Author, Lecturer, Ethicist

Wisdom From Mt. Rushmore

Mt. Rushmore.jpg

We begin with a note: Over the past nearly decade-and-a-half that The K.F. Stone Weekly (originally Beating the Bushes) has been on line, we have devoted several essays to the four presidents whose faces are carved into Mt. Rushmore, which is located in the Black Hills region of South Dakota.  Looking back, we noted that these pieces were invariably posted on or near the 4th of July.  And what better time to ponder the words, deeds and dreams of four of this nation's best, most accomplished, most literate, most verbally prophetic and iconic presidents?  There  is simply no gainsaying that the "Mt. Rushmore Four" - George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt - are right up there when it comes to the rankings of American historians, political scientists ... even Business Insider.  Most sources rank Lincoln 1st, Washington 2nd, Theodore Roosevelt anywhere from 4th to 7th and Jefferson either 5th or 7th.  

In addition to being great leaders, all four shared a tremendous sense of self - of understanding their respective strengths and weaknesses. They also shared an innate expressiveness and were engaged in a vast range of issues, interests and pursuits.  And we - their posterity - are all the wealtheir  for their wisdom, insights, and aphorisms.  And so, without further ado, let's take our semi-annual visit to the Black Hills and partake in our political patrimony - learning lessons through their actual words- which do contain some  archaic spellings - that are as important - if not more so - than they were at the time they were originally composed . . .  (BTW: these are not quotes or statements used in previous Fourth of July visits.)


George Washington:  Good afternoon gentleman.  May I be the first to wish one and all a happy 242nd birthday to this great nation.  Abraham, Theodore: you young fellows have simply no idea how difficult, how  incredibly dicey it was to get this country off the ground. The political and military odds were long and challenging.  It took a courage, intelligence and steadfastness to an unfathomable degree - not to mention all the many miracles of a bountiful Lord.  

Thomas Jefferson: ah general, you sound like a Deist this afternoon!  But what you say is true.  While I can't speak to the military side of the equation, I can tell our younger colleagues that the political debates were as difficult as playing 56 different games of chess simultaneously.  The fact that the winner - the United States of America - came back from the brink of political defeat on more than a dozen occasions is a sure sign that divine miracles played a role . . .  So what do you have in mind by way of celebration, general?

George Washington: I think that in light of what the country is going through on this, our 242nd anniversary - the current president's odd way of handling the office, the divisive partisanship and utter lack of civility - it might be a good thing for each of us to share some of our thoughts . . . impart wisdom to those who firmly believe that their side is utterly righteous and knows it all and that tje opposition is both evil and without a scintilla of common sense.  Perhaps unbeknownst to us so many years ago, we were talking and writing about principles and policies which are even more difficult today. 

And may I suggest that we limit ourselves to, say, no more than ten quotes . . . perhaps even less?  Remember, the nation has a president who admits to never reading books and only reads and writes in 280 keystrokes

Abraham Lincoln: I think we can all agree, General, that this is a fine idea.  And speaking for all, might I urge you to go first?

George Washington:  Thank you Abe.  Let's see what I remember . . .

  • The bosom of America is open to receive not only the Opulent and respectable Stranger, but the oppressed and persecuted of all Nations And Religions; whom we shall wellcome to a participation of all our rights and previleges.
  • The power under the Constitution will always be in the people. It is entrusted for certain defined purposes, and for a certain limited period, to representatives of their own choosing; and whenever it is executed contrary to their interest, or not agreeable to their wishes, their servants can, and undoubtedly will, be recalled.
  • If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent, we may be led, like sheep, to the slaughter
  • Guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism.
  • It is far better to be alone than in bad company

George Washington: Tom?  It's your turn. I know you're far more literate - and literary - than I, but please, try to keep your quotes to the agreed upon limit . ..

Thomas Jefferson: Certainly General . . . and I appreciate that you kept your comments so brief . . . so that I might be a bit more voluble . . .

  • Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add 'within the limits of the law' because law is often but the tyrant's will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual
  • Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.
  • Nothing gives one person so much advantage over another as to remain always cool and unruffled under all circumstances. 
  • I believe we may lesson the danger of buying and selling votes, by making the number of voters too great for any means of purchase. I may further say that I have not observed men's honesty to increase with their riches.       
  • The whole art of government consists in the art of being honest.        
  • If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be

General Washington: Mr. Lincoln, I am sure we are all anxious to hear which of your many, many aphorisms you have chosen . . .

Abraham Lincoln: Indeed, a few comments to hopefully help  put things into perspective:

  • America will never be destroyed from the outside.  If we falter and loose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.    
  • We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.

  • The money power preys on the nation in times of peace, and conspires against it in times of adversity. It is more despotic than monarchy, more insolent than autocracy, more selfish than bureaucracy. It denounces, as public enemies, all who question its methods or throw light upon its crimes.

  • A statesman is he who thinks in the future generations, and a politician is he who thinks in the upcoming elections. 

  • Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.

  • Those who are ready to sacrifice freedom for security ultimately will lose both.

  • I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country....corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.”


George Washington: Colonel Roosevelt? It's your turn.  What gems have you to share with modern Americans this July 4th weekend?

Theodore Roosevelt: As you know General, it is hard for me to be brief

  • The conservation of natural resources is the fundamental problem. Unless we solve that problem it will avail us little to solve all others.     

  •  All contributions by corporations to any political committee or for any political purpose should be forbidden by law.

  • To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.

  • Patriotism means to stand by the country. It Does not mean to stand by the President.

  • Of all the questions which can come before this nation, short of the actual preservation of its existence in a great war, there is none which compares in importance with the great central task of leaving this land even a better land for our descendants than it is for us.


George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt: On behalf of the four of us - and all those we have served during our lifetimes - please remember that this country IS already great!  If it is to continue surviving as a great nation, a nation which can and should continue being the hope of the world, remember our words, our thoughts and know we are praying for you to act with both passion and purpose.  And, by unanimous vote, we have chosen to give the last word to Mr. Jefferson:

  • Some are Whigs, liberals, democrats, call them what you please. Others are tories, serviles, aristocrats, &c. The latter fear the people, and wish to transfer all power to the higher classes of society; the former consider the people as the safest depository of power in the last resort; they cherish them therefore, and wish to leave in them all the powers to the exercise of which they are competent.

Enjoy this, the 242nd anniversary of our birth . . .

528 days down, 945 days to go.

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone