On July 4th 1776, the writers of the Declaration of Independence penned this iconic phrase “all men are created equal.” These beautiful, nation-defining words are in our founding document. They are central to who we are as a country. But when they were written there were people who expressed concern over them.
Not concern because they disagreed with the premise, but concern because many of those who signed the Declaration didn’t extend that phrase to all people. For example, our nation’s constitution includes the understanding that slaves would only count as 3/5 of a person. Not terribly equal. And of course then there is the fact that many of the signers of this great word on freedom actually owned other humans.
The same year the Declaration of Independence was signed Thomas Day wrote:
“If there be an object truly ridiculous in nature, it is an American patriot, signing resolutions of independency with the one hand, and with the other brandishing a whip over his affrighted slaves.”
And I think he was on to something.
While our founding fathers did a lot of good and laid the groundwork for the country we enjoy today, they were not perfect. Their desire for individual rights was traced back to God, but was not extended equally to all people.
Many owned slaves and others allowed the continuation of slavery under the law. Women were overlooked or intentionally left out. Relations with Native Americans were already fractured due to mistreatment by those writing this document and their constituents.
We were, and in many ways continue to be, a walking contradiction.
All men should have included all women.
All men should have included all slaves and their descendants.
All men should have included the first people to call this land home.
Thankfully there have been patriots from that time to this who have worked to help us understand that “all men” includes all humanity. That at the core of who we are as citizens of the United States of America lies this belief that every person has value and rights.
The patriot believes that there are self-evident truths: “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.”
The patriot then believes that all men includes those who come as immigrants.
That all men includes those who are Muslim.
All men includes those who don’t speak American English.
All men includes people who vote differently than me.
It includes women. All of them.
That all men includes racial minorities.
That all men includes the rich and the famous and poor and the forgotten.
It includes the refugee and even the terrorist.
All men includes every single person. Christian, Atheist, Buddhist, Republican, Democrat, Communist, Anarchist. It includes New York Yankee fans and even people who drive under the speed limit. It includes every shade of skin and people from every corner of the earth.
All men is not restricted to citizens of this fine country.
All men includes all people.
I’m tired of patriotism being synonymous with nationalism. I’m tired of watching people cherish Lady Liberty while ignoring her message and history.
I’m tired of being told I hate my country because I want to make room for people coming in desperation.
I’m tired of seeing patriotism reduced to how many beers you can shotgun and how much stuff you blow up on July 4th. There is more to being an American than owning a flag bathing suit or wearing a cut off t-shirt to a barbecue.
I believe it is time to reclaim patriotism.
Patriots fight for “the other.” Patriots seek justice where there is none. Patriots don’t exclude foreigners or oppress others. Patriots long to see all people enjoying their God given rights, whether they are here or afar. Whether they look like us or not. Whether they believe like us or not.
To borrow from Thomas Day: If there be an object truly ridiculous in nature, it is an American patriot, singing “I’m proud to be an American” one moment and in the next yelling “Speak English or get out!” Or hearing a person say that all people are created equal and then watching them deny new or different people equal access. Or seeing a country become more and more divided by race and income. More divided by political party. What is more unpatriotic than people who practice their 1st Amendment rights and then want to deny others theirs because they disagree with them in thought, religion, or politics?
Patriots are far better than that. Patriots make room. A patriot refuses to be polarized. Patriots work hard to ensure that all men really means all people.
Being a patriot is hard work. It is lonely work. It is a task that makes others uneasy. But it is work that is necessary.
If we want to be true to the words that founded our country and if we truly believe that human equality comes from God, then we cannot afford to not be patriots. To settle for inequality or partial equality is to deny to others what God has intended for them. I’m not comfortable with that. May I never get in the way of what makes our nation great and what God would have for all people.
Let’s reclaim what it means to be a patriot. When it is hard and when it is scary. When our natural desire is to retreat and to build walls.
May we be patriots when others want to silence or push out or exclude. May we desperately desire equality for all people. And may we then truly be America the Beautiful.