In the fall of 1789 recently inaugurated President, George Washington called for a National day of Thanksgiving. Under the previous frame of government, the unworkable Articles of Confederation, such proclamations had customarily been sent to the governors of each state. However, Washington abandoned that practice. As the first US President, Washington instead issued the proclamation to the American People.
This President deliberately bypassed state governments.
The new Constitution, practically wet with ink, had been intentionally addressed to “We The People,” and Washington aimed through his administration to join every citizen, regardless of state, to the national government. This proclamation, seemingly banal, clearly signaled a dramatic reset of power in the new Republic.
Two years prior, in Philadelphia, the framers turned attention to composing a Preamble, otherwise understood as a mission statement. Preambles were not unusual, each state government began with them, but in that hot, humid chamber of Constitution Hall work commenced to define America’s mission. Gouverneur Morris, a delegate from New York, most probably authored the statement, and it was Morris who set out the language.
We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
The heart of these guiding principles begin with the phrase “The People,” followed by the active verb, “To Form.”
The Preamble rests upon this infinitive clause, implying America is a work in constant progress. This mission is a founding legacy fixed upon enduring bedrock.
Susan B Anthony sought justice voting in the Election of 1872. Arrested for casting her ballot, Anthony faced a Federal judge, and received a verdict of guilty. The 19th Amendment, ratified nearly fifty years later extended the vote to women. Hounded by settlers from the 17th Century onward, Native Americans sought survival and the tranquility to peacefully co-exist with whites. It’s ironic that indigenous Americans were not citizens until 1924.The United States in 1860, teetered on a knife point of dissolution. President, Abraham Lincoln, could not stand by and watch democracy die under the threat of secession. Preparing for the common defense Lincoln mobilized northern forces to defend the Union. From Jane Addam’s Hull House, a Chicago settlement center for immigrants, promoting the general welfare, to Dred Scott, and Homer Plessy’s struggle to reap the blessings of liberty, each generation stood tall in their historic moments.
To honor the principles of the document, and as heirs of Constitutional law, our charge, like those before, is weightier than our private comfort. We The People have no choice but to continue Gouverneur Morris, and President Washington’s wishes To Form A More Perfect Union.
Modern America’s mini tyrants must not prevail. Make your voice heard at the ballot box on Tuesday, November 8, 2022.
Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir, “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight.” Both titles are available on Kindle. Chumbley has written two historical plays, “Clay” regarding the life of Senator Henry Clay, and “Wolf By The Ears,” an exploring the roots of slavery and racism.
When I first began this essay it ripened to nearly five hundred words to share one idea. Why I am a life-long Democrat.
The original essay discussed the New Deal, the creation of the United Nations, the Marshall Plan, the GI Bill, and how strengthening Labor Unions evoked a sense of common purpose; how the economy boomed, and the middle class flourished.
Now all I want to impart is that Ronald Reagan was wrong. Big government is not the problem. Big government checked by regulations works remarkably well.
I am a Democrat because with all its flaws, we stand equal in the eyes of Constitutional Law.* People made the Constitution, and we must preserve it. In general, States’ Rights is no more than a distraction perpetrated by selfish insiders who legislate their own interests. Residents are convinced through a wink and a nod, that the enemy (Big Government) must be defied, using catch phrases like “our values,” and “real conservative.”
In truth, the Federal Government can do more for all of us than any individual state, or any individual citizen can do for themselves. As I write, Idaho’s governor has asked for, and been granted federal funds for drought aid. Talk about biting the hand that feeds the State.
I am a Democrat because I’m inspired by the nobility of America’s past champions; the persistence of General George Washington, the compassion of Abraham Lincoln, the purpose of Alice Paul, and the articulate vision of Barack Obama. I am a Democrat because James Madison instructed us to create “A More Perfect Union.” Without that persistence, compassion, purpose, and vision America cannot continue as “the world’s last best hope,” as Lincoln also described us.
At bottom I am a Democrat because I know not one of us is perfect. We just keep trying.
*Just heard the headline regarding the reversing of the Roe decision. Time to gather 4,600,00 of my best friends (2017 Women’s March) and organize.
We couldn’t find a seat on the Washington Metro. In truth, we couldn’t see the Metro station, just a mass of humanity.
This gathering challenged the notion of enormous. The moment was historic.
Dumb luck came to our aid. A city bus hissed to a stop at the curb, and my friend and I hopped aboard, joined by a couple hundred of our new best friends. The atmosphere crackled with joy, solidarity and diesel fumes. I nearly busted out with “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.”
The driver seemed to catch our enthusiasm and peppered us with questions about the Women’s March. What time, where, how long would it last? She smiled realizing her shift would end before the speakers began, and I still wonder if she made it.
Nearly five hundred thousand of us convened on the National Mall, and expressed our heart-felt objections concerning the newly elected president. We marched as one.
By the way, no one violently attacked the halls of government. Though, if memory serves, I did flip off the Trump Hotel.
