25 January 2013


It seems to me that President Obama, possibly for the first time in American history, has united two fundamentals of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Historical forces now have reached a democratic apotheosis.

"We the people"--the first three words of the Preamble to the Constitution--are subjective words that have vexed the American nation since the time, 226 years ago, they were written. The vexation is in the question of who is the "we?"

Eighty-seven years after the Declaration was written, Abraham Lincoln gazed over a blood-soaked battlefield and past the Constitution to the Declaration and for the first time firmly established in the American conscience the affirmation that the nation was "dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal." Until that time the proposition was only a promissory note.

Lucy Stone, one of America’s first advocates for women’s rights, asked, a decade before Lincoln’ speech: “‘We the People’? Which ‘We the People’? The women were not included.” Neither were white males who did not own property, American Indians, or African Americans--slave or free. "We" at the time of the founding of the country obviously and tragically did not include everyone. It was always a promise awaiting its fulfillment. Stone and Lincoln both looked forward “to the great task remaining before us.” 

"We...the people"--This triumvirate of words, declared this week from the highest office in the land on two of the most important events on the nation's calendar (this year, coinciding), is instantiated in the very person of its orator. The oration came from a person of color, on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, standing near a rainbow-coalition of a Supreme Court (male, female, black, white, Hispanic, Jew, Protestant, Catholic). We-the-people, it was proposed, includes everyone.

 The overall theme of the inaugural oration took, for the first time, the central proposition of the Declaration and the first three subjective words of the Preamble, such that the two essential phrases--one affirming equality, the other inclusion--meld into a single national avowal for which the nation now can rededicate itself “to the unfinished work” on the battlefield of our time--that is, to the proposition that We the people (now all the people) are created equal.

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