A Christmas Greeting to the Nation
The first annual holiday message from Dr. Nicholas S. Butler, writer and creator of Sometimes Weekly.
A century ago, The New York Times marked each Christmas Day by publishing Dr. Nicholas Murray Butler's annual holiday message—an accomplishment among many in his distinguished public career. Despite this achievement and his good holiday cheer, you’ve probably never heard of Dr. Nicholas Murray Butler (1862-1947).
The story of this forgotten figure of history is surprising when you consider his resume: Dr. Butler was a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, served as the president of Columbia University, and emerged as the Republican Party’s eleventh-hour nominee for vice president in 1912 , stepping in when William Howard Taft's initial running mate died just before Election Day.
In addition to these accolades, Dr. Nicholas Murray Butler and I happen to share the same name.
To honor Dr. Butler’s forgotten legacy and to begin to establish my own, I’ve decided to continue his tradition by sharing my own annual holiday message with the nation.
In preparing to write my inaugural Christmas greeting, I reviewed past holiday messages written by the original Nicholas Butler. First, I noted that his greetings were always brief, usually a paragraph or so long. Second, I noted that through the years his overall message was generally positive. Third, I noted that he never shied away from talking about grand themes like liberty and justice.
In his December 1934 greeting, for example, Dr. Butler wrote:
The effective protection of liberty against compulsion must rest not on force, but on moral principle. That moral principle must be openly declared and strictly adhered to if liberty is to continue to exist. Under any other circumstances liberty is doomed. It is precisely this fact which makes the oft-quoted Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights, and the Constitution of the United States, particularly its Ninth and Tenth Amendments … of such vital importance and significance at this moment. These great historical documents are the charter of liberty. He who supports and defends their principles in any land is a liberal. With Christmas and New Year’s greetings. NICHOLAS MURRAY BUTLER.
With this history in mind, and setting aside Dr. Butler’s not-so-great legacy of upholding discriminatory policies that targeted Jewish people and maintaining a generally agnostic approach toward Nazi Germany in the 1930s, I’ve set out to write my very first Christmas greeting to the nation. Below, you’ll find that greeting.
But first, I’d like to share how excited I am to continue the work of Sometimes Weekly into the new year. There’s no doubt we find ourselves in this midst of history, and the only thing a man could ask for in such a time is an outlet for his thoughts. This holiday season, I'm grateful to have exactly that, and to have a small community of people who are willing to spend a moment of their day reading these words.
And with that,
A Christmas Greeting to the Nation
Protecting democracy is a fundamental duty of every American patriot. In our era, many of those who self-identify as patriots fall short in upholding this basic principle. Instead, they actively advocate the opposite: the deliberate erosion of Our republic and its constitution. Observing this ongoing moral sedition requires a response in kind, by remaining optimistic and reminding our neighbors of their role in safeguarding our most sacred rights. Through human history, democracy has been the exception, and so we find ourselves in an exceptional position. Active, engaged, and educated citizens, ready to act as patriots and protect democracy, are the only defense against the abyss of authoritarianism. There is no doubt in my mind such citizens stand ready to act in America and around the world. As we enter a new year, let us meet the moment and honor our duty as patriots: let us defend democracy.
With Christmas and New Year’s greetings,
Dr. Nicholas S. Butler
December 25, 2023