It is easy to get distracted by all the forebodings in the news today, so I want to offer Discovery Institute friends a “read” that will re-inspire you and also assert some of the personality and philosophy that I hope animates this organization and its fellows. It should encourage a different version of Independence Day enthusiasm as it is quintessentially American.
My Uncle Berlin B. Chapman was raised literally a hundred years ago in the hills of West Virginia, put himself through college and Harvard Graduate School (Phd.), and taught history the rest of his life in Oklahoma–producing some of that region’s first histories. He once told me that in his opinion “the greatest commencement address” ever made was “Acres of Diamonds,” by Baptist preacher and Temple University President Russell Conwell. I asked Uncle Berlin for the gist of it–that the opportunities in life are found in one’s own backyard–and was more or less satisfied with that truism. But I finally got around to reading a version of the address itself today because I wanted to recommend it to a young political friend of mine.
It is quite a document. You may find it too long for today’s attention span. But between 1900 and 1925 Dr. Conwell apparently was asked to give it 5000 times around the country, inspiring a generation of young entrepreneurs in many fields. You can see its influence in American thought, I believe, though it surely also reflects the American personality of the time. In my mind it evokes Benjamin Franklin on one end and Discovery’s own George Gilder (Wealth and Poverty) on the other! Maybe you’ll like it, too. Keep in mind the times…and think how they compare to our own.