We the people: Podcast explores nation's journey from exclusion to inclusion

Jennifer Cohron
Posted 9/1/17

“In 1787, the framers set out a young nation’s highest ideals. And we’ve been fighting over them ever since.”

That is how the Washington Post introduced its new podcast, “Constitutional.”

Last year, the Post tackled the American …

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We the people: Podcast explores nation's journey from exclusion to inclusion

Posted

“In 1787, the framers set out a young nation’s highest ideals. And we’ve been fighting over them ever since.”

That is how the Washington Post introduced its new podcast, “Constitutional.”

Last year, the Post tackled the American presidency with a podcast that began 44 weeks from Election Day. Host Lillian Cunningham explored the personalities and leadership styles of the 43 men who occupied the Oval Office prior to President Trump.

In July, Cunningham returned with an in-depth look at the document that protects our most cherished rights.

Instead of proceeding amendment by amendment, Cunningham has chosen to frame the podcast around the preamble. She recently dedicated four episodes to groups who were not originally considered to be a part of “We the people” — Native Americans, the children of immigrants, African Americans and women.

Just as Cunningham found a way to make the presidents seem more relatable by asking scholars what it would be like to go on a blind date with them, she frequently chooses one representative to tell the story of the nation’s journey toward inclusion.

For example, Native Americans were not considered persons under the law until Chief Standing Bear spoke up in a Nebraska courtroom in 1879.

Standing Bear had been arrested while carrying the body of his dead son to the land where his people had lived for generations and from which they had been forcibly removed.

“That hand is not the color of yours, but if I prick it, the blood will flow, and I shall feel pain. The blood is of the same color as yours. God made me, and I am a man,” Standing Bear told a U.S. District judge who ultimately determined that Native Americans are persons nearly 100 years after the Constitution had been ratified.

The most recent episode focused on the struggle for women’s rights.

“In the new Code of Laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could,” Abigail Adams famously wrote to her husband, John, in 1776.

Of course, the idea seemed ridiculous to Adams and the other founders.

Thomas Jefferson, the man who asserted in the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal, wrote these words to Angelica Schuyler in 1788: “You see by the papers, and I suppose by your letters also, how much your native state has been agitated by the question on the new Constitution. But that need not agitate you. The tender breasts of ladies were not formed for political convulsion; and the French ladies miscalculate much their own happiness when they wander from the true field of their influence into that of politicks.”

The long battle for suffrage began at Seneca Falls in 1848 and ended in August 1920 when Tennessee became the final state to ratify the 19th amendment.

The deciding vote was cast by a 24-year-old legislator named Harry Burn. Burn, who had originally be counted in the anti-amendment camp, carried a letter in which his mother implored him to “be a good boy and help (suffragist) Mrs. Catt put the ‘rat’ in ratification.”

“I know that a mother’s advice is always safest for her boy to follow and my mother wanted me to vote for ratification,” Burn explained to his outraged colleagues the day after the vote.

On Aug. 26, President Trump joined a line of presidents dating back to Richard Nixon in signing a proclamation for Women’s Equality Day.

The date coincides with the Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby signed the proclamation that guaranteed American women the constitutional right to vote.

“As we observe Women's Equality Day, commemorating the 19th Amendment, we honor America's female pioneers. These resilient women have inspired countless others to challenge the status quo in order to advance the ultimate American value: that all men and women are created equal. Together, we are creating a Nation where every daughter in America can grow up believing in herself, her future, and following her heart toward the American Dream,” the proclamation stated.

Jennifer Cohron is the Daily Mountain Eagle’s features editor.