Writing the (U.S.) Nation ( Blog Question for 8/30)

Many of the early (and continuing) debates about the failures and inadequacies  of the U.S. nation state stem from the distance between the promises of the Declaration of Independence and the actualities of the Constitution( and the U.S. that it constructs). Having read the two documents how do you view the documents in terms of similarity and dissimilarity ( to answer this you might consider the different purposes of the documents; the way that they establish different subjects or revolt or governance; the emphasis of each; the rhetoric used, etc.)

11 Responses to Writing the (U.S.) Nation ( Blog Question for 8/30)

  1. Gilberto Rosa says:

    Reading America’s foundational texts in a class that centers mostly black authors already prompted me to read the works with ideas of black nationalism in mind. This made my experience reading the Declaration of Independence, for the umpteenth time, a little less strenuous. In fact, I began to see how the Declaration of Independence could have radical potential if it centered the experiences of black folks. The D.O.I. differs from the Constitution in that it sounds like it is coming from the people, from a community ridding itself from a power that is oppressing them. The Constitution sounds like a group of white men who centered themselves and found a way to create a country in which allows them the possibility to be free- even if it comes with someone else’s lack of freedom. Towards the end of the preamble to the Declaration of Independence, some of it began to sound like Assata Shakur’s chant “it is our duty to fight for freedom, it is our duty to win…” It says, “it is their right, it is their duty to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.” The document is one that is calling for revolt in a desperate time of need for a people while the Constitution grants rights for those that are left, which still leaves people out. However, after situating both texts in their historical contexts, I’m thinking more deeply about these texts and specifically who is allowed to feel these feelings of revolt? What does a country have to do to hold a multi-racial and multi-ethnic people together, equally?

    • Aly Thomas says:

      Similarly to what Gilberto has beautifully explained, the Declaration of Independence advocates for anarchist revolution in times of state-violence and abuse of power. Because of of grievances about England’s colonial rule, they were in a moment of fear of “great power.” And as white men (and people with privilege) historically do, they feared power when their own power was taken away/threatened. 11 years later, in 1787, the constitution loses that anti-big government spirit, as it is a document that maps out government and the bill of rights include basic needs without the same spirit of allowing the people to revolt if necessary. My analysis leads me to believe that once the British were gone, white men in the U.S who before felt powerless, now gained power through American capitalism, white supremacy and being in control of politics. Once they became “the people in power,” they stopped using language that urges marginalized people to overthrow “the people in power.” I’m holding this alongside Benedict Anderson’s words in “Imagined Communities,” as the Declaration of Independence uses language of nature (“powers of the earth”, etc) to describe a call for U.S Nationalism, as Anderson points out in his book, Nationalism is incorrectly seen as natural instead of socially constructed and imagined. And in line with Anderson’s concept of nationalism causing in-country systems of domination, it is clear that the Declaration of Independence’s call for nationalism and equality, turned out to be a euro-centric masculinist nationalism.

  2. Siobhan McKenna says:

    I think it’s important to remember that both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were written at a time when the citizens of the United States themselves felt oppressed by the British government, and were trying to take all measures to prevent this oppression from happening again. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were both created in fear of a big, oppressive government, which links them together. However, what sets them apart slightly is that the Declaration is the call for the freedom and the rights of the people, while the Constitution is the answer to that call, attempting to create law and order without restricting the rights the people wanted so desperately. In fact, many people originally refused to accept the Constitution in fear that it would take away the rights of the people given in the Declaration of Independence, which is why the Bill of Rights was created. For me, it’s interesting to see that the part of the Constitution that was created solely to guarantee the rights of the people expressed in the Declaration is the part most commonly in question today. The Bill of Rights guarantees our rights, but also our freedom to interpret what those rights implicitly mean. This idea of the freedom of interpretation goes along with Anderson’s description of “Imagined Communities”, in that nationalism is not concrete, but created through feelings, notions, and ideologies. Therefore, due to the freedom to imagine as we please, and the abstract construct of the ideas presented in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and nationalism, we all imagine nations, and the implied meanings of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights differently. Due to these differing opinions, the rules and rights set forth in the Constitution become difficult to regulate and enforce, ironically allowing certain groups throughout the history of the United States to feel oppressed by the same document that guaranteed that they would never again feel oppressed and restricted.

