The spirits of Eric Sloane

We’ve been thinking a lot in these days of division, anger, and anxiety of Eric Sloane, dead now for more than thirty years, and something he wrote for our nation’s bicentennial.

He was born Everard Jean Hinrichs but he changed his name when one of his art instructors, John F. Sloan, suggested artists should use assumed names early in their careers so their developmental art would not be recognized as theirs in more successful times. So he became “Sloane” as a tribute to his instructor.  And “Eric?”   That came from the middle letters of “America,” an appropriate choice given what he became.

Eric Sloane was likely the nation’s foremost illustrator and writer about Americana, folklore, and country wisdom. He published about forty books known for their illustrations, perhaps, as much as for their written content.  For instance:

For the nation’s bicentennial, Sloane wrote and illustrated The Spirits of ’76, a thin volume that focused on “ten early American spirits which I believe have either weakened or vanished.”  What he wrote for the first of the spirits resonates today. The Spirit of Respect:

“I have often quipped that the best way to learn any subject is to write a book about it, and researching early American patriotism was no exception.  When I began compiling my group of vanishing spirits with patriotism at the head of my list, I at once began learning.  With frequent flag burnings, with the stars and stripes being worn on the backsides of blue jeans and the Pledge of Allegiance ruled out as unconstitutional, I presumed that American patriotism must be at an all-time low, and that it was the national spirit most in need of return.  As I researched and analyzed the subject, however, I soon realized that patriotism has become all too closely related with war: the most patriotic people in history (like the Nazis) were always the most warlike and ruthless.  Great thinkers, I learned, very often frown upon patriotism, and the more I thought about this spirit, the more I too wondered about its real values.  ‘This heroism upon command,’ wrote Einstein, ‘this senseless violence, this accursed bombast of patriotism—how intensely do I despise it!’  One philosopher called patriotism ‘the religion of Hell.’

“I had never regarded patriotism in such a light and I began to think.  I remembered my first encounter with pseudopatriotism about half a century ago while I was a student at military academy:  while folding the flag at sundown with a fellow student, I had accidentally let it fall to the ground. ‘You son of a bitch!’ my helper cried, ‘You let the American flag tough the ground!’

“That was long ago when obscenities were treated as obscenities and I wasn’t going to allow anyone to call my mother a dog.  A fist fight followed and I still carry a small scar of the incident. I suppose it was a mini example of how wars start, where there is as much punishment to the punisher as there is to the sufferer, all in the name of patriotism.

“Stephen Decatur’s ‘Our country right or wrong,’ had often worried me.  I found more to my liking, Carl Schurz’s ‘Our Country right or wrong—when right to be kept right and when wrong to be put right.’ And so I wondered if we have not been using the word incorrectly (or even the wrong word). I went to my collection of antique dictionaries. In one old volume such as might have been used by George Washington or Nathan Hale or Patrick Henry and other early patriots, I found the answer: we certainly have been using the word incorrectly.

“Patriotism in the old sense was defined as ‘The Spirit of acting like a Father to one’s country: A Publick Spiritedness.’  This definition is quite different form todays: ‘One who guards his country’s welfare, especially a defender of popular liberty.’  I recalled how Hitler described Nazism as ‘the popular liberty’ and his storm troopers were known as ‘defenders of popular liberty.’  War, I realized, has for a long while been waged in the name of patriotism instead of nationalism.  Nationalism has been one of the most killing diseases of mankind. The American Revolution was actually a patriotic revolution against nationalism.

“The difference between twentieth century patriotism and eighteenth century respect became more evident as I researched. Johnson said, ‘Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel’ and Russell said ‘Patriotism is the willingness to kill and be killed for trivial reasons.’ Perry said, ‘Patriotic fervor can obliterate moral distinctions altogether.’ But Washington used Shakespeare’s words: ‘I do love my country’s good with a respect more tender, more holy, and profound than mine own life…After what I owe to God, nothing should be more sacred than the respect I owe to my country.’ I began to realize that the early patriot was more aware of his national position than the present day patriot.

“I suppose the first great American patriots were those fifty-six men who signed their names to their own death warrant on July fourth in 1776.  Yet their names are nearly forgotten to history; the average American can name only three or four of the signers of that profound declaration. One librarian was embarrassed about not being able to recall any others ‘besides George Washington and Patrick Henry’; of course neither had signed.  Soon forgotten, true patriotism is a very personal emotion, asking no reward.

