OUR DIVERSE HERITAGE - AS A FOUNDING CONCEPT
When we consider the problems that were faced at the founding of this nation, one critical truth almost invariably escapes our consciousness – our incredible diversity as a nation! It is the single great dilemma that faced the founding fathers, in creating our new government, and in writing our Constitution. Try to understand the social realities of the European nations at that time. If you were a Spaniard, for example, you lived in a nation of Spaniards, who all spoke Spanish, who all had a common and unique heritage with a common religion, and who functioned within their own, unique social order. In the eyes of a Spaniard, at that time, they had their “Spanish” culture. Then there was EVERYONE ELSE.
It was the purest essence of “us and them.” The social view of a Frenchman was precisely the same - since the Frenchman had his own language, history, culture and religion - as opposed to EVERYONE ELSE. The same again was true of every other society on the European continent. Worse still, when it came to religion, a state of violent conflict had existed between the Catholic faith and Protestantism for centuries (and would continue for centuries more), a conflict which had actually instigated civil wars in Britain, France and the German States.
So it was that the founders of our nation were to face a “sociological dilemma” when it came to creating a completely new kind of government that was virtually unique in human history, Unlike any other nation before us, the United States was to be made up of people from every nation on Earth, as well as people of every race, ethnicity and of EVERY RELIGION KNOWN TO HUMANKIND. Englishman, Frenchmen, Spaniards, Italians, Greeks, Turks and all other national backgrounds - nationalities that had warred with each other for centuries, were now, suddenly, all to become the new “AMERICANS” virtually over-night.
Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Muslims and Hindus were but a few of the countless religious persuasions that would find refuge in the society or our new “America.” Then add to this mix, persons of every race in human existence. How was such a mix of humanity to be socially united, without the risk of their tearing each other to pieces? Or worse yet, how could our newly formed system be structured, in a way that would inhibit political demagogues (for their own political purposes) from playing nationality against nationality - ethnicity against ethnicity - even religion against religion? In short, how could the founders of this new nation structure a government that could “unite” peoples of such vast diversity, into a common socio-political force? How could we structure a system in which we would all be simply “Americans?”
If one reads the Constitution they wrote, and its Bill of Rights, one is given certain clues as to how they did it. For a start, under Article II, Section 1, for example, the President is required to voice the following oath: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President…“ In simplest terms, the President elect, when taking the oath, is obliged to “swear” [as to God], but at the same time, is allowed the option to simply “affirm” that oath - without reference to any God. Moreover, throughout that Constitution, when anyone is required to take an oath, be it as an elected or appointed official, or an officer in military service, this same prerogative is granted.
The concluding sentences of Article VI provide a clear explanation for this latitude.
“…but no religious Test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust, under the United States.”
Then too it is the first sentence of the Bill of Rights (Amendment I) which provides the ultimate explanation.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion...”
Translated from 18th century English, this simply relays “There shall be no state-sanctioned religion under the United States.” Every religious persuasion, from the most populous to the smallest, shall be equal in the eyes of Constitutional Law. The writers of our Constitution, who were well versed in the centuries of religious warfare in Europe and other parts of the world, were determined that no such conflict would be tolerated in our new America.
Not only would all religions be equal in the eyes of the law, but so too would all ethnic backgrounds, nationalities and other sociological groups. The ultimate solution to the issue of diversity was therefor to be resolved by “total factional equality.” We would be a nation of “one people,” in a state of “national unity,” bound together by the ethic that would be expressed in the single phrase from our Constitution, which would eventually be carved in stone over the entrance to our Supreme Court:
EQUAL JUSTICE UNDER THE LAW.
This understanding was clearly shown in a comment by Thomas Jefferson, stated here (in paraphrase):
“If the security of this nation is ever seriously to be threatened, look for that threat to come from within.”
In these concerns, the genius of the men who wrote our Constitution had yielded an understanding that would not be properly realized again, in human history, until World War II. It was a socio-political weapon called “Divide and Conquer.” Not until then had the potential for such a weapon been fully realized, mastered and exploited, not only by tyrants and Conquerors, but with equal success by unscrupulous politicians and demagogues.
Through the centuries of our existence as a nation our true strength has always been secured by the unique nature of our laws, which have bound us together as one people, independent of our individual beliefs or our origins. But villainous minds have now, once again, come to realize that if the commonality which binds us can be shaken or even broken, then and only then can we be conquered. How better to do that than to divide us ethnically, socially and even through our individual religious beliefs. To achieve that end, the insidiously corrosive application of fear and prejudice have been shown to be the perfect tools.
I put these questions to the reader. Are we stronger or weaker as a nation, as a people, when we view ourselves as “hyphenated” Americans? As a nation, are truly we more secure, more productive, more accomplished, with a more hopeful, when our individual “Americanism” is prefixed by ethnicity, by race, by national origins, or by personal orientation? Or are these prefixes, instead, perfect devices by which demagogues can break us into dis-trusting factions that hate and fear each other? Are we safer as a people if we let ourselves be terrified by all of those “others” that surround us? These are the questions that should rise to our consciousness whenever we hear the demagogues rant.
BEWARE THE DIVIDERS IN OUR MIDST - for they are the most “un-American” among us.