Friday, April 30, 2010

The Speech of the Unknown

Reagan had a bunch of stories, and this involves one of my favourites. Over the decades he would occasionally relate a tale about the signing of the Declaration of Independence, where the delegates waver at the last minute, only to be roused into action by an unknown speaker at the back of the hall. After signing, they turn and find the stranger has mysteriously disappeared. Reagan enjoyed the drama and its hint of miraculous intervention at America's birth. In 1981, a minister wrote to inform him that the speaker was, in fact, John Witherspoon. Though the president graciously received the information, the story was robbed of its mystery, and he never told it again.

Mitch Horowitz, an historian of the American occult, has uncovered an interesting new aspect to the story. Reagan never gave a source for his tale, though in 1974 at CPAC, he mentions he heard it from "a writer, who happened to be an avid student of history", but that he himself " never researched or made an effort to verify it". Horowitz now has, concluding that Reagan took the story from occult philosopher Manly P. Hall:

After publishing his great work, Hall spent the rest of his life lecturing and writing within the walls of his Egypto-art deco campus in L.A.’s Griffith Park neighborhood. He called the place a “mystery school” in the mold of Pythagoras’s ancient academy. It was there in 1944 that the occult thinker produced a short work, one little known beyond his immediate circle. This book, The Secret Destiny of America, caught the eye of the future president, then a middling Hollywood actor gravitating toward politics. Hall’s concise volume described how America was the product of a “Great Plan” for religious liberty and self-governance, launched by a hidden order of ancient philosophers and secret societies.

Reagan's telling of the story apparently matches Hall's version, suggesting that "the president’s reading tastes ran to some of the outer reaches of esoteric spiritual lore". Reagan believed in an ordained destiny for America, though he attributed this to divine sources, rather than the more earthly (if not grounded) idea of an ancient conspiracy. This revelation, however, certainly suggests a new meaning to another oft-repeated aphorism:

You can call it mysticism if you want to, but I have always believed that there was some divine plan that placed this great continent between two oceans to be sought out by those who were possessed of an abiding love of freedom and a special kind of courage.

I will call it mysticism!

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