Category Archives: civil war

The Continuum of History and Memory: The Example of the American Civil War Today

Friends Of Padre Steve’s World,

Barbara Tuchman wrote:

“No one is so sure of his premises as the man who knows too little.”

Our present situation in the United States proves that. No quote could better describe our current President, his entourage, and his cult of true believers. When one sees the President continually making up lies aided by cabinet members, Congressmen, media propagandists, and political preachers, one cannot take that for granted, regardless of the subject; especially when they claim to say that lies are the truth. George Orwell’s words on this come to mind:

“Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.”

The President claims to love the military, but he claims a knowledge greater than his military leaders, commits war crimes and pardons war criminals, even talks about his military service though he didn’t serve and actually avoided serving while publicly disparaging those who did. But I digress, I got carried away simply because because the similarity of these individuals is so much like that of the leaders of the Confederacy, and it’s perpetual defenders who avoid facts and make up myths to prop up the legacy of the rebellion founded upon White Supremacy and African slavery, whose leaders destroyed the bulk of their states to defend that, even when they knew that they could not win. The only problem is that their ideology never died and has found new life. To the casual observer or one raised on the myths of The Noble South, and The Lost Cause, facts don’t matter.

That being said finite human beings find themselves bound by time and space, we live in the present, but not the present alone, but rather three worlds: one that is, one that was, and one that will be. The German historian Ernst Breisach wrote:

“In theory we know these three worlds as separate concepts but we experience as inextricably linked and influencing each other in many ways. Every new and important discovery about the past changes how we think about the present and what we expect of the future; on the other hand every change in the conditions of the present and in the expectations of the future revises our perception of the past. In this complex context history is born ostensibly as reflection of the past; a reflection which is never isolated from the present and the future. History deals with human life as it “flows” through time.”

Richard Evans wrote something in the preface to his book The Third Reich in History and Memory that those who study military history often forget. He noted:

“Military history, as this volume shows, can be illuminating in itself, but also needs to be situated in a larger economic and cultural context. Wherever we look, at decision-making at the top, or at the inventiveness and enterprise of second rank figures, wider contextual factors remained vital.”

Thus while this work is an examination of the American Civil War it is important to understand the various issues that were formative for the men who directed and fought the battle, as well as the vast continuum of often distant and seemingly unrelated events that come together at one time in the lives of the participants in any historic event.

This is important and it goes to a broader view of history and education rather that many people are comfortable with. We live in an age where much of education, even higher educations has been transformed into training for a particular skill to gain, or with which to enter the workforce, rather than teaching us to think critically. The social sciences, the liberal arts, philosophy, history are often considered by politicians and business leaders as skills which do not help people get jobs and have been the subjects of cuts in many public university systems.

Andy Chan, Vice President for Personal and Career Development at Wake Forest University wrote: “The prevailing argument is that students should study or major in something “employable,” something that is directly correlated to a job in a high paying career field. This view is espoused by many parents and national leaders, including politicians on both sides of the aisle. Many have called for additional STEM majors as well as eliminating funding for “softer” disciplines.” Like it or not such efforts impact the serious study of history and minimize the exsposure of students in the STEM disciplines to the broader aspects of intellectual study that happen provide them with a moral, ethical, and historic foundation for their disciplines. Giles Lauren in his introduction to B. H. Liddell-Hart’s classic Why Don’t We Learn from History?, wrote:

“Education, no longer liberal, has largely become a question of training in a skill for gain rather than teaching us how to think so as to find our own way. ‘It is strange how people assume that no training is needed in the pursuit of truth.’ We must learn to test and judge the information that comes before us. After all: ‘Whoever habitually suppresses the truth … will produce a deformity from the womb of his thought.’”

Liddell-Hart expressed the importance of a wide view of history as well as the importance of being able to dig deep into particular aspects of it, bit of which are important if we want to come as close to the truth as we can. He wrote:

“The benefit of history depends, however, on a broad view. And that depends on a wide study of it. To dig deep into one patch is a valuable and necessary training. It is the only way to learn the method of historical research. But when digging deep, it is equally important to get one’s bearings by a wide survey. That is essential to appreciate the significance of what one finds, otherwise one is likely “to miss the forest for the trees.””

This can be a particular problem for those who write about specific aspects of the American Civil War, especially about particular battles, technical developments, or individuals. Many writers dig deep into a particular subject, but despite their good work, miss important aspects because they have not done the groundwork of trying to put those subjects into the broader historical, as well as sociological context.

One cannot understand the determination the determination of Robert E. Lee to maintain the offensive without understanding his devotion to Napoleon, or his view of the war and the battles his men fought without understanding and taking into account his view of Divine Providence which was a part of his religious experience. One cannot understand the dogged persistence of Joshua Chamberlain or Strong Vincent to hold Little Round Top, without understanding their patriotic idealism and the nearly spiritual significance of the Union to them. One cannot understand William Tecumseh Sherman without understanding the often cold realism that shaped his world view. The same is true for any of the men, and women, soldier or civilian, slave, or free, who had some part, great or small in the war.

