Recent events and the upcoming 4th of July holiday should cause those following current events to focus attention on the word “union.” The United States Supreme Court, by an historic and precedent setting 5-4 decision, has now ruled that “union” in the context of state recognized marriage includes a “union” of same-sex couples who pledge fidelity and love to each other is legally on par with heterosexual couples pledging the same.
This virtually guarantees that the matter will be a major topic during the 2016 presidential cycle.
The other event creating debate centered, whether one recognizes it or not, on the concept of “union” is the debate around the display of the Confederate “Stars and Bars” flag and has come back to the forefront of the news because of the awful racially-motivated murder of nine Americans at an historic Black church in Charleston, South Carolina.
America’s incredibly bloody Civil War was not just about eliminating slavery and emancipating African-Americans, it was also about preserving the “union” of states. It is no accident that northern forces were most often referred to as “union” troops. Abraham Lincoln is considered the greatest of our presidents because he both preserved the union and emancipated the slaves.
Display of the Confederate flag is covered by “free speech” guaranteed in the Constitution but that does not make it any less offensive to millions of Americans who rightly also see it as a symbol of state’s rights, and the concepts of secession and nullification.
For whatever reason the state of South Carolina and South Carolinians have historically been the greatest proponents of the belief that state’s rights trump federal law. Its no coincidence that it was the first state to try to secede and that the Civil War began with South Carolinians bombarding the union fort in Charleston harbor.
As Americans approach the great national holiday celebrating independence it might behoove all to recall the great words of Massachusetts Senator Daniel Webster in 1830, who rose on the Senate floor to reply to South Carolina Senator Robert Haynes, who previously had advanced the notion that a state could nullify a federal law it did not agree with.
In closing his historic speech Webster turned to the notion of “union,” reminding his listeners that the Constitution’s first words were “We the people, not “we the states,” in order to form a more perfect UNION, hold these truths to be self-evident. . . that all are created EQUAL (the 14th amendment springs from this notion).
Our forefathers chose their words deliberately and carefully. In doing so they formed the most viable democracy the world has ever seen. It has survived because its founding principles and its founding statements radiate vitality in all times and ages, that they are in fact dynamic, on-going living documents. Our democracy should always be a work in progress as we strive for a more perfect union and more perfect unions.
Let Senator Webster’s words speak for themselves and please ponder while having a safe and happy 4th of July. On January 26, 1830, Webster closed his rebuttal to Senator Haynes with these words:
“When my eyes shall be turned for the last time on the meridian sun, I hope I may see him shining brightly upon my united, free and happy Country. I hope I shall not live to see his beams falling upon the dispersed fragments of the structure of this once glorious Union. I hope I may not see the flag of my Country, with its stars separated or obliterated, torn by commotion, smoking with the blood of civil war. I hope I may not see the standard raised of separate states rights, star against star and stripe against stripe; but that the flag of the Union may keep its stars and its stripes corded and bound together in indisoluble ties. I hope I shall not see written, as its motto, first liberty and then Union. I hope I shall see no such delusion, and deluded motto on the flag of that Country. I hope to see spread all over it, blazoned in letters of light, and proudly floating over Land and Sea that other sentiment, dear to my heart, “Union and Liberty, now and forever, one and inseparable.” Amen, Senator.