Since 2011, Stan Ellsworth has rode around the country on his Harley-Davidson, shedding light through his own lens on various events throughout the history of the United States.
Last week Ellsworth, the host of BYUtv’s “American Ride” series rode into town to talk about the U.S. Constitution in celebration of Constitution Day.
The Constitution is a topic about which Ellsworth is highly passionate, and it showed as he spoke to crowd of more than 100 who packed into the LDS meetinghouse in north Riverside to hear his take on the historic document.
“Nothing can unite us like the U.S. Constitution can,” Ellsworth said. “It’s not political. This whole thing ain’t about me. It’s about all of us.”
Ellsworth doesn’t look like your typical history scholar. He stands more than six feet tall with a large build, long hair halfway down his back and bushy beard. His denim vest and bandanna advertise his love for biker culture, and he brings a passion for history to match his imposing physical presence and steel-trap handshake.
Growing up in the south, Ellsworth said he came from a home where Confederate leaders were considered heroes. As a boy who started riding Harleys at age 11 in Manassas, Virginia, the statue of Stonewall Jackson appeared through his young, impressionable eyes to be ‘like a God who came down from Mount Olympus.
“If you called it the Civil War, you didn’t eat,” he said. “It was the War of Northern Aggression or the War of Southern Independence.”
He describes his upbringing not as an affirmation of the things the Confederacy stood for, but rather to explain how his passion for history was ignited at an early age. He’s not shy to talk about his reverence for the flag and his country roots, but his show also examines the mistreatment of Native Americans and addresses the experiences of other populations that have been historically underrepresented.
“I respect every individual’s beliefs,” he said. “Everybody has some part of the truth in them.”
With the country becoming more politically polarized, he said his message boils down to something simple: that all Americans should honor the sacrifices of those who died for country by being active and engaged in government, and by taking action at the local level to solve their own problems.
“We cannot repay that debt,” he said. “The best we can do is remember their sacrifices by participating in the betterment of the country. If we’ve got a problem, who’s gonna fix it? We are. But too often we abdicate. We acquiesce.”
During his visit, he repeatedly drove home the fundamental importance of self-determination. “You have the right to build a life according to your ambition, work ethic and drive,” he said.
He talked about the need to hold elected officials accountable.
“Orrin Hatch works for you, and the same with Gary Herbert,” he said. “America is not a democracy, otherwise every one of us would be going to Washington to debate and discuss. We’re a Constitutional republic. They (elected officials) need to be reminded that they exist to do the work we can’t do for ourselves.”
As a convert to the LDS faith, Ellsworth also speaks about the freedom of religious expression. The organizers of his event distributed pamphlets explaining how individual religious expression in schools is allowed, and he backed up those assertions.
“We’re told that the government has sided with the secular, but if we look at what the Department of Education has said, it isn’t true,” he said. “We really do still have that freedom to stand, kneel and pray. We’re a people of faith, and the best example of faith is charity and service to others.”
An integral part of his speaking tours is to encourage that everyone read the Constitution for themselves, and he helps distribute free copies as widely as he can.
“The Constitution gives strength and power. Read it, know it, share it, and insist that our representatives abide by it,” he said.
“It’s unique in the annals of history — people coming here to practice their beliefs without fear of persecution. When we understand what had to happen in order for these things to be created, what price had to be paid — these words become much more meaningful.”
At the end of his speech, he pled for people to put their political differences aside and become more active participants in the democratic process.
“Let’s make sure our voice, our will is carried out, and our nation will remain strong.”