Imagine John Adams, marked by the same man for hanging a decade earlier, for his role in the rebellion of the English colonies against the Crown. Yet now it was June, 1785 and he was presenting himself to King George III as the Ambassador of the United States to the Court of St. James. It is one of the most gripping scenes in David McCullough’s magnificent book, and its dramatization in the television version was almost as good.
The connection between these United States and what was Great Britain and is now the United Kingdom remains strong, though. It is from our history together, after all, that the foundations of our law—the common law as we have called it—were established and, of course, we still speak roughly the same language.
To refer to “the Queen” without identifying which of several there still are in the world, means, in this country, no less than in Britain, Queen Elizabeth II, the daughter of a another King George: George VI. A movie about King George’s battle with a speech impediment and his inspirational presence during World War II was widely praised last year and hugely successful in this country as well as the one where he actually was sovereign.
His great grandson got married yesterday, as you may have heard. George VI was Albert or Bertie until he became King, so it is hardly certain what name Andrew would assume were he to become king or how his wife, now H.R.H. the Duchess of Cambridge would be, as they say, “styled.” What is certain is that whatever its acknowledged faults and whatever the causes which led to our “separation” were the monarchy retains surprising force in former colonies ostensibly united in the belief that all men (and eventually all women) were created equal.
And, indeed, our union of sovereign states, born by rebellion but with a significant disagreement that remained unresolved through independence, remains quite imperfect. By force of arms, the issue which divided us was resolved, at least under the law: including three amendments to the written Constitution we had substituted for the royal writ. One of those amendments enacted by the victors of “a great civil war” formally abolished the slavery and another established that
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside
That means that a person born in this country, except to people serving under the flag of another country (such as diplomats) meets the Artilce II requirement that
No person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President
Still, it might be expected that those who held other views, whose states joined the union based on their contrary opinions, and who were literally forced to adhere to laws passed after their defeat in battle, might resent having been required to accept what was unquestioningly not what they intended for the state formed in the eighteenth century or its union under the Constitution established in the last decade of that century.
That resentment—the refusal to accept the legitimacy of what was decided not be reason or vote, but at gunpoint—has lasted to this day. While the proponents of slavery blew apart the Democratic Party as it existed just prior to the civil war and, sadly, allowed to reassert it substantial influence a decade or so following that war, those forces of reactionary thought, unhappy with the New Deal, even more unhappy when President Truman ordered that the military be desegregated and a Supreme Court did the same for public schools, and reaching the last straw when the civil and voting rights acts were enacted in the mid 1960s, turned to the party of Lincoln, and took over the Republican Party lock, stock and barrel.
With the control of a political party—one which has enormous financial resources and, by control of the Supreme Court, the assurance that that advantage will have direct electoral consequences, they are doing again what they so successfully did in the relatively immediate aftermath of the civil war to subvert the consequneces of the military victory. So, for instance, if the Constitution was amended to provide that
The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude
there were still many ways to keep Them, citizens only because the victorious forces in war said they were, from actually voting. And, though one of those longstanding tricks, the poll tax, was finally abolished in 1964, almost one hundred years after the end of the civil war, there were still many ways to keep as close a form of enslavement active as President Johnson, himself a self described child of the south, addressed the Congress in 1965 and reminded Americans that:
the harsh fact is that in many places in this country men and women are kept from voting simply because they are Negroes. Every device of which human ingenuity is capable has been used to deny this right. The Negro citizen may go to register only to be told that the day is wrong, or the hour is late, or the official in charge is absent. And if he persists, and if he manages to present himself to the registrar, he may be disqualified because he did not spell out his middle name or because he abbreviated a word on the application. And if he manages to fill out an application, he is given a test. The registrar is the sole judge of whether he passes this test. He may be asked to recite the entire Constitution, or explain the most complex provisions of State law. And even a college degree cannot be used to prove that he can read and write.
For the fact is that the only way to pass these barriers is to show a white skin. Experience has clearly shown that the existing process of law cannot overcome systematic and ingenious discrimination. No law that we now have on the books — and I have helped to put three of them there — can ensure the right to vote when local officials are determined to deny it. In such a case our duty must be clear to all of us. The Constitution says that no person shall be kept from voting because of his race or his color. We have all sworn an oath before God to support and to defend that Constitution. We must now act in obedience to that oath.
The legislation he supported, part of the proposals he inherited when his predecessor was murdered while visiting Texas, was enacted in 1965, no doubt, in part, due to the desire to fulfill the program of the President who was prevented from pursuing it by an assassin’s bullet.
Whether such legislation of not enacted then could pass today, it permitted enough people to register to vote as to enable the election as president of a man whose father was from Africa, and who had married a woman who lived in Hawaii. Their child, the President, was born there and, hence, was a native born American citizen. (He ran against a man born, not in a state, but in the Canal Zone, but there was no real argument that he was not qualified for the presidency as a natural born United States citizen.
But it has never been necessary to teach a particular old dog any new tricks. A man whose father was black, and whose name is that of his father: Barack Hussein Obama, Junior, is not like us, he is not us, and thus should not be permitted to be president, even if a majority of the citizens allowed to vote, want him to be president.
It is not hard to see that stereotypical southern sheriff who anybody who needed a haircut in the 1970s was sure to meet while travelling below thee Mason-Dixon line: and you can hear him say, “Now, boy, of course, if you are who you say you are, you sure could be president of the United States. But how do we know that you were born in this country? You call that a birth certificate? Why it don’t look like any birth certificate I ever done see? What else ya got?”
Is this too much of a cheap shot; too much “Cool Hand Luke” and too divorced from reality?
And when a woman whose music has often been the subject of posts here, and who immigrated to this country from the Soviet Union when she was nine and her family could see no future in a country riddled with anti-semitism, saw all of this—including the segment posted above, she threw this little item up on Facebook:
Our president is being treated like crap by an entitled egomaniac and a bunch of ignorant racists like him…. “gets off his basketball court…”
What was thrown back at this little post was both amazing and not. Sad, but confirming. The refugee from the Soviet Union—long a citizen of this country, though, and not one who takes lightly to criticism of her adopted country from those who live elsewhere, almost ruefully had to say, a few hours later:
i am amazed at the response to my own opinions being posted on my own facebook page. they are definitely strong and maybe i worded them harshly? it’s hard to tell, cause i’m me and i know my intentions very well… I do wonder if this is the place for it all- it’s not a dinner at a friend’s house. it brings the ugliness out in how people treat each other. hmmmm…
John Adams did not risk his neck for these people and for this garbage. And the fight against this mindless intolerance and these gross claims of superiority continues more than 230 years after our declaration of independence. It truly makes at least one person wonder if we might have been better off trying to work things out with the Crown.