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Ronald Reagan’s notes

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Ronald Reagan was known by friends and foes alike as “the Great Communicator.” Now we know one of his secrets. In the 1950s, Reagan began collecting quotes on 4-by-6 note cards and continued the practice through his presidency. He wrote them each by hand and kept them in a black photo album, arranged by topics. They were discovered last year at the Reagan Presidential Library in a cardboard box.

Now they have been published as The Notes: Ronald Reagan’s Private Collection of Stories and Wisdom (New York: HarperCollins, 2011). They contain fascinating insights into our culture and one of our most popular presidents.

On the nation:

  • “Nothing will ruin the country if the people themselves will undertake its safety; and nothing can save it if they leave that safety in any hand but their own” (John Stuart Mill and Daniel Webster).
  • “A character of good faith is as of much value to a nation as to an individual. The moral obligations constitute the law of nations as well as individuals” (Thomas Jefferson).

On liberty:

  • “To every man his chance, to every man regardless of his birth his shining golden opportunity. To every man the right to live, to work, to be himself and to become whatever his manhood and his vision can combine to make him. This seeker is the promise of America” (Thomas Wolfe).
  • “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and what never will be” (Thomas Jefferson).

On the people:

  • “The force of public opinion cannot be resisted when permitted freely to be expressed. Whenever the people are well informed, they can be trusted with their own government” (Thomas Jefferson).
  • “We are in danger of losing something solid at the core. We are losing that pilgrim and pioneer spirit of initiative and independence—that old-fashioned Spartan devotion to duty, honor and country” (John F. Kennedy).

On religion:

  • “The nation that forgot God has never been allowed to endure” (George Washington).
  • “If men will not be governed by God (that is to be honest, truthful, diligent, fair and just to all) then they must be governed by tyrants” (William Penn).

On character: “Nothing which is morally wrong can ever be politically right” (Judge Learned Hand).

This quote, part of Mr. Reagan’s 1989 farewell address to the nation, seems an appropriate conclusion: “We shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us, so that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken and so cause him to withdraw his present help from us, we shall be made a story and a byword throughout the world” (John Winthrop, Deck of Arbella, 1630, off Massachusetts Coast).

Jesus said the same of us: “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden” (Matthew 5:14). Has America ever needed our light more than today?


This article originally appeared in a simlar form in the Reading the Culture column in The Baptist Standard