Posted by: W. E. Poplaski | July 2, 2009

Weekly Read-Along—July 3, 2009: What is an American?

Material for the Stout-Hearted Reader to Ruminate

♦ Essays, Lectures & Speeches ♦

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Harold Ickes (1874 – 1952) was U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Secretary of the Interior from 1933 to 1946.  He played a major role in overseeing Roosevelt’s ‘New Deal’ programs.

This week’s text is his speech, “What is an American?” given on May 18, 1941 in New York City’s Central Park at the I Am an American Day celebration; approximately 750,000 people attended.  At that time, Nazi Germany had already conquered many nations and its air force was bombing Britain.  However, many Americans were still ambivalent about entering the war (Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7th of that year).

His speech is remarkable for its clear statement of an American view that held sway through the remainder of the twentieth century.

Join others from around the world in this weekly reading event! You can find the text for Ickes’ speech at this website:


  • The second sentence of the Declaration of Independence reads—“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
  • The aviator, senator and ‘mail-order executive’ of whom Ickes refers in his speech likely are Charles Lindbergh, Sen. Burton Wheeler (D-Mont.), and  Robert F. Wood of Sears, Roebuck & Co.
  • ‘Sixth column’ is derived from the phrase ‘fifth column’, which was coined during the Spanish Civil War to mean any group of traitors ready to pounce on their government while it is preoccupied with defending itself against an external enemy (from Safire’s Political Dictionary).  Here, Ickes uses ‘sixth column’ as a mirror image to refer to partisans ready to liberate their country from a tyrant.

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