Alternative Inaugural Readings: January 20, 2017
Alternative Inaugural Readings: January 20, 2017
From the Declaration of Independence (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. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
(“And when I meet Thomas Jefferson, I’m’a compel to include women in the sequel.”
- Angelica Schuyler, courtesy of Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton)
Thomas Jefferson, on the Virginia Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom (1786)
Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed by inserting “Jesus Christ,” so that it would read “A departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion”; the insertion was rejected by the great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohammedan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination.
Preamble to the Constitution of the United States (1787)
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, 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.
The People’s Oath (from the ACLU)
Building on the sense of urgency and desire to take action that many Americans feel as we approach Donald J. Trump taking the Presidential Oath, the American Civil Liberties Union invites people to create their own oath to protect and defend the U.S. Constitution through its new campaign, the People’s Oath. Individuals are encouraged to go to peoplesoath.org to add their own ending to:
I do solemnly swear to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States to ensure…
for example … that I’m the only one who gets to decide what to do with my body
… that my Muslim-American brothers and sisters get the same rights I do.
People’s Oath-takers can add their own photo or video to their oath, and then share it with friends and family on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms, tagging each pledge with #PeoplesOath and @ACLU.
George Washington’s Farewell Address (1796)
Lin-Manuel Miranda, “One Last Time,” Hamilton (2015)
One last time
Relax, have a drink with me
One last time
Let’s take a break tonight
And then we’ll teach them how to say goodbye, to say goodbye, you and I.
I wanna talk about neutrality
Sir, with Britain and France on the verge of war, is this the best time—
I want to warn against partisan fighting
Pick up a pen, start writing
I wanna talk about what I have learned
The hard-won wisdom I have earned
As far as the people are concerned
You have to serve, you could continue to serve—
No! One last time
The people will hear from me
One last time
And if we get this right
We’re gonna teach ‘em how to say
Goodbye, You and I—
Mr. President, they will say you’re weak
No, they will see we’re strong
Your position is so unique
So I’ll use it to move them along
Why do you have to say goodbye?
If I say goodbye, the nation learns to move on, It outlives me when I’m gone
Like the scripture says:
“Everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree, And no one shall make them afraid.”
They’ll be safe in the nation we’ve made.
I wanna sit under my own vine and fig tree
A moment alone in the shade
At home in this nation we’ve made
One last time
Though, in reviewing the incidents of my administration, I am unconscious of intentional error, I am nevertheless too sensible of my defects not to think it probable that I may have committed many errors. I shall also carry with me
The hope that my country will
Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address (1863)
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.
It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
Second Inaugural Address (1865)
On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it, all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war--seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came.
If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.
Susan B. Anthony, “Is it a Crime for a Citizen of the United States to Vote?” (1873)
Friends and Fellow-citizens: I stand before you tonight, under indictment for the alleged crime of having voted at the last Presidential election, without having a lawful right to vote. It shall be my work this evening to prove to you that in thus voting, I not only committed no crime, but, instead, simply exercised my citizen's right, guaranteed to me and all United States citizens by the National Constitution, beyond the power of any State to deny.
Our democratic-republican government is based on the idea of the natural right of every individual member thereof to a voice and a vote in making and executing the laws. We assert the province of government to be to secure the people in the enjoyment of their unalienable rights.
"All men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. Among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."
Here is no shadow of government authority over rights, nor exclusion of any from their full and equal enjoyment. Here is pronounced the right of all men, and "consequently," as the Quaker preacher said, "of all women," to a voice in the government. And here, in this very first paragraph of the declaration, is the assertion of the natural right of all to the ballot; for, how can "the consent of the governed" be given, if the right to vote be denied.
Again: "That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute a new government, laying its foundations on such principles, and organizing its powers in such forms as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness."