“Looking away from the battlefield for an example of patriotism is difficult at first; but they do happen all around us and every day. I found one such example at a wedding anniversary dinner. I don’t like country club affairs and so I really had not looked forward to Haig Tashjian’s surprise party.  Other than my wife and myself, all were Armenian. A diminutive lady arose during the dinner and made a toast.  She confided that she was nearing one hundred years of age and she told how her family had fled in fear of the Turks, and how she came to America.  Then she told how America had fulfilled its promise of being a good home for Armenians just as it has for so many other European people.  ‘And so my toast,’ she said, ‘is not only for the wedded couple, but to the country that has made everything possible for them and for us.  Before I sit down, I want to lead you all in singing God Bless America.

“As the chorus ended I could hear the faraway strains of a rock-and-roll band playing in some adjoining banquet room; there was a meaningful hush as many wiped away a tear; then the dinner continued.  I felt unusually proud to be a native American, and thankful to Armenia for fathering such a gracious people. I had witnessed the inspiration of true patriotism, heroism in humility. Peace has just as worthy patriots as the battlefield.

In the beginning, the word patriotism came from the word pater (father) and patriotism was ‘a quality of respect of one who is devoted to his family in fatherly fashion’; it had little to do with war or nationalism.  Therefore, I offer that the word patriotism be substituted whenever possible, by the better word respect.  I find respect to be the vanishing American spirit most worthy of return to our beloved nation.

“Respect for family, respect for the nation and the land, respect for the flag and the law, respect for mankind and respect for oneself—these have been outstandingly wanting during the last few years.  Within the family, within the nation and to all other nations, the only hope for the survival of civilization is respect or love for one another. In the end, this is all that matters.

Native (-born) Americans are so frequently disrespectful to their nation that it comes as a pleasing and heartening surprise to witness respect for us from those born elsewhere.  The attendant where the Liberty Bell was shown found it interesting that those who most often removed their hats as they beheld the great bell were foreigners. Once two blind Japanese soldiers in uniform came ‘to see’ the bell, and asked the attendant to read to them the inscription thereon.  He led their hands over the raised letters and he showed them where the crack was.  He watched them leave, talking excitedly in their own language and he wondered exactly what their reaction had been.  But stuffed into the bell’s crack, he found two roses that the veterans had been wearing. ‘I didn’t think Japanese soldiers could have done it to me,’ he said, ‘but at that instant I had even more love for America, and respect for the old bell than ever before.’

“”Adlai Stevenson seldom used the word patriotism. ‘When an American says he loves his country, he doesn’t refer to the purple mountain majesties and amber waves of grain.  Instead he means that he loves an inner air, an inner light in which freedom lives and in which a man can draw the breath of self-respect.’”

Sloane’s other lost spirits: hard work, frugality, thankfulness, pioneering, Godliness, agronomy, time, independence, awareness, and an eleventh spirit—hope.

The Spirits of ’76 is out of print but it is available through the internet. My copy was published by Ballantine in 1973. It is pretty much forgotten in today’s social warfare.  But it might be good for people on the extreme wings as well as those in the middle to get it and give serious thought to those lost spirits and the challenge of finding them again. There is always that eleventh spirit.  Hope.

Borrowing a song

Australia has a national anthem, “Advance Australia Fair,” but in 1987, Bruce Woodley of the great Australian singing group, The Seekers, got together with Dobe Newton, who was with another group, The Bushwhackers, to write “We are Australian.”  There are those who have suggested it be the new national anthem.  It is often taught in that country’s primary schools.

We wonder if, in this year of division and anger, an arranger might look at that song and Americanize it.  It might become a theme song at one of the major party political conventions although there are reasons to hope not. It probably would not be good at the first one, given some of the things the presumptive nominee has said.  Maybe not even the second one either, come to think of it, although it might be the better fit of the two.

Although an Americanized version of the song could light up one of our conventions, we wonder if we are so far down a sorry road that it would have no meaning in such a climate.  And given our politics today, it probably would be a mockery to try to make it a convention song. In fact, we regret even bringing up the possibility. We’re not sure our Australian friends would appreciate their song being used in such a setting.  There are much better venues.  We hope that they would be complimented that our country values the sentiments of this tune.

The lyrics of We are Australian speak of a diverse nation’s history and its people—not all of whom are the most reputable.  The important thing that is emphasized, however, is that despite everything and everybody, they are a single people and it is the united people that have made Australia a great nation.

I came from the Dreamtime*

From the dusty red soil plains

I am the ancient heart

The keeper of the flames

I stood upon the rocky shore

I watched the tall ships come

For forty thousand years I’ve been the first Australian.

I came upon the prison ships

Bound down by iron chains

I fought the land

Endured the lash

And waited for the rains.

I’m a settler,

I’m a farmers wife

On a dry and barren run,

A convict then a free man

I became Australian.

I’m a daughter of a digger

Who sought the mother lode.

The girl became a woman

On the long and dusty road.

