'Democracy' Comes to the Library

John Haynes addresses guests in Madison Hall as Carl Gershman looks onJohn Haynes of the Library of Congress?s Manuscript Division addresses guests in the Library?s Madison Hall as NED President Carl Gershman, right, listens. The blonde woman in the audience with her back to the camera is actress/activist Mia Farrow. (Photo by me.)

Even in the midst of partisan squabbling for which Washington, D.C., has always been noted, there are still issues that strongly unite the major parties, one of which was manifestly on display last night at the Library of Congress: the promotion of democracy around the world.

Exactly 25 years ago today, Ronald Reagan became the first American president to address a joint session of the British Parliament in what would become known as his ?Westminster Address.? In it, he issued a challenge:

The objective I propose is quite simple to state: to foster the infrastructure of democracy, the system of a free press, unions, political parties, universities, which allows a people to choose their own way to develop their own culture, to reconcile their own differences through peaceful means.

That speech would inspire the creation the following year of the National Endowment for Democracy. Yesterday, NED President Carl Gershman (who penned an op-ed in today?s Washington Post) helped mark the occasion by donating the group?s papers to the Library of Congress. The papers were accepted by John Haynes of the Library?s Manuscript Division. He presented Gershman the ?formal contract that binds the Library to preserve and make available the NED papers.?

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi makes remarks at the Library of Congress
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi addresses the event marking the transfer of the NED papers to the Library of Congress.

The NED collection joins more than 60,000 others in holdings that include the papers of 23 U.S. presidents, many Supreme Court justices and other government officials; noted individuals such as Susan B. Anthony, Frederick Douglass, Margaret Sanger, Samuel F. B. Morse, Benjamin Franklin, Groucho Marx, Sigmund Freud, and Walt Whitman; and organizations such as the NAACP, National Urban League, and the League of Women Voters.

The celebratory event was strictly bipartisan, with remarks by Elliott Abrams on behalf of the Bush administration, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Rep. Gregory W. Meeks, Rep. Donald M. Payne, Rep. David Dreier, former Sen. and former Labor Secretary Bill Brock, and former Sen. Tom Daschle, among others.


A few thoughts from some the speakers (as compiled by Audrey Fischer in the Library?s Office of Communications):

Elliott Abrams: “American foreign policy should back democracy. People fighting for freedom deserve our help. ” This idea has met with opposition, it still does. History has proven that the people who support this idea are right. History does move on. Freedom does expand. Expansion of democracy is important to our national security.?

Rep. Pelosi: ?NED has a special place in our appropriations bill, because of its mission, the talents of its leaders and the impact it has had. How exciting that your good work will be memorialized and accessible here at the Library of Congress. I look forward to reading them myself.?

Rep. Hoyer: ?Democracy is not just the American way of life. It’s a way of life that results in the best standard of living.?

Rep. Dreier: ?The work of NED is far-reaching. They are great fighters on behalf of democracy, liberty and justice.?

Rep. Meeks: ?Democracy does not begin or end with elections. It?s about people, getting people involved in the system to live a better life.?

Sen. Daschle, reflecting on a trip to Bangladesh, said a man told him: ?I will do anything so that my 4-year -old daughter will have something. ? Democracy-building is just as important today as 230 years ago. We want a Bangladeshi child to experience democracy too.?


  1. Matthias
    June 9, 2007 at 12:15 pm

    A very intersting article. Democracy is one of the most important things in the world. It is the condition for everything, that helps to keep peace.

  2. Linda
    June 11, 2007 at 11:37 pm

    The modern society at the size and complexity its growing offers few opportunities for direct democracy, I think there is also need to redefine the democracy for the current age that we are heading.

  3. Kris
    June 14, 2007 at 1:21 pm

    Great article. Democracy is very important and helps make the United States what it is. I just wish we had less partisan squabbling and could get more done for the people of our nation.

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