  3. Noah says:

    Reading these texts now, with recent class discussions in mind, I paid attention to the attitudes in these documents toward racial justice. The clause in the Constitution detailing how people were to be counted for the House of Representatives (“three fifths of all other Persons”), leapt out at me. It was jarring; there seemed to me a dissonance between the high-minded, fundamental principles of our country and their written execution—which perhaps never existed in the first place. It’s incontrovertible evidence that the framers did not actually believe “that all men are created equal.” These parts of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence are permanently ingrained reminders demonstrating that, from the very beginning, liberty and justice were not guaranteed for all. It means that these idealized freedoms seemingly at our nation’s core were not originally intended to apply to everyone. It’s hard to read these documents now, especially with our modern context, and feel the admiration that people from older generations have, but when you look past the platitudes, the prejudices and shortcomings of our “founding fathers” become all the more glaring.

  4. Abigail Gardener says:

    I have read both of these documents before in a different, move government-focused context. Going through them again and really trying to dissect the language and look at them in a context more focused on nationalism was interesting and changed my perspective slightly. Focusing specifically on the words and language used in both documents, it became obvious to me that the D.O.I.’s main purpose was all about bringing the country together to fight against a common enemy. There is an emphasis on unity and equality contrasted with descriptions of the King’s unforgivable tyranny. Words and phrases like “unanimous”, “mankind”, “one people”, and “thirteen united states” give a solid impression that EVERYONE in the country was equal and should be a part of the rebellion against Great Britain; race is never mentioned, except for one mention of the “Indian Savages”. Jefferson and the authors of the D.O.I. wanted to create an “us against them” mentality to give the colonies confidence that we could successfully separate from the King. The tone changed once the War was over and the Founding Fathers (notably all white men) were trying to set up the new country. No longer is there a patriotic sense of unity weaved throughout the document; the Constitution is much more logistical, laying out rules for the new country and its government. The Bill of Rights is mostly restrictions for the government, but other parts of the Constitution restrict certain citizens of the United States. Instead of coming together to fight a common foe, there were now laws that ensured certain groups (specifically, any group that did not consist of white males) could not vote or be a part of the legislature. Although both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are documents that built the foundation of this country, their purposes and their tone couldn’t be more different.

  5. Mia Edelstein says:

    The Declaration is a pointed criticism of all the ways that England abused the colonies and a proclamation that a people can and should establish a government that respects their will and rights. In contrast, the Constitution is a pragmatic, if sometimes idealistic, document. The Constitution’s tone is for the most part dry, as it lays out the law of the land, but the Declaration is an impassioned call to action. I agree with what Aly wrote about the dramatic shift in language in the Constitution. This document doesn’t have the language of anarchy, revolution, and empowerment like the Declaration does because the Constitution writers now foresaw themselves as the people in power. Therefore, they did not want to encourage marginalized peoples to rise up against the elite, white power now that these men were comfortable with their position in America. “Imagined Communities” is relevant to both documents because the founders did not know everyone, but they felt connected enough to the population to make sweeping decisions and act on behalf of everyone. In particular, the Declaration ignores the inequality and exploitation in the country in favor of asserting the “deep, horizontal comradeship” about which Anderson writes (141). The Constitution reserves this comradeship for white men when it says that almost all people of color are only three-fifths a person. While it is not mentioned – and was likely deliberately avoided – in either document, many of the founders and men writing these documents were slave owners. Their own view of who is entitled to freedom was inherently limited by their belief that keeping a race in bondage was their God-given right. Even the title of the Declaration of Independence is hypocritical because so many people in the colonies/America were excluded from independence.

  6. sterrazano says:

    Reading the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution in conjunction with Benedict Anderson’s “Imagined Communities,” I thought about how the 18th-century colonists were willing to die for a nation that was not yet fully formed. The colonists felt nationalism without having an officially independent nation, which could not be more in line with Anderson’s claim that a nation is an “imagined political community.” This relates to another point raised by Anderson: What makes people willing to die for their nation? The colonists willingly died for the creation of the United States, and the language in the DOI reflects the hope and determination that fueled the Revolutionary War. But as we touched on in class, not everyone has a choice in whether or not to die for their nation. The DOI, which details in-depth the oppression the colonists faced from the king, overlooks the oppression that slaves and what were deemed “merciless Indian Savages” faced in America. Scores of African Americans and Native Americans who died unwillingly for the nation had a starkly different sense of idealism than the authors of the DOI. In contrast, the Constitution makes it perfectly clear who was included (or excluded) in the Founding Fathers’ vision of America. The amendments granting basic human rights to women and African Americans — rights that white men had for years — shows not only who could die for the nation, but who was even considered a citizen of it. Comparing the DOI to the Constitution, the term “imagined community” not only means an imagined country, but an imagined sense of unity and equality. Even though the Constitution was created in an established nation, it still involves an “imagined community” in which nationalism means something different for oppressed groups of people.