Thus it is important when digging deep, to also attempt to understand the broader perspective of history, and how factors outside their direct military training and experience, such as culture, politics, economics, religion, sociology, ideology, life experience, and all of those factors shaped these men and their actions. By such means we get closer to the truth and by doing so avoid the myths which even after a century and a half, still clutter the works of many people who write about the Civil War.

Likewise, in order to understand the context of the battles of the Civil War, or for that matter the battles in any war, one has to understand the events, ever distant events which play a role in the battle. All too often those that delve into military history, or a particular battle see that as separate event, often disconnected from other historical events. But as historian Edward Steers Jr. correctly notes, history “does not exist in a series of isolated events like so many sound bites in a newscast. It is a continuum of seemingly unrelated and distant events that so often come together in one momentous collision of time.”

To explain this in a different way, let us look at the Battle of Gettysburg as a case in point, but needless to say that no-matter what battle we study there are other factors, that influence it. In the case of the Battle of Gettysburg events like Lincoln’s publication of the Emancipation Proclamation, are important, as it resets the political and diplomatic narrative of the war in a way that influences both domestic politics, and diplomacy.

Diplomacy is another aspect that must be considered, and the incompetence of Confederate diplomats was a major factor. These men were unsuccessful in bringing France or Great Britain into the war, nor could they persuade any European power to recognize the Confederacy. Both of these failures were brought about by their provincialism and by their lack of understanding of the domestic politics of France and England. Both nations had abolished slavery, banned the slave trade, and had populations that were overwhelmingly against slavery.

On the military front, the failures of the Confederate armies in the West to maintain their hold on the Mississippi River, played a crucial role in Robert E. Lee’s ill-advised decision to launch an invasion of Pennsylvania, as did the failing Confederate economy. None of these events can be disconnected from it without doing violence to the historical narrative and thereby misunderstanding why the battle was important.

Another element that must be connected in order to understand the American Civil War is the part that policy, strategy, war aims, as well as operational doctrine, tactics, and technology played in every campaign of the war. When we examine those dimensions of the war and of specific campaigns we go back to the human factor: the people whose ideas, character, and personalities, influenced the conduct of the war and how it was waged.

Finally, events such as the battles of Antietam, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Vicksburg, and Atlanta, or the Overland Campaign or Sherman’s March to the Sea cannot be looked at as a stand-alone events for their military value only. The clash at Gettysburg as the armies of the Confederacy battled the Army of the Potomac, and surged and then ebbed back from their “high water mark,” is important. What happened there influences the rest of the war. However, it does not take place in isolation from other battles and events. While the war would go on for nearly two more years, the Union victory at Gettysburg coupled with the victory of Grant at Vicksburg ensured that the Confederacy, no matter how hard it tried would not be able to gain its independence through military means. It was no longer the master of its fate, it needed the Northern “Peace” Democrats to successfully win the election of 1864, and it needed intervention from Europe, neither which was forthcoming.

Maybe even more importantly the story of the Civil War is its continued influence today. The American Civil War was America’s greatest crisis. It was a crisis that “has cast such a shadow over the relations between the North and the South that the nation’s identity and its subsequent history have been considerably influenced by it.”

One cannot underestimate the importance of the American Civil War, it was the completion of the American Revolution and the birth of a modern nation. The successes and failures, the victories and defeats, and the scars that remain resonate in American cultural, political, and social divide, be it in the minds and hearts of the descendants of freed slaves, Southerners weaned on the myth of the Lost Cause, or the progeny of the Irish and German immigrants who fought for a country where they were despised and discriminated against by the adherents of the anti-immigrant Know Nothing movement. The remains of three-quarters of a million Union and Confederate soldiers interred in cemeteries across the North and South, the monuments devoted to them in town squares, the preserved battlefields with their now silent cannon are a constant reminder of this war that made a nation.

Many people pore over the accounts of the battles of the war, while the legions of devoted Civil War historians, re-enactors, military history buffs, and members of organizations such as the Sons of Confederate Veterans testify to the war’s continued hold on Americans and their fascination with it. The military struggle was important, but we always have to keep it in the context of why the war was fought and why so many of the issues that it was fought over remain issues today, as Ted Widmer noted; “What Lincoln called a “new birth of freedom” felt like a straitjacket to those who opposed it, and their legacy is still felt, in the many forms of opposition to the federal writ that we witness on a daily basis.”

