We the People, In Order to Form a More Perfect Union…

Over at Reason’s Hit&Run, Jesse Walker plays the longstanding game of asking what song we should replace the Star Spangled Banner with should we ever decide to retire that old warhorse. I seriously suggested we use the refrain from School House Rock’s “The Preamble”

The refrain is just the preamble of the U.S. Constitution put to music. I like it as an anthem because it puts the emphasis on the Constitution where it should be. Of course, it may lack gravitas. 

As long as we’re at it, I think we should replace the socialist originated “Pledge of Allegiance” with a recitation of the key paragraph of the Declaration of Independence. It should run something like this:

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,
So say we all!

We could call it the “American Affirmation”. (That last line comes from the New England town-meeting tradition and would be particularly fun at sporting events.)

I’ve always found the Pledge of Allegiance to be a little too creepily authoritarian. I think it a little too European for my taste. One of the key facets of American exceptionalism is that we are bound together by ideas and principles instead of territory or ethnicity. Swearing allegiance to a particular government represented by a particular flag doesn’t really represent our true bond.

Changing both the anthem and the pledge wouldn’t be a major break from tradition. The pledge was only made official in 1942 and The Star Spangled Banner in 1931.

12 thoughts on “We the People, In Order to Form a More Perfect Union…”

  1. Thanks – this was nice. Your suggestion is in the old Puritan tradition that believed that beer-drinking harmonies were quite sacred if the words that were being sung were – that putting the mundane to sacred use made it sacred. (I’m not sure if they thought this – certainly later writers would – that the this merely revealed the sacred that always rests in the mundane. That seems right as our vision.) I also like the fact that this brings us back to the position on which they agreed: the inalienability of those rights. It is something we forget at our own peril.

  2. Your idea about the Declaration is a good one, or would be if you hadn’t stopped too soon. I think it’s vital to continue on with the following:

    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.

  3. I’ve always loved “America the Beautiful” … which came in second to “My Country ’tis of Thee” – alas, that tune is already taken. And while we are talking about changing long-established patriotic traditions, I do like Shannon’s ideal of reciting the preamble. Long ago, I was in the 6th grade class of a teacher who was keen on memorization – mostly of poetry, but we did memorize the Preamble, and the Declaration. I would never have fallen for the old jape, supposedly often played by protesters in the 1960ies who would put either one up as a so-called petition, in a public place, and gleefully record the reactions of people who refused to sign them. Of course, now I do wonder how many citizens who – according to those perpetrating this merry little exercise – actually refused to sign a document which they supposedly termed “subversive” and “commie-inspired”. I do wonder now if those non-signing people were entirely mythical. Having realized how many 60ies leftists lied like a rug, and how many in the establishment media colluded with them … really, I don’t think I can be blamed for being suspicious, now.

    Yeah, I’ve developed a nasty suspicious mind lately, about

  4. sorry – hit published before I finished the thought – which is: how often we were lied to in the news media, before we had the mad internet skilz to fact-check their **sses from here to the next dimension?

  5. I like The Star-Spangled Banner. I like the idea that it is a story about a specific event, with specific people, at a specific place and time. I don’t like some generic statement, or songs about the physical attributes of the lump of dirt we happen to be on. But you are only half-right about the idea that we are tied together only by the propositions of the founding documents. We are tied together by the specific shared experiences and memories, of our successes and failures in implementing those ideas, and defending them. If you took a bunch of people in some other location, with no direct connection to our history, and founded a state with the identical principles and founding documents, they would not be us, even from the first moment. It’s not essential that everybody be descended from the founders and their generation, but it certainly helps that many of us are. And each generation shares a new layer. Fifty or seventy-five years from now there will be people of Mexican and Vietnamese and Indian descent, or partly so, who when they are getting together will all be able to say “yeah, my dad, or grandad, or grandma, fought in Iraq, or Afghanistan, or was there in new York when the Twin Towers fell.”

    It’s all part of the “mystic cords of memory” Lincoln talked about, that tie us together.

  6. fact: there is nothing whatsoever in the pledge that smacks of socialism and to change it is plain silly, since it was changed earlier from the original, sticking in “under god.” We should not change pledges etc the way we change diapers.

  7. Jay Manifold,

    The American’s Creed is already available to replace the Pledge.

    I like the creed but I have to objections to it as a pledge replacement. (1) I don’t think it is as euphonious as the Declaration and it is longer. (2) It adopts the perspective of the country having a constitution instead of the Constitution having a country. (3) It lacks the cultural impact and authority of the Declaration.

  8. Harold P. Butts III,

    fact: there is nothing whatsoever in the pledge that smacks of socialism and to change it is plain silly,

    I didn’t say that the pledge itself had socialist elements I said is was “socialist originated” which is true. Read the history of the pledge in the link provided in the parent. A lot of people have qualms about pledging allegiance to a material symbol and to a government instead of a principles and laws.

    I think we as Americans need to concentrate our public rituals on the things that make us unique. America is unique in that we are a country defined by shared ideals as opposed to territory, imperial conquest or ethnicity. I think our public rituals should reflect that uniqueness and the pledge really doesn’t.

  9. I’m chagrined I didn’t read this post sooner. In case someone’s still checking the comments . . . Last year, taking as my model “The Preamble” from Schoolhouse Rock, I set to music exactly those lines from the Declaration (without the BSG conclusion) and recorded them with my family. The result is here. If you listen, I hope you find it not entirely unworthy of its forerunner.

    Michael Greenspan

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