  7. sydneyex says:

    The biggest difference between the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence is that the Constitution emphasizes the necessity for its creation based upon independent human rights, while the Declaration portrays its creation as an act of separation from Britain; these differences can be simply highlighted in the introduction paragraphs of both respective documents. The Constitution explains the necessity for its creation, citing buzzwords such as “Justice,” “Welfare,” and “Liberty.” Alternatively, the Declaration describes its creation as “necessary”, explaining their desire to “dissolve the political bands” in order to establish “a decent respect.” In a way, the Declaration’s introductory paragraph can be understood as a blatant, actively aggressive, commentary on Britain. Importantly, the Constitution articulates similar principles to the Declaration, but they are portrayed as intrinsically and independently motivated (as opposed to motivated by necessity of opposition). This difference reflects the progression of the American sentiment towards the establishment of America – while they were initially angry and acting out of necessity against Britain, they were ultimately able to intrinsically understand the need for America, unrelated to Britain.

  8. langberg says:

    Both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were written to establish the fundamental rights of U.S. citizens. The two documents come from opposing perspectives, the Declaration of Independence from the perspective of unifying the American people and the Constitution from the perspective of creating a governing institution to enforce those fundamental rights. Thinking about Benedict Anderson’s definition of a nation as “…an imagined political community and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign”(6), it is important to understand how these documents perhaps create a contradicting and unattainable structure of what a community should be or aspire to be. To think about what limits have been placed on certain groups of people in America and what freedoms have been granted to others demonstrates how the U.S. is an “imagined community” of hierarchical structures and broken promises. How can we deconstruct this nation and reestablish true equality? How can we define the U.S. nation and experience nationalism when so many of our citizens are overtly denied the freedom to feel, experience, and express- freedoms that these documents seek to establish?

  9. ccalimlim says:

    The Declaration of Independence and Constitution both aim to speak for U.S. citizens as a whole. As several others have pointed out, the Declaration of Independence focuses on the unification of America as its own independent nation and aims to inspire patriotism.
    Because it serves as a rallying cry, the Declaration of Independence tries to include as many people as possible to best establish a new nation. But, the Constitution seeks to lay down the laws and rights of the people within this nation. However, the language is mostly aimed towards white men and blatantly exclusive of people outside of that group. Both the Declaration and Constitution want to inspire nationalism, although the Declaration seeks to inspire nationalism of a more widespread audience while the Constitution’s version of nationalism is only intended for white, property-holding men.

  10. LaShawn Simmons says:

    I believe the Declaration of Independence is an active declaration of a “nation” outside of bounds of British rule. The Declaration of Independence serves as living example of “writing the nation” (seen in PowerPoint from 8/28) as it can be used a propaganda to promote communal belonging and express a nation’s desires and interest. It is one of the primary documents to achieve this method as it promotes a unique form of martyrdom. On the other hand, the U.S. Constitution serves an approach in solidifying principles and structures of the nation. This is achieved by “officials” declaring these principles as supreme law.
    Though, the limitations of the documents don’t reside in its principles but more so in how these structures protect and account for its citizens. The language in both documents is very limiting. Essentially, inclusive language is non-existent in both documents, but chiefly in the Declaration of Independence. Man is presumably a white male in contrast to other minority, usually the authors refer to them using epithets such as “Indian Savages” as seen in Declaration of Independence. These groups of people are seen as inherently inferior as they are not “men”, they have been designated as other and thus not protected under the U.S. constitution. Ultimately, the Declaration of Independence and U.S Constitution are both similar in their attempt to form an equal democratic nation through the lens and perspective of a White (presumably Anglo-Saxon) protestant male. The standards are set for their convenience. Both documents disregard the experiences of minority groups; this is clear in their divisive language.

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