(May 13 ,2007)
Thank you all. Thank you, Justice O'Connor. Laura and I are
really happy to join you today. This state is known at the "Mother of
Presidents," which reminds me, I needed to call my Mother today. (Laughter.) I
wish all mothers around our country a happy Mother's Day. And if you haven't
called your mother, you better start dialing here after this ceremony.
We're honored to be in Jamestown on this historic day. We appreciate the
opportunity to tour the beautiful grounds here. I would urge our fellow citizens
to come here, see the fantastic history that's on display. I think you'll be
amazed at how our country got started. And I want to thank all the good folks
who are working to preserve the past for your hard work, and I appreciate the
fact that you spent a lot of time educating our fellow citizens.
Jamestown was the first permanent English settlement in America; it predated
the Mayflower Compact by 13 years. (Applause.) This is a very proud state, and
some people down here like to point out that the pilgrims ended up at Plymouth
Rock by mistake. (Laughter.) They were looking for Virginia. (Laughter.) They
just missed the sign. (Laughter.)
As we celebrate the 400th anniversary of Jamestown to honor the beginnings of
our democracy, it is a chance to renew our commitment to help others around the
world realize the great blessings of liberty. And so Laura and I are proud to
join you. Justice, it's good to see you. There's no finer American than Sandra
Day O'Connor, and I'm proud to share the podium with her. (Applause.)
We're also proud to be with Governor Tim Kaine and Anne Holton. I'm proud to
call them friends, and I hope, Ms. Kaine, that the Governor recognized Mother's
Day. Glad you're here. I want to thank Secretary Dirk Kempthorne of the
Department of the Interior; Michael Griffin, the administrator of NASA; members
of the United States Congress; members of the statehouse, including the
Lieutenant Governor. I appreciate the Attorney General being here. I thank the
Speaker for joining us. Most of all, thank you for coming.
I thank the members of the Jamestown 400th Commemoration Commission. Those
are all the good folks who worked hard to get this celebration in order. I
appreciate the members of the Association for the Preservation of Virginia
Antiquities. Laura and I saw members of the Association for the Preservation of
Virginia Antiquities digging in dirt. (Laughter.) It just so happened we
wandered up, and they found some artifacts. (Laughter.) I appreciate members of
the Jamestown 2007 Steering Committee.
The story of Jamestown will always have a special place in American history.
It's the story of a great migration from the Old World to the New. It is a story
of hardship overcome by resolve. It's a story of the Tidewater settlement that
laid the foundation of our great democracy.
That story began on a dock near London in December of 1606. More than a
hundred English colonists set sail for a new life across the ocean in Virginia.
They had dreams of paradise that were sustained during their long months at sea
by their strong spirit. And then they got here, and a far different reality
On May 13, 1607, 400 years today, they docked their ships on a marshy
riverbank. Being loyal subjects, they named the site after their King, and
that's how Jamestown was born. Today we celebrate that moment as a great
milestone in our history, yet the colonists who experienced those first years
had little reason to celebrate.
Their search for gold soon gave way to a desperate search for food. An uneasy
peace with the Native Americans broke into open hostilities. The hope for a
better life turned into a longing for the comforts of home. One settler wrote,
"There were never Englishmen left in a foreign country in such misery as we were
in the new discovered Virginia."
Looking back, 400 years later, it is easy to forget how close Jamestown came
to failure. The low point came after the terrible winter of 1610. The survivors
boarded their ships. They were prepared to abandon the settlement, and only the
last minute arrival of new settlers and new provisions saved Jamestown. Back in
London, one court official summed up the situation this way: "This is an unlucky
beginning. I pray God the end may prove happier."
Well, the prayers were answered. Jamestown survived. It became a testament to
the power of perseverance and determination. Despite many dangers, more ships
full of new settlers continued to set out for Jamestown. As the colony grew, the
settlers ventured beyond the walls of their three-sided fort, and formed a
thriving community. Their industry and hard work transformed Jamestown from a
distant English outpost into an important center for trade.
And during those early years, the colonists also planted the seeds of
American democracy, at a time when democratic institutions were rare. On their
first night at Jamestown, six of the leading colonists held the first
presidential election in American history. And you might be surprised to know
that the winner was not named George. (Laughter.) A matter of fact, his name was
Edward Wingfield. I call him Eddie W. (Laughter and applause.)
From these humble beginnings, the pillars of a free society began to take
hold. Private property rights encouraged ownership and free enterprise. The rule
of law helped secure the rights of individuals. The creation of America's first
representative assembly ensured the consent of the people and gave Virginians a
voice in their government. It was said at the time that the purpose of these
reforms was, "to lay a foundation whereon a flourishing state might, in time, by
the blessing of Almighty God, be raised."
Not all people shared in these blessings. The expansion of Jamestown came at
a terrible cost to the native tribes of the region, who lost their lands and
their way of life. And for many Africans, the journey to Virginia represented
the beginnings of a life of hard labor and bondage. Their story is a part of the
story of Jamestown. It reminds us that the work of American democracy is to
constantly renew and to extend the blessings of liberty.
That work has continued throughout our history. In the 18th century our
founding fathers declared our independence, and dedicated America to the
principle that all men are created equal. In the 19th century our nation fought
a terrible civil war over the meaning of those famous words, and renewed our
founding promise. In the 20th century Americans defended our democratic ideals
against totalitarian ideologies abroad, while working to ensure we lived up to
our ideals here at home. As we begin the 21st century, we look back on our
history with pride, and rededicate ourselves to the cause of liberty.
Today democratic institutions are taking root in places where liberty was
unimaginable not long ago. At the start of the 1980s, there were only 45
democracies on Earth. There are now more than 120 democracies, and more people
now live in freedom than ever before. (Applause.)
America is proud to promote the expansion of democracy, and we must continue
to stand with all those struggling to claim their freedom. The advance of
freedom is the great story of our time, and new chapters are being written every
day, from Georgia and Ukraine, to Kyrgyzstan and Lebanon, to Afghanistan and
Iraq. From our own history, we know the path to democracy is long, and it's
hard. There are many challenges, and there are setbacks along the way. Yet we
can have confidence in the outcome, because we've seen freedom's power to
transform societies before.
In World War II, we fought Germany on battlefields across Europe, and
today a democratic Germany is one of our strongest partners on the Continent.
And in the Pacific, we fought a bloody war with Japan. And now our alliance with
a democratic Japan is the linchpin for freedom and security in the Far East.
These democracies have taken different forms that reflect different cultures and
traditions. But our friendship with them reminds us that liberty is the path to
lasting peace, and that democracies are natural allies for the United States.
Today we have no closer ally than the nation we once fought for our own
independence. Britain and America are united by our democratic heritage, and by
the history that began at this settlement 400 years ago. Last month some of the
greatest legal minds in Britain and America, including Justice O'Connor and
Chief Justice John Roberts, came to Jamestown to lay a plaque commemorating our
shared respect for the rule of law and our deeply held belief in individual
Over the years, these values have defined our two countries. Yet they are
more than just American values and British values, or Western values. They are
universal values that come from a power greater than any man or any country.
(Applause.) These values took root at Jamestown four centuries ago. They have
flourished across our land, and one day they will flourish in every land.
May God bless you, and may God bless America. (Applause.)