As state lawmakers gather in Austin, and Congress reconvenes in Washington, to take up immediate and pressing issues, we should consider how long some of those issues have been around and how successful we might finally be in resolving them.
Consider these few passages, written more than 200 years ago in the Declaration of Independence.
Here’s the part, in the United States, we know by heart.
“Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. …
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal …”
Those are the words we know; as taught rote in elementary school. But what do those words mean?
What is often overlooked is the rest of the document, which was written to the British Parliament listing colonial grievances against the king: For example, this passage:
“He has endeavored to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.”
It seems the status of immigrants or foreigners wanting to be naturalized as U.S. citizens was a topic of conversation in 1776 as it is now.
Then consider this passage from President Lyndon Johnson’s first speech to Congress after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963.
“First, no memorial oration or eulogy could more eloquently honor President Kennedy’s memory than the earliest possible passage of the civil rights bill for which he fought so long.
“We have talked long enough in this country about equal rights. We have talked for one hundred years or more. It is time now to write the next chapter and to write it in the books of law.
“I urge you again, as I did in 1957 and again in 1960, to enact a civil rights law so that we can move forward to eliminate from this Nation every trace of discrimination and oppression that is based upon race or color. There could be no greater source of strength to this nation both at home and abroad.”
It took nearly 200 years after the words “all men are created equal” were penned for legislation to pass that defined legally the status of all men. Likewise, it took more than 100 years after the Declaration of Independence was written to give women the right to vote.
Clearly, though, there still is much work to be done on civil rights, as there is on immigration and other issues, such as health care, education and taxes.
The question, though, is not whether lawmakers can solve these issues as they meet, but how much progress they will make.
• Dave Mathews