In Mark Helprin’s humorous and insightful novel Freddy and Fredericka, Freddy, the bumbling Prince of Wales and heir to the throne, and his spoiled wife Fredericka, are dispatched on a special mission: to conquer the United States of America.
Wearing “modesty panels of golden rabbits’ fur,” they parachute into New Jersey at night and set off on a series of misadventures, always undercover. They work odd jobs, suffer various setbacks, and enjoy some adventures, all the while studying American customs. Stripped of their royal powers and privileges, Freddy and Fredericka’s journey helps them become more fully human, and the love that grows between them, once barren and cold, binds them together in a beautiful way.
Finally, these two join a political campaign, where Freddy eventually addresses the Republican National Convention. In his address, Freddy reminds his audience and the rest of us of America’s unique place in world history. With the presidential races looming, let’s look at Helprin’s words, and remember who and what we are as a people.
Freddy mentions the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and says of them:
You have neglected them, and are unclear about the duties of a citizen and what comes by right. You seem to have forgotten those ancient battles in which you prevailed, and more importantly, those you merely survived. You seem to have forgotten that your original principles arose in a land that was carpeted with virgin stands of trees, and that the principles by which you lived—immaterial and bright, ever enduring—grew up just as strong and fresh. Return to them. They are waiting for you, as are reserves of honour as vast as the stands of trees that once spread without end.
At the end of his speech, Freddy disappoints his audience by turning down the honor of becoming their nominee for president, but he reminds the crowd of the beauty of the real American dream:
I was born to be a king, and you were born not to have one. America does not need and cannot have a king, for it is majestic in itself as perhaps no country has ever been. And its greatest majesty is not the splendid landscape or the long and sunny coasts, not the Mississippi or the snows of the Pacific Crest. It’s greatest majesty, its gift to the world, is that it has carried out God’s will to make each man a king, subservient only to Him. From the beginning, this has been the underlying force of every footfall, smile, and blink of the eye in this country. It, and not your power, is what has lifted you up, is what distinguishes you from others, and has made you the leader of the world. And may God bless and keep you as you find your way.
There it is: to make each man a king. Yes, I know it’s a slogan similar to that used by Louisiana’s governor Huey Long. And yes, it is by today’s standards “politically incorrect.” So let’s remake it “every person a monarch,” however off key that sounds.
Whatever the case, that is the real American dream, that we govern our own lives, that government by others, especially the state, takes a back seat to the individual, that we get to make our own decisions. To go as far as we want, to live as much as we wish, to fulfill our potential, to pursue, as the Declaration states, our happiness: That is the true American dream.
For the next ten months, we will be blasted via our televisions, newspapers, and electronic devices with the promises of politicians running for all sorts of offices. We will hear scurrilous lies and witness ad hominem attacks. We will see accusations hurled like so many spears by people of all parties desperate to gain power, govern our lives, and enact their various programs.
In the midst of these battles, we should keep Freddy’s speech close at hand. As we listen to the bickering and the babbling, let’s carefully examine the words and the promises of all these candidates.
Then we need to ask ourselves: Which of these people love America and her people as Freddy did? Which candidates offer hope instead of fury? Which of them honor the Declaration and the Constitution? Which of them believe in the dream and the majesty of America – past, present, and future?
[Image Credit: Flickr-Lorie Shaull, CC BY-SA 2.0]