It is important to understand how the war was fought, but it even more important to understand the relationship of how it was fought with why it was fought and in some ways is still being fought, as was evidenced by the vast numbers of Confederate battle flags proudly displayed outside of the historic Confederacy during much of the 2016 Presidential campaign.
Historian David Blight wrote:

“The boundaries of military history are fluid; they connect with a broader social, cultural, and political history in a myriad of ways. In the long run, the meanings embedded in those epic fights are what should command our greatest attention. The “war of ideas” as Douglass aptly called it, has never completely faded from our nation’s social condition or historical memory. Suppress it as we may, it still sits in our midst, an eternal postlude playing for all who deal seriously with America’s past and our enduring predicaments with race, pluralism and equality.”

The battles of the American Civil War are enshrined in American history and myth, and are woven deeply into the story of the nation. In this story the Battle of Gettysburg is often viewed different ways depending on one’s perspective. For many in the North the battle is viewed as a victory that helps brings an end to the institution of slavery, and with it freedom for enslaved African-Americans, and the preservation of the Union. In the South it is often part of the myth of the Noble Confederacy and the Lost Cause where the South was defeated by the Northern superiority in men and war making ability. At Gettysburg there is a certain irony that in the shadow of the cemetery where over 3,500 Union soldiers lay in hallowed repose and where Abraham Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address that Confederate memorabilia vastly outsells that of the side that won the battle. People wearing t-shirts emblazoned with the image of the Confederate battle flag, and sayings like “I Will Not be Reconstructed” are bought at local gift shops, and their wearers parade past the graves of the Union soldiers who lie just a few hundred yards up the slope of West Cemetery Hill. For me, although members of both sides of my family owned slaves and fought for the Confederacy as members of the 8th Virginia Cavalry.

Yet in both cases, the truth is not so simple; in fact it is much more complex, and the truth is we are still in the process of learning from and interpreting the historical records of the events that led to the American Civil War, the war itself, and the aftermath. They are all connected and for that matter still influence Americans today more than any other era of our history. In fact James McPherson who is one of the nation’s preeminent scholars on the Civil War and Reconstruction wrote:

“I became convinced that I could not fully understand the issues of my own time unless I learned about their roots in the era of the Civil War: slavery and its abolition; the conflict between North and South; the struggle between state sovereignty and the federal government; the role of the government in social change and resistance to both government and social change. These issues are as salient and controversial today as they were in the 1960s, not to mention the 1860s.”

The prolific American military historian Russell Weigley wrote of how the war, and in particular how the Battle of Gettysburg changed the American Republic.

“The Great No one is so sure of his premises as the man who knows too little.”Civil War gave birth to a new and different American Republic, whose nature is to be discovered less in the Declaration of Independence than in the Address Delivered at the Dedication of the National Cemetery at Gettysburg. The powerful new Republic shaped by the bayonets of the Union Army of the Civil War wears a badge less benign aspect than the older, original American Republic. But it also carries a larger potential to do good for “the proposition that all men are created equal” both at home and around the world.”

Thus it is important for Americans to learn about the American Civil War, but not solely for its military significance, nor for clear-cut answers or solutions. The lessons go far deeper than that and span the spectrum of the world that we live in today. The fact is that “situations in history may resemble contemporary ones, but they are never exactly alike, and it is a foolish person who tries blindly to approach a purely historical solution to a contemporary problem. Wars resemble each other more than they resemble other human activities, but similarities can be exaggerated.”

British military historian Michael Howard warned. “the differences brought about between one war and another by social or technological changes are immense, and an unintelligent study of military history which does not take into account these changes may quite easily be more dangerous than no study at all. Like the statesman, the soldier has to steer between the dangers of repeating the errors of the past because his is ignorant that they have been made, and of remaining bound by theories deduced from past history although changes in conditions have rendered these theories obsolete.”

The ideal that we reach for is to understand the battles of the American Civil War in context, which includes understanding what led to the war as well as the period of Reconstruction, and the post-Reconstruction era and the continued reverberations today.

The American Civil War determined much of the history that followed, not only in the United State, but around the world both in its military advances which transformed war into a mechanized conflict that continues to grow more deadly, and in terms of politics, and social development.

The lessons of this period go far beyond military and leadership lessons gained in studying the battles themselves. They go to our understanding of who we are as a people. They are social, religious, political, economic, diplomatic, and informational. From a strategist’s perspective they certainly help inform the modern policy maker of the DIME, the diplomatic, informational, military, and economic elements of national power, but they are even more than that; the period provides lessons that inform citizens as to the importance of liberty, responsibility, and the importance of both fighting for and defending the rights of the weak and the oppressed.

They also deal with the lives of people, and throughout this volume you will find biographical portraits of some of the key people woven into the story for without them, there really is no story. The one constant in human history are real human beings, some driven by passion, ideology, religion, wealth, or power. There are others who in their quest for knowledge discover things that change the world, invent machinery that alters history, and create weapons which make killing easier. There are men and women who fight for truth, and seek justice for the oppressed. There are the honest and the hucksters, those with character and those that are charlatans. Then to are those who live in fantasy words, cloud-cuckoo lands of unreality that cause them to believe in and pursue causes that can only end in tragedy for them and in many cases others, and finally there are the realists who recognize situations for what they are and are willing to do the hard thing, to speak truth and to act upon it.

