Ronald Reagan with Larry Reed
Lawrence Reed meets with President Ronald Reagan in the East Room of the White House in 1982.

A grateful nation mourns the loss of one of its finest, but the legacy of Ronald Reagan means Americans can look to the future with the hope and optimism that he gave us reason once again to embrace. Though he is gone, he leaves so much behind that is good and memorable that he will be fondly and forever remembered. Those who maligned him during his career are among those who are already nearly forgotten.

In so many ways, many of us feel we’ve lost more than an exemplary chief executive. We’ve lost a friend, a brother and a father too, because Ronald Reagan exuded the qualities of a caring character that made you feel he was a part of your family. A man of faith, humility, humor, loyalty, grace, conviction, honor and eloquence, he will always rank as one of America’s greatest presidents and the quintessential patriot. By his very example, he shames every politician who puts politics or personal aggrandizement ahead of the principles upon which our free, constitutional republic was built.

He was a lifeguard not only as a youngster on a river in Illinois, but as a man who put liberty at the top of his public priorities in his later life. He fulfilled that task so well that it is not an exaggeration to say that millions the world over are free today in great measure because of his courage and leadership. On Saturday, June 5, 2004 at 4:00 p.m. Eastern time, the Almighty welcomed into his arms his good and faithful servant. Thank you, God, for giving us the singular life and remarkable achievements of Ronald Wilson Reagan.

As a further tribute to America’s 40th president, we offer below a few of his many memorable remarks followed by links to past Mackinac Center documents in which President Reagan was mentioned.

— Lawrence W. Reed
President
Mackinac Center for Public Policy
June 6, 2004

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"I will not stand by and watch this great country destroy itself under mediocre leadership that drifts from one crisis to the next, eroding our national will and purpose. We have come together here because the American people deserve better from those to whom they entrust our nation’s highest offices, and we stand united in our resolve to do something about it."

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"You and I are told increasingly that we have to choose between a left or a right. There is only an up or down: up to man's age-old dream -- the ultimate in individual freedom consistent with law and order -- or down to the ant heap of totalitarianism. And regardless of their sincerity, their humanitarian motives, those who would trade our freedom for security have embarked on this downward course."

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"The ultimate determinant in the struggle that’s now going on in the world will not be bombs and rockets, but a test of wills and ideas, a trial of spiritual resolve, the values we hold, the beliefs we cherish, and the ideals to which we are dedicated."

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"There isn’t a problem we can’t solve if government will give us the facts. Tell us what needs to be done, then get out of the way and let us have at it."

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"We’ve gone astray from first principles. We’ve lost sight of the rule that individual freedom and ingenuity are at the very core of everything that we’ve accomplished. Government’s first duty is to protect the people, not run our lives."

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"We’ve come to a moment in our history when party labels are unimportant. Philosophy is all-important. Little men with loud voices cry doom, saying little is good in America. They create fear and uncertainty among us. Millions of Americans, especially our own sons and daughters, are seeking a cause they can believe in. There is a hunger in this country today. People yearn once again to be proud of their country and proud of themselves, and to have confidence in themselves. And there’s every reason why they should be proud. Some may have failed America, but America has never failed us, and there is so much to be proud of in this land."

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"Standing inside this symbol of democracy (the Capital), we see and hear again the echoes of our past: A general falls to his knees in the hard snow of Valley Forge; a lonely president paces the darkened halls and ponders his struggle to preserve the Union; the men of the Alamo call out encouragement to each other; a settler pushes west and sings a song, and the song echoes out forever and fills the unknowing air. It is the American song. It is hopeful, bighearted, idealistic, daring, decent, and fair. That’s our heritage; that’s our song. We sing it still. For all our problems, our differences, we are together as of old. We raise our voices to the God who is the Author of this most tender music. And may He continue to hold us close as we fill the world with our sound—in unity, affection, and love—one people under God, dedicated to the dream of freedom that He has placed in the human heart, called upon now to pass that dream on to a waiting and hopeful world."

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"We’re blessed with the opportunity to stand for something—for liberty and freedom and fairness—and these are things worth fighting for, worth devoting our lives to. And we have good reason to be hopeful and optimistic. We’ve made much progress already. So, let us go forth with good cheer and stout hearts, happy warriors out to seize back a country and a world to freedom."

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"I’ve spoken of ‘the Shining City’ all my political life, but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. In my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and heart to get here. That’s how I saw it, and see it still."

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"Freedom is the essence of our nation. To be sure, ours is not a perfect nation. But even with our troubles, we remain the beacon of hope for oppressed peoples everywhere."

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"The United States remains the last best hope for a mankind plagued by tyranny and deprivation. America is no stronger than its people—and that means you and me. Well, I believe in you, and I believe that if we work together, then one day we will say, ‘We fought the good fight. We finished the race. We kept the faith.’ And to our children and our children’s children we can say, ‘We did all that could be done in the brief time that was given to us here on earth.’"

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"My fellow citizens, I want you to know that I have always had the highest respect for you, for your common sense and intelligence and for your decency. I have always believed in you and in what you could accomplish for yourselves and for others. And whatever else history may say about me when I’m gone, I hope it will record that I appealed to your best hopes, not your worst fears, to your confidence rather than your doubts. My dream is that you will travel the road ahead with liberty’s lamp guiding your steps, and opportunity’s arm steadying your way."

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"The more government takes in taxes, the less incentive people have to work. What coal miner or assembly-line worker jumps at the offer of overtime when he knows Uncle Sam is going to take 60 percent or more of his extra pay?

