Bill Clinton’s History Lesson

“We champion the cause for which our founders pledged their lives, their fortunes, their sacred honor— to form a more perfect union.

If that’s what you believe, if that’s what you want, we have to re-elect President Barack Obama.”

Except that “our sacred honor” was the Declaration of Independence in 1776. “A more perfect union” is the Constitution replacing the Articles of Confederation government, over a decade later in 1787. But screw it, he was on a roll.

Tom Van Dyke

Tom Van Dyke, businessman, musician, bon vivant and game-show champ (The Joker's Wild, and Win Ben Stein's Money), knows lots of stuff, although not quite everything yet. A past contributor to The American Spectator Online, the late great Reform Club blog, and currently on religion and the American Founding at American Creation, TVD continues to write on matters of both great and small importance from his ranch type style tract house high on a hill above Los Angeles.


  1. This strikes me as nit-picky even for you Tom, but given that I don’t get your point about half the time anyway, I’ll conclude that there’s something significant here thst’s beyond my grasp.

  2. This is kind of like when the Constitution is wrongly cited for its reference to rights being endowed by the Creator – except without the consequences were it true.

  3. Meh….It wasn’t over when the Germans bombed us at Pearl Harbor.

      • Und der Haifisch, der hat Zähne,
        Und die trägt er im Gesicht.
        Und Macheath, der hat ein Messer,
        Doch das Messer sieht man nicht.

  4. Palin:

    And you know, he who warned the British that they weren’t going to be taking away our arms, by ringing those bells and making sure, as he is riding his horse through town, to send those warning shots and bells, that we were going to be secure and we were going to be free.

    Later amplified (if that’s the word I’m looking for) by

    Part of Paul Revere’s ride – and it wasn’t just one ride; he was a courier, he was a messenger – part of his ride was to warn the British that we’re already there, that hey, you’re not going to succeed. You’re not going to take American arms. You are not going to beat our own well-armed persons, individual, private militia that we have. He did warn the British.

    I’ll admit that it’s difficult to nitpick something that difficult to parse. It might help to translate it into Japanese and back. let’s see:

    Part of the ride of Paul Revere – It was not ride just one, and he was a messenger, was a courier – part of the ride of his, we, that hey ‘, I’m not going to do you people I have been successful in the United Kingdom was to warn that you are already there. I’m not going to take up arms in the United States you. You are not going to hit the person who has fully armed militia of our own that we have, personal and private. He did warn the British.

    Not a lot better, no.

    Anyway, what Palin seems to be saying is that it was Paul Revere’s explicit intent to
    warn the British not to attack. That is, the purpose of his ride and the signals and alarms sent thereby was to send a message to the British that the Americans were prepared for them. What the “experts” Tom linked to say is that he warned them only after he was captured, which was presumably not an intended result. Nor did he warn them by the actions she refers to; he warned them with words.

  5. Whether or not the Founders were pledging their sacred honor to form a more perfect union is a matter of opinion or perspective, not a factual claim. Whether all or any of them consciously intended the project of a more perfect union as the fruition of their struggle for independence, that is indeed what they, or we, ended up with. Clinton’s historical compression accurately reflects the entirety of the revolutionary period. You might say they pledged their lives and sacred honor for a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, or to create the greatest such and such and so and so as it appears in the vast majority of speeches at both of our political conventions.

    • CK, it’s not a matter of opinion. I can assure you—as this is an area of deep study for me—that those ratified the Constitution did not pledge their lives, honor, and fortunes to it.

      It’s a fascinating story. For Cliffs Notes purposes, I can only point here.

      • TVD, I’m sure you’ve read quite a bit about the period. I’ve done a little reading about it, too, but that doesn’t have anything to do with what I wrote. Precisely how Americans developed a true collective identity – true because they found meaning in it, would die and kill for it – is another question. The documents play a role. The historical narrative plays a role. Like most political speakers, though this time around the Democrats much more directly and insistently than the Republicans, Clinton was invoking history to create a sense of shared collective identity and purpose through time and beyond any merely individual horizon. It doesn’t matter whether some, most, or all Americans of the 1890s used copies of the Constitution as toilet paper. What matters is what one must believe to find meaning in American citizenship as opposed, say, to happening to live in America or to enjoy the benefits of American citizenship.

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