All of these types of people can be found in this great war in what was undoubtedly a revolutionary age of change, an age which has influenced the life of this nation, our people, and the world for over a century and a half. Its ghosts haunt our laws and institutions, the sacrifices of soldiers, and the actions of men like Abraham Lincoln have inspired people in this country and around the world.
In writing this volume I attempt to draw lessons from the Civil War era and the people who helped create the world in which we live. Even so I try to do so without making the mistake of assuming that what we learn and know about them is immutable and thus not subject to change; for the past influences the present, even as the present and future will influence how we view and interpret the past.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under books, civil rights, civil war, culture, Gettysburg, History, leadership

 “Sound the loud timbrel o’er Egypt’s dark sea, Jehovah hath triumphed, his people are free.” The Emancipation Proclamation

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Today is the 156th  anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. The proclamation made by Abraham Lincoln when the outcome of the rebellion of the Southern slave states against the Union was still up in the air was a watershed for civil rights in the United States. Though it was a military order that only affected slaves in the rebellious states, it also set the stage for the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments and other legal rulings that affected not only African Americans and former slaves, but also Native Americans, Women, other racial minorities and LGBTQ people. It is something that in our era when so many civil rights are under threat that we must remember and continue to fight for in the coming years. Freedom is never free.

As you read this compare the words of Lincoln with those of his Copperheads, or Peace Democrat opponents it would seem that the modern Republicans led by President Trump, have become the new day Copperheads, a party of White Supremacy, willing to destroy the country in order to do so. Thus the fight goes on.

This article is a part of my hopefully soon to be published book “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory!” Race, Religion, Ideology, and Politics in the civil War Era. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

From the beginning of the war many Northerners, especially abolitionists and radical Republicans believed that “as the “cornerstone” of the confederacy (the oft-cited description by the South’s vice-president, Alexander H. Stephens) slavery must become a military target.” [1]When some Union generals made their own attempts at issuing emancipation orders, Lincoln countermanded them for exceeding their authority. Lincoln resisted the early calls of the abolitionists to make that a primary war goal for very practical reasons, he had to first ensure that the Border Slave States did not secede, something that would have certainly ensured that the Union would not survived. As a result in the first year of the war, Lincoln “maneuvered to hold Border South neutrals in the Union and to lure Union supporters from the Confederacy’s Middle South white belts. He succeeded on both scores. His double success with southern whites gave the Union greater manpower, a stronger economy, and a larger domain. These slave state resources boosted free labor states’ capacity to should the Union’s heavier Civil War burden.” [2] His success in doing this was instrumental in enabling him to turn to emancipation in 1862.

Finally, some twenty months after Fort Sumter fell and after nearly two years of unrelenting slaughter culminating in the bloody battle of Antietam, Abraham Lincoln published the Emancipation Proclamation. Emancipation was a tricky legal issue for Lincoln as “an executive order of emancipation would be beyond the powers of the president, but not, Lincoln concluded, if such an order were issued as furtherance of the executive’s war powers.” [3] Lincoln had desired to issue the order during the summer and sounded out elected officials and soldiers as to his plan.

Lincoln discussed his views with General George McClellan during a visit to the latter’s headquarters. McClellan stated his strident opposition to them in writing. McClellan did not admire slavery but he despised abolitionists and he wrote one of his political backers “Help me to dodge the nigger – we want nothing to do with him. I am fighting for the Union…. To gain that end we cannot afford to mix up the negro question.”  [4]

Lincoln then called border state Congressmen to sound them out on the subject on July 12th 1862 only to be met with opposition. Such opposition caused Lincoln “to give up trying to conciliate conservatives. From then on the president tilted toward the radical position, though this would not become publicly apparent for more than two months.” [5]

Lincoln’s cabinet met to discuss the proclamation on July 22nd 1862 and after some debate decided that it should be issued, although it was opposed by Postmaster General Montgomery Blair who believed that “the Democrats would capitalize on the unpopularity of such a measure in the border states and parts of the North to gain control of the House in the fall elections.” [6] Wisely, Lincoln heeded the advice of Secretary of State Seward to delay the announcement until military victories ensured that people did not see it as a measure of desperation. Seward noted: “I approve of the proclamation, but I question the expediency of its issue at this juncture. The depression of the public mind, consequent on our repeated reverses, is so great I fear…it may be viewed as the last measure of an exhausted government, a cry for help…our last shriek on the retreat.” Seward suggested that Lincoln wait “until the eagle of victory takes his flight,” and buoyed by military success, “hang your proclamation about his neck.” [7]

After the Battle of Antietam, President Lincoln issued the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. This document served as a warning to the leaders of the South, and insisted that there was much more at stake in their rebellion unless they surrendered; their slaves, the very “property” for which the seceded. The document “warned that unless the South laid down its arms by the end of 1862, he would emancipate the slaves.” [8] This was something that they could not and would not do, even as their cities burned and Confederacy collapsed around them in 1864.

