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Today’s politics seems more partisan than ever. We are very divided in what we believe to be the proper role of government and how government should, or shouldn’t, be used to shape our culture. Our language is becoming more and more divisive. We are fighting for the very definition of words and many are being “canceled” if they don’t use words correctly.
We must take care in the words we use and how we use them. As taught in Speaking the Language of Liberty by Bill Norton and Mark Herr, what we speak today will be our reality tomorrow. Choose your words carefully for they will define you and determine your future. To learn more about the power of words, we want to share a portion of chapter one of Speaking the Language of Liberty. We hope these ideas will help you navigate our increasingly contentious political landscape.
What We Speak Today Will Be the Reality of Tomorrow
It is important to understand the power of words and language in order to learn how to speak the Language of Liberty, because what we speak today will be the reality of tomorrow. If you speak the Language of Liberty today, you will have liberty tomorrow. If you speak the Language of Captivity today, you will have captivity tomorrow.
“All Men Are Created Equal” Freed the Slaves
Consider the following phrases from America’s founding documents:
“We hold these truths…”
“all men are created equal”
“separate and equal station”
“Person…shall be eligible to the Office of President”
“three fifths of all other Persons”
“We the People”
What do each of these phrases have in common? They were not the reality of the day when they were written in 1776 and 1787.
“We hold these truths.” What truths? It took decades for Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Adams, and others to help their countrymen see the truths that to them were self-evident. The conventional wisdom of the day acted as a fog that clouded the general understanding of the people. It took decades of the Language of Liberty to burn the fog off so people could see the light of self-evidency.
All men might have been created equal in reality, but in 1776, all men did not live by this self-evident truth. While America was working to bridge the gap between the classes, slavery continued to be a dark cloud that loomed over the country. The dark cloud of slavery diseased many minds, making it difficult to see the self-evident truths of Liberty.
Though the powers of the earth recognized each individual in their “separate and equal station,” that certainly was not the mainstream reality in 1776. Slavery, indentured servitude, and social classes, indicated that the public did not recognize the separate and equal station of the individual.
The Constitution of the United States does not mention women—it does not mention men either. A “Person…shall be eligible to the Office of President.” A “person.” The Constitution is gender neutral. It did not prohibit women from voting or holding public office, but that was not the reality of the day. Women could not vote in 1787 or hold public office even though the Constitution did not prohibit it.
The American Founders are often chastened for the three-fifths clause in the Constitution that seemingly declared that a black person was worth only three-fifths of a white person. This chastening is an indication of more emotion than thought by the chastener. Contrary to this emotional opinion, the clause only pertained to a slave and not a free black person and was therefore instrumental in freeing the slaves by giving less representation to slave states. This fact was discovered by the self-educated, former slave Frederick Douglass. He laid out the argument of that fact in 1860 when he said:
“It is a downright disability laid upon the slaveholding States; one which deprives those States of two-fifths of their natural basis of representation. A black man in a free State is worth just two-fifths more than a black man in a slave State, as a basis of political power under the Constitution. Therefore, instead of encouraging slavery, the Constitution encourages freedom by giving an increase of "two-fifths" of political power to free over slave States. So much for the three-fifths clause; taking it at its worst, it still leans to freedom, not slavery; for, be it remembered that the Constitution nowhere forbids a coloured man to vote.”
The phrase “We the People” did not necessarily represent all the people when it was written, but it does today. In fact, all of those phrases were not the reality of their day, but they are the reality of our day. They were positive, optimistic, and forward-thinking. Those phrases were the Language of Liberty. When we speak the Language of Liberty today, we will have liberty tomorrow. All men were not treated equal in 1776, but the phrase “all men are created equal,” sparked a revolution in the mind of man that eventually freed the slaves, bridged the social classes, and secured the right of women to vote and hold public office.
Our day is certainly not perfect. We still have a long way to go before those phrases are perfectly realized, but we have come far from the days when men held other men in bondage. We have, at times, gone backwards, too. As our language changes we either leap forward or stumble back. The gap between social classes, for example, seems to widen when we use the Language of Captivity—entitlement language, victimization language, etc., instead of the more optimistic approach of industrious language, empowerment language, etc. It is clear that we become what our language is. If we talk like a victim, we will become a victim. If we speak of our dreams, we will likely achieve them.
The Founders had a vision of what they thought we could be, even though we were not in 1776 and 1787. They hoped that presenting the words to the tribunal of the world, they would become a reality in future days.
In the beginning (1776), there were words of liberty, and those words became liberty—the words are liberty. Words become powerful when given meaning, or powerless when deprived of meaning. What words are you using? What future are your words conjuring? If you speak the Language of Captivity, then you have captivity to look forward to in your future. If you want to partake of the fruit of liberty in the future, you must speak the Language of Liberty today.
 Frederick Douglass speech before the Scottish Anti-Slavery Society in Glasgow, Scotland on March 26, 1860