Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Capitol Restoration Gala (1982)

The Rodda Project: Restoration of the State Capitol (1982)

The background to Sen. Rodda's remarks

Many states decided to embark on special projects in concert with the national observation in 1976 of the bicentennial anniversary of American independence. California decided to refurbish the classic features of the State Capitol in Sacramento, whose dome is an echo of the U.S. Capitol building in D.C.

The Capitol Restoration Project was a great success, although it took considerably longer than originally planned. At each stage the restoration workers uncovered new and exciting features of the old building, each discovery requiring evaluation and a decision whether it would affect the renovation plans. The State Capitol was returned to service in 1982, at which time a series of events were planned to mark the occasion.

Sen. Rodda was invited to deliver some remarks at the gala celebration held in the restored senate chambers. Although he was no longer in office, he had been involved in making the original plans and had been dean of the senate. Cognizant of the honor being extended to him by his former colleagues' invitation, Albert Rodda prepared a short speech. He was overcome by emotion as he spoke and had difficulty completing his remarks. Rodda apologized for becoming overwrought, but his colleagues thanked him warmly for his efforts and his entire speech is preserved in the following text.

Remarks of Former State Senator Albert S. Rodda at the Capitol Restoration Gala in the Senate Chamber

January 9, 1982

I am honored to have been invited to participate in this unique ceremony. It is an important occasion for the city of Sacramento and for our great state. The Capitol restoration will prove to be a remarkable and constructive contribution to California's history, and I am grateful to the Joint Rules Committee for its initiation and completion of the project. Because of this action, citizens of California and of other states who are interested in the importance and meaning of history may now view the Restored Capitol, the Indian Museum, Sutter's Fort, the Old Governor's Mansion, and the State Railroad Museum when they visit the capital city. These evidences of California's past will provide a remarkable opportunity for them to visualize and appreciate the history of our great state. They are symbols of the state's past and, as such, they are important; all states and nations must preserve and respect those symbolic representations of their growth, development and significance. The symbolic importance of the American Flag, the National Anthem, the Pledge of Allegiance and the holiday celebrations of important historic events are all essential to the education of the people; to the strengthening of their identification with this country's values and historic significance; and their appreciation of the substance and meaning of our remarkable system of government—a heritage of which we must be proud and to which we must have a deep personal commitment. For that reason, I have chosen to speak today more to the substance of the Gala Week Ceremony and less to the symbolism of the grandeur of our beautifully restored capitol. In doing so, I will begin with a quotation from an essay entitled “A Vindication of the Government of New England Churches” by Reverend John Wise, an early 18th-century American writer. In that essay, Chapter II, “The Freedom of Man,” he commented that “... from the Principles of Sociableness it follows as a fundamental Law of Nature, that Man is not so Wedded to his own Interest, but that he can make the Common good the mark of his Aim; And hence he becomes Capacitated to enter into a Civil State by the Law of Nature; for without this property in Nature, namely, Sociableness, which is for Cementing of parts, every government would soon moulder and dissolve.”

Many 18th-century colonial thinkers were significantly influenced by the philosophy expressed by Reverend Wise, and they consistently affirmed their faith in the ability of the citizen to govern himself and the importance, therefore, of introducing government by popular rule into the colonies and of making that concept the basis for the establishment of the new American nation. In this connection an interesting statement by Alexander Hamilton in The Federalist Papers is worth noting. It was apart of his appeal to the public for their approval of the Federal Constitution. He commented as follows:

