us their words. They enlivened the national life with new ideas and new blood. And I urge you—you probably don't need to be urged, but I'll urge you anyway, just for fun—urge you to remember, as they did, the land of your birth. Bring to us its culture and its heritage. We don't reject them. We need them. They enrich us.

You know, man can take unto himself a wife. A wife can take unto herself a husband. That doesn't mean that they abandon their mothers and fathers and forget them. So, you know, every now and then academies talk about assimilation and how our various ethnic groups have, with time, dropped their ethnicity and become more "American." Well, I don't know about that. It seems to me that America is constantly reinventing what "America" means. We adopt this country's phrases and that country's art, and I think it's really closer to the truth to say that America has assimilated as much as her immigrants have. It's made for a delightful diversity, and it's made us a stronger and a more vital nation.

But our diversity is not only ethnic. You'll find, if you haven't already, that this country is full of different and, sometimes, conflicting ideas and philosophies. Walk by a newspaper stand, and you'll see scores of magazines and newspapers arguing this point and that. Listen to television and radio, and you'll hear more than enough opinions with which to agree and disagree. In fact, if you don't over the next several years find one time, at least, when you feel like taking off your shoe and throwing it at a television screen, then you will have missed out on one of the great American moments. [Laughter]

Arguing is something of a tradition here. We like to disagree. But it's usually pretty good-natured arguing, and it doesn't tear us apart. I think you'll find that for all our disagreeing, Americans remain united around certain shared ideas and shared dreams—which takes me back to where I began. All of us want "one nation under God . . . with liberty and justice for all." Most of the disagreeing just has to do with the best ways to secure liberty and justice and the best ways to protect them.

And so, today you join a happy country that is happier for your presence. You're adding your voices to the chorus, and in doing that you've become part of a great unending song.

And I want, as President, to thank you for something before I leave. There have been times in our recent history when some of our citizens have doubted if America is still all she was meant to be. They've wondered if our nation still has meaning. And then we see you today, and it's an affirmation. You, standing here, reveal we all must still stand for something. I know that the eldest among you is 92, and the youngest among you is 2. And we thank you all for the compliment of your new citizenship.

Thank you all, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 11:27 a.m. in Hall B at Cobo Hall Prior to the President's remarks, Federal District Judge John Feikens conducted the swearing-in ceremony for 1,548 new citizens.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks at Naturalization Ceremonies for New United States Citizens in Detroit, Michigan Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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