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What are the 5 values that are the dearest to the hearts of Americans?
These are the founding values of the U.S.A.
Let’s recall them:
They are the important codes that give us pride and excellent standing in the world.
Sometimes it’s a good idea to sit for a minute, pause while active at work or study, to reflect on the views and standards that were part of the United States at the start and continue to enliven it to this day.
Democracy – The sum of the values
Some might list democracy as one of the core or founding values of this nation.
However, in the way we think of it, democracy is a summation of the other five attributes. (Though these are not in a particular order.) When you live in a democracy, these are the standards by which you live.
Let us start by recalling something we tend to disregard. We live in a land that has an unusually diverse population. There are not many countries that have the wide spectrum of religions, races, backgrounds, heritages, and belief systems that are found in the U.S.A. This is our strength.
But it’s clear that it is also a source of disagreement and conflict. So it is wise that we get back to remembering those important principles and ideals that hold us together.
Freedom means you can act as you want and say what you feel like. Nobody can make you stop.
This is the founding issue upon which our country stands. In the midst of the Revolutionary War, the Founding Fathers penned the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776.
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.Declaration of Independence, 1776
The Declaration of Independence cut the connections between the colonists and Great Britain.
The Philadelphia State House (now called Independence Hall) is noted for having been the site of the signing, and also for the Constitution (see below). Several days later a large bell rang in celebration at the time it was first read in public.
The bell is now in Liberty Bell Center. From there you can see what was the old State House. It’s all part of what later became the Independence National Historical Park.
The famous crack in the bell apparently is unrelated and unknown as to why it happened. (Of course, there are lots of stories and speculations.)
The moving biblical inscription that is on the bell reads appropriately for the happenings of the time:
Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.Leviticus 25:10
The Constitution set up our system of government and how it would function on September 17, 1787. Before that, the country experimented with the Articles of Confederation but with that, the central connections were too weak.
Quite a cast of characters attended the Constitutional Convention (May 14 – September 17, 1787) in Philadelphia.
Even with the small size of this picture, we know you can identify some of these people!
Interesting fact: Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, was not at the Constitutional Convention! James Madison is credited as being the primary author or drafter of the Constitution.
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 for the United States of America.Preamble of the U.S. Constitution
While that essential document established the framework of government, more was need to protect individual rights.
The Bill Of Rights
The Bill of Rights added to the Constitution on December 15, 1791. Its purpose was to prevent the government from taking the rights of each person or interfering with them. It included 10 amendments.
… a bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth, general or particular, & what no just government should refuse, or rest on inferences.Thomas Jefferson, 1787
Thomas Jefferson, who authored the Declaration of Independence, inspired its formation, while James Madison wrote the document.
Of its 10 amendments, the one we hold most dear and is of the greatest relevance to our discussion here is the First Amendment.
The First Amendment
We rely on this entirely and someone is quoting it every day. Not the most controversial (that “honor” must go to the Second Amendment), but the one most felt and defended in every way.
The five freedoms ensured by this document are:
Freedom of speech
This is undoubtedly the most prized of the freedoms that are described in the First Amendment.
Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech.Benjamin Franklin
Well, say, there actually are legal limits that you need to observe. We hadn’t thought about these in detail before, but some examples are:
- You are not free to be obscene.
- It’s not ok to lie.
- Your speech cannot lead to a violent act.
- Avoid being offensive when you are in a private setting. Your place of work can limit you.
- Don’t endanger people. It’s not alright to shout “fire” in a movie theater just for fun. “Free speech zones” are established for public safety in case of rioting and other partisan violence during political rallies and such.
Actually there are more. Such as defamation, blackmail, perjury, and child pornography. You can see why it’s a good thing we have a big court system. And it is active.
On the other hand, note what it is ok to do. Here are some examples we came across:
- It’s ok to not salute the flag.
- You can burn the flag.
Even “hate speech” is not censored. Wow! We are a free land, and that can be controversial for sure.
It’s a simple concept, but actually quite complex to achieve in practice. If you are equal to another, you are equivalent to that person. Of course, we don’t mean you are exactly the same, without distinguishing characteristics. But that your status is not different, not one above the other: peers.
To a great extent, it is what distinguishes us from autocracies and monarchies, such as the land, Great Britain, the colonists fought to gain separation.
This is also the attribute that America has probably had the most trouble fulfilling in real life. Despite its early and prominent presence in the Declaration of Independence.
Though most would agree that we continue our active aspirations and over time continue to approach it: including our fellows.
In the United States, the historical issue of slavery put upon African Americans primarily, has been the cardinal problem related to the achievement of equal status.
The Emancipation Proclamation
At the time of origin of our country, slavery was institutionalized. Over the years, the Northern states renounced the practice. It continued in the South and was a leading component of the War Between The States in the mid-19th century. Scars persist to this day.
On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the order that freed the slaves in the Confederate states.
In 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment ended slavery in the entire country.
All persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.Abraham Lincoln, Emancipation Proclamation
While enormous strides have been made, complete lack of bias and inclusion have not been entirely achieved.