“Let us now pause and ask ourselves whether ... the proposed Constitution ... has not been satisfactorily vindicated from the aspersions thrown upon it; and whether it has not been shown to be worthy of public approbation and necessary to the public safety and prosperity.... Every man is bound to answer these questions to be himself, according to the best of his conscience and understanding, and to act agreeably to the genuine and sober dictates of his judgment. This is a duty from which nothing can give him a dispensation. 'Tis one that he is called upon, nay, constrained by all the obligations that form the bands of society, to discharge, sincerely and honestly. No partial motive, no particular interest, no pride of opinion will justify to himself, to his country, or to his posterity, an improper election of the part he is to act.”
After Alexander Hamilton wrote these words, the U.S. Constitution was approved and the American federal system of government established. Since its inception and implementation, the powers of the people have been greatly expanded. The right to vote has been broadened to include both sexes, and all restrictions based on race and the ownership of property have been eliminated; slavery has been abolished; free public education has been granted to all citizens, and the civil rights of all citizens have been provided greater protection from the abuse of power by the state. All of these accomplishments reflect the conviction that the average citizen can be trusted to govern himself and that he will be influenced in his decisions by an appropriate respect for the rights of others and by an acceptable code of moral and ethical values.

A word of caution is in order. The acceptance of such a basic assumption about self-government should not be interpreted to mean that one must expect that representative government or government by the people will achieve an utopian social order and the elimination of all social injustice—a clean house swept free of all that is not defined as good. That end can never be the hope for this or any country if it is to remain an “open society” and guarantee the citizens their personal freedoms. One must be realistic about the ability of people to govern themselves through involvement in politics and, thus, determining how the power of the state be exercised.

Politics, by its nature, I must warn you, can only exist in a free and open society—that is politics as we know and experience it. In countries in which forms of totalitarianism exist, whether to the left or to the right, there is no politics. There is the exercise of political power by the army, a dictator, or a political party, but that is not politics—the sharing of political power. So keep that fact in mind when you are disposed to argue, as many citizens do, that our system of government is inadequate, corrupt, controlled by the special interests, inefficient and intrusive into their private lives. The acceptance of that attitude can lead to non-commitment, non-involvement, and even-alienation. It can become the rationale for one to become “otherwise engaged” and to refuse to accept the society. I wish to admonish you, therefore, even though I am a politician and humble about the prospects for the future, that while politics is a grubby business and will always be a grubby business, it is the most important business in the country as it relates to your personal freedom and the exercise of your prerogatives and rights as a citizen.

J.D.B. Miller, a contemporary Australian scholar and author of The Nature of Politics, analyzed the political process very thoughtfully and realistically, and his observations are very relevant to the contemporary political scene and are, therefore, worthy of note. The essence of his thought, simply stated, is that the establishment among rival groups and interests of political order—of agreed upon rules for the game—marks the birth of freedoms and that the compromises, deals, half-measures and bargains, which prompt impatient idealists to regard politicians as the “untouchables” and politics as an unworthy profession, are, in actuality, essential to the negotiating process of politics and remain, as history amply demonstrates, the only tested alternative to government by “outright coercion.”

In the last paragraph of his very scholarly work, Miller made the following significant observation:

“Politics does not carry values with it—on the whole, the values used in politics are those of the society in which it is being practiced, and do not derive directly from political operations—but it (politics) maybe said to constitute a value in itself, because the alternative to politics is compulsory agreement, in which everything that is not forbidden is compulsory. Interests which inveigh against ‘politics’ are often those which wish to make a whole society conform to a pattern which they lay down for it.”
This is my message. Retain one’s commitment to the open or free society. But in doing so, do not look upon the democratic system as utopian, or try to make it so; one should certainly not, because of its obvious flaws and imperfections, allow oneself to become alienated from it and to deny it a personal commitment. To adopt either perspective, is to abandon reason and to reject the lessons of history. One should heed the admonition of Abraham Lincoln in his Second Inaugural Address, when he observed in words having a timeless quality:

“With malice toward none, with charity toward all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds and to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
Or, one might recall the words of President John F. Kennedy in his Inaugural Address of 1961, when he observed:

“And so, my fellow Americans: Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country. But knowing that here on earth God's work must truly be our own, with a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth and lead the land we love asking his love and blessing.”

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