One America out of many

Published 11:17 pm Monday, October 14, 2013

The phrase “E pluribus unum” represents one of the most important ideas involved in the concept of America. But many Americans do not understand the phrase or its importance to our society. This lack of understanding and the lack of the concept’s practical application causes poverty in America.

“E pluribus unum” is found on the Seal of the United States. Alternate translations are “Out of many, one,” “One out of many” and One from many.”

On a practical basis, what does this Latin phrase mean to us today? What does it tell us about some of our greatest social challenges?


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There are basically two meanings of the phrase. For one, individual states combined into one single nation, the United States of America. The other meaning suggests that people of many races, religions, ancestries and cultures can come together to create a single people — us Americans.

America is different from many other nations. Historically, nations have comprised people who were of one race, practiced one religion, shared one culture, and had one strong, controlling central government. This is still the case in many nations today.

Many civil wars being fought today are armed conflicts involving one religious group trying to dominate the government and economy for their benefit over other religious groups. This has been the case in the Middle East for more than 60 years.

American government and society were intended to be different from other nations. After the Native Americans were killed or marginalized, the land that became the United States was a blank tablet.

In the beginning, the United States looked similar to other nations. But the words of our founding document, the Declaration of Independence, envisioned a different society. They envisioned a nation of people tolerant of race, religion, culture and ancestry with all participating equally. Slowly, with steps forward and back, we continue to strive to create one American people mirroring the Declaration’s words.

In many ways, we have been quite successful. But many of our social problems stem from our lack of complete success in implementing this concept among all of us. Since the mid-1950s, we have made greater progress from a legal standpoint than a practical one.

But we still have segments of our population that do not equally participate in being among the “one” American people. And their lack of participation is a major factor in their being among the poorest Americans.

Having grown up in Oklahoma, former Indian Territory, I saw that those Native Americans who willingly and actively participated in becoming part of the “one” American people were much better off financially, educationally and politically than those who strove to maintain their original Native culture and lifestyle.

I know highly successful Americans who are shunned by family members, because they are not considered “Indian enough.” They take pride in their native heritage, but have worked to educate themselves and find employment in the mainstream American economy. Their family members who are “Indian enough” are among the poorest Americans — living on government handouts, having disenfranchised themselves from participating in the American dream.

I see other groups of Americans following this same pattern and those that are “enough” are often among the poorest Americans.

Joseph L. Bass, Ed.D., is the executive director of ABetterSociety.Info Inc., a nonprofit organization in Hobson. Email him at