The proclamation was a military order in which Lincoln ordered the emancipation of slaves located in the Rebel states and areas of those states occupied by Union troops. It was not designed to change law, which would have to wait until Lincoln felt he could have Congress amend the Constitution.  Instead of law it was “the doctrine of military necessity justified Lincoln’s action.” [9] The concept emanated from Boston lawyer William Whiting who argued “the laws of war “give the President full belligerent rights” as commander and chief to seize enemy property (in this case slaves) being used to wage war against the United States.” [10] There was a legitimate military necessity in the action as Confederate armies used slaves as teamsters, laborers, cooks, and other non-combatant roles to free up white soldiers for combat duty, and because slaves were an important part of the Southern war economy which could not function without them. The proclamation gave inspiration to many slaves throughout the South to desert to the Union cause or to labor less efficiently for their Confederate masters. A South Carolina planter wrote in 1865:

“the conduct of the Negro in the late crisis of our affairs has convinced me that we were all laboring under a delusion….I believed that these people were content, happy, and attached to their masters, But events and reflection have caused me to change these positions….If they were content, happy and attached to their masters, why did they desert him in the moment of need and flocked to the enemy, whom they did not know….” [11]

The proclamation authorized that freed blacks be recruited into the Federal army and it ensured that freed slaves would not again be surrendered back into slavery. As Montgomery Blair had warned Lincoln and the Republicans suffered sharp electoral reverses as “Democrats made opposition to emancipation the centerpiece of their campaign, warning that the North would be “Africanized” – inundated by freed slaves competing for jobs and seeking to marry white women.”  [12]

Lincoln’s response was to continue on despite the opposition and issue the Proclamation in spite of electoral reverses and political resistance. The vehemence of some Northern Democrats came close to matching that of white Southerners. The “white Southerner’s view of Lincoln as a despot, hell-bent on achieving some unnatural vision of “equality,” was shared by Northern Democrats, some of whom thought the president was now possessed by a “religious fanaticism.” [13] But Lincoln was not deterred and he understood “that he was sending the war and the country down a very different road than people thought they would go.” [14] He noted in December 1862:

“Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history….This fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation….In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free – honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve.”[15]

For Lincoln the Emancipation Proclamation was something that he believed was something that he had to do, and he believed that it would be the one thing that he did in life that would be remembered. He had long been convicted of the need for it, but timing mattered, even six months before it might have created a political backlash in the North which would have fractured support for the war effort, and in this case timing and how he made the proclamation mattered.

The Emancipation Proclamation had military, domestic political, and diplomatic implications, as well as moral implications for the conduct of the war.

 Soldiers of the 1st South Carolina (colored) Infantry announcing emancipation near Port Royal S.C on January 1st 1863 

The military implication would take some time to achieve but were twofold. First, Lincoln hoped that the Emancipation Proclamation would encourage former slaves, as well as already free blacks in the North to join the Union cause and enlist to serve in the Federal Army. The act would vest African Americans in the Union’s cause as little else could, and at the same time begin to choke-off the agricultural labor force that provided the backbone of the Confederate economy. Frederick Douglass eloquently made the case for African Americans to serve in July 1863, telling a crowd in Philadelphia:

 “Do not flatter yourself, my friends, that you are more important to the Government than the Government is to you. You stand but as a plank to the ship. This rebellion can be put down without your help. Slavery can be abolished by white men: but Liberty so won for the black man, while it may leave him an object of pity, can never make him an object of respect…. Young men of Philadelphia, you are without excuse. The hour has arrived, and your place is in the Union army. Remember that the musket – the United States musket with its bayonet of steel – is better than all the parchment guarantees of Liberty. In you hands the musket means Liberty…” [16] By the end of the war over 180,000 African American men would serve as volunteers in the United States Army.

                                                    Frederick Douglass
Politically the proclamation would the diplomatic purpose by isolating the Confederacy from European assistance. This it did, after the proclamation public sentiment, especially among Europe’s working classes turned solidly against the Confederacy. Domestically it would break-ground for the Thirteenth Amendment, which Lincoln, the pragmatic lawyer was needed to actually abolish slavery. Morally, it  would serve as the guarantee of The United States Government’s public, irrevocable pledge of freedom to African Americans if the North won the war.

