Tri-City Ledger -

By Russell Brown
Guest Writer 

Lessons learned from the Emperor's clothes


June 11, 2020

In 1787, while serving as Minister to France, Thomas Jefferson received a draft of the new constitution from his friend James Madison. Jefferson agreed with the draft, but objected to the non-inclusion of a bill of rights and returned a letter strongly suggesting one. As a result, Madison introduced 10 amendments that became the U.S. Bill of Rights. This is Amendment 1. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Seeing the exercise of our rights through mass protests today can be very uncomfortable. Those thugs and anarchists who care little for, or wish to end our nation will stir fear and anger through violence and bring about calls to stop it all. But it must always be remembered that a separate church, a free press as well as free speech and assembly were considered the American people’s first necessary rights by our founders.

Our use of a free press and speech has been phrased “Truth to Power”. But what is the value of truth? In 1788 George Washington wrote this, “I hope I shall always possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain what I consider the most enviable of all titles, the character of an honest man”. Some of our nation’s leaders today seem to successfully shirk this little item of basic morals. I am reminded of a story written years ago by Hans Christian Anderson.

“One day two swindlers came to a great town. They told everyone they were weavers and said they knew how to weave the most beautiful cloth. Not only were the colors and patterns gorgeous, but the clothes made from this cloth had the quality of becoming invisible to every person unfit for the office he held, or who was impossibly stupid.

“Those must be splendid clothes,” said the Emperor, “By wearing them I should be able to discover who in my kingdom are fit for their posts. I will be able to distinguish the wise from the foolish.”

The Emperor paid the two swindlers cash in advance so they could begin work at once.

Soon, the Emperor grew anxious to know how the work was proceeding. But he felt embarrassed to call on the weavers. Instead, he decided to send one of his faithful ministers. “He will be able to see how the cloth looks, for he is a cleaver man and fulfills his duties well.”

So the old minister went to the swindlers and watched them working their empty looms. Good heavens, he thought to himself, is it possible that I am a fool? Am I not fit for my office? I see no cloth.

The swindlers asked the minister what he thought of the cloth they were pretending to weave. “Oh, it’s quite beautiful,” said the minister. “Such beautiful colors. I will tell the Emperor how well the cloth is coming along.”

The Emperor was pleased to hear the good news. But soon he grew anxious again. “I know, I’ll send another minister to see how the work is proceeding.”

The next minister visited the swindlers working at their empty looms. I know I’m not a fool, he thought, but perhaps I’m not fit for my post. But I must not let it appear so. So he praised the cloth on his return to the Emperor.

Now the Emperor thought he would like to see the weavers at work at their looms. So he, accompanied by a number of courtiers, went to visit the two swindlers.

What, thought the Emperor, I see nothing at all. Am I a fool? Am I not fit to be Emperor?

“Oh,” said the Emperor to the swindlers, “what beautiful work. I cannot wait to wear the clothes made from such cloth.” The courtiers accompanying the Emperor applauded his remarks, all calling the clothes “Magnificent! Gorgeous! Excellent!”

In a matter of weeks, the swindlers decided they were ready to bring the Emperor his new clothes. “See, these are the trousers. This is the coat. Here is the robe.”

“Yes I see,” said the Emperor.

Will Your Majesty be pleased to take off your clothes?” said the swindlers. “Then we may put the new ones on you.”

The Emperor took off his clothes, and the weavers pretended to give him one article of dress after another. The Emperor’s courtiers called for the Emperor to walk through the town so all of his subjects could see the beautiful new clothes the Emperor was wearing.

“Yes,” said the Emperor, “I am quite ready to show my new clothes to my people. Don’t they fit well?”

Then the Emperor walked in procession from his palace through the streets of the town. “How beautiful the Emperor’s clothes are! What a splendid gown!” the townspeople called from the streets and windows. Nobody would let it appear that he or she could see nothing, for then they would not be fit for their posts or they would be thought to be fools.

“But he has nothing on,” said a little child.

“Oh, listen to the child,” said his father. And one person whispered to another what the child had said. “He has nothing on! He has nothing on!”

At last all the people cried, “The Emperor has nothing on!”

The Emperor blushed deep red, for he knew it was true. Only a little child had dared to speak the truth and let it appear he was a fool.”

The Alger-Sullivan Historical Society will hold a monthly meeting at 6pm on the third Tuesday in June. Although society members are eager to see our friends, we are aware of the continuing health threats and ask that those attending take personal precautions and that members who are frail or ill please consider staying home in order to protect yourselves.


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