Friends of Padre Steve’s World,
I wrote about the Declaration of Independence yesterday and today I want to add a few words about how important the basic proposition of the document; “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, and that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…” are indeed the foundation of the American experiment. It is my belief that we only allow them to be fine words spoken long ago and sealed magnificently for us to wander by and look at as then they mean nothing.
I know there are quite a few politicians, preachers, and pundits in this country who based on their actions view the Declaration and Constitution of the United States as mere paper to be quoted from on rare occasion but not to really be taken seriously. They speak words praising those principles on Independence Day, but spend the rest of the year working to deny the rights of others while expanding their own. They are always in the van when it comes to denying liberty to other Americans.
But this principle is, the principle in the preamble of the Declaration is the foundation of our American experiment, and that my friend is exactly what our country is and always has been. If our founders had wanted a monarchy or another form of authoritarian government they would have done that, instead they embarked on an experiment, an experiment in liberty and democracy that continues today; an experiment that they knew that they…
The fact is that the United States was founded on the proposition that all men are created equal. However that proposition has always been carried out less than perfectly, and at times not at all. Our system of government is resilient in some ways but also quite fragile, something that our founders understood; possibly better than we do. Adlai Stevenson noted something very important that we don’t hear often today. He said: “America is much more than a geographical fact. It is a political and moral fact — the first community in which men set out in principle to institutionalize freedom, responsible government, and human equality.”
But as I said, that ideal can be and often is undercut by the desire of certain groups and individuals to deny those freedoms to others. Abraham Lincoln was blunt about this when he wrote to his friend Joshua Speed in 1855 after the Dred Scott Decision and during the height of the Know Nothing movement:
“As a nation, we began by declaring that ‘all men are created equal.’ We now practically read it ‘all men are created equal, except negroes.’ When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read ‘all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics.’ When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty – to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.”
Today we see many of the tenants of the Know Nothing movement raising their head in the nation and threatening the rights of citizens as well as others who come to this country longing for nothing more than to be free.
It is that proposition that Lincoln understood when he dared to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, as well in his Gettysburg Address, and his support for the 13th Amendment. We have to recall his words in the Gettysburg Address when he stated the proposition that the nation was founded upon in terms that cannot be misunderstood, and which even his opponents in the North who were as racist and anti-liberty as their Southern brothers understood and hated:
“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal…”
That proposition was mocked in 1776, but it would become the rallying cry of people across Europe and be fought against by monarchies and despots everywhere. But it is that cry of freedom, that proposition that all men are created equal that we can never lose without losing who we are a people. The nation might remain and might even retain the name United States of American, but will be a husk of itself, a lifeless cadaver in which liberty was allowed to die because we as a people decided that on
That is why I cannot continue but to write about and speak about this so often and will to my dying day.