Lincoln signed the order on January 1st 1863. As he got ready to sign the document he paused and put down the pen, speaking to Seward he said “I never, in my life, felt more certain that I was doing right, than I do now in signing this paper….If my name ever goes down in history it will be for signing this act, and my whole soul is in it.” [17] The opening paragraph read:

“That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.” [18]

At the ends of the proclamation he added the words suggested by his devoutly Christian Secretary of the Treasury Salmon Chase: “And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution, upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God.” [19]

The response throughout the North was euphoric as celebrations took place throughout the North. In some cities one hundred gun salutes were fired. At Boston’s Tremont Temple people broke out singing a hymn “Sound the loud timbrel o’er Egypt’s dark sea, Jehovah hath triumphed, his people are free.” [20] The Boston Daily Evening Telegraph predicted, “Slavery from this hour ceases to be a political power in this country…such a righteous revolution as it inaugurates never goes backward.” [21]

Frederick Douglass wrote about his reactions to the Emancipation proclamation as he had nearly despaired wondering if the Lincoln administration would actually take up the fight for emancipation:

“The fourth of July was great, but the first of January, when we consider it in all of its relations and bearings in incomparably greater. The one we respect to the mere political birth to a nation, the last concerns national life and character, and is to determine whether that life and character shall be radiantly and glorious with all high and noble virtues, or infamously blackened, forevermore, with all the hell-darkened crimes and horrors which we attach to Slavery.” [22]

The proclamation was not all some had hoped for and it was certainly provoked a negative response in the South and among many Northern Democrats. Southerners accused Lincoln of inciting racial warfare and Jefferson Davis responded “The day is not so distant when the old Union will be restored with slavery nationally declared to be the proper condition of all of African descent.” [23]

But the proclamation did something that politicians, lawyers did not comprehend, that “the details of the emancipation decree were less significant than the fact that there was an emancipation decree, and while the proclamation read like a dull legal brief, filled with qualifying clauses and exceptions, it was not language made for this, finally, a moral document. It was its existence, its title, its arrival into this world, its challenge to the accepted order, and from that there was no turning back. In this sense it was a revolutionary statement, like the Declaration itself, and nearly as significant.” [24]

 That the proclamation most certainly was and it was a watershed from which there was no stepping back. “It irrevocably committed the government of the United States to the termination of slavery. It was an act of political courage, take at the right time, in the right way.” [25]

However, it would take another two years, with the Confederacy crumbling under the combined Federal military onslaught before Lincoln was able to secure passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution in January 1865.  The amendment abolished slavery and involuntary servitude throughout the country, as well as nullified the fugitive slave clause and the Three-Fifths Compromise. It would be followed after Lincoln’s death by the Fourteenth Amendment which reversed the result of the Dred Scott decision and declared that all people born in the United States were citizens and entitled to the rights of citizenship. During the Grant administration the Fifteenth Amendment was passed, and this finally extended to African American men, the right to vote in every state.

Though limited in scope, the Emancipation Proclamation had more than a domestic military, social and political effect. It also had an effect on foreign policy which ensured that Britain, and thereby France would not intervene in the war on behalf of the Southern Confederacy. It stopped all British support for the Rebels to include seizing warships that had been contracted for by Confederate agents that were building or being fitted out in British Yards. Likewise the British rejected various proposals of Emperor Napoleon III to intervene in the war in late 1862 and during the summer of 1863.

Effects of the Emancipation Proclamation on Military Law

The Emancipation Proclamation and the elimination of slavery also impacted the Union war effort in terms of law, law that eventually had an impact around the world as nations began to adapt to the changing character of war. It was important because for the first time slavery was accounted for in the laws of war. The “Instructions for the Government of Armies of the United States in the Field, General Orders No. 100 by President Lincoln, April 24, 1863; Prepared by Francis Lieber, LLD noted in Article 42 of that Code:

“Slavery, complicating and confounding the ideas of property, (that is of a thing,) and of personality, (that is of humanity,) exists according to municipal or local law only. The law of nature and nations has never acknowledged it. The digest of the Roman law enacts the early dictum of the pagan jurist, that “so far as the law of nature is concerned, all men are equal.” Fugitives escaping from a country in which they were slaves, villains, or serfs, into another country, have, for centuries past, been held free and acknowledged free by judicial decisions of European countries, even though the municipal law of the country in which the slave had taken refuge acknowledged slavery within its own dominions.” [26]

It continued in Article 43:

“Therefore, in a war between the United States and a belligerent which admits of slavery, if a person held in bondage by that belligerent be captured by or come as a fugitive under the protection of the military forces of the United States, such person is immediately entitled to the rights and privileges of a freeman To return such person into slavery would amount to enslaving a free person, and neither the United States nor any officer under their authority can enslave any human being. Moreover, a person so made free by the law of war is under the shield of the law of nations, and the former owner or State can have, by the law of postliminy, no belligerent lien or claim of service.” [27]

The Continued Fight for Emancipation: Dealing with the Copperheads and the Passage of the Thirteenth Amendment

