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The professed aims of the Preamble

May 9, 2010

In What is History?, author Edward Hallett Carr explains that people view history based on the present. When investigating whether or not the goals of the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States of America have been achieved, one should remember that the meanings of words change over time. The goals set forth in the Preamble have not always been achieved for all of the people of the U.S. based on their race, gender or class. Throughout the history of this country are examples of tensions with, and oppressions, exploitations, and/or exclusions of Native Americans, African-Americans, and women. Has this nation fallen short of being a “more perfect union,” as described in the Preamble? History reveals that attempts to create a more perfect union in America are on-going – sometimes more circular than linear, and whether or not the attempt is a success or failure, this country continues to reach for the goals set forth in the Preamble.

Historically, Anglo-Americans during the post-Civil War period were considered forward-thinking, yet they exploited and oppressed Native Americans. Anglo-Americans thought of Native Americans as savages and enacted legislation, laws and treaties to “help in the uplifting of the Indians” and to bring them more quickly from “savagery” to “Christian civilization” (“Board of Indian” 66). The Dawes Act and similar legislation allowed Anglo-American settlers to take away from the Native Americans – their land, language and some aspects of their cultures. The government’s attempt “to promote the general welfare,” as stated in the Preamble, of the Native Americans was flawed because the government used its power to oppress, exclude and exploit the Indians.

The forced assimilation of “the Indian into American society” was attempted by the government through education programs which were intended to “obliterate the cultural heritage of Indian youths and replace it with the values of Anglo-American society” (Trennert 48). There is an irony in the Anglo-American misconception of Indian women being treated by their tribes as “beasts of burdens” (Henretta et al. 517) and the manner in which Indian girls were schooled by the U.S. government in techniques that would only get them hired for cheap, menial labor, if they got hired at all. The type of education that the government instituted was not the type of education that would lead to independence and self-actualization, but rather it kept the Indians oppressed and exploited.

African-Americans have also been oppressed and exploited by Anglo-Americans. During the Reconstruction years of 1867-77, the American government attempted to “form a more perfect union” in the South through “economic rehabilitation,… black participation in… politics” and increased educational opportunities (Lauter et al. 18b). But, opportunities for blacks disappeared when federal troops were withdrawn from the South in 1877; blacks became disenfranchised and mediation and civility between blacks and whites disappeared. The U.S. government instituted laws that were beneficial to Anglo-Americans, but not to African-Americans. Jim Crow laws, contrary to the Preamble’s goal to “secure the blessings of liberty,” allowed Anglo-Americans to legally segregate themselves from blacks and mete out punishment based on hatred and prejudice. The KKK clan was a white vigilante group that created “campaigns of terror and violence” against blacks (Lauter et al. 19b). These Anglo-American-led, racially-based campaigns against blacks were contrary to the Preamble’s goal of “domestic tranquility.”

Race discrimination is one of the biggest blights in our society which the Preamble and other legislation have been unable to resolve. The federal government allowed states to decide whether or not to enforce legislation which is one reason that even after gaining emancipation, former slaves were not truly free. Jim Crow laws, enacted by states and local governments, prevented blacks from regaining the power they once had during the Reconstruction years. Black activists of this period, particularly Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois, approached the goal of black equality differently. BTW’s approach suggested that blacks gain equality by assimilating white culture and adapting, while Du Bois’s approach suggested that blacks demand their rights and be proud of their own race. BTW, the pacifist, did not write about cruelties, such as lynchings, labor and education inequities. Du Bois, the militant, stressed that the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were written for all Americans, not one race, one class, one gender (Du Bois 905).

Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. were two black activists living during the racial segregation of the 1920s to 1960s. The wish for racial equality was comparable in MLK and Malcolm X, but their methodologies were different, with MLK hoping to create change through love and non-violence and Malcolm X hoping for equality and willing to use militant tactics. Malcolm X did not welcome whites in black organizations because he thought it was more important for whites to work for white-black equality in their own white communities (Malcolm X 2275). MLK stated that the Emancipation Proclamation was a promissory note to black men that whites were not willing to pay because whites did not want to give blacks equality or power (King 2341-2342).

In his speech, “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence,” MLK explained his opposition to the war and pointed out the senseless deaths of black and white soldiers sent to fight together in another country, but who were segregated in their own country. He preached non-violent solutions to racial issues and stated that the U.S. government was using violence to solve problems just as the poor do in the ghettoes, but the difference was that the poor get penalized for their violence.

Women were also exploited and oppressed and experienced inequality based on their gender. In the 19th century, women were treated as inferior to men, were known as the weaker sex and were treated as the property of men, according to Glenna Matthews in her book “The Rise of Public Woman.” A double standard was in place at this time in which the phrase “public woman” had a negative connotation while “public man” exemplified a positive image. A public man was a community servant, working for the universal good of all, while a public woman indicated a woman of loose morals.

Women experienced inequality based on their class. The working class woman didn’t have to worry about her image as a public woman as much as middle- and upper-class women because the working classes were expected to be seen in public and they did not mingle with the upper classes. While these class stereotypes were demeaning, women knew what was expected of them and how to behave in order to fit in with middle-class society. This knowledge empowered women through gender solidarity built upon affiliation – with a religion, domesticity and/or class status.

