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Posted on Wed, Jun 13, 2012 : 11:10 a.m.

American Bible: What’s your favorite American saying?

By Wayne Baker

0613 Benjamin Franklin.jpg

Editor's note: This post is part of a series by Dr. Baker on Our Values about core American values. This week Dr. Baker is discussing a new collection of the stories that define America, by noted author Stephen Prothero.

Can American culture be captured by a single, well-turned phrase? Can a nugget of wisdom reveal something significant abour our national character?

The answer is yes, if it’s the right phrase, according to Stephen Prothero in his latest book: The American Bible. By “Bible,” he means a collection of secular works that unite, divide and define our nation. He collects a number of wise American sayings and groups them into the Proverbs section of his new Bible. As you know from our discussion since Monday, Prothero organizes his book by the major sections of the Old and New Testament.

Here’s what he includes in his collection of American Proverbs, beginning with two by Benjamin Franklin: “Remember that time is money” and “God helps those who help themselves.”

Then we have two more from the same revolutionary era: “Give me liberty or give me death” by Patrick Henry and “Remember the ladies” by Abigail Adams — a call to her husband, John, to remember women’s rights.

Moving into the mid and late 1800s, Prothero offers these: “Ain’t I a woman?” by Sojourner Truth; “With malice toward none, with charity for all” by Abraham Lincoln; and “I will fight no more forever” by Chief Joseph.

Continuing into the 1990s and ending in 1983, he includes: “The business of America is business” by Calvin Coolidge; “I pledge you, I pledge, myself, to a new deal for the American people” by FDR; “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” by JFK — and, last, “evil empire” by Ronald Reagan.

Do you know all these American sayings?

How well do they sum up America?

What's missing from the list?

Dr. Wayne E. Baker is a sociologist on the faculty of the University of Michigan Ross School of Business. Baker blogs daily at Our Values and can be reached at or on Facebook.



Wed, Jun 13, 2012 : 3:38 p.m.

requirement." (59) "We know of no other enumerated constitutional right whose core protection has been subjected to a freestanding "interest-balancing' approach. The very enumeration of the right takes out of the hands of government – even the Third Branch of Government – the power to decide on a case-by-case basis whether the right is really worth insisting upon. A constitutional guarantee subject to future judges' assessments of its usefulness is no constitutional guarantee at all. Constitutional rights are enshrined with the scope they were understood to have when the people adopted them, whether or not future legislatures or (yes) even future judges think that scope too broad. We would not apply an "interest-balancing" approach to the prohibition of a peaceful neo-Nazi march through Skokie. See National Socialist Party of America v. Skokie, 432 U. S. 43 (1977) (per curiam). The First Amendment contains the freedom-of-speech guarantee that the people ratified, which included exceptions for obscenity, libel, and disclosure of state secrets, but not for the expression of extremely unpopular and wrong-headed views. The Second Amendment is no different. Like the First, it is the very product of an interest-balancing by the people-which JUSTICE BREYER would now conduct for them anew. And whatever else it leaves to future evaluation, it surely elevates above all other interests the right of law-abiding, responsible citizens to use arms in defense of hearth and home." SCOTUS, DC v HEller, 2008


Wed, Jun 13, 2012 : 4:43 p.m.