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A Welcome to New Citizens

by Patrick Murray

I was asked to deliver the keynote remarks at a naturalization ceremony this week, where 24 new U.S. citizens took their oaths of allegiance to this country.  These new Americans came here from Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, Ecuador, Ghana, Guatemala, India, New Zealand, Pakistan, United Kingdom, and Zambia.

I’ve given a lot of speeches and presentations over the years, but this was one of the biggest honors of my life.  During the turbulent times our country is going through right now, it was truly inspiring to witness these new Americans promise to “support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”

The urgent need to remember the values of our Constitution was one of the reasons I started the Guardians of the Republic podcast with my friend Ian Kahn (who portrayed George Washington on TURN: Washington’s Spies). And in that spirit, I wanted to share my welcome to those new Americans with you.

Remarks for US Naturalization Ceremony

Washington’s Headquarters Museum

Morristown National Historical Park

September 25, 2019

Welcome, fellow citizens of the United States of America!  It is an honor to be the first to say that to you in person.

Every September, we celebrate Constitution Day to commemorate the signing of the document that would become the foundation of our system of government.  And immigration was one of the issues they debated at the Constitutional Convention.

During this debate, the renowned statesman Benjamin Franklin reportedly said: “When foreigners – after looking about for some other Country in which they can obtain more happiness – give a preference to ours, it is a proof of attachment which ought to excite our confidence and affection.”

Franklin saw people wanting to immigrate to America as validation of the distinctiveness of our new country and a sign of the opportunities that could only be found here.

Indeed, from the very beginning, our founders acknowledged that immigrants were central to building America.

Now, I’m going to give you a little quiz.  It might be a little tougher than the questions on the naturalization test. But here it is.  The first official government holiday – that means a recognized day off – in the United States of America is believed to have been declared right here in Morristown in 1780.  Does anyone know what holiday it was?

It wasn’t the 4th of July.  And it wasn’t Christmas.

It was actually Saint Patrick’s Day – an immigrant’s holiday.  Yes, General George Washington wanted to give his troops a day off after a harsh winter camping just south of where we are sitting right now.  So, in recognition of the many Irish immigrants who were serving in the Continental Army and their connection to the fight for Irish independence, he felt that St. Patrick’s Day was the perfect choice.

After the war, Washington wrote a letter to a friend in New York who was helping new Irish immigrants coming to this country.  This is what he said in that letter:

“The bosom of America is open to receive not only the opulent and respectable Stranger, but the oppressed and persecuted of all Nations and Religions; whom we shall welcome to a participation of all our rights and privileges, if by decency and propriety of conduct they appear to merit the enjoyment.”

What Washington was saying is that America welcomes immigrants from all walks of life.  But with that welcome comes responsibility.

One of your most important responsibilities is to exercise your right to vote.  And you are in luck, New Jersey holds elections for some office or another every single year.  Which means the next one is in six weeks.  You have until October 15th to register to participate in your very first election.  You will be able to choose representatives for state government in the General Assembly as well as a number of local offices.

And I’m going to let you in on a little secret.  The people who serve in these local offices will have much more impact on your day to day life than those who get elected to big statewide offices like Governor and U.S. Senator.  So get out there and do your civic duty this November!

Okay.  So that’s your first job as citizens.  But there is one more special thing about your home state that I want to tell you before I close.

We are fond of saying that America is a nation of immigrants.  And indeed New Jersey is a state of immigrants.  Did you know that over 20 percent of the people who live in New Jersey were not born in this country?  That means that 1 out of every 5 people you meet in the great Garden State are like you – immigrants!

Indeed, 125 years ago, my own ancestors were among the many immigrants who came to these shores. And my family continues to be populated with recent immigrants.

When I was a child, my grandfather would take my brother and me to many of the sites in New Jersey that were crucial to the creation of our country.  I do the same with my children today – whether they like it or not! 

One of the great things about living in New Jersey is that you can stumble across some reminder of the values and the struggles that gave birth to our country every single day.  These places are everywhere in New Jersey.  It is why, 13 years ago, Congress designate much of the state as the Crossroads of the American Revolution National Heritage Area.

All these childhood visits to Revolutionary War sites instilled a very important message in me.  It’s one that I hope is instilled in my own children – and in you as well.  And that message is that this grand story – the story of America with all its high points and low points – is our story too. We may not be able to trace our lineage back to 1776, but we share equally in the story of the creation of America and in everything that makes it what it is today.

I hope you come to feel that too.  Because you are now part of the American story!  And your job is to keep that story going.

And for agreeing to accept that job, I have only one thing to say – Thank you!