September 6, 2005
"We all agree that the seceded States, so called, are out of
their proper relation with the Union; and that the sole object of
the government, civil and military, in regard to those States is to
again get them into that proper practical relation."
-- Abraham Lincoln, April 11, 1865
As President Lincoln spoke those words, he had just led the
country through a bloody war of secession. Yet he never doubted
that the defeated southern states would rejoin the United
This is, after all, the land of E Pluribus Unum. One of the fundamental beliefs that make America a great idea and a great country is that of national unity. America draws strength not only from her diversity, but also from the fact that we have all historically viewed ourselves as one people.
Unfortunately, in recent years the great and fundamental idea "Out of many, one" has come under attack. It is attacked by the identity politics that pervade our nation's colleges and universities. It is attacked by the political correctness that affects our children's educations. And today it faces a new and profound threat: a Senate bill named the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act.
This measure -- quietly moved forward by Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii -- would create a separate government for "Native Hawaiians." Anyone who could prove a relationship with "the aboriginal, indigenous, native people who resided in the islands that now comprise the state of Hawaii on or before January 1, 1893" would be eligible to join up.
Once this new government was up and running, the Akaka bill would authorize the United States "to enter into negotiations with the governing entity to lead to an agreement addressing specified matters, including the transfer of lands, natural resources, and other assets and the protection of existing rights related to such lands or resources."
In other words, the bill would allow portions of Hawaii to do what Americans went to war to prevent the South from doing in 1861 -- secede from the United States.
Of course, there's no evidence that Hawaiians even want this bill. In 1954, the people of Hawaii voted overwhelmingly to become one of the United States, to become full citizens, committing themselves to protect and defend the Constitution and to build our country side by side. And Hawaiians are some of the proudest and most loyal citizens of our country.
During the recent Little League World Series, it was a team from Hawaii that represented the United States in the championship game. And as they played that game, their fans shouted in unison, "U-S-A!, U-S-A!, U-S-A!" But this bill specifically bypasses the Hawaiian people. They'll be given no chance to vote on whether or not they even want to create, out of whole cloth, a "tribe" of "Native Hawaiians."
The United States never has believed -- nor ever should believe -- in race-based government. The idea of making any citizen of our country with a drop of Hawaiian blood immune to our Constitution and legal structure would set us on an irreversible course away from "E Pluribus Unum." We might as well allow every racial group to begin claiming sovereignty of its own and immunity from federal laws.
Until now, by moving forward with this bill in secrecy, a small group of activists has been able to make great progress toward their goal of secession. But there's little doubt that most Americans, and probably most Hawaiians, wish to preserve our union. The Senate is expected to consider the Akaka bill this month, and if democracy prevails it will be soundly voted down.
President Lincoln knew Americans were committed to building one country where freedom, opportunity, prosperity and civil society could flourish for all. We'll soon find out if that's as true in the 21st century as it was in the 19th.
Ed Feulner is president of The Heritage Foundation (heritage.org), a Washington-based public policy research institute.