- The Washington Times - Friday, October 7, 2011


Over 100 years ago, Columbus Day was known as Discovery Day. President Benjamin Harrison’s Discovery Day proclamation in October 1892 asked the people of the country to “cease from toil and devote themselves to such exercises as may best express honor to the discoverer, and their appreciation of the great achievements of the four completed centuries of American life.” The holiday honored the spirit of the occasion more than the man who made it happen. The holiday did not glorify Christopher Columbus, but all he made possible and what generations of free Americans had made of it.

The laudatory speeches and commemorative events of those times lack sophistication by contemporary standards, but the country was much younger then, and with youth came enthusiasm. The holiday spoke to the values of freedom and individualism, of risk-taking and reward, which had built an emerging industrial giant from a sparsely inhabited wilderness. These values were so fundamental, such self-evident truths, that it was taken for granted they should be honored, praised and revered. The Sons of the American Revolution even sought to have “Discovery Day” declared the “Fourth of July for the world.”

In later decades, when the holiday became known as Columbus Day, it was linked more closely to the explorer himself, and 20th-century critics focused intently on his purported flaws. The great adventurer became the father of slavery, the bringer of genocide and was scorned as an ignoramus who didn’t even know what he discovered. In the 19th century, however, Columbus was regarded as one of the most heroic and significant figures of his or any age. The “Admiral of the Ocean Seas” was celebrated throughout the Americas as a visionary who braved the unknown on a mission of discovery that created a New World. Our national capital district was named in his honor because he opened the door to a new era of freedom that America represents.

Columbus Day became a federal holiday in 1970. By then, with the hippie revolution spiraling out of control, the reputation of the Genoese mariner was under the most concerted assault for sins against modernist political correctness. Columbus was castigated as the first European colonialist. He destroyed the idyllic Native American paradise populated by noble savages who simply wished to live in peace. In 2002, Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez changed the name of the holiday to “Day of Indigenous Resistance,” and two years later in Caracas, activists tore down a statue of “Columbus the tyrant.” From this perspective, 1492 was nothing to celebrate. It was the beginning of the end.

More than a century after the Discovery Day proclamation, America has lapsed into a fitful old age. The country is jaded, tired and in debt. At every turn, Americans face new limits. We’re told our very freedoms are the root of all evil. Environmentalists declare that humanity is the problem. Socialists demand that excellence be contorted to fit the lowest common denominator. Government is on an endless quest to increase regulation, control and taxation. Self-appointed experts lecture endlessly about how people should live. They seek to impose their utopian concepts on citizens for their own good, scorning those who resist as bitter, ignorant and unruly. The same radical group that branded Columbus the first slave master is reducing Americans to a state of low servitude.

The New World has been lost to a liberal cabal who can hardly even claim to be Americans. Being an American is not simply an accident of birth, it is something earned by those who seize the spirit of freedom. The very word “American” encapsulates this sense of boundless optimism and opportunity. Americans are on a continual voyage into the unknown, impelled by confidence born of freedom, faith and family. In the days of Columbus, men sought to discover, tame and populate unknown continents. Today, we are on a similar quest for the unseen shores of our lost liberties. Americans will see this new birth of freedom when “We the people” have the nobility of spirit to wrest it from those who would erase the legacy of Columbus.

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