Surely, the right of the whole people to vote is here clearly implied. For however destructive in their happiness this government might become, a disfranchised class could neither alter nor abolish it, nor institute a new one, except by the old brute force method of insurrection and rebellion. One-half of the people of this nation to-day are utterly powerless to blot from the statute books an unjust law, or to write there a new and a just one. The women, dissatisfied as they are with this form of government, that enforces taxation without representation, that compels them to obey laws to which they have never given their consent that imprisons and hangs them without a trial by a jury of their peers, that robs them, in marriage, of the custody of their own persons, wages and children, are this half of the people left wholly at the mercy of the other half, in direct violation of the spirit and letter of the declarations of the framers of this government, every one of which was based on the immutable principle of equal rights to all. By those declarations, kings, priests, popes, aristocrats, were all alike dethroned, and placed on a common level politically, with the lowliest born subject or serf. By them, too, men, as such, were deprived of their divine right to rule, and placed on a political level with women. By the practice of those declarations all class and caste distinction will be abolished; and slave, serf, plebeian, wife, woman, all alike, bound from their subject position to the proud platform of equality.
Langston Hughes, “Let America Be America Again” (1935)
Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.
(America never was America to me.)
Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed--
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.
(It never was America to me.)
O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.
(There's never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")
Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?
I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek--
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.
I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean--
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today--O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That's made America the land it has become.
O, I'm the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home--
For I'm the one who left dark Ireland's shore,
And Poland's plain, and England's grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa's strand I came
To build a "homeland of the free."
Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we've dreamed
And all the songs we've sung
And all the hopes we've held
And all the flags we've hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay--
Except the dream that's almost dead today.
O, let America be America again--
The land that never has been yet--
And yet must be--the land where every man is free.
The land that's mine--the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME--
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain, must bring back our mighty dream again.
Sure, call me any ugly name you choose--
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people's lives, We must take back our land again, America!
O, yes, I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath--
America will be!
Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain--
All, all the stretch of these great green states--
And make America again.
Martin Luther King, “Where Do We Go From Here?” (1967)
And so we still have a long, long way to go before we reach the promised land of freedom. Yes, we have left the dusty soils of Egypt, and we have crossed a Red Sea that had for years been hardened by a long and piercing winter of massive resistance, but before we reach the majestic shores of the promised land, there will still be gigantic mountains of opposition ahead and prodigious hilltops of injustice. We still need some Paul Revere of conscience to alert every hamlet and every village of America that revolution is still at hand.
In order to answer the question, "Where do we go from here?" we must first honestly recognize where we are now. When the Constitution was written, a strange formula to determine taxes and representation declared that the Negro was 60% of a person. Today another curious formula seems to declare he is 50% of a person. Of the good things in life, the Negro has approximately one half those of whites. Of the bad things of life, he has twice those of whites. Thus, half of all Negroes live in substandard housing. And Negroes have half the income of whites. When we turn to the negative experiences of life, the Negro has a double share: There are twice as many unemployed; the rate of infant mortality among Negroes is double that of whites; and there are twice as many Negroes dying in Vietnam as whites in proportion to their size in the population.
Where do we go from here? First, we must massively assert our dignity and worth. We must stand up amid a system that still oppresses us and develop an unassailable and majestic sense of values. … Now, we got to get this thing right. What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and that love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love. And this is what we must see as we move on.
I conclude by saying today that we have a task, and let us go out with a divine dissatisfaction.
Let us be dissatisfied until America will no longer have a high blood pressure of creeds and an anemia of deeds.
Let us be dissatisfied until the tragic walls that separate the outer city of wealth & comfort from the inner city of poverty & despair shall be crushed by the battering rams of the forces of justice.
Let us be dissatisfied until those who live on the outskirts of hope are brought into the metropolis of daily security.
Let us be dissatisfied until slums are cast into the junk heaps of history, and every family will live in a decent, sanitary home.
Let us be dissatisfied until the dark yesterdays of segregated schools will be transformed into bright tomorrows of quality integrated education.
Let us be dissatisfied until integration is not seen as a problem but as an opportunity to participate in the beauty of diversity.
Let us be dissatisfied until men & women, however black they may be, will be judged on the basis of the content of their character, not on the basis of the color of their skin.
