In the Footsteps of the Founding Fathers.

“Let it be told to the future world… that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive… that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet and to repulse it.” Tom Paine, The Crisis, 1, Dec 1776.

The inauguration of Barack Obama is surely a watershed moment, one that closes the circle of an America that has lived with the shame that until now those words of the Declaration of Independence that; “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,” have rung hollow.

As a sentence it ranks amongst the greatest ever written in the English language but Thomas Jefferson himself could not make that essential leap that ‘all men’ need mean ‘all human beings’ or condemn his words to lose not only all meaning but all power.

Now as President Obama takes over the executive mansion that Jefferson was the first to call home that Declaration has at last embraced its true and fullest meaning.

I am sure to Americans of colour it matters greatly that President Obama is like them a man of colour.  It surely means a great deal to people around the world.  Yet when I look at Barack Obama I don’t see a black president.  I see an American President.    I see a man who may yet be a Washington, an Adams, Jefferson, Lincoln or Roosevelt and whose face might one day be carved into a mountainside next those of his most illustrious predecessors.  His skin seems irrelevant just as skin should always be, save that any young American of any background can now imagine themselves taking the oath without the thought ‘…but it could never be someone like me…’ and that Americans of every hue can now believe wholeheartedly in the promise of the American Dream.  Obama’s challenge, the one he throws out to us all, is to look past skin and see the man, and with the new President there is so much man to gaze upon that skin becomes a mere gauze.

It seems somehow fitting that the one quotation he included in his inaugural address was from the pen of Tom Paine, a staunch opponent of slavery who never ceased reminding his friend Jefferson of his duty to wash America clean of its stain.

While Jefferson wrote for the angels and posterity Paine wrote so that the plain man might also find wings and a sense of his place in history.  America, in a fit of pique and rediscovered religiosity turned its back on Paine in his later years, despite his having fired the revolution with his words.

And it resonates here because Paine was nothing if not of that line of English libertarians and revolutionaries that could trace their provenance back to Rainsborough, Lilburne and beyond.

America in its foundation was the realisation of an ancient English radical ideal.  Now Obama has laid claim to its mantle.  May he wear it well because it befits a man who by the mere act of assuming his office has fulfilled that long cherished dream that we are all born equal and that greatness is any man’s for the taking.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: