CHAPTER EIGHTEEN: Status Redux
The hierarchical class system that the founding fathers destroyed through the Radical Notion that all men are created equal had its origins in the Norman Conquest of 1066. To stamp out the pockets of rebellion that persisted after he won the Battle of Hastings, William the Conqueror confiscated the land of the Anglo-Saxon elites who had ruled England for the previous five-hundred years and redistributed it to his followers to maintain their loyalty.
Although his intent was to merely consolidate his power (just like any new boss would), William inadvertently created the British hierarchical class system, vestiges of which exist to this day in the United Kingdom. At the top of that system stand the “nobility”, which is comprised of the peerage and the landed gentry. Peers have titles (like duke, earl, or baron) and stand at the top of the pecking order just beneath the king. One rung below is the gentry, the gentlemen who lack titles but live off the rental income from their lands.
Everyone who isn’t born into the royal family or one of the noble classes is a “commoner”. It is a social system governed by status and passed on by birth. While all Englishmen are subjects of the crown, their status as a nobleman or commoner was the determining factor of their relative rights and liberty. The higher up the hierarchy one was, the more freedom he enjoyed.
Within that system, a commoner was not a free man. Even the very clothes he wore were subject to hierarchical dictate through sumptuary laws that barred him from wearing clothes made from certain “unnecessarily luxurious” fabrics (like velvet). Ostensibly, this was to keep demand from driving up the price of materials preferred by the noble class, but the real motivation was to keep commoners from imitating the dress of their betters. So important was status to those at the top of the English class hierarchy, that they were willing to pass laws to keep those at the bottom from culturally appropriating even the most minute indicia of what they viewed as their birthright.
It was this governance by status that the founding fathers most directly confronted in 1776 with the Radical Notion that all men are created equal. For them, it was not the class into which a man was born that determined his value, but rather the fact that he had been born at all with certain inalienable rights that were endowed by his Creator. Under this Radical Notion, a government did not exist to be served by its subjects, but rather to act as guarantor and protector of its citizens’ individual liberty.
In this way, the founders viewed the relationship between a citizen and his government as a matter of contract rather than status. Governments having been “instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed”, were thus contractually obligated to secure the rights and liberties of their citizens regardless of their status. If a government fails to do so, it is in breach of contract, in which case “it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government”.
Through this lens, the Declaration of Independence can be seen as a notice of termination to King George based upon his many breaches of the contract of governance under which he, in the founders’ view, was obligated to perform. It was also a notice of their intention to create a new contract between the citizens of the nascent United States of America and the republican form of government they intended to create for that purpose.
Having to first fight a bloody war of revolution to carry out their declared intentions, it would not be until 1789 that the founders would draft this new contract in the form of the Constitution and see it executed by the American citizenry.
Like all good contracts, the Constitution included a measure by which it could be amended without terminating the overarching relationship between the parties if it was proposed by two-thirds of Congress and ratified by three-fourths of the states. By requiring a super-majority to amend the Constitution, the founders ensured that it could not be done capriciously by a slim and tyrannical majority. Having fought so hard to be free from the hierarchy of status, the founders knew that liberty was a tenuous thing with many natural enemies. To preserve it, they designed a contractual system that protected the citizenry from the excesses of their own worst nature. `
Despite this super-majority required for passage, the Constitution has been amended twenty-seven times since its enactment. This reflects the fact that the Constitution, as great as it is, is not a perfect document—no contract can be, because they must all be drafted by human hands prone to error and limited by the need to compromise.
By providing for its amendment, the founding fathers recognized their own inherent human flaws and crafted a document flexible enough to account for them but strong enough to withstand the periods of high stress and limited visibility that periodically give birth to populist fervor. Had there been no means to amend it, the Constitution would have long since abandoned as unduly inflexible. Likewise, had those means been too easily achieved, the Constitution would be little more than a neutered statement of beliefs posted by a yard sign utopian.
But by allowing for it to evolve as the nation did, our founding fathers furnished us with a practical method to correct the Constitution’s imperfections, the greatest of which was the failure to extend the guarantees of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness to all of its citizens, regardless of the color of their skin.
When enacted, the Constitution discriminated between “free Persons” and “other Persons". Although it did not explicitly refer to slavery or skin color, it implicitly recognized a status hierarchy that pre-existed the Constitution in states where slavery was legal. It would take sixty-six years and the death of 620,000 men to eradicate this abominable flaw from the Constitution through the Thirteenth Amendment that made slavery and involuntary servitude illegal in these United States.
But that did not end the battle for freedom. The former beneficiaries of America’s status hierarchy fought to retain its tawdry benefits through Black Codes and Jim Crow laws that threatened to choke out the “new birth of freedom” that Abraham Lincoln articulated in the Gettysburg Address at the midpoint of the Civil War.
Dedicated as he knew freedom-loving Americans to be to the “proposition that all men are created equal”, Lincoln predicted a future in which all men would enjoy the guarantees of liberty enshrined in the Declaration of Independence—that we would someday fully be a nation of citizens governed by contract, rather than the mere subjects of a tyrannical status hierarchy. But this would only come to fruition if its citizens remained committed to the Radical Notion that all men are created equal and stayed in the fight to see it be so.
And so has it been in the century since the last shots were fired in the Civil War that men of good faith have continually persisted in the battle to fully evolve into a nation that judges its citizens by the content of their character rather than color of their skin. They have done so not only to fulfill the promise of liberty for all made by our founding fathers and honor the men who gave their lives to its preservation, but also because they know that a house divided against itself cannot stand. For such men, it is both an imperative of the Creator and in our own best interest to see the through the promises of liberty made by those who preceded us in the long march through from status to contract.
For the Minivan Centurion this is an essential in which we must have the unity of full agreement for us to remain united. He knows that he cannot be free unless all men are free, and thus stands athwart the designs of the Splitter who would divide us through factionalism and return this nation to a land tyrannized by a status hierarchy rather than one justly governed by contract.
While no human law or ordinance can fully and finally end our battle against factionalism—because it is a sin embedded in our flesh through the fall—the Minivan Centurion is a man of hope who relies upon the promise of Radical Notions to stay in the fight until kingdom come and the ultimate objective reached.
In this he never quits until the sword is wrested from his hand by the Creator because he does not have the permission to do so. He is a man under orders.