The document they produced was eventually signed but ultimately unfinished. It was stained by this nation's original sin of slavery, a question that divided the colonies and brought the convention to a stalemate until the founders chose to allow the slave trade to continue for at least twenty more years, and to leave any final resolution to future generations.
Of course, the answer to the slavery question was already embedded within our Constitution—a Constitution that had at its very core the ideal of equal citizenship under the law; a Constitution that promised its people liberty, and justice, and a union that could be and should be perfected over time.
My only wish is that President Obama would follow through on this hopeful view of America. To want a better and brighter future for our country does not mean a rejection of our founding or a "fundamental transformation" of who we are. Instead it means following, in part, the wisdom of the most powerful American voice for civil rights of the twentieth century, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Famously, Dr. King called not for a rejection of America's founding principles, but for America to "rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed."
My first memory of hearing his words is sitting at my desk at Iditarod Elementary School. We had been studying the civil rights movement and were watching a grainy eight-millimeter film of Dr. King's speech projected onto a screen over the blackboard.
The events we watched were far away, both in time and space. The Washington Monument, for us, may as well have been the Eiffel Tower. I don't think any of us had ever been to our nation's capital, over four thousand miles from Alaska, but we knew something momentous had happened there a decade before, and that we were somehow a part of it. Dr. King's words made it so.
It wasn't our accomplishment; we knew that. The civil rights movement was the work of heroes we would never know except in history books. Still, Martin Luther King, Jr.'s, words made us feel like patriots that day.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. King was speaking about the content of our character, and the meaning of our creed. We weren't there yet, but the fact that his dream was coming closer to reality made us so proud to be Americans. It made us want that dream for ourselves. It's a shame that not everyone wants to quote Dr. King these days. What made Martin Luther King, Jr., a great and effective leader is that he appealed to our better angels. Unlike other so-called civil rights leaders who claim to be his heirs and to walk in his footsteps, he didn't doubt that America had it in her to be great. He just made us understand that to be great, we first had to be good. This man of God believed those words in the Declaration of Independence. He believed that our Creator had given us all the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. He knew that realizing his dream was the fulfillment of America's exceptional destiny. That's a belief, it seems to me, that shouldn't depend on whether someone is liberal or conservative or Republican or Democrat. It's an American belief.
It's a belief Senator Jefferson Smith would have agreed with.
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