But there were still legitimate concerns that slavery might survive as the war continued. Lincoln knew that in issuing the Emancipation Proclamation raised the stakes of the war far higher than they had been. He noted, “We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope on earth.” [28] The threat of the destruction of the Union and the continuance of slavery in either the states of the Confederacy, the new western states, territories, or the maintenance of the Union without emancipation was too great for some; notably, the American Freedmen’s Commission to contemplate. With Grant’s army stalled outside Richmond the Copperheads and the peace party gained influence and threatened to bring about a peace that allowed Confederate independence and the continuance of slavery; members of that caucus they Edwin Stanton in the spring of 1864:

“In such a state of feeling, under such a state of things, can we doubt the inevitable results? Shall we escape border raids after fleeing fugitives? No man will expect it. Are we to suffer these? We are disgraced! Are we to repel them? It is a renewal of hostilities!…In the case of a foreign war…can we suppose that they will refrain from seeking their own advantage by an alliance with the enemy?”[29]

The effort of the Copperheads and the peace party to was soon crushed under the military successes of William Tecumseh Sherman’s armies in Georgia. This was especially true of the capture of Atlanta, which was followed by Sherman’s march to the sea and the Carolinas. Additionally the naval victory of David Farragut’s fleet at the Battle of Mobile Bay served to break the stranglehold that the Copperheads were beginning to wield in Northern politics.  These efforts helped secure Lincoln’s reelection by a large margin in the 1864 presidential election over a divided Democratic opposition, whose presidential nominee McClellan could not even endorse his party’s platform.

In his Second Inaugural Address, Abraham Lincoln discussed the issue of slavery as the chief cause of the war. In it, Lincoln noted that slavery was the chief cause of the war in no uncertain terms and talked in a language of faith that was difficult for many, especially Christians, who “believed weighty political issues could be parsed into good or evil. Lincoln’s words offered a complexity that many found difficult to accept,” for the war had devastated the playground of evangelical politics, and it had “thrashed the certitude of evangelical Protestantism” [30] as much as the First World War shattered Classic European Protestant Liberalism.  Lincoln’s confrontation of the role that people of faith brought to the war in both the North and the South is both illuminating and a devastating critique of the religious attitudes that so stoked the fires of hatred.  His realism in confronting facts was masterful, and badly needed.  He spoke of “American slavery” as a single offense ascribed to the whole nation.” [31]

“One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.” [32]

Notes 

[1] Ibid. Foner Forever Free: The Story of Emancipation and Reconstruction p.42

[2] Ibid. Freehling The South vs. The South p.47

[3] Brewster, Todd. Lincoln’s Gamble: The Tumultuous Six Months that Gave America the Emancipation Proclamation and Changed the Course of the Civil War Scribner a Division of Simon and Schuster, New York and London p.59

[4] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.364

[5] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.504

[6] McPherson, James M. Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief Penguin Books, New York and London 2008 p.109

[7] Ibid. Goodwin Team of Rivals p. 468

[8] Ibid. Foner Forever Free p.49

[9] McGovern, George Abraham Lincoln Times Books, Henry Holt and Company, New York 2009 p.70

[10] Ibid. McPherson Tried by War: p.108

[11] Ibid. Zinn The Other Civil War p.39

[12] Ibid. Foner Forever Free p.49

[13] Ibid. Brewster Lincoln’s Gamble p.169

[14] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p.184

[15] Ibid. Foner Forever Free p.49

[16] Douglass, Frederick. Philadelphia Speech of July 6th 1863 recorded in the Liberator in The Civil War and Reconstruction: A Documentary Collection edited by William E. Gienapp, W.W. Norton and Company, New York and London 2001 p.221

[17] Ibid. Goodwin Team of Rivals p. 499

[18] Lincoln, Abraham The Emancipation Proclamation The National Archives & Records Administration retrieved from http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/featured_documents/emancipation_proclamation/transcript.html 14 June 2014

[19] Ibid. Lincoln The Emancipation Proclamation

[20] Ibid. Brewster Lincoln’s Gamble p.244

[21] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.501

[22] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning pp. 180-181

[23] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.263

[24] Ibid. Brewster Lincoln’s Gamble p.245

[25] Ibid. McGovern Abraham Lincoln p.78

[26] Reichberg, Gregory M, Syse Henrik, and Begby, Endre The Ethics of War: Classic and Contemporary Readings Blackwell Publishing Ltd, Malden, MA and Oxford UK 2006 p.570

[27] Ibid. Reichberg et al. The Ethics of War p.570

[28] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.263

[29] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p.534

[30] Ibid. Goldfield  America Aflame p.358

[31] Ibid. Wills Lincoln at Gettysburg p.186

[32] Lincoln, Abraham Second Inaugural Address March 4th 1865 retrieved from www.bartleby.com/124/pres32.html 24 March 2014

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I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day: a Haunting Song of Hope in Trump’s America

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I could be writing about the travails being inflicted on the country and the world by President Donald Trump, but I do enough of that. Christmas is coming and even when I don’t explicitly write about Trump the message of the season stands against him and against all that he stands, despite his Court Following of Evangelical Christian Leaders, and his Cult of badly compromised Conservative, Evangelical, Charismatic, Pentecostal, and Catholic followers, who choose him over Christ on a daily basis.