I Have A Dream
At the March on Washington in 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr., gave one of the resounding speeches of our nation. Standing at the Lincoln Memorial, he spoke of what needed to happen to “make real the promises of democracy.”
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”Martin Luther King, Jr.
Witness remaining concerns over fairness in the workplace, discrimination, and the recognition of personal dignity and human rights. We still await harmony! We believe it will come.
We have justice when we are fair. It is that simple. Since the beginning of our nation we have institutionalized egalitarianism in our laws and court system. Sometimes it is good to be reminded that it is a basic tenet of everyday belief and behavior: we shouldn’t have to seek out a judge to find it ourselves.
Justice, sir, is the great interest of man on earth. It is the ligament which holds civilized beings and civilized nations together.Daniel Webster
We are living in a highly partisan time. At times it is hard to recall that there is something called impartiality!
I guess it is reasonable, or rather emotionally correct, to expect it only in the judicial system. The rest of us can be partial.
So higher courts convene. These days, even the Supreme Court is accused of potential bias. We hope not! Or at least there is a balance. We’ll get to see and experience it.
The Supreme Court
The Supreme Court was established in 1789. It’s hard to say who was the finest or most influential justice who served since then. Many names come to mind.
Of our modern era, one name stands out: Earl Warren. He was Chief Justice during most of the 1950s through 1960s at a time of a number of landmark decisions that have shaped our country to date.
Top of the list would be Brown v. Board of Education. The decision was that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional.
Some Southern schools lagged on actually carrying out the decree. In a striking example, a federal court intervened to force the issue in Louisiana several years later.
A child. Ruby Bridges, and her courageous mother led the way.
We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal …Earl Warren, Chief Justice, Supreme Court, 1954
The U.S.A. is most famous for being the “land of opportunity”. More than any country on earth, that is what we stand for. From all over the world, people immigrate to have the chance to live a better life, obtain a means of livelihood, and be safe.
The American Dream
The idea of the American Dream is that anybody who works hard enough can get ahead. Can acquire the good material effects that the country has to offer and live the good life. The implication is that even if you are born into poverty and have few means, that you can achieve your high aspirations and achieve your goals.
It expresses the spirit and basic culture of America.
At its best, the form of government of the U.S. and the traditional values we review here, enhance and protect the individual’s potential to achieve this dream.
That dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for every man, with opportunity for each according to his ability or achievement.James Truslow Adams, 1931
It is amazing how basic a quality this is to our land. It is so core to who we are, that we even forget it! We assume it as part of our nature or being.
Also called individualism, it prizes self-sufficiency and independence. The person is not subservient to the government or authorities.
We so prize, each of us, our uniqueness. Yet, all of our values work in balance – as they must.
So that the distinctiveness we each insist upon does not negate our equally important desire for equality. (above)
For this reason, it is not really possible that the United States could ever truly change into a socialist country. Our popular somewhat “leftist” leanings toward social welfare and activism can be accorded within our primarily individualistic, capitalistic society.
The Democratic principles
We could include democracy as a sixth core value, as we mentioned earlier in this post. Since, technically, democracy is representative government by “all the people”, as affected by the majority. That would be an okay way to look at it.
But we’ve thought of it here as really the sort of nation you get when you believe in, and live by, the five traditional standards of society’s moral behavior that we’ve just gone over.
Democracy and capitalism
We haven’t listed it separately, but a corollary to democracy is capitalism. By definition, a free market with private enterprise.
Note: The relationship and tensions between democracy and capitalism are truly interesting and a key to understanding some of the conflicting strains in the fabric of the United States. But that’s way beyond the point of this article.
The Gettysburg Address
Lincoln spoke briefly in November 19, 1863 during the Civil War from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. What he said while dedicating a wartime cemetery has remained striking ever since.
Because he eloquently illuminated his views to an extent that had not been iterated in the past. He evoked the Declaration of Independence and emphasized its ideals for the day.
A government of the people, by the people, for the peopleAbraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address
A nation of immigrants
It is not easy to forget, or maybe it is, that the United States differs from most nations of the world in that it is largely a land of immigrants.
(Note: The plight and disregard that this country has had historically for American Indians is extremely important, and we don’t mean to ignore it, but we are deferring it for another day.)
Because this movement into the United States has been from so many different lands, it is truly characterized as a melting pot. Did you realize there is actually no single official language here?
Our diversity in so many respects is an outstanding strength unmatched in the outside world.
Of course, there are inherent difficulties in appropriately balancing the prejudices and niceties of so many intertwined cultures into the American culture.
And why protest and disagreement are essential for democracy to function.
That’s what we have been discussing throughout this post! It has been a reason why the particular rules and regulations that support the U.S.A. have been needed and work pretty well.
Having reviewed all this, we continue to think that our Founding Fathers were amazingly wise people.
Before you go
We hope you have liked our post. You may enjoy reading the one we wrote about the American flag. If you like music, take a look at one of the others. There are several, including an article about Sousa marches that is fun to read.
The colonists who arrived in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620 came in search of religious freedom. Read about the Pilgrims in this article.
Do protest songs reflect the values that Americans hold dear? Read about how we think they do, or can in this post.