Women were oppressed by cultural constraints that reinforced their gender differences as defined by men. It was okay for women to work outside the home during the war, but not after the war ended, when the men came home and returned to their jobs (Matthews 156). As the economy improved, jobs became more plentiful and women were employed more readily, but were paid less than men. There were fewer clerical, trade and professional opportunities for women than for men. Black and immigrant women had even fewer job opportunities than white women. Black women made up much of the agricultural and domestic labor; immigrant women made up much of the factory labor. The tragedy of the Triangle Shirtwaist Co. fire in 1910 led many women to become vocal and go public with demands for labor reform. The pre-war woman, aka the “true woman,” was domestic and maternal. The “new woman,” on the other hand, was “educated, enjoyed social mobility, economic sufficiency, and greater sexual freedom” (Lauter et al. 17).

In the 1950s postwar years, women struggled with maintaining a socially acceptable femininity if they had both a family and a job because motherhood was looked upon by society as the woman’s most important job (Evans 243). Senator Joe McCarthy mixed fear about women’s changing roles with fears about communism. However, during the 1950s, the economy and consumerism grew and many families needed a second income in order to have all the gadgets and appliances of a comfortable middle-class life. Women who worked to help the family became acceptable by society’s standards.

Women experienced oppression of their sexuality. Freudian followers during the postwar years “redefined sexuality in terms of motherhood” and stereotyped women as passive, sexual tools for men (Evans 248). When the Kinsey Report was published, it opened discussions about sexual preference and gave women well-researched information and language for discussing their own bodies. During this time, the suburbs were growing which created a “female ghetto” in which women were stereotyped in middle-class roles as stay-at-home moms who volunteered in the community, carpooled the children to activities, and acted as secretary, maid and entertainer for the working husband (Evans 250).

Many contradictions and complex challenges based on gender were faced by women in the postwar period including secondary education, careers, marriage, and birth control. Women faced discrimination, lack of respect, and denial of opportunities for training and promotion on the job. As “higher education expanded, the number of professional woman grew” and these professional women believed they could have a home, family and a job. This solidarity among the growing number of professional women was instrumental in creating opportunities for all women (Evans 261).

MLK had the capacity to think beyond national borders and wish for a worldwide brotherhood. He said that if Jesus is our savior, he is the voice all over the planet; he is the sufferer for the poor. MLK said that, “Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism.” In conclusion, anything that is accomplished towards the professed aims of the Preamble is quite extraordinary considering the size of America and its population growth. America houses the most diverse population of any country and in order for it to create a more perfect union for its citizens the government must stay in touch with the needs of its population and adapt its laws and regulations to meet that population.

Works Cited

Carr, Edward H. What Is History? New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1965. Web. USM E-reserves. 18 Jan. 2010.

Du Bois, W.E.B. “The Souls of Black Folk.” The Heath Anthology of American Literature. 5th ed. Ed. Paul Lauter et al. Boston: Houghton, 2006. 905. Print.

Evans, Sara. “The Cold War and the ‘Feminine Mystique’.” Born for Liberty: A History of Women in America. New York: Macmillan, n.d. Web. USM E-reserves. 4 March 2010.

Henretta, James A., et al. “The American West, 1865-1890.” America’s History. 2nd ed. Worth Publishers, n.d. Web. USM E-reserves. 4 Feb. 2010.

King, Martin Luther, Jr. “I Have a Dream.” The Heath Anthology of American Literature. 5th ed. Ed. Paul Lauter et al. Boston: Houghton, 2006. 2341-2344. Print.

Lauter, Paul, et al., eds. The Heath Anthology of American Literature. 5th ed. 3 vols. Boston: Houghton, 2006. Print.

Malcolm X, and Haley, Alex. “The Autobiography of Malcolm X.” The Heath Anthology of American Literature. 5th ed. Ed. Paul Lauter et al. Boston: Houghton, 2006. 2274-2279. Print.

Matthews, Glenna. “Introduction.” The Rise of Public Woman: Woman’s Power and Woman’s Place in the United States, 1630-1970. 3-11. New York: Oxford University, 1992. Web. USM E-reserves. 18 Feb. 2010.

Trennert, Robert A. “Educating Indian Girls at Nonreservation Boarding Schools, 1878-1920.” Western Historical Quarterly, 13 (1982): 169-90. Web. USM E-reserves. 4 Feb. 2010.

U.S. Department of Interior. “Board of Indian Commissioners’ Reports.” Annual Reports (June 30, 1905). H. Doc. 20: 59th Cong., 1st sess., 17-18. Web. USM E-reserves. 11 Feb. 2010.

Holm, Bill. Northwest Coast Indian Art: An Analysis of Form. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1965. Web. USM E-reserves. 4 Feb. 2010.

During the years between WWI and the Great Depression, a cultural awakening stirred changes among the black and white races, classes and genders. The Modernist movement enabled blacks to move from the stereotypical simple Old Negro to the sophisticated New Negro, a step forward in reaching the professed aims of the Preamble.

In the second half of the 19th century, serious women writers were considered professional authors just as men. Women wrote about social, economic, political, literary and religious inequalities. By sharing the female culture with a reading audience, women were able to network and, as a group, question the institutions of marriage, church, and education. From the stories, “A New England Nun” and “The Revolt of ‘Mother’,” by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, and “The Yellow Wallpaper” and “Turned,” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, the reader gets a glimpse into the daily lives of various women of this time period who are each treated dismissively by the dominant male characters in their lives.

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