I’m a child of the depression;

I saw the good time come.

I’m a bushy, I’m a battler.

I am Australian

We are one

But we are many

And from all the lands on earth we come

We’ll share a dream

And sing with one voice

I am, you are, we are Australian

I’m a teller of stories.

I’m a singer of songs

I am Albert Namatjira.

And I paint the ghostly gums.

I’m Clancy on his horse.

I’m Ned Kelly on the run.

I’m the one who waltzed matilda.

I am Australian.

I’m the hot wind from the desert.

I’m the black soil of the plain.

I’m the mountains and the valleys.

I’m the drought and flooding rains.

I am the rock.

I am the sky,

The rivers when they run,

The spirit of this great land.

I am Australian.

We are one,

But we are many.

And from all the lands on earth we come.

We’ll share a dream

And sing with one voice:

I am, you are, we are Australian

We are one

But we are many.

And from all the lands on earth we come.

We’ll share a dream

And sing with one voice:

I am, you are

We are Australian

I am, you are

We are Australian

(*”Dreamtime” refers to the ancient Australian aboriginal creation myths, similar to the creation myths of our Native Americans.)

You can watch The Seekers perform this song at:

If you aren’t old enough to remember the Seekers, perhaps this piece from 60 Minutes (2012) will be helpful:

Youtube has some of their concerts. They were and are incredible.  And Judith Durham’s voice is memorable.

In the wake of the Independence Day holiday, we have found ourselves wondering which of our major patriotic songs speak to us as a whole people the way We Are Australian speaks of Australia?   My Country ‘Tis of Thee memorializes our founders.  America the Beautiful speaks of natural resources and founding heroes.  The Star Spangled Banner is about the symbolism of our flag.  Woody Guthrie’s This Land is Our Land speaks of a depression era America.  Lee Greenwood’s God Bless the USA, the number one country patriotic song according to one poll, speaks of pride in being an American and a willingness to defend the country.  But we don’t seem to have a patriotic song that speaks specifically of our country in reference to its people—as We Are Australian does.  Nothing musically expresses E Pluribus Unum, “Out of Many, One,” which appears on our national seal and on our currency.

“American” and “Australian” can be sung with the same number of syllables. And the lyrics can be slightly changed to reflect our culture (perhaps including Jesse James instead of Ned Kelly).

God Save the Queen (or King, when appropriate) was Americanized by Samuel Francis Smith, who wrote the new lyrics in half an hour in 1831. So borrowing from the English empire is not a new thing musically for us.

Maybe it would be good for the national spirit if we could sing—and believe when we sing:

“We are one.  But we are many.  And from all lands on earth we come.  We’ll share a dream and sing with one voice.  I am, you are, we are American.”

I am,

you are,

we are



It is with profound regret that we inform those who are most strongly opposed to helping immigrants in any way that the time will come when this era is regarded in the same way we regard the eras when women and black people were not allowed to vote.  Time has a way of turning such issues into quaint although passionate history.

Horrific as it has been to some, this country has elected a black President.  Twice.  Horrific as it might be to some, this country could be electing a woman as President.

Someday, this increasingly diverse nation will elect someone to the presidency who was not born in this country and not born as an American citizen.  And one of those, perhaps someone targeted by this generation’s loudest political voices speaking against the evils of immigration, will become that President.

A few years ago, your friendly observer bought a book called America’s Unwritten Constitution to read while the Senate bored its way through a filibuster.  The author, Akhil Reed Amar, is a law and political science professor at Yale and sometimes is a visiting professor at Harvard, Pepperdine, and Columbia Universities.  The book blurb says he is “often cited by the Supreme Court and is a frequent expert witness in Congressional hearings.”

This probably is not a book that will be enjoyed by those who think the solution to all of our nation’s problems is to just read the U. S. Constitution and do what it says because Amar, among other things, looks not only at what it says, but also what the system of laws DOES that have evolved out of what it does NOT say but leaves open to developments in the years after the document was written.  It’s a big book but it’s about a big subject.  It emphasizes that our Constitution is a far more complicated document than those seeking simple answers in it are often willing to acknowledge.

But anyone thinking of getting into politics, as well as those now involved, should read it.  Here’s a warning, though:  It’s a thinkers’ book.  And not everybody in our political system today wants to think.

His last chapter carries the subtitle, “America’s Unfinished Constitution.”

“What should our future Constitution contain?” he asks. “If political and legal power in America today is in certain respects unfairly distributed, could the individuals and institutions currently benefiting from this unfair status quo ever be induced to support justice-seeking reforms?  Is it truly realistic to think that the future will overcome the iniquities of the present?”

