When this country was founded, the aspiration was high. The men who imagined it dreamed big, casting a vision of a world where all men were created equal, where rights were endowed by our creator, transcending culture and the expectations of the day; where life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness would be allowed and enjoyed without infringement. It was a radical and new vision, born from Enlightenment optimism, inspired by scientific discovery. It was an intoxicating vision, as bold as the Protestant Reformation that swept all of Europe.
And they had the hubris to believe they could make it happen. They staked their claim in the Declaration of Independence and institutionalized it in the Constitution. They elected their first President and when he stepped down, relinquishing power to return to the role of citizen, those founders believed they lived to see their vision realized. A new President ran for office and the Republic was up and running. It was done. A new world order.
Those men weren’t distracted by the genocide they inspired, or the enslavement of other people they required for this nation to be born. They declared equality while swimming in a sea of inequality. When they declared “ALL men were created equal”, they meant white, Protestant men. They didn’t mean women. They weren’t including Black people who’d been enslaved, or those who were free. They didn’t include Catholics, Jews, or people who didn’t own land. They were so proud of their inclusivity, so inspired by their own cutting-edge philosophy, that they had no idea how narrow it was, how constrictive, how small a vision.
The men who wrote those words were calling into being a More Perfect Union. They were Establishing Justice. Insuring Domestic Tranquility. Securing the Blessings of Liberty. They believed that they, and the men of their generation, would will this new nation into being. They would establish the structures required for such a grand vision, they would test it, and then it would be done. They didn’t realize it would require many more people, many different voices. They didn’t know how many generations would have to be part of the creation of that dream—how long it would take before the nation they imagined would be made manifest.
The soul of America has yet to be born.