Message from His Excellency Professor George Maxwell Richards TC, CMT, Ph. D, President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago on the Occasion of Emancipation Day 2010.
On the occasion of Emancipation Day 2010, I send greetings to all citizens of Trinidad and Tobago, as we consider what this day means to us.
By Legal Notice 147 of 15th October, 1984 and in accordance with Section 4 of the Public Holidays and Festivals Act, Discovery Day, which was celebrated in Trinidad and Tobago, on 1st August, each year, was changed to Emancipation Day.
There was considerable support for the view that, while we acknowledge the history of the European presence in our country, specifically, the arrival of Christopher Columbus here, 1st August should be commemorated, as a most significant date in history, in another way, for it was on that date in 1838, that African slaves finally received their freedom, as the edict of 1834, which declared that freedom, was not fully implemented, until then. Trinidad and Tobago, in declaring Emancipation Day a public holiday, took a lead that some of our neighbours in the region, including Guyana, have followed.
The journey from 1838 until now has not been an easy one, as we are well aware, and history records the facts that have contributed to making us the people that we are. We need to remind ourselves or inform ourselves of them, if we are to take the best and most appropriate steps forward, as we grow as an independent nation.
Ours has been described as a free, democratic society and, in many ways, it is so. However, the celebration of Emancipation Day is a time to consider to what extent we are indeed free and where we are, as individuals and collectively, in the process of emancipating ourselves, especially in the way we think, for no one can really declare us free. Adlai Stevenson is reported to have said that “A free society is one where it is safe to be unpopular”.
Fellow citizens, this is a good time to ask ourselves where we stand on that opinion. Another insight on freedom, as it concerns our state of wellbeing, comes to us from Thucydides the Athenian historian born in the 5th century B.C., who tells us that “The secret of happiness is freedom and the secret of freedom is courage”. From the perspective of one who himself experienced exile, that is a deep saying. Freedom is not licence or disorder, nor is courage bravado, particularly when it signals intimidation, from whatever quarter and in whatever manner.
The freedom for which the ancestors fought went beyond an official declaration, made at a time when it was no longer convenient to be a slave owner. We should not take lightly the courage with which they faced the early days of Emancipation and continuing, as they, women side by side with men, laid foundations on which our Independence would eventually be built. Out of respect for what they have done, we have a duty to preserve independence of mind and guard the freedoms which we have gained, over time, pre and post Independence, including those of our institutions.
In that vein, I recall the observation attributed to Baron de Montesquieu: “A nation may lose its liberties in a day and not miss them in a century”.
Let us, on this Emancipation Day 2010, a celebration for all of us who hold Trinidad and Tobago dear, resolve to consider, more carefully, the freedoms that were bought with a great price and to position ourselves, particularly our youth, to guard them resolutely, in the secure knowledge that each one of us has a contribution to make to our country’s development. Let no one tell us otherwise.
May God bless our nation.
George Maxwell Richards