In October, 1969, 250,000 opponents of the Vietnam War descended upon Washington DC. In an event called Moratorium Day no one violently attacked the halls of government.
In the swelter of a 1963 Washington summer, Dr King convened the “Poor People’s” March on Washington. 250,000 Americans petitioned their government for a voting rights bill. No one even considered attacking the halls of government.
In the Spring and Summer of 1932 during the depth of the Great Depression, somewhere around 20,000 desperate men, some with their families in tow, marched on Washington DC as part of the Depression-era Bonus Army. For their trouble the marchers were attacked by Douglas McArthur, and an army detachment, who instead, burned out the shanties of the desperate. Again, no one attacked the halls of government.
On March 3, 1913, the day before the inauguration of Woodrow Wilson, nearly 10,000 women paraded down Pennsylvania Avenue promoting women’s suffrage. Though they were attacked by angry men along the route, not one woman attacked the halls of government.
Nearly 10,000 American’s joined Jacob Coxey’s Army in May of 1894. An extended economic depression caused mass unemployment, and the “Army,” demanded a public works bill to create jobs. Though the marchers reached the Capitol, and Coxey, himself leaped up the stairs to read his public works bill, the police opened up some heads, and the crowd dissolved. No one entered the Capitol.
Public protest is as American as baseball. The difference lies in our use of free speech. On January 6, 2021 a mindless, misguided, and dangerous mob hijacked the right to assemble, instead escalating into a violent attack on our center of government. There is no middle ground; this was an attempted coup to seize power.
We were correct in 2017, as were those in 1894, 1932, 1963, and 1968. Marchers were seeking “the blessings of liberty” within the rule of law. None of us ignored nor defiled the spirit of protest.
And that sense of heart-felt objection, to that president proved accurate.
Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir, “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight.” Both titles available on Kindle.
Many of us have read JK Rowling’s Harry Potter books and/or watched the films. The author created a wondrous world of spells, incantations, and even included law and order via three unforgivable curses.
There are guardrails in this tale, and a bit of a messiah storyline. Harry willingly sacrifices himself, as had his parents and many others before. However, the “Boy Who Lived,” does, and returns to fight and vanquish wickedness.
Love, too, permeates the storyline, and the righteous power of good over evil.
But that’s not my take.
As a career History educator I came to a different conclusion; Harry Potter told me that failing to understand our shared past can be lethal. And that was the metaphor I preached to my History students.
Harry rises to the threat and defends all that is good and valuable in his world. If he didn’t, Harry could have been killed and his world destroyed.
It’s so apropos at this moment in our history to grasp our collective story as Americans.
Honest differences within the confines of our beliefs is one thing. Obliterating the tenants of democracy is quite another.
Americans cannot surrender our country to this would-be dictator, the things that have cost our people so dearly. Freezing soldiers at Valley Forge did not languish to enable DJT to trademark his brand to hotels, steaks or a failed university. The fallen at Gettysburg, and the suffering in Battle of the Bulge was not to pave the way for DJT to get us all killed from a ravaging plague. The girls who perished in the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, the miners murdered in the Ludlow Massacre, or humiliated Civil Rights workers beaten at the Woolworth’s lunch counter was not for Donald Trump to validate racism and sexism and undo labor laws.
He doesn’t know our nation’s history, and as George Santayana warned us, we are condemned to sacrifice all over again.
Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir, “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight.
I’ve begun initial research on a project concerning this woman, Elizabeth Cady Stanton. She may be the most essential figure of the American and International Women’s Movement and arguably one of the most forgotten.
Generations of women are far more familiar with Stanton’s colleague, and dear friend, Susan Brownell Anthony, but that was by choice. While Ms Anthony made an early and abiding decision to promote women’s suffrage over any other injustice facing females in the 19th Century, Cady Stanton, a more introspective person, tended to explore, through study and thought, the profundity of patriarchal injustice.
Mrs Stanton’s analytic temperament often irritated the practical Ms Anthony, who frequently cajoled Mrs Stanton to get out there and organize.
In a sense Ms Anthony married the suffrage movement, refusing to commit civil suicide by entering into a conventional marriage. Freed from domestic demands, she crisscrossed the nation assembling one of the most massive political movements in American History. In contrast, Mrs Stanton married a man she passionately loved, raised a brood of seven, all the while cultivating an interior life; a universe of analysis that evolved, questioning standards and beliefs relegating women to a subservient role.
These differences in style and aims, though the cause of many personal disputes, also somehow worked for these two strong personalities. While Mrs Stanton examined the absurdity of patriarchal traditions, and crafted sound positions on the innate equality between the sexes, Ms Anthony tirelessly toured the country, speaking to anyone who listened on the right of women to vote.
In a real sense Mrs Stanton sojourned through the metaphysical world in a search of truth, while Ms Anthony counted the miles of track to her next speaking engagement.
Happy International Women’s Day
Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir, River of January, and River of January: Figure Eight, http://www.river-of-january.com
Also available on Kindle.