E Pluribus Unum. A Latin phrase that means “Out of Many, One”. It has been a motto of the United States since the birth of the nation. First minted on coins in 1795, the motto is significant in that it describes perfectly what the United States is. We are a nation of many, with a singular idea. That idea sprang to life on July 4, 1776, when the Second Continental Congress ratified the Declaration of Independence. The most impressive part of the document to me is when Jefferson set the framework for the idea of what an American actually is: “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.“ Jefferson, Franklin, Adams and the rest of the founding fathers did not know at the time if the independence would last. They did not know if a country would actually be born out of the rejection of rule from the British. What they did know, as Benjamin Franklin allegedly said, wast that, “We will either hang together or hang separately”. He meant that for this rejection of imperial rule and a movement toward democracy, the country had to unify. Survival was not guaranteed. The 13 colonies who joined in the Declaration were more different than similar. Southerners from Virginia had little in common with the New Englanders from Massachusetts. There was conflict between the colonies on commerce, religion, and every other conceivable topic. It was with an enormous amount of risk as well as faith, that our country was born.
In the 242 years since we declared our independence, we have seen the idea of America tested repeatedly. 153 years ago, the most terrible test of our history concluded with the Union remaining intact after a Civil War that saw over 600 thousand Americans die during a conflict that ripped the country apart. Since that time, we have endured conflict both abroad and at home, fighting fascism or racial injustice, and other numerous internal conflicts that appeared at times to be the end of the American experiment.
We’ve also seen breathtaking achievements, from developing new methods of agriculture to feed millions around the world, to perfecting the genius of mass production, electrification of rural communities, development of new medicines such as the vaccine that cured polio, and perhaps the single greatest achievement of mankind to date, putting humans on the lunar surface and bringing them home safely.
Throughout our history, this country would not have accomplished as much without people from all around the world coming to our shores to join in the American Experience. Almost all of us are descendants of immigrants who came to America for a better life. Our ancestors left their homes, traveled far, risked much, and became the foundation of the country we continue to build. The fruits of their labors and the lessons regarding the work ethic, the faith, the unwavering belief that this country would be the best place for themselves and their families are a gift to those of us who followed.
America is and will continue to be the beacon of freedom and liberty for the world. Those men gathered in Independence Hall long ago decided that the risk, the sacrifice, and the idea of America would be worth it. They were right.