Let us be dissatisfied until every state capitol will be housed by a governor who will do justly, who will love mercy, and who will walk humbly with his God.
Let us be dissatisfied until from every city hall, justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.
Elizabeth Warren, Speech to Netroots Nation (2014)
Let’s talk about this fight. This is a fight over economics, a fight over privilege, a fight over power. But deep down it is a fight over values. Conservatives and their powerful friends will continue to be guided by their internal motto, ‘I’ve got mine. The rest of you are on your own.’ Well, we’re guided by principle, and it’s a pretty simple idea. We all do better when we work together and invest in building a future.
We know that this economy grows when hard-working families have the opportunity to improve their lives. We know that this country gets stronger when we invest in helping people succeed. We know that our lives improve when we care for our neighbors and we help build a future—not just for some of our kids, but for all of our kids. That’s what we believe in. These are progressive ideas. These are progressive values. These are America’s values. And these are the values we are willing to fight for.
So sometimes we have to get together and we have to talk about what are our values. We have to talk about what does it mean to be a progressive. We have to talk about what does it mean to be American. So let’s spend a minute talking about what we believe in.
We believe that Wall Street needs stronger rules and tougher enforcement and we are willing to fight for it.
We believe in science… and we are willing to fight for it.
We believe that the Internet shouldn’t be rigged to benefit big corporations… and we will fight for it.
We believe that no one should work fulltime and still live in poverty… and we are willing to fight for it.
We believe that fast food workers deserve a livable wage and when they take to picket lines we are proud to fight along side of them.
We believe that students are entitled to get an education without being crushed by debt, and we are willing to fight for it.
We believe that after a lifetime of work that people are entitled to retire with dignity. And that means protecting Social Security, Medicare and pensions, and we are willing to fight for it.
Oh—we believe, but I can’t believe that I have to say this in 2014—we believe in equal pay for equal work. And we are willing to fight for it.
We believe that equal means equal, and that’s true in marriage, it’s true in the workplace, it’s true in all America. And we are willing to fight for it.
We believe that immigration has made this country strong and vibrant and that means we’ve got to be willing to fight for it…
Oh—and we believe that corporations are not people, and we will fight for it.
And in this room, this is where it happens. This is 21st century democracy. This is the future of America. This is where we decide that we the people will fight for what we believe in. We’re going to do this and we are going to win.
Pramila Jayapal, Why I’m Running for Congress (2016)
Nothing has prepared me more for being in Congress than my own personal experience. I know what the American dream is, and I’ve fought all my life for others to achieve their American dream.
I came to this country when I was 16 years old—my parents took all the money they had—about $5,000—and used it to send me to the United States by myself because they believed this was the place where I would get the best education and have the brightest future …
At the helm of that organization [OneAmerica, a leader in the fight for comprehensive immigration reform] for 11 years, and together with you, we fought to create the truly beloved community. A place where immigrants are welcomed, where workers are respected, where black and brown and white communities come together to fight for justice, where women are accorded the power that they deserve for the places they hold in the home, in the workplace, and in the community.
I chose to run for elected office after a career of organizing and advocating on the outside for change because I saw that, now more than ever, we need people of principle in power …
… We knew then as we know now that our values of justice, fairness and equity are under threat from those who profit from injustice, benefit from unfairness, and gain from inequity. We can hear, see, and feel this threat every day.
Our winning formula, however, is hard working, decent people who are willing to think critically, raise their voices, and speak out, build a movement, stand for core principles, and work for real changes that benefit the common good.
Because democracy is not a spectator sport. It requires that we talk to each other, building it person by person.
I said this during my state senate campaign and I’ll say it again now: this campaign is not about electing me, it’s about electing “WE”—the “we” that works together for building the movement we need. We are going to need each and every one of you to have ownership in this campaign and this seat. So, I plan to build a campaign that is built on you—powered by the grassroots, and the energy of working people. We ARE the ones we’ve been waiting for.