American Exceptionalism | A House Divided

A House Divided

By Kim Payne

I am an American. I was born here, but that doesn’t make me an American. Being an American is not sharing a cultural background, America from the beginning was a mix of ethnicities and peoples from around the world. Every colony in America was founded by a different denomination. Virginia was Anglican, Massachusetts was Puritan, New York was Dutch Reformed, Maryland was Catholic and so on. As early as the 1600s there were Jewish and Muslim households among us.  Was there bigotry? Yes. But were there people from other backgrounds willing to rise to their defense? Yes, there were.  We have forgotten our roots and a haze of forgetfulness  has clouded our memory.

Thomas Jefferson argued in the proposed “Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom” that, “neither Pagan nor Mahamedan [Muslim] nor Jew ought to be excluded from the civil rights of the Commonwealth because of his religion.” and in a 1784 letter to James Madison, Richard Henry Lee wrote “True freedom embraces the Mahomitan [Muslim] and the Gentoo [Hindu] as well as the Christian religion.” People from all corners fought alongside as colonists during the Revolutionary War.  You would be amazed at the names that appear on muster rolls , names like Bampett Muhamed and Yusuf ben Ali. What did they have in common? Were these people Americans? I would argue an emphatic Yes.

Being American Is sharing a common set of beliefs. There is a Red, White and Blue thread that runs through all Americans. A belief that we are all created equal, not in capacity but in dignity. That we are endowed or gifted with unalienable rights (rights that cannot have a lien placed upon them), rights that do not come from men or government, but are derived from the supreme laws of nature and natures God as expressed in creation. That the government derives its authority by the consent of the people (that is, I place on loan my authority as the sovereign over my life and reserve the right to take it back if used inappropriately, You can do to me only what I have allowed you to do).

These principles were derived from English common law and the writings of Sir William Blackstone, the preeminent English legal authority of his time. He recognized the essential relationship between God and man by observing, “Man, considered as a creature, must necessarily be subject to the laws of his Creator, for he is entirely a dependent being.” and later noted that “upon these two foundations, the law of nature and the law of revelation, depend all human laws; that is to say, no human laws should be suffered to contradict these.” This is where our Founders derived their wisdom. This is the common set of beliefs held by all Americans. That I am sovereign, that Life has intrinsic value, that there is right and wrong and just and unjust and that this construct is binding upon us all, that everyone is due respect and that all opinions should be heard and debated and that though we may differ, you are not the enemy but a fellow American.

In 1839, looking back at the founding of our nation and recognizing the true meaning of the Declaration’s reliance on the “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” President John Quincy Adams wrote that the American people’s “charter was the Declaration of Independence. Their rights, the natural rights of mankind. Their government, such as should be instituted by the people, under the solemn mutual pledges of perpetual union, founded on the self-evident truths proclaimed in the Declaration.”

Where is that “perpetual union” today? Have we become un-American, No longer believing in those shared values upholding liberty’s principles?

Alexander Hamilton stated in 1802: “The safety of a republic depends on the energy of a common national sentiment; Almost a hundred years later president Roosevelt echoed “The one absolutely certain way of bringing this nation to ruin, would be to permit it to become a tangle of squabbling nationalities.“ or as Abraham Lincoln stated in a speech while running for the United States Senate on June 16, 1858 “a house divided against itself cannot stand”. This is as applicable today as it was prior to the Civil War.

Kim Payne was born and raised in California.  He laughs at himself declaring that he was a crazed hippie youth when he was younger.  He grew up to be an aerospace test engineer in southern California and resides in Thousand Oaks. 

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