I cannot be part of that despite what such people call me on social media and in comments I will not approve on this blog. Christmas of 2019 comes amid social and religious turmoil not seen since the 1850s that led up to the American Civil War. The rhetoric across the politic spectrum is becoming more uncompromising, and especially in the case of Trump supporters tinged by threats of violence, and even killing political opponents, and this is condoned by supposedly Christian people. Trump demands their fealty and they willingly give it.

I such times I reach back to history and often music that came out of that tumult.

The great American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow penned these words of hope on Christmas Day, 1863:

“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; The wrong shall fail, the right prevail With peace on earth, good will to men.”

Christmas is coming and I feel that Longfellow’s words are as pertinent today as when he first penned them. The thought of what is to come in the next few years, in the United States and in many other liberal democracies bodes ill for our future as authoritarian and often xenophobic leaders like Trump rise to power. The world that we grew up is is passing away, and what comes in its place, a dystopian world where hope will be a rare commodity beckons.

Longfellow’s words became the heart of the song I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.  I have heard it a number of times in the past few days and each time it really touches me.

The song has been recorded in a number of versions by different artists over the years. However, the words of the song go back to the American Civil War. Longfellow on Christmas Day 1863 following the serious wounding of his son Charles, a Lieutenant in the Union Army at the Battle of New Hope Church during the Mine Run Campaign (not to be confused with a battle of the same name outside Atlanta in 1864) and the death of his wife in a fire two years before. Longfellow had much to despair about, but he maintained a faith in God, as well as the founding principles of the United States.

Longfellow’s words are haunting. Probably because they demonstrate the profound tension that lies at the heart of the Incarnation, which is the heart of Christmas and the Christian faith. the tension, played out so well in the song is the existence of a message of peace and reconciliation in a world where war and hatred of many kinds rip human beings apart coupled with the tragic inability of Christendom, especially American Conservative Evangelicalism to even come close to the message of Christmas.

I heard the bells on Christmas day

Their old familiar carols play,

And wild and sweet the words repeat

Of peace on earth, good will to men.

I thought how, as the day had come,

The belfries of all Christendom

Had rolled along th’ unbroken song

Of peace on earth, good will to men.

gburg dead2

The reality of this is seen in the third verse. It is a verse that echoes throughout history and seems to be true even today, in fact it seems to be the most real as we deal with war, hatred, terrorism, killing in the name of God, and political fratricide.

And in despair I bowed my head

“There is no peace on earth,” I said,

“For hate is strong and mocks the song

Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

The interesting part about the songs as opposed to the poem is that they omit three of Longfellow’s verses that admittedly in a reunited country would not help record sales. Those verses speak to the heart of the Civil War.

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,

A voice, a chime,

A chant sublime

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,

And with the sound

The carols drowned

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,

And made forlorn

The households born

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

But Longfellow hears in the bells something more powerful. It is the message of Christmas and the incarnation. The message that justice and peace will finally embrace.

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:

“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;

The wrong shall fail, the right prevail

With peace on earth, good will to men.”

Till ringing, singing on its way

The world revolved from night to day,

A voice, a chime, a chant sublime

Of peace on earth, good will to men.

The song has been recorded many times by many artists. I like the version sung by Frank Sinatra, which the music was composed by Johnny Marks, composer of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. Another earlier version composed by John Baptiste Calkin has been recorded by Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash among others.

As wars rage in the Middle East, tensions rise in Asia, Africa and even Eastern Europe while the Unholy Trinity of Politicians, Pundits and Preachers, led by the American President rage as we go into another, and even more perilous year with the possibility of nuclear war more probably than not, people still look for hope.

Longfellow, who lost so much in a short time in the midst of a terrible Civil War, reminds us that in such times, “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; The wrong shall fail, the right prevail With peace on earth, good will to men.”

In a time like this when the world led by the American President seems to be hurtling into the abyss, it is important to remember Longfellow’s words and the message of Christ and the Incarnation. The child born as an outcast in a manger would die as a criminal, crucified by an occupying power with the full support of the leaders of the occupied country. As the German theologian Jurgen Moltmann wrote:

“He humbles himself and takes upon himself the eternal death of the godless and the godforsaken, so that all the godless and the godforsaken can experience communion with him.” 

Yes, the wrong shall fail, and the right prevail, but it in the age of Trump it will certainly involve much travail. As for the travail, it is just beginning.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Who is a True Jew, Christian or any other Faith? This is Not a Question Left to Secular Government

 


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

One day after he declared war on the United States, Adolf Hitler convened a meeting of high ranking Nazi and government officials. Over 50 were in attendance but no official roll was kept, however the following were known to have been present based on their own diaries or recollections: Hitler, Heinrich Himmler, Martin Bormann, Hans Frank, Philipp Bