America: For the People, By the People?

In his Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln stated that a government “of the people, by the people, for the people” is essential for a unified America. But is America really “for the people, by the people?”

The America we know today is unique in the way that it was founded 300 years ago rather than developed for thousands of years into what it now has become. As a contrast to many other countries, the history of this country is short, starting with Europeans immigrating here in the eighteenth century. As people started moving here, they had a dream about America being the new, free land for those oppressed in their home countries.

People still hold on to this dream about the country. While looking back at history I feel like many have a tendency to heavily sugar coat what the country actually looked like. Has it ever, really, even been great?

For protestants oppressed by catholic rulers, America seemed like a dream. For poor farmers owning only a few pieces of clothing, America seemed like a dream. But for the people already living here when these people arrived, America was surely turning into the exact opposite of a “dream.”

When speaking of the history of this country it’s important to remember what it’s built on; the violence and the racism towards the non-white, non-Europeans that occurred.

The Native American and the African American history museums I visited in Washington DC provides clear proof of these elements of the American history. In the first mentioned museum there was an exhibition about the treatment of Native American tribes throughout history. What might surprise many is that this history is in fact very recent.


Protests about the pipeline in North Dakota.

For example, it wasn’t until the year 1978, that the Indian Child Welfare Act was passed. The reason for this law was to protect Native American children as nearly 25-35% of all Native American children were being removed from their homes and placed in homes without their Native American culture.1  In addition, many tribes are still fighting the government, as well as American companies that wants to destroy big parts of the Native Americans’ sacred land in order to make room for the growing infrastructure. There’s currently an ongoing conflict about a pipeline in North Dakota.2

The history of discrimination towards African Americans is just as recent. Laws about segregation such as the Jim Crow laws were still in place only 50 years ago and racism is still something American people of color are facing on a daily basis.3 In 2012, more than 50 out of every 1 million African Americans in the United States were the targets of a racially motivated hate crime.4


Copies of the Jim Crow laws at the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

My point is that I don’t believe America has ever been “for the people, by the people.” To establish a truly unified America, I do agree with Lincoln on the fact that a government “for the people, by the people” is essential. And I think that slowly, this country is getting closer to that goal but I don’t believe the country has ever been there.

I don’t think America has ever been for all the people, or by all the people – this country has mainly been ruled by heterosexual, cisgendered, white men with good economical status. The reality is that America is a very diverse country and all social groups need to represented in the government or else it will continue to be a power consisting of a group of people ruling over a different group of people.

In conclusion, I do not believe that America is “for the people, by the people” because certain groups of people have been more favoured than others throughout history. However, the fact that these museums exist for the public to see is proof that America is owning up to its history, which is a step towards the America that Lincoln was describing. Hopefully, we’ll move faster towards that goal than we have in the past.

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