E Pluribus Unum

August 26, 2016

Thanks to Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, for today's blog.

For the past few weeks, I have been reading presidential speeches. If you want inspiration at a time when – as many claim – spirit regarding politics is at a low point, I encourage you to read presidential speeches. Many of these addresses were given in times of great need, heartache, danger or fear. The leader's voice comes through in these speeches as a leader of the many. This theme is constant in all of the speeches that I have read – the reinforcement that we are a unified peoples. The Great Seal of the United States of America still reads: e pluribus unum. Out of one, many. In De Offficiis, Cicero writes, “Nothing, moreover, is more conducive to love and intimacy than compatibility of character in good men; for when two people have the same ideals and the same tastes, it is a natural consequence that each loves the other as himself; and the result is, as Pythagoras requires of ideal friendship, that several are united in one.”(1) And much moreso when we are speaking of nations. Maintaining unity and friendship is much more complicated than it would appear. Constant pressures and changes affect every citizen in a variety of ways, independent of the events themselves. Perhaps this is the reason for the repeated emphasis upon the idea of unity as it pertains to the United States of America.

Though President Eisenhower changed the motto to In God We Trust in 1956, unity must be on the minds of most Americans as well. A Google search for “e pluribus unum” yields innumerable projects, businesses and technologies. What do all of these projects have in common? How do a many become a one? What is unity, singularity and why do we continue to rely on the evasive structure provided by this Latin phrase? This phrase founds businesses as diverse as a tattoo artist, construction company, and even one artist's project dedicated toward understanding a nation within a nation. That we need to come together has never been questioned, but how to create unity is always in doubt.

In 1956, Eisenhower approved the motto change from e pluribus unum to In God We Trust. Though the Great Seal remains unchanged, In God We Trust is the official motto of United States. In Dwight D. Eisenhower's Military-Industrial speech from 1961, he notes that “We face a hostile ideology – global in scope, atheistic in character, ruthless in purpose, and insidious in method.” Perhaps this idea is one which influenced the change in mottoes. Later in the same speech, he continues:

“Down the long lane of history yet to be written, America knows that this world of ours, ever growing smaller, must avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate, and be instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect.
“Such a confederation must be one of equals. The weakest must come to the conference table with the same confidence as do we, protected as we are by our moral, economic, and military strength. That table, though scarred by many past frustrations, cannot be abandoned for the certain agony of the battlefield.
“Disarmament, with mutual honor and confidence, is a continuing imperative. Together we must learn how to compose differences, not with arms, but with intellect and decent purpose.” (Watch the entire speech here).

I am drawn to the complex idea of unity that Eisenhower presents in this speech. At once he discusses the vast global changes, changes in technology and access to the world, and also to our own specific American identity within that globe. There is fear. There is pride. There is hope. But he also expresses great sadness. I think that all peoples can identify with these emotions as some sort of foundations of being itself.

As President in a time following war and also internal social struggles, Eisenhower's speech shows both wisdom and an informed perspective. It is only one of ten speeches that we will read for Harrison Middleton University's upcoming October Quarterly Discussion. Each speech discusses values and principles that are intended to unite a mass of unique individuals and inspire all of us with a sense of nation and self. We look forward to discussing values, identity, unity, and more with you. To join the conversation, email .


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