The original settlers on our eastern shore were primarily English Protestants in search of a place where they could worship as they chose and have a better chance to enjoy the fruits of their labor. By the late 1700s, they had lived 150 years under English monarchy and developed a thorough distaste for government by a monarch with absolute power.
During the Second Continental Congress in 1776, a resolution was proposed to declare the United Colonies free and independent states, saying in part: “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.”
In 1787, delegates from the various states met to form a constitution to replace the Articles of Confederation. Its preamble states: “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 of the United States of America.”
The framers of our Constitution divided the government into three coequal branches to provide checks and balances on each other: the legislative branch to write the law, the executive branch to faithfully execute the law, and the judicial branch to ensure that the dictates of the Constitution are followed.
The framers were aware that the majority could be every bit as tyrannical as any king or emperor. Their major goal was to protect the rights of the individual in particular and minorities in general.
The essential mechanisms to do so are stipulated in the First Amendment of the Constitution: freedom of religion, freedom of speech and the press, the right of the people to peacefully assemble, and the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
In the days following our presidential election, I heard complaints about the election results and complaints about the complainers. “Can you believe those idiot protestors?” “They should shut down the schools if the students walk out.” “We need martial law.”
I remind my friends and neighbors that it was protestors who dumped tea into Boston Harbor in 1773. It was protestors who wrote our Constitution. It was protestors who secured the right of women to vote. It was protestors who were beaten and murdered to bring equal rights to all Americans. It was protestors who were shot down at Kent State, bringing the nation’s scrutiny to bear on the Vietnam War. To take a broader view, it was protestors who breached the Berlin Wall and tore down the Iron Curtain.
We may not think all of these causes equally just (and violence and vandalism are not). That is our right. And that’s the point.
We are not defined by race, creed, ethnicity, religion, wealth, education, geography or political affiliation. We are defined as one people who support and defend the principles set forth in our Constitution, in which the power to govern resides in the people.
We are a nation of protesters. To deny that right is to deny our heritage and deprive us of our greatest strength: The right not to remain silent. What remains is for us to listen to each other.
E pluribus unum. Out of many, one.
Frank Slater is a Korean War veteran and retired math teacher who lives in Vaughn.