E Pluribus Unum: What Makes Us Americans?


By Jack Miller

We just witnessed one of the most surprising election cycles in our country’s history. The whole cycle revolved around what divides us rather than what unites us as Americans.

Since the Founding, American culture has been defined by a set of shared values. Our commitment to self-reliance, hard work, personal responsibility, ethical practices, the rule of law, the right to private property, and the dignity of the individual, has provided the framework for so many Americans to enjoy the highest standard of living in the world.

Ours is a culture that has attracted and is attracting millions of people to come here to become Americans and to enjoy the benefits of a life of freedom, a life where they can work to realize their dreams.

Our mission as a nation set forth in the Declaration of Independence says that “All men are created equal and are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

“The pursuit of happiness” means that everyone, through their own abilities and efforts, has the freedom to improve their position in life. This “unalienable right” is what has attracted so many to come to this nation of immigrants, this wonderful land of opportunity.

The rights and freedoms in our Declaration and Constitution have melded us together as “Americans.” They are at the foundation of American culture uniting us as a people.

I remember that unity when I was a kid growing up in Chicago back in the ’40s and ’50s. The city was divided into neighborhoods—Polish, Italian, Swedish, German, Jewish and so on. Each neighborhood had stores that sold their ethnic foods, clubs that were solidly ethnic and schools that were filled with people like them. At home, many spoke both English and their native language.

But beyond any differences, they had one key thing in common: everyone wanted to become an American, to enjoy the freedoms of American society and American culture.

Those neighborhoods are mostly gone today, as younger generations have integrated.

What remains, however, is that we’re a nation of immigrants, of many ethnicities—diverse people who should be joined together in commitment to principles that transcend ethnic and cultural divisions: we are all rooted in the principles of the Declaration.

“Multi-culturalism” threatens our unity, our shared commitments to certain “unalienable” truths. We do well to preserve a multi-ethnic nation and for each community to celebrate its heritage. But a multi-cultural society celebrates these differences at the expense of the common American values that have made us so unique and so great.

If we believe that mission statement in our Declaration—that all individuals equally have certain “unalienable” rights—is still valid, then we must work hard to preserve—and celebrate—our American culture.

We must ask ourselves what binds us together as Americans, what makes us e pluribus unum,  “out of many, one.” It is our rights, our shared commitments, our shared values, enshrined in our Declaration and Constitution that unite us, across differences, as Americans.

After an historically divisive campaign, we must now come together as Americans. That begins with educating all of our young people about those rights and their meaning so they are prepared to fulfill their role as citizens in preserving them for their children and grandchildren. And that is the unwavering mission of The Jack Miller Center.


Jack Miller, founder and chairman of the Jack Miller Center, is the author of Simply Success, a businessman’s guide to building a profitable and successful company.