E Pluribus Unum: out of many we are one. This Latin phrase was the unofficial motto of the United States through the revolutionary war and well into the 19th and 20th century. It was found on flags, used by the founders in their writings, inscribed on the buttons of the uniforms the colonial soldiers wore, and even appeared on our currency well into the 20th century. It’s a fitting motto for the rag tag group of colonists destined to overthrow the mighty British empire.
Inspired by the ideas of the enlightenment and motivated by circumstances on the ground, our founding fathers explored these audacious questions: What if we governed ourselves? What if we didn’t need an emperor, czar or king? To accomplish such a task would require more than anyone could’ve imagined. Throughout history we have been ruled by authoritarians, despots, kings, tribal lords, etc. Some claimed divine right others simple took power by force but the premise was often similar: the masses were incapable of governing themselves. Authoritarians and despots knew in order to control the masses they had to instill fear and division. A united front could mean disaster. The masses could turn on you and replace you with another authoritarian.
What then could cause thirteen remote and diverse colonies to unite in an effort to break the bonds of arguably the most powerful and greatest empire in the history of the world? What was it about the words and ideas of Locke, Rousseau, Montesquieu and others that inspired the courage and conviction necessary for the task? Their words made the case and lit the fire that the old way of thinking must be abolished. Power and the right to govern did not derive from authoritarian elites. It was instead based on natural law–the rights to be governed must come from the people.
Authoritarians and despots rarely care about the masses other than to control them. We are, of course, inclined to authoritarians. The work of creating equanimity among so many is fraught with peril and disagreement. It’s a natural thing to relinquish our control to strong voices who promise protection and prosperity. Authoritarians will always try to divide the masses and pit them against one another–promising that only they can protect us from each other. We absolutely can not let the powerful and connected divide us and deceive us that we are enemies. The race isn’t against each other it’s against inequity, bigotry, fear and any force that would seek self over community.
If we are going to make our multicultural, pluralistic, democratic experiment work there can be no “them’s” in the United States there can only be US. If we are to prosper we will do it together! Of course we will have differing opinions. Of course we will have different cultural experiences. Of course we will have different lived experiences, religious practices, cultural identities and beliefs. Melding those together for a common good does not mean we are homogeneous. It will mean, however, that we are united by certain core principles: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness–the idea that each of us are endowed by our creator with these
unalienable rights and we must work toward that end united not divided. E Pluribus Unum: out of many we are one.
At the completion of the constitutional convention someone asked Benjamin Franklin “Do we have a monarchy or a republic?” “A republic,” he replied, adding “If you can keep it.” The framers didn’t know then as we do now that what they had created would last 240 plus years. They didn’t see the Civil War or the great World Wars. They couldn’t have envisioned the ravaging effects and soaring accomplishments of the industrial revolution.
Their vision was limited by their own bigotries, yet their vision also calls to the oppressed to seek for that “more perfect union.” It calls each of us who will hear to pursue life, liberty and happiness. It calls each of us to believe we are all endowed by our creator with unalienable rights. That we are equal under the law.
If we are to be one today we can’t refuse to pay the price of being informed and then complain that others are not. We can not afford to support billion dollar campaigns designed not to persuade each other of the virtue of our ideas but instead to destroy the opposition. We cannot afford to support this with our own dollars or be ambivalent to where else those dollars come from. If we sell our democracy to the highest bidder we are the ones who end up morally and politically bankrupt.
Unwarranted certitude and righteous indignation will not save us from bullies, tyrants and wannabe authoritarians of the 21st-century. It empowers them! Stop blaming the 24 hour news cycle—-turn it off instead. Find deeper, more substantive ways of keeping up on current affairs. Stop trying to fight the opposition party and instead try to fix your own.
Our politics are becoming a bloodsport where the means justify the ends. Where we are more concerned about the next election than the next generation. Where we are not trying to defend our ideas but we are bent on destroying the opposition.This is exactly the divisions that feed authoritarians! If we allow this to happen we have already crossed a line that may very well put in jeopardy the republic enlightened philosophers, our nation’s founders and patriots worked for.
America isn’t a place—it’s an idea; an idea rooted in principles found in the honored creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
We have often fallen short in living up to our ideals. This is America’s story. We dream big and fall short. We aspire to lofty ideals but our day to day is messy and inconsistent will those ideals.
Fortunately, something in the creed keeps pushing us forward causing us to break through and more perfectly move upward. We push on determined to extend those promised blessings to more and resist, even at the expense of our lives, the exclusion of those ideals to any who seek them.
Let’s ponder deeply those ideals. Let’s be honest with who we are and who we can yet become. Let’s do more than look to the past with a lens of patriotic zeal seeing only our proudest moments or look back seeing only our sins and misdeeds cankering our soul and leaving us hopeless.
We look to the past insomuch as it is our guide for the future telling us what to embrace and what to shun, what to celebrate and what to reconcile. With the clarity only hindsight can give, we fix our view to the future, bending our wills to those ideals that will move us step by step to a more perfect union.
Let’s aspire to be as kind as we are courageous! As committed to equality as we are to obtaining wealth. Let’s temper our fierceness by our love for our fellow man.
We are great! We are troubled! We can heal! We can rededicate ourselves to our enshrined creeds, our core beliefs, our sacred vows—written in stone, paid for with blood and sealed on the heart of every person yearning to be free. E Pluribus Unum: out of many we are one!