He cautions against changes that would “radically reverse the trajectory of our constitutional story thus far, whereas others would fulfill the existing Constitution’s spirit.”  What is that spirit?

From the founding to the present, America’s written Constitution has traced a clear and remarkable trajectory, visible at every moment of enactment and amendment along the way.  With the ill-fated exception of Prohibition, none of its amendments has aimed to diminish liberty or reduce equality.  On the contrary, most amendments have expanded freedom and egalitarianism.

He suggests efforts to make flag-burning a crime or to “restrict the equality rights of same-sex couples” should be viewed skeptically.  But, he says, an amendment allowing certain immigrant Americans to seek the presidency “should be viewed more favorably, precisely because it would be a far better fitting next chapter to our unfolding constitutional saga.”

There is no doubt Americans could amend the constitution to criminalize flag-burning, “and thus repudiate the basic constitutional principle that sovereign, self-governing citizens have a robust right to mock basic symbols of government authority.”  Yes, American could amend the constitution to ban gay marriages, “and thereby constrict the scope of the grand idea that government should not demean a person because of his or her birth-status—because she was born out of wedlock or he was born black or she was born female or he was born gay.”

Amar testified at a Senate committee hearing in 2004 on a proposed constitutional amendment letting “long-standing naturalized citizens to run for President.”   Amar is the son of an immigrant and married to an immigrant.  He writes,

“Although the proposed amendment would surely change the existing rules, it would do so in a pro-immigrant direction—just as the Founders themselves changed older English rules in pro-immigrant ways. Indeed, I went a step further: Given that the reasons the eighteenth-century Founders themselves barred certain naturalized citizens from running for president no longer apply in the twenty-first century, modern Americans would best vindicate the spirit of the Constitution by formally amending it. I pointed out that the Founders’ Constitution was, by the standards of the day, hugely pro-immigrant.”

That might be news to some of today’s advocates of solving the nation’s problems by just reading the Constitution.   Amar points out that the writers of the Constitution had a background that included the English Act of Settlement that prohibited any naturalized citizen of England from serving in the Parliament or on the Privy Council, or in many other government positions.  But our Constitution “repudiated this tradition across the board.”  Reading the Founders’ Constitution shows no bars to immigrants serving in either house of Congress, in the cabinet, or anywhere in the federal judiciary.  In fact, seven of the 39 men who signed the Constitution were born in another country.  Eight of the first 81 members of Congress were immigrants.  Three of the first ten Supreme Court Justices were foreign-born.  Two thirds of the first six Secretaries of the Treasury and one of the first three Secretaries of War were immigrants.

Apart from Amar’s compilation, we might observe that none of the 39 men who signed the document began their lives as American citizens.  And this nation did not, in fact, have a President who was born in the United States until Martin Van Buren (1837-1841).  The first seven had been born British citizens.

Amar argues that the Founders did exclude immigrants from the Presidency “because some at the time feared that a scheming foreign earl or duke might cross the Atlantic with a huge retinue of loyalists and a boatload of European gold, and then try to bully or bribe his way into the presidency…In a young America…when a fledgling New World democracy was struggling to establish itself alongside an Old World dominated by monarchy and aristocracy, this ban on future foreign-born presidents made far more sense than it does in the twenty-first century.”

Thus, he argues, making more people eligible for the presidency vindicates the Founders’ immigration principles.  “by treating naturalized citizens as the full equals of natural-born citizens, and by allowing a person of obvious merit to overcome a legal impediment created merely because he or she was born in the wrong place at the wrong time or to the wrong parents, the proposed amendment would widen and deepen the grand principle of birth equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment.  By making a new class of Americans eligible to be president, the proposed amendment would also echo and extend the spirit of the Fifteenth and Nineteenth Amendments, which entitled blacks and women not merely to vote on equal terms on Election Day but also to be voted for on equal terms and to vote and veto equally in matters of governance.’

He concludes, “I continue to believe today, that what the suffragist movement did for women, America should now do for naturalized citizens.  This country should be more than a land where everyone can grow up to be—governor.”

The sponsor of the proposed Amendment was Orrin Hatch, a conservative Republican from Utah.  Although the Amendment has not been sent to the states for ratification, Amar thinks its time is coming because the political parties “will find it politically advantageous to compete for the allegiance of immigrants and their allies, just as there were many past moments when both parties found it in their interest to demonstrate their liberality toward women and blacks.”

We are living in a hinge-point era of our nation’s history.  Just reading the Constitution is not enough as we see the face of America changing.  Understanding the Constitution is critical in these times of demands that we “diminish liberty and reduce equality.”

(America’s Unwritten Constitution: The Precedents and Principles We Live By; New York, Basic Books, 2012.)