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President Clinton Delivers Remarks at OpSail 2000

Aired July 4, 2000 - 11:57 a.m. ET


JEANNE MESERVE, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Jeanne Meserve in Washington. We're going to take you now up to New York, where President Clinton is addressing uptail -- OpSail 2000. Let's listen to his remarks.


WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ... other things about this important day for the Navy and for all Americans. On this day, which we commemorate because of what happened at Independence Hall with the Declaration of Independence, the greatest hero of our revolution was not in Philadelphia, but instead was here on Manhattan Island, preparing his outnumbered army for battle. Staring out over the very waters where we sit today, General George Washington saw the British warships landing at Staten Island, the vanguard of the largest expeditionary force ever launched by the British Empire.

As the armies eyed each other across this channel, the Declaration of Independence arrived from Philadelphia. George Washington ordered it to be read aloud to the troops. It was at the tip of Manhattan Island, just to our north, where the troops first heard they were actually citizens of a new nation -- where they first heard the words, "we hold these truths to be self-evident" -- and where they first pledged their lives, their fortunes, their sacred honor.

The patriots of 1776 took these colonies and made out of them a country. They took a vision of liberty and made it into the law of this land. To a world that knew rule only by kings and lords, America's creed confounded imagination. In the words of one British loyalist, "If the people be the governors, who shall be the governed?" America's answer was, the governors and the governed must be one and the same.

More than two centuries later, for the first time in all of history, more than half of the people of this globe live under governments of their own choosing. An astonishing long way we have come since this day in 1776.


Just behind me on Ellis Island, the ancestors of more than 100 million United States citizens took their first steps on America's soil. They're the forebears of the immigrants who took the oath of citizenship today. Pulled by the vision of liberty and opportunity, often pushed by forces of intolerance and hopelessness, they came and brought with them their skills, their knowledge, and their hearts.

For more than a century, those who came through this gateway have passed a statue as large as the ideal for which it stands. "She was beautiful with the early morning light," said one young woman fleeing tyranny from Eastern Europe. "The whole boat bent toward her because everybody went out, everybody was in the same spot, and everybody was crying." One Greek immigrant remembers looking up at the Statue of Liberty and asking her, "Please, give me the chance to become someone in America."

Lady Liberty, like those whom she welcomed, was also an immigrant -- a gift from France, a nation which did so much to help to give us birth.

Perhaps more than any other nation in all history, we have drawn our strength and spirit from people from other lands. Bearing different memories, bringing diverse traditions, immigrants have enriched our culture, enhanced our economy, broadened our vision of the world. And that is why, on this 4th of July, standing in the shadow of Lady Liberty, we must resolve never to close the golden door behind us, and always not only to welcome people to our borders, but to welcome people into our hearts.

To go beyond the things which divide us -- race and culture and religion -- to understand that whether our ancestors came here on immigrant ships or slave ships, whether they flew across the Pacific or once walked across the Bering Strait a very long time ago, anyone who accepts the rights and responsibilities of citizenship is our fellow citizen, equal in the eyes of God, entitled to be treated equally and with dignity by all of us. That must be our resolution on this and every Independence Day.


In 1827, 51 years after the Declaration of Independence was signed, the sole surviving signer of the Declaration was Charles Carroll of Maryland. He wrote the following: "I recommend to the future generation the principles of the Declaration as the best earthly inheritance their ancestors could bequeath. All of us are created equal; all are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights; among them, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

You may have noted that last week it was my great honor to announce on behalf of our common endeavors with our British and Japanese and other counterparts, that the first rough map of the human genome has been decoded. We now know that there will be an explosion of scientific discoveries which may give the young children in this audience a life expectancy of 100 years. But one thing we have already learned that proved the wisdom of the Founders is that genetically, without regard to race, we are 99.9 percent the same, and that the genetic differences of individuals within each racial and ethnic group are greater than the genetic differences of one group to another. It is important that we remember that -- that, after all, the Founding Fathers were pretty smart, and that science has confirmed what they said so long ago. The really difficult thing is to confirm what they said in our everyday lives.

Remember this fine young woman who introduced me today and resolve to make the creed of our Declaration the reality in all of our lives.

Thank you and God bless you.


MESERVE: We have been listening to President Clinton speaking in New York onboard the USS Kennedy, overlooking OpSail 2000. You've also been seeing those pictures of the beautiful tall ships sailing into New York Harbor today in celebration of Independence Day.

He noted the fact that George Washington had been not far where he was today while the Declaration of Independence was delivered to him. He read it to the troops not far from where the president spoke today. He also noted that two centuries after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, more than half the people of the globe live under governments of our own choosing, a remarkable achievement said the president.



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