"Providence," he writes, "has been pleased to give this one connected country to one united people - a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion ... very similar in their manners and customs ..."
Are we still that "one united people" today? Or has America become what Klemens von Metternich called Italy: "a mere geographical expression"?
In "Suicide of a Superpower," out this week, I argue that the America we grew up in is disintegrating, breaking apart along the fault lines of politics, race, ethnicity, culture and faith; that the centrifugal forces in society have now become the dominant forces.
Our politics are as poisonous as they have been in our lifetimes.
Sarah Palin was maligned as morally complicit in the murder attempt on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Terms like "terrorists" and "hostage-takers" are routinely used on Tea Party members who one congressman said want to see blacks "hanging on a tree."
Half a century after the civil rights revolution triumphed, the terms "racist" and "racism" are in daily use. We remain, said Eric Holder in calling us a "nation of cowards," as socially segregated as ever.
"Outside the workplace, the situation is even more bleak in that there is almost no significant interaction between us. On Saturdays and Sundays, America ... does not, in some ways, differ significantly from the country that existed some 50 years ago."
He is not altogether wrong in that. In California's prisons and among her proliferating ethnic gangs, a black-brown civil war has broken out.
Yet, by 2042, there will be 66 million black folks and 135 million Hispanics here, the latter concentrated in the states bordering Mexico.
What holds us together, then?
We are not now and will not then be "descended from common ancestors." We will consist of all the races, cultures, tribes and creeds of Earth - a multiracial, multicultural, multiethnic, multilingual stew of a nation that has never before existed, or survived. The parallels that come to mind are the Habsburg Empire that flew apart after World War I, and the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia that disintegrated after the Cold War.
No more will we all speak the same language. We will be bilingual and bi-national. Spanish radio and TV stations are already the fastest growing. In Los Angeles, half the people speak a language other than English in their own homes.
As for "professing the same religion," where 85 percent of Americans were Christians in 1990, that is down to 75 percent and plummeting.
The old Christian churches - Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran and especially Episcopalian - are splitting, shrinking and dying.
Where three in four Catholics attended Sunday Mass in 1960, it is now one in four. One in three cradle Catholics has lost the faith. The numbers of priests and nuns are plummeting; religious orders are dying; Catholics schools are closing.
The moral consensus and moral code Christianity gave to us has collapsed. Since the great cultural-social revolution of the 1960s, there has occurred what Nietzsche called the "transvaluation of all values."
What was morally repellent - promiscuity, homosexuality, abortion - is now seen by perhaps half the nation as natural, normal, healthy and progressive.
Socially, too, America is breaking down.
Where out-of-wedlock births in the 1950s were rare, today, 41 percent of all American children are born out of wedlock. Among Hispanics, it is 51 percent; among blacks, 71 percent. And the correlation between the illegitimacy rate, the drug rate, the dropout rate, the crime rate and the incarceration rate is absolute.
This helps to explain the four decades of plunging test scores of American children and the quadrupling of the prison population.
And while all this is happening, the state is failing.
We cannot control our borders, win our wars or balance our budgets. In three consecutive national elections - 2006, 2008 and 2010 - the incumbents have been repudiated. Confidence in politics, politicians and the future of the country has never been so low in our lifetimes.
There was a time not so long ago when the nation was united on a common faith, morality, history, heroes, holidays, holy days, language and literature. Now we fight over them all.
Neocons says not to worry, the Constitution holds us together.
Does it? Do we all agree on what the First Amendment says about the freedom to pray in school and celebrate Christmas and Easter? How can we be the "one nation, under God" of the Pledge of Allegiance, or the people "endowed by their Creator" with inalienable rights, if we cannot even identify or discuss or mention that God and that Creator in the schools of America?
Do we agree on what the Ninth Amendment says about right to life? What about what the 14th Amendment says about affirmative action? What the Second Amendment says about the right to carry a concealed gun?
The new secession that is coming, Rick Perry notwithstanding, is not like the secession of 1861. It is a secession of the heart from one another.