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Friday, July 10, 2009

Master of his own life as an American individual

I am concerned, as I know you are, too, with the fact that many of us are losing sight of what I call the main road of American progress-- the exercising of individual initiative, and assuming of individual responsibility. We have let ourselves stray a long way on a side road, by gradually, almost imperceptibly, relinquishing our privilege to do a job for ourselves.

Maybe it seems strange to you, my using the word “privilege” in this sense. ... I use “privilege” in the sense of opportunity to fulfill one’s destiny, to increase one’s stature as a human being, to produce. That is what I call our special American privilege. And that is the one we must fight to keep.

If every one of us reading these lines should resolve that, from this day forward, he would be the master of his own life as an American individual-- if every one of us should resolve he sould let no opportunity pass to assert his independent right to remain free-- that would be a big step forward.

One way we have done less than our best is with our young people. These young Americans today are better housed, better clothed, better educated than ever before in history. But we have not shown them clearly enough how great a privilege it is to be an American-- we have not made them understand the character-building virtues of depending on their own effort and determination.


What great American said this? No matter who you answered, I’ll bet you a nickel you’re wrong. James Cash Penney, son of a Baptist preacher, born in Missouri in 1875. As a young man, Jim Penney opened a Golden Rule Store (a small dry-goods chain) in Kemmerer, Wyoming. The Golden Rules stores were later renamed the J.C. Penney Company, and known today simply as JCPenney. This quote is from James Cash Penney’s Lines of a Layman, published in 1956.

I went on a rant a couple of posts back about a shopping experience at JCPenney. This is my make-up post to Mr. Penney. 

I could, but I won’t, go into a long story about Mr. Penney. I could, but I won’t go into a long story about JCPenney. I will simply tell you what my father-- who worked for 40 years at JCPenney-- would say if he saw the JCPenney stores of today:

“Mr. Penney must be rolling over in his grave.” 

Cemeteries from sea to shining sea must be filled with men and women rolling over in their graves. 

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