At Appomattox, when Robert E. Lee came to surrender his forces to Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, the Confederate general likely felt a myriad of emotions.
Appomattox essentially marked the end of the war. The ceremony in the small courthouse in Virginia marked the end of secession. It marked the end of the Confederacy.
After Lee agreed to the terms of surrender, Grant brought his staff officers into the room but Lee was “in no mood for pleasantries,” Horace Porter wrote.
Grant assigned his aide, Ely S. Parker, to draw up the letter of surrender. Parker was a Native American, a Senecan.
“When introduced to the swarthy Parker, Lee blushed deeply, eyeing his complexion,” Ron Chernow wrote in his biography “Grant.” “... Evidently Lee relaxed when he realized Parker was a Native American.”
“I am glad to see one real American here,” Lee said as he shook Parker’s hand.
Parker responded, “We are all Americans.”
We are all Americans.
Throughout our nation’s history, we have had to repeatedly remind ourselves of this basic truth.
Whether it was North vs. South, federalists vs. republicans, Democrats vs. Republicans, conservative vs. liberal, right-wing vs. left-wing, race vs. race, class vs. class, native-born vs. immigrant, we have been called upon to recall that we may have our various birthrights, creeds or partisan affiliations but we are, above all, Americans.
In 1801, Thomas Jefferson took office following the first contest between partisan rivals for the presidency.
In his first inaugural address, Jefferson said we are all Americans without having to literally say we are all Americans.
“Every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle,” Jefferson said. “We are all Republicans, we are all federalists.”
We are each other.
As much as one brother may be different from another, or one sister from another, or a sister from a brother, we are still members of the same family. The American family.
But like siblings squabbling, we Americans often forget we are family.
So, we must perpetually be reminded.
Theodore Roosevelt said, “We are all Americans and nothing else, and each, without regard to his birthplace, creed or national origin, is entitled to exactly the same rights as all other Americans.”
The concept has even affected citizens of other nations.
Following the attacks of 9/11, the French newspaper Le Monde’s Sept. 12 edition included the front-page headline: “Nous sommes tous américains.” — “We Are All Americans.”
Yet, for generations, we forget it or refuse to adhere to it. We refute it. We rebel against it.
And repeatedly, we must remind ourselves of it, we must again embrace it, we must be shocked by the truth of it.
We must hear it and read it.
We are all Americans.
Dean Poling is an editor with The Valdosta Daily Times.