We the People

Editorial cartoon, by Thomas Nast, commenting on denial of voting rights for Black Civil War veterans with the caption, ‘Franchise, And Not This Man?’, c. 1865. Stock Montage/Getty Images

“E pluribus unum — Out of many, one.” — the original motto of the U.S.A. with 13 letters in the Latin phrase symbolizing the 13 colonies

America is far from perfect. We were not perfect in 1776 and we are definitely not perfect today. While we have come a long way since our founding, right now America is regressing as hard-fought-for-freedoms are being stripped away from citizens. People who have been franchised are once again being disenfranchised. Some have likened celebrating the 4th of July this year to attending a birthday party for a hospice patient. I know my wife, my daughter, and my mother feel less free today than they did last week.

Turning back the clock only makes America “great again” for those who have historically held power over who is permitted to share in the promise of America. When Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence and the famous words, “all men are created equal,” it excluded women, people of color, native Americans, slaves, non-Protestants, young people, and non-property owners. America did not have some moral superiority at its founding, we simply saw the rule of law as being better than the rule of any one man — especially if the only qualification to rule over us was a royal bloodline. King George III, even though he was mentally insane and unintelligent, ruled over the United Kingdom for nearly 60 years. American colonists rejected the monarchy and adopted a framework that engenders continuous improvement and limits and balances the powers of those who govern over the governed. What makes America great is not a divinely inspired Constitution, but one with 27 Amendments marking our persistent evolution. What makes America great is our progress, not our past.

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union…” is the start of the U.S. Constitution written in 1787, ratified in 1788, and enacted on March 4, 1789. America started with some major compromises that wrongly excluded the vast majority of the population. At our founding, only 6% of Americans could vote. The notorious RGB (late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg) spoke and wrote at length about the errors of our founders: “Think about how things were in 1787. Who were ‘We the people’? Certainly not people who were held in human bondage because the original Constitution preserves slavery. Certainly not women whatever their color and not even men who own no property. It was a rather elite group, ‘We the people,’ but I think the genius of our Constitution is what Justice Thurgood Marshall said. He said he doesn’t celebrate the original Constitution but he does celebrate what the Constitution has become, now well over two centuries. That is the concept of “We the people” has become ever more inclusive. People who were left out at the beginning — slaves, women, men without property, native Americans — were not part of ‘We the people.’ Now all the once left out people are part of our political constituency. We are certainly a more perfect union as a result of that.”

This “increasingly embracive” advancement of our Constitution and therefore our country is what makes America great. We the people means all the people. It is what continues to form a more perfect Union. Can we at least agree expanding and securing the blessings of liberty, equally for all American citizens, is a good thing? From finally granting suffrage to all citizens to lowering the voting age from 21 to 18 because “old enough to fight, old enough to vote” to Obergefell v. Hodges, the landmark Supreme Court ruling guaranteeing the fundamental right to marry to same-sex couples — expanding freedom and protecting equal rights under the law for all Americans is what America is all about.

America’s original motto, E pluribus unum, is believed to come from Roman Statesman and Philosopher Cicero’s De Officiis, as part of his discussion on basic family and social bonds as the origin of societies and states. He said, “When each person loves the other as much as himself, it makes one out of many…” We are possibly the most heterogeneous country in the world with over 83 different cultures immigrating to what is now America in the last 500 years. There is no single or preferred country of origin, no American skin color, no American gender, no American religion, and no American sexual orientation. We are a nation of freedom-loving immigrants bound together by the ideas that we all are born with “certain unalienable rights” and that “governments are instituted among [people], deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

As we love our fellow Americans as much as we love ourselves, I hope we will see a way forward — back to progress and back to expanding freedom and equal rights for all our citizens. That would be something worth celebrating again.

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Nate Boaz

Nate Boaz

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Dad, dog lover, Marine veteran, Author, Ex-McKinsey Partner, Ex-Accenture SMD, Harvard MBA, USNA alum.