“E Pluribus Unum” was the motto proposed for the first Great Seal of the United States by John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson in 1776. A latin phrase meaning “One from many,” the phrase offered a strong statement of the American determination to form a single nation from a collection of states. Over the years, “E Pluribus Unum” has also served as a reminder of America’s bold attempt to make one unified nation of people from many different backgrounds and beliefs. The challenge of seeking unity while respecting diversity has played a critical role in shaping our history, our literature, and our national character and yet today we find this very concept under attack.
The one consistent message from the Trump Administration has been “you are either on our side or you are our enemy.” You see this in their campaign rallies where people are threatened with beatings if they voice protest, you see this in the constant firing of Administration officers who dare to challenge (not even oppose, just challenge) Donald Trumps unique grasp on reality, and we see it in recent executive orders and policies where Americans are pitted against one and other and the nation is literally divided into party factions. As Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address so concisely put it “A House Divide Cannot Stand.” If we as a nation do not return to our roots, the thing that for the last 244 years has made us a great nation, we will surely fall.
When the Constitutional Convention put forth our founding document in 1787, there was no mention of political parties nor were there provisions for a two-party system in the design for our nation. In fact, the office of Vice President was intended to go to the candidate with the second most Electoral College votes. Why, well that is the person that the electors (representatives of the states and the people) would have chosen had the President not won the election. Of course, this idyllic utopian society was quickly destroyed by party bickering and backstabbing (in the case of Hamilton and Burr, literally fighting!) and gradually devolved to its current morass where there are not enough ideological differences in the government to check the abuses of a tyrant. Long before the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species our founding fathers knew, many of whom were originally farmers and therefore understood on a practical level, that plurality of opinion, plurality of religion, plurality of experience and background, and plurality of political doctrine were ABSOLUTE REQUIREMENTS for a stable and successful republic. Just like animal herds with limited gene pools eventually decline and die out, so to do nations with restrictive mindsets and universal conformity.
Perhaps Madison put too much faith in his countrymen’s ability to work through constructive conflict. But for the first twelve years of our republic and later in the administrations of certain visionary presidents like Lincoln, a brotherhood of rivals kept us from our worst excesses. Our second president, John Adams, shared many of the character flaws of President Trump. He held his own abilities in inflated esteem, he was paranoid and xenophobic, and he felt an authoritarian rule more effective than the “messy” deliberations of the legislature and judiciary. The one thing that Adams had that held him in check as Jefferson, his political rival, presiding over the Senate and waiting in the wings to take over the Presidency should Adams fail. Of course, that creates a lot of stress and ultimately resulted in the 12th Amendment that took away that principle from John Locke’s writings that Madison so elegantly crafted into our Constitution. The Vice President will now be chosen by the party of the President, no longer will that office offer the loyal opposition.
The avalanche of party conformity began in earnest in 1800 and has been steadily building until today when we have goose-stepping party loyalist literally beating the opposition into submission.
“The spirit of party serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection.”– George Washington’s Farewell address 1796.
We stand today on a precipice. Either we will continue our journey toward becoming the greatest nation on earth or we will descend into the annals of failed empires and insignificant countries. YOU have a voice in what that future will be. Will we return to our imperfect union and continue to strive for that ideal “to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility,…” or do we continue on our current trajectory where we blame others for our faults, hide behind walls, and systematically eradicate our greatest strength – the diversity of the American People.