The American Creed

The American Creed

July 27, 2023

In 1881, a young boy named William Tyler Page left home, bound for our nation’s capital. Page knew little about politics, having spent most of his young life working in a paper-bag factory. But he had just been accepted as a courier in the House of Representatives.

He was only thirteen years old.

For Page, this was no ordinary summertime job.  It was actually the beginning of 61 years of uninterrupted public service.

As a teenager, Page spent his days delivering messages, running errands, and keeping the House organized.  Couriers were expected to work hard, be reliable, and always conduct themselves in a non-partisan manner.  Page must have enjoyed the work because he never left Washington.  Instead, he rose through the ranks, supervising and mentoring younger couriers as he got older.  He became such a trusted person in the Capitol that, amazingly, both parties often turned to him for advice on congressional procedure.

Having participated firsthand in every aspect of lawmaking, Page really knew how to get work done, and the members of Congress also knew that.  In 1919, at the age of 51, he was elected Clerk of the House of Representatives, where it was his responsibility to preserve order and decorum on the floor of the House at all times, to also keep official records, and to oversee the election of the Speaker of the House.

Page served in this capacity throughout the 1920s, when the Republican Party was in the majority.  When the Democrats took over in 1931, a special position of Emeritus Clerk was created specifically for him, showing just how respected he was on both sides of the aisle.  He was heralded for his dedication, expertise, and non-partisanship in the Capitol building.  And when he passed away in 1942 at the age of 74, both parties agreed to adjourn in his honor.

But, for all he did in his time in the House of Representatives, Page was most known for being the author of the American Creed.

In 1917, shortly after the U.S. entered World War I, the nation was gripped by patriotic fervor. Inspired by what he was seeing, Page began thinking about his own patriotism and what the country meant to him.

As someone who spent nearly every day of his life seeing “how the sausage gets made,” one might expect Page to have had a cynical view of our nation. After all, many Americans often feel this way. The headlines always seem to be full of mudslinging, scandals, and petty politics. As children, we learn in school about the heroic deeds, monumental speeches, and pivotal moments that make up our country’s history. But as adults, the magic of patriotism can get lost under an onslaught of negative partisanship.

In life, though, it’s the things we labor for the most that we tend to have the greatest love for. And William Page absolutely loved his country.

So, he decided to write his thoughts and feelings down on paper. What inspired him. What drove him. What made his country special. What made his country worth serving. His goal was to craft a simple but thorough statement of what it means to be an American…and why being an American has meaning.

It went like this:

I believe in the United States of America as a government of the people, by the people, for the people; whose just powers are derived from the consent of the governed; a democracy in a republic; a sovereign Nation of many sovereign States; a perfect union, one and inseparable; established upon those principles of freedom, equality, justice, and humanity for which American patriots sacrificed their lives and fortunes.

I therefore believe it is my duty to my country to love it, to support its Constitution, to obey its laws, to respect its flag, and to defend it against all enemies.

After writing these words, Page submitted his creed in a nationwide patriotic contest. Immediately, his statement caught on. You’ve probably already recognized some of the words and phrases as you read through it. They are the words of the Declaration of Independence and the Preamble to the Constitution. There is some of Daniel Webster’s legendary “Liberty and Union” speech in there, as well as snippets from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. His creed is an amalgamation of just about every argument for democracy. A summation of this crazy, grand experiment that began in the late 18th Century.  His words truly summarize the philosophical pillars on which our country rests.

Not surprisingly, Page’s words won the contest. They were recited by schoolchildren and added to many naturalization ceremonies.  And in 1918, they were passed by the House of Representatives – the same body Page had devoted his life to – as the American Creed.

In 2023, it’s easy to have a cynical view of our country. Easy to feel like this experiment in democracy has become an exercise in frustration. But nobody said this experiment was going to be easy. Only that it would be worth it.

Because the words in the American Creed are still true today.

We just recently celebrated our nation’s 247th birthday.  Our nation is still a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.  Our union may not always be perfect, but it will always be one and inseparable.  And it is still based on the principles of freedom, equality, justice, and humanity.  Principles that do not dull with the passage of time, but like stars in the sky, become ever brighter as they grow.

On holidays like the Fourth of July, we reflect on the achievements of our ancestors and the opportunities of our descendants. We ponder our own respective loves and beliefs and, hopefully, recommit to love, support, and defend our country.

In doing so, we reaffirm the words of the American Creed.

As we look back on this 247-year bold experiment known as Democracy, I for one am so proud to be an American, and grateful for patriots like William Tyler Page for reminding me just how remarkable and rare this journey has been!