When Francis Bellamy wrote these words toward the end of the nineteenth century, his goal was not so much to present a loyalty oath to the nation itself, as an homage to "the republic for which [the flag] stands." What follows is neither a brief for or against the pledge, nor the oxymoronic addition of an expression of religious sentiment in a nation founded on lands settled by people fleeing religious intolerance. It raises the question which Bellamy, no doubt, hoped to help settle in 1892 not yet thirty years after the civil war but one which, it seems certain today, has not been resolved almost 150 years after that war ended.
To those for whom history begins anew every week or whose recognition of the events which make up our collective wisdom includes only those matters of which they are personally familiar, the "tea party" people, the obstinate Republicans in Congress, FOX News and all the others with whom we live who refuse to acknowledge the election of President Obama or have determined to oppose any thing he proposes, are something new. To the rest of us they represent the divisions which have existed since before it was decided to declare independence from Great Britain by pledges of "our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor".
What brought all of our forebears together was, of course, the desire of the self-proclaimed "free and independent" states to a new government rather than continue to be subject to
repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states.Beyond that point of agreement, however, there were many issues upon which these new states did not agree. It took well more than a decade before the states could agree on any sort of truly unifying government "to form a more perfect union" and, for all intents and purposes, the Civil War and its resultant Fourteenth Amendment for the national government to be able to impose on the states the obligation not to
make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor ... 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.As we have learned many times since then, though, requirements imposed on others by force of arms do not always take hold. The same "United States" rent asunder by all things related to slavery existed before and after the Civil War. That the best those against slavery could accomplish In Congress prior to the war was the sort of standoff absurdly referred to as "the Missouri Compromise" would have prevented anything like the Fourteenth Amendments (and the Thirteenth and Fifteenth, as well) but for the fact that the former confederate states were under military occupation and unable to stymie Congress as it had before the war.
The cleavages are certainly mot as deep as they were then, but they have not been materially altered even today. The old "2/3rds rule" which gave southern states extraordinary control over the presidential nominees of the Democratic Party until President Roosevelt's New Deal popularity in the party permitted him to get rid of it in 1936 was probably the most significant vestiges of that continued division until the filibuster as a means to prevent civil rights legislation became a popular device in the late 1950s and into the 1960s. It required the murder of the President of the United States to shock Americans into realizing that we were still hostage to the national divisions predating the civil war and permitting, in our grief, the breaking of the filibuster long enough to get the Civil Rights and Voting Acts to a President's desk.
But grief, just as the circumstances of those vanquished in war, does not change fundamental differences; at best it provides the opportunity to ignore the complaints of the minority. Ignored, they chafe at what is forced upon them. They never accept it.
The famous comparison of the nation's slave and free divisions prior to the civil war, with the electoral map of 2000 proves the point almost as well as this week's contretemps when the Governor of Virginia, proclaiming this month to be dedicated to the memory of the Confederate States of America insisted that the war to establish that new nation was engaged in by
leaders and individuals in the Army, Navy and at home who fought for their homes and communities and Commonwealth in a time very different than ours todayThe Governor was, of course, forced to back down and to amend his proclamation to agree that it is also
important for all Virginians to understand that the institution of slavery led to this war and was an evil and inhumane practice that deprived people of their God-given inalienable rightsbut, again, the required adoption of the views of a majority does not change his view or that of millions of our fellow citizens who do not accept the underlying premises that, for instance, black people are entitled to the same rights as those who are white.
It goes much deeper than that, of course, but keep this in mind: these people will never accept that a person whose father was black and who appears more of that race than that of his mother could be President of the United States. They view the Civil and Voting Rights Acts as the spoils of war, not to mention the Fourteenth Amendment: perhaps binding law, but illegitimate. Many of them feel to still be under sort of an occupation by the victorious forces in the Civil War and that is why they want to continue to celebrate the few years when they were able to maintain their own government in rebellion.
While these forces had a stranglehold on the Democratic Party until first, the abolition of the "two thirds rule" and then, finally, the enactment of the Civil and Voting Rights Acts sent them to the Republican Party, their control of their "new" party is far more absolute. Even at the height of their strength in the Democratic Party they could not prevent the nomination of New York Governor Alfred E. Smith, a "wet" Catholic,in 1928, although in retrospect, it is absurd to think such a person could have been elected president then. Today, though, the Republican Party could not nominate anyone who doses not subscribe to the same "way of life" euphemisms which have been used to paper over the fundamental differences which have existed among our citizens since we first decided to join forces in revolution against the Crown.
This is what we are up against, my friends. Change this and we will have changed history forever. It seems inevitable that that time will come, but at 233 years and counting, you have to wonder.