• We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately. -Benjamin Franklin, Freedom Fighter

  • We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. -Martin Luther King, Jr., Freedom Fighter

  • Let us be cautious in making assertions and critical in examining them, but tolerant in permitting linguistic forms. -Rudolf Carnap, Philosopher

  • A clash of doctrines is not a disaster—it is an opportunity. -Alfred North Whitehead, Philosopher

  • If we could read the secret history of our enemies we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility. -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Poet

  • Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. -Rumi, Mystic

  • If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things. – Rene Descartes, Philosopher

  • A house divided against itself cannot stand. -Abraham Lincoln, President

  • Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them. -Albert Einstein, Scientist

  • Be the change you want to see in the world. -Mahatma Gandhi, Freedom Fighter

Independence Day, 2007

E Pluribus Unum
From Many, One

Two hundred thirty one years ago 56 Patriots pledged their lives, liberties and sacred honor to the vision that we, their descendants, might partake of the blessings of liberty. Twenty-four were lawyers and jurists. Eleven were merchants. Nine more were farmers and large plantation owners. Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Rhode Island. New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware. Virginia and Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. Thirteen colonies, each different from the rest, brought together by a hatred of tyranny and by a common vision of mankind, a vision as ancient as Jerusalem and Athens and as new as the part of the world they called home.

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.

Declaration of Independence
July 4, 1776

Eight score and sixteen years later, I fell in love with America in Mr. Welch’s 4th grade classroom at Innis Street Elementary School in Oil City, Pennsylvania. Oil City was a small conservative Republican town of 20,000 people, seven miles from where the world’s first oil well was drilled.

I loved hearing Mr. Welch’s exciting stories of the revolutionary war and the heroes who had secured us our liberty: the shots heard ‘round the world at Lexington and Concord; Patrick Henry’s stirring speech “Give me liberty or give me death;” the freezing winter at Valley Forge when it seemed all was lost; Washington’s daring Christmas Eve raid across the Delaware; John Paul Jones’ courageous refusal to surrender “I have not yet begun to fight;” Nathan Hale at the gallows proclaiming “My only regret is that I have but one life to give to my country;” and Washington’s great victory at Yorktown in 1781.

Mr. Welch taught us how important it was to America’s birth that the 13 former British colonies stick together, impressing upon us Benjamin Franklin’s memorable words: “We must all hang together or surely we will all hang separately.” He taught us the meaning of the sacred words of American unity emblazoned on the Great Seal of the United States, developed in 1782, even before the revolution was won: E Pluribus Unum—From Many, One.

In the middle of the Cold War, with Josef Stalin threatening America from without and Joe McCarthy threatening us from within, this wise teacher from conservative Western Pennsylvania taught his young charges that America’s past and future greatness flowed from the Founder’s commitment to liberty and justice for all. E Pluribus Unum—From Many, One.

With a strong commitment to civil rights and a natural tendency towards peace rather than war, I came of political age during the 1960s. These turbulent times were, in retrospect, the beginnings of the culture wars we still see today. Both the left and the right claimed to believe deeply in the spirit of E Pluribus Unum. The challenge was which Pluribus. To the political Right, I and those like me were, as Vice President Spiro Agnew called us, “the nattering nabobs of negativism.” Meanwhile we on the Left protesting the war angrily marched in the streets of America chanting “Hey, Hey, LBJ. How many kids did you kill today?” Each side knew it was right. Each side saw the other as Un-American. Each side wanted to dominate the other. Either … Or. There wasn’t a whole lot of Unum in the 60s.

Fifteen years later I got my first deep lesson in E Pluribus Unum. Having shed my hippie ways for the military-industrial complex, I saw with my own eyes the nature of the threat we faced from the Soviet Union. To this day I remain committed to finding peaceful solutions to complex problems, but it was in those days that I also came to be truly grateful for the men and women who keep us out of harm’s way.

In the 1980s, far away from Mr. Welch’s classrooms, I came to understand that E Pluribus Unum means pacifists and soldiers. It doesn’t mean pacifists or soldiers. America’s strength rests on us having both.

There are, to our great misfortune, too many “either … or’s” in America today: near-gridlock between Congress and the White House on how to solve the Iraqi morass; failure of the recent immigration reform bill; religious and cultural wars of the grossest intolerance; and a media that attracts viewers with anger and bickering rather than heartfelt dialogue and rigorous inquiry. Like the 1960s, not a whole lot of Unum.

Meanwhile the enemies of E Pluribus Unum are gathering strength. If 9/11 taught us anything it is that not everyone in the world believes in E Pluribus Unum. And, as this week’s attempted terrorist bombings in England demonstrate, those who don’t believe in E Pluribus Unum pose a clear and present danger to liberty and freedom everywhere.

In 1990, I had the great joy of seeing Independence Day fireworks in the American Sector in Berlin. It was nine months after the Berlin Wall came down, nine months after freedom finally came to Eastern Europe. I had been in Prague and Budapest the previous week where I could literally see freedom on the faces of the people. I so enjoyed that most-wonderful of Independence Days, my wife and our friends celebrating freedom’s beginnings with the American men and women whose bravery and courage had kept the dream of freedom alive through those 45 long dark years of tyranny.

On this Independence Day 2007, I feel incredibly grateful to the Founders, to their wisdom, to their courage, and to the great principles of cooperation they bequeathed us. E Pluribus Unum—From Many, One. How could we dream of peace if we weren’t protected by those with a different calling? And what would they have worth protecting if none dared dream of peace?

So let’s commit this Independence Day to emulate the Founding Fathers, to rededicate ourselves to the great task before us of creating a world in which all are free, recognizing that our success requires, as Franklin reminded us, that “We must all hang together or surely we will all hang separately.”

On this Independence Day, let us drink deeply from that great wellspring of American freedom: E Pluribus Unum—From Many, One.

Let freedom ring.

Copyright © 2007. Stan Stahl. All Rights Reserved. Permission is granted to republish this essay in its entirety provided its source is identified asThe Agnostic Patriot at www.agnosticpatriot.org and this copyright is included.

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