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Columbus Day

This year, on October 9th, Americans celebrated Columbus Day.

On October 12th, 1492, three ships reached the outlying islands of what is now the Bahamas. Their commander was an Italian navigator in the service of Spain -- Christopher Columbus. Columbus was seeking a short route from Europe to Asia. But he actually discovered a whole new world.

Born in 1451, Columbus was a child of the Renaissance, a time when Europeans began to recover the knowledge and culture of ancient Greece and Rome. Muslim scholars had preserved much of this legacy. The invention of the printing press in 1440 spurred a revolution in communication and learning. The works of the ancient Greek philosophers, Plato and Aristotle, and other classical thinkers were widely published and many began to question age-old assumptions about the physical world and about human relations. The European astronomers Copernicus and Galileo shattered the myth that the Earth is the center of the universe.

The "new learning," as it was called, led men to question authoritarian political systems based on the so-called "divine right" of kings. English political philosopher John Locke argued that all legitimate government rests on the "consent of the governed." In a famous essay on toleration, Locke wrote that religious faith is a matter of individual conscience, not state direction, and that where one faith is persecuted, no faith is secure.

Empowered by these ideas, European settlers migrated to the new world. Asserting the right of all men to freedom, they established the United States of America and transformed a wilderness into the freest and most productive nation in history.

It is freedom and the promise of a better life that have drawn millions of immigrants to American shores in the five centuries since the daring voyage of Columbus. Columbus Day is a symbol of the diversity that makes the American people unique and of the heritage they share. That heritage is perhaps best expressed by the Latin motto on the Great Seal of the United States – E Pluribus Unum – Out of Many, One.

The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.