"The two races, equally free, cannot live in the same government. Nature, habit, opinion has drawn indelible lines of distinction between them." —Thomas Jefferson
We are confronted by enemies, sunk in war, bleeding gold.
And yet, our America is a finer place today.
It took 232 years; the loss of 600,000 lives in a horrible Civil War; the ugliness of Reconstruction; untold lynchings; a civil rights movement of 50 years; soul-crushing assassinations; church bombings and race riots; ruined presidencies; momentous Supreme Court decisions; and the consignment of the Democratic Party to minority status for four decades.
And that's just what is listed in the history books.
Unmentioned go the silent toll of crushed hopes, the forgotten bravery, the astonishing faith, and the awful sorrows of those black Americans who escaped the noose and the whip, but lived, generation after generation, as second-class citizens in a land that celebrated, each Fourth of July, a hollow proclamation that all men were equal.
And then, today.
Today, we got it done.
History we made. Look around. Savor it. Take your kids aside and say, "Remember this day. The day your people finished a great journey. This is the day we redeemed a dream and made your country, once again, a beacon of freedom in a hate-filled world."
How difficult was the journey? Well, the geniuses that gathered in Independence Hall so long ago—courageous rebels all—quailed at the task we finish today.
"We must await with patience the workings of an overruling Providence," said Jefferson, writing about America's slaves in 1786. "When the measure of their tears shall be full, when their groans shall have involved heaven itself in darkness, doubtless a God of justice will awaken to their distress and by diffusing light and liberality among their oppressors, or at length by his exterminating thunder, manifest his attention."
But in his heart, Jefferson doubted it could be done. White and black could not live together, he believed. His preferred solution was to send the Africans back, across the middle passage, to Africa, from where they came.
"We have the wolf by the ears, and we can neither hold him nor safely let him go," he wrote.
And of particular disappointment, to Jefferson and the Founders as they aged, was the greed and indifference of succeeding generations, who likewise shunned the arduous work of emancipation.
"I had always hoped that the younger generation, receiving their early impressions after the flame of liberty had been kindled in every breast ... above the suggestions of avarice would have sympathized with oppression," Jefferson wrote shortly before he died.
"But my intercourse with them ... has not been sufficient to ascertain that they had made towards this point the progress I had hoped," he admitted. "I have considered the general silence which prevails on this subject as indicating an apathy unfavorable to every hope."
And so we should be particularly proud of the role played by America's youth. They are the children that Martin Luther King foresaw—the ones who would hold hands in the playground and, blind to color, weighing naught but the content of character, let freedom ring.
Surely, all the generations played their part—from those that gave their lives at Antietam and Shiloh to those who crossed the Selma bridge—but this youngest American cohort gave the final push.
They wrote songs and rang doorbells and created Internet videos and made $50 contributions. They inspired, with their hope and innocence, their parents and grandparents to believe one more time, and to get it done.
Yes we can, they said. And yes they did.
Yes did we all.
Tonight, a man of Africa, and of Kansas, was elected president of the United States.
It will be fashionable, in the blogs and newspaper commentaries, to say what difficult tasks now confront him. The evils of the world, and the legacy of our flaws, stand in fearful opposition to our success.
But we Americans have little to fear. The challenges of the future, however daunting, are nothing when compared to the evil dispelled today.
Let us just put our mechanics and economists and dreamy entrepreneurs to work, and engage America's warriors and diplomats, and poets.
Energy independence? A revived economy? The final defeat of a ragged band of terrorists? These are complex problems, but not worthy of our fear.
Today, we showed a world, seeped in its own hatreds and bigotry, what hope and courage, and free women and men can do.
A great leader once dared us to "believe in ourselves and to believe in our capacity to perform great deeds."
Today, great deeds were done.
"And after all, why shouldn't we believe?" asked Ronald Reagan. "We are Americans."