The “one nation, indivisible” referred to in the pledge is not only unconstitutional, it’s contrary to the entire idea of the America the Founders sought to create.
by Tom Mullen
An Atlanta, Georgia, charter school announced last week its intention to discontinue the practice of having students stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance during its school-wide morning meetings at the beginning of each school day, opting to allow students to recite the pledge in their classrooms instead. Predictably, conservatives were immediately triggered by this “anti-American” decision, prompting the school to reverse its decision shortly after.
The uproar over periodic resistance to reciting the pledge typically originates with Constitution-waving, Tea Party conservatives. Ironically, the pledge itself is not only un-American but antithetical to the most important principle underpinning the Constitution as originally ratified.
Admittedly, the superficial criticism that no independent, free-thinking individual would pledge allegiance to a flag isn’t the strongest argument, although the precise words of the pledge are “and to the republic for which it stands.” So, taking the pledge at its word, one is pledging allegiance both to the flag and the republic. And let’s face it, standing and pledging allegiance to anything is a little creepy. But, then again, it was written by a socialist.
But why nitpick?
It’s really what comes next that contradicts both of the republic’s founding documents. “One nation, indivisible” is the precise opposite of the spirit of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution (“under God” wasn’t added until the 1950s).
The government in Washington, D.C., is called “the federal government.” A federal government governs a federation, not a nation. And the one persistent point of contention throughout the constitutional convention of 1787 and the ratifying conventions which followed it was fear the government created by the Constitution would become a national government rather than a federal one. Both the Federalist Papers and the Bill of Rights were written primarily to address this concern of the people of New York and the states in general, respectively.
Moreover, the whole reason for delegating specific powers to the federal government and reserving the rest to the states or people was to ensure there would not be “one nation,” but rather a federation of self-governing republics which delegated a few powers to the federal government and otherwise reserved the rest for themselves.
By the way, the Bill of Rights as originally written applied only to the federal government and not to the states. Sorry, liberals, but the First Amendment doesn’t guarantee a “separation of church and state” within the states. It was written for the opposite reason, to protect the existing state religions of the time from the federal government establishing a national one and thereby invalidating them.
And sorry, conservatives, the Second Amendment wasn’t written to keep states from banning guns. Quite the opposite. It was written to reserve the power to ban guns to the states. That’s why most states, even those established after the Bill of Rights was ratified, have clauses in their own constitutions protecting the right to keep and bear arms. They understood the Second Amendment applied only to the federal government, not the states.
If there is one thing that is clear from all of the above, the Constitution did not establish “one nation.” In fact, the states only agreed to ratify it after being repeatedly promised the United States would be no such thing, allowing the states to govern themselves in radically different ways, at their discretion.
Then, there’s “indivisible.” One would think a federation born by its constituent states seceding from the nation to which they formerly belonged would make the point obvious enough. But the Declaration makes it explicit:
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.
It would be impossible to exercise that right—that duty, as the Declaration later calls it—if the republic were indivisible. The strictest constructionists of the time didn’t consider the nation indivisible. Thomas Jefferson didn’t threaten to send troops to New England when some of its states considered seceding upon his election. Quite the opposite. And in an 1804 letter to Joseph Priestly, he deemed a potential split in the union between “Atlantic and Mississippi confederacies” not only possible but “not very important to the happiness of either part.”
The people advocating “one nation, indivisible” in those days were big government Federalists like Hamilton, whose proposals to remake the United States into precisely that were flatly rejected in 1787.
Proponents of absolute, national rule like to quip this question was “settled” by the American Civil War. That’s like saying Polish independence was “settled” by Germany and the Soviet Union in 1939.
In fact, it is precisely the trend towards “one nation” that has caused American politics to become so rancorous, to the point of boiling over into violence, over the course of the last several decades. This continent is inhabited by a multitude of very different cultures, which can coexist peacefully if left to govern themselves. But as the “federal” government increasingly seeks to impose a one-size-fits-all legal framework over people who never agreed to give it that power, the resistance is going to get more and more strident. If there is any chance to achieve peace among America’s warring factions, a return to a more truly federal system is likely the only way.
Getting rid of the un-American pledge to the imaginary nation would be a good, symbolic start.
Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America. For more information and more of Tom’s writing, visit www.tommullen.net.