Speeches & Floor Statements
Keynote Address Given at a Naturalization Ceremony
Posted on September 16, 2005
Jefferson Memorial, Washington, D.C. - It’s an honor to be with you today, and to see so many families here. This is a great moment for you. And we’re proud and grateful to welcome you as fellow Americans. The Oath you just took was a powerful one. But did you know that Oath dates back to the founding of our nation, almost 230 years ago? On May 12, 1778, as brave Americans were fighting for our freedom, George Washington and his general officers signed a very similar oath as they were camped at Valley Forge. Let me read a part of it to you: “I, George Washington, Commander in chief of the Armies of the United States of America, do acknowledge the UNITED STATES of AMERICA, to be Free, Independent and Sovereign States, and declare that the people thereof owe no allegiance or obedience to George the Third, King of Great-Britain; and I renounce, refuse and abjure any allegiance or obedience to him; and I do swear that I will to the utmost of my power, support, maintain and defend the said United States . . .” That’s how George Washington and his officers swore allegiance to our country. It sounds familiar, doesn’t it? You’ve worked hard to get here. You’ve lived here for a number of years – at least five, in most cases. You’ve learned about our history and our government and our values. You’ve achieved a working knowledge of our common language, English. This is a path that almost every American’s family has followed. We are a nation of immigrants. Congress first established rules for naturalization in 1790, just one year after we ratified the Constitution. And since it was first revised in 1795 – more than 200 years ago – new citizens have been required to renounce their old allegiances, swear or affirm allegiance to the United States, and be “attached to the principles of the Constitution of the United States.” Millions and millions of Americans – more than 20 million since 1907 when we started keeping a record – have sworn that Oath and become citizens, and now so have you. It embodies what it means to be an American, for being a part of this great nation can have nothing to do with race or ethnicity. That’s what makes us different. Becoming an American can have nothing to do with ancestry. That is because America is an idea, not a race. We are united by principles expressed in our founding documents, such as liberty and democracy and the rule of law, not by our multiple ancestries. Some have suggested that the diversity of our nation is what makes us great. To be sure, our diversity is a strength, and, by the nature of your own backgrounds, you will add to that diversity and that strength. But diversity is not our greatest strength. Jerusalem is diverse. The Balkans are diverse. Iraq is diverse. The greatest accomplishment of the United States of America is not that we are diverse. It is that we have molded that diversity into one nation based upon a set of common principles, language and traditions. Let me tell you a story that illustrates this best. A few years ago I attended the Italian-American dinner here in Washington, D.C. There were cheers for Scalia, the Justice. For Stallone, the actor. For Tagliabue, the commissioner. And for Pelosi, the congresswoman. They were all there. But what struck me most about the evening was not just the pride in Italian heritage. It was the spontaneous pride in America. You felt it in the singing of our national anthem, in the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance and in the speeches. They were proud of where their ancestors had come from. They were even prouder of having become Americans. I hope you feel the same way: that you are proud of your heritage and where you have come from, but that you are prouder now to be American. We’re certainly proud of you. Welcome to the American family.