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"I believe we really can say that God did give mankind virtually unlimited gifts to invent, produce, and create. And for that reason alone, it would be wrong for governments to devise a tax structure or economic system that suppresses and denies those gifts."

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"When government talks tax reform on the eve of an election year, you can bet whatever they do will be based on the time-honored principle of robbing Peter to pay Paul. And the idea is to see that there are more Pauls than there are citizens named Peter. But what government can’t seem to realize is that we’re all named Paul. Peter went bankrupt quite a while ago."

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"Too often entrepreneurs are forgotten heroes. We rarely hear about them. But look into the heart of America, and you will see them. They are the owners of that store down the street, the faithful who support our churches, schools, and communities, the brave people everywhere who produce our goods, feed a hungry world, and keep our homes and families warm while they invest in the future to build a better America."

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"The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God."

"For families of the seven, we cannot bear the full impact of this tragedy. But we feel the loss, and we’re thinking about you very much. Your loved ones were daring and brave, and they had that special grace, that special spirit that says, ‘Give me a challenge, and I’ll meet it with joy.’ They had a hunger to explore the universe and discover its truths. They wished to serve, and they did. They served all of us."

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"Government can be likened to a baby. It is an alimentary canal with an appetite at one end and no sense of responsibility at the other."

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"They try to keep track of them, but federal grants are like rabbits—they multiply like crazy, and when they’re out you can’t catch them."

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"I’ve always thought that the common sense and wisdom of the federal government were summed up in a sign they used to have hanging on the Hoover Dam. It said, ‘Government property. Do not remove.’"

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"Communism works only in heaven where they don’t need it, and in hell where they already have it."

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At a Cuban Independence Day celebration in Miami: "The Soviet Union with all its military might, with its massive subsidy of the Cuban economy, can’t make the system produce anything but repression and terror. It reminds me of the story of a Soviet commissar who visited one of their collective farms, and he stopped the first farmer that he met and asked about life on the farm. And the man said, ‘It’s wonderful. I’ve never heard anyone complain about anything since I’ve been here.’ And the commissar then said, ‘Well, what about the crops?’ ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘the crops are wonderful.’ ‘What about the potatoes?’ ‘Oh, sir,’ the man said, ‘the potatoes, there are so many that if we put them in one pile they would touch the feet of God.’ And the commissar said, ‘Just a minute. In the Soviet Union, there is no God.’ And the farmer said, ‘Well, there are no potatoes either.’"

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"Freedom is a fragile thing and is never more than one generation away from extinction. It is not ours by inheritance; it must be fought for and defended constantly by each generation, for it comes only once to a people. Those who have known freedom, and then lost it, have never known it again."

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"It’s time we asked ourselves if we still know the freedoms intended for us by the Founding Fathers. James Madison said, ‘We base all our experiments on the capacity of mankind for self-government.’ This idea that government was beholden to the people, that it had no other source of power, is still the newest, most unique idea in all the long history of man’s relation to man."

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"Freedom is not created by government nor is it a gift from those in political power. It is, in fact, secured more than anything else by limitations placed on those in government."

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"It is up to us, however we may disagree on policy, to work together for progress and humanity so that our grandchildren, when they look back on us, can truly say that we not only preserved the flame of freedom, but we cast its warmth and light farther than those who came before us."

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"I believe that communism is another sad, bizarre chapter in human history whose last pages even now are being written. I believe this because the source of our strength in the quest for human freedom is not material, but spiritual. And because it knows no limitation, it must terrify and ultimately triumph over those who would enslave their fellow man."

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"There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"

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"You and I have the courage to say to our enemies, ‘There is a price we will not pay.’ There is a point beyond which they must not advance. This is the meaning of the phrase, ‘Peace through strength.’"

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"If nothing in life is worth dying for, when did this begin? Just in the face of this enemy? Or should Moses have told the children of Israel to live in slavery under the pharaohs? Should Christ have refused the cross? Should the patriots at Concord Bridge have thrown down their guns and refused to fire the shot heard round the world? The martyrs of history were not fools, and our honored dead who gave their lives did not die in vain."

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"In James Michener’s book, The Bridges of Toko-Ri, he writes of an officer waiting through the night for the return of planes to a carrier as dawn is coming on, and he asks, ‘Where do we find such men?’ Well, we find them where we’ve always found them. They are the product of the freest society man has ever known. They make a commitment to the military, and they make it freely, because the birthright we share as Americans is worth defending."

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"The men of Normandy had faith that what they were doing was right, faith that they fought for all humanity, faith that a just God would grant them mercy on this beachhead or the next. It was a deep knowledge—and we pray to God we have not lost it—that there is a profound moral difference between the use of force for liberation and the use of force for conquest."

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"As for the enemies of freedom, those who are potential adversaries, they will be reminded that peace is the highest aspiration of the American people. We will negotiate for it, sacrifice for it; we will not surrender for it, now or ever."

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Links to Mackinac Center documents:

  1. Remembering Grenada—20 Years Later: www.mackinac.org/5903

  2. Myths of the 1980s Distort Debate Over Tax Cuts: www.mackinac.org/3535

  3. Cutting Taxes to Raise Revenue: www.mackinac.org/48

  4. Statesmanship: A Most Worthy Cause: www.mackinac.org/4394

  5. Berlin, 1961: An Anniversary We Should Never Forget: www.mackinac.org/4537