Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks on Signing the Law Day Proclamation

April 09, 1984

Today's ceremonies mark the 27th year that we've set aside May 1st as Law Day, a day to reflect on and give thanks for a constitutional system that has, just as its Framers dreamed, secured the blessings of liberty through the rule of law. And so, I'm delighted that we could be joined today by so many who represent that continuing tradition of law and liberty—Chief Justice Burger, the Attorney General, Senator Thurmond, and Director Webster, distinguished members of the judiciary, the presidents of the American Bar Association, the National Bar Association, the Federal Bar Association, and the other distinguished representatives of our legal profession, present for these Law Day proclamation ceremonies.

The theme of this year's Law Day observance is a simple phrase, but one that goes to the heart of a philosophy that has kept us both strong and free: "Law Makes Freedom Work." Our Founding Fathers knew that law and freedom must be linked if both were to survive, and they knew, as the proclamation I'm about to sign states, that without law there can be no freedom, only chaos and disorder. And without freedom, law is but a cynical veneer for injustice and oppression.

In too many countries around the globe today the truth of that warning is all too evident. In America on May 1st, free men and women will commemorate Law Day, celebrating a two-century-old partnership between law and liberty. But in those other lands men and women will be summoned to state-sponsored commemorations of May Day—sad and artificial celebrations of a revolution that enslaved the very people it promised to liberate.

In these nations, as in ours, one can find constitutions and written guarantees of fundamental rights. But the freedom that would bring these guarantees to life is systematically denied.

I, some time ago, was interested and took it upon myself to read some of those constitutions I've just referred to. And I saw phrases very similar to the same phrases in ours regarding the fundamental rights. But there was one subtle difference. It might seem small, but it told the whole story. All of those other constitutions said these were the rights that the government was granting to the people, and our Constitution says these are the things that the people will grant to the government.

We in the United States have been blessed to live in a land where law and freedom are found not simply in a Constitution and a Bill of Rights, but in our daily lives. This is cause not for complacency and self-congratulation, but for profound gratitude—a gratitude that's best expressed in the lives of responsible citizenship.

In particular, those of us who are gathered here today in this historic place have a special responsibility as leaders of our government and our legal profession to be worthy of the citizens we serve. To the degree that we're faithful to this trust through lives marked by public virtue and personal honor, so, too, will we be worthy of the precious gifts of law and freedom that are the unique heritage we celebrate as Americans this Law Day.

And having said that, I will now sign the proclamation.

Note: The President spoke at 11:30 a.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks on Signing the Law Day Proclamation Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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