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It All Started With The Preamble
June 12, 2020 – The second blog in the RestorationAge
Preamble of the Declaration of Independence – Agreed July 4, 1776, Signed August 2, 1776
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, —
For those of you that don’t know, I currently do content/visual research for museum A/V installations around the world. And because of the basic nature of museums, I delve mostly into history and have had the honor of working on exhibits at the Museum of the American Revolution, the National Constitution Center, The Gettysburg National Historic Park, the Capitol Visitor Center, Walt Disney’s Hall of Presidents, Alabama Department of Archives and History and even the National Law Enforcement Museum.
While I am certainly not an expert or scholar on any of the above subjects, I have spent a fair amount of time over the last 20+ years engrossed in the history of our country. It is a fascinating story, one without end that is being rewritten every day, thankfully.
One thing that I have definitely summoned after all these years is that the U.S. Constitution was debated, written and ratified by a group of flawed, white men, known as our founding fathers. The ideas and framework for this new, independent country that they were building, were singular, ground never covered before. But the men made mistakes and omissions, they knew it, and that is a good thing. Why? Because knowing this has allowed them and us to amend the document to help bring many issues under the fold for the very people the DOI preamble says it protects.
They knew right away that changes and additions must be made to the document and their very first amendment was Freedom of Speech. In creating this new democracy they wanted to make sure people had the right to practice their choice religion, have a free press, and the ability to protest peaceably against the government without fear of retribution. They themselves had been persecuted for standing up to tyranny; fought and won the Revolutionary War against King George III. The first amendment would help protect the young country to make sure those things didn’t happen again.
They heavily debated the issue of slavery at the time, but did not make a decision on it during the initial penning of the Constitution, in fact it was left out entirely. Although they believed that “all men were created equal”, many of them had slaves and were swayed by their own greed and egos. They put economic growth ahead of the human condition for nearly a hundred years. Like I said, flawed. The issue percolated, sometimes violently, until finally President Abraham Lincoln worked to have slavery and involuntary servitude abolished as part of the bedrock reasoning for the Civil War, fought in the 1860s.
In the dedication of the Gettysburg Cemetery, in what is known as the Gettysburg Address, near the end of the war, Lincoln reflected back to Thomas Jefferson’s words from the Declaration of Independence, saying, “Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” He concluded his address calling for a New Birth of Freedom “and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” And thus the 13th amendment abolishing slavery was ratified at the end of 1865, following his assassination.
In 1868, the 14th amendment gave explicit citizenship rights to everyone born or naturalized in the United States; followed by the 15th amendment in 1870 that gave African-American men the right to vote. These two Reconstruction amendments, along with the 13th, were ratified to fulfill the promise made to African-Americans, guaranteeing freedom and prevention of discrimination. But over time, unlawful incarceration / convict leasing, state laws such as Jim Crow, and other federal decisions, limited the rights promised.
On March 7th, 1965, during the first peaceful voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery, participants were met on the Edmund Pettus Bridge and beaten back physically by state police on national television, in what is now called “Bloody Sunday”. The pictures and outrage finally sparked national voting reform. Black Americans during that Civil Rights Era used their courage and their first amendment right when they knew it was justified and as a result, brought about sweeping change.
In particular, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson, outlawed legal barriers at the state and local levels that prevented African-Americans from exercising their right to vote. During the 95 years between the ratification of the 15th amendment and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, African-Americans in the South faced many obstacles to voting, including poll taxes, literacy tests, and other bureaucratic restrictions. They risked harassment, intimidation, economic punishment, and physical violence. As a result, very few African-Americans were registered voters, and they had very little, if any, political power, either locally or nationally.
Women also finally received the vote in 1920 after nearly a hundred years of suffrage activists and reformers fighting for that right. It took one hundred years for our government to declare that women had all of the same rights to citizenship and the vote as white men in this country. Now women outnumber men and the disparity is expected to grow. Think about the footprint that women could leave. I’ll leave that for another day.
Imagine the reaction of Abigail Adams who wrote to the 1776 Continental Congress, “Remember the ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the Ladies we are determined to foment a Rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.”
So, where does the right to vote stand now? Are people aware of the past and proud to be able to cast their vote in recognition of the fight undertaken by so many? I would hope so, but the right to vote seems to be a throw off. In our 2016 Kentucky general election only 59% of those eligible to vote, cast a ballot. 41 votes out of 100 were wasted or stolen. Voters were suppressed. Or they couldn’t be bothered. Or it was raining and they didn’t want to get wet. Or they felt like they didn’t know enough about the candidates. Or they felt like their one vote didn’t matter and couldn’t change anything anyway. Nothing make me more sad than the last statement.
Of course your vote is important. One vote may feel unheard, but when combined with other votes, that ripple vote of yours becomes part of a wave that can change the landscape. Protest and demonstrations work the same way. One voice is small, but a group of voices is loud. It shows what large groups of our fellow citizens stand for or against. A protest informs and gives individuals confidence to speak up. Unfortunately all the protests in the world don’t mean a damn thing if you don’t find and support candidates that believe in the things you champion; and go fill in a little circle for them on the voting ballot. Only then can real change be made at the local, state and federal levels.
Speak Up! March and Protest! Put up yard signs! Sign petitions! Educate yourself! Register to Vote! Get others to Register to Vote! And then get your ass to the voting booth! And if you witness voter suppression, report it and know your rights. During this pandemic, vote absentee / mail-in. Go to www.govoteky.com, register for your absentee ballot until June 15th, mail in your ballot postmarked on or before June 23rd. Or go vote in person on June 23rd. Make your voice heard in this primary and then do it all over again in the general election in November, and then again next primary, and so on. Voting in just one election doesn’t solve anything. Democracy is alive, but will only survive if you participate.
After the election, hold those that you helped elect to the fire. Expect them to do the job they promised you as their constituent. They work for you, you don’t work for them. And they will be flawed, too. So, stay vigil. Voting is one of the most primal rights we have as Americans, don’t give it away. Those that came before you thank you for upholding their beliefs and convictions in the things they have already fought for, for you.
Don’t drop the baton.
NOTE: Filling out the census is also an important part of your citizenship. The information gathered from your census form puts more dollars into your community for programs needed on a most basic level. So get that done as well.
SIDE NOTE: This is a brief jaunt through history. There are so many other facets that play a role, but this isn’t a book, it’s a blog.
Other important excerpts:
Preamble of the U.S. Constitution – Ratified June 21, 1788
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.
1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution – December 17, 1791
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution – December 6, 1865
Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution – July 9, 1868
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution – February 3, 1870
The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.
19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution – August 18, 1920
The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.
Voting Rights Act of 1965 – August 6, 1965
AN ACT To enforce the fifteenth amendment to the Constitution of the United States, and for other purposes. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That this Act shall be known as the “Voting Rights Act of 1965.”
SEC. 2. No voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure shall be imposed or applied by any State or political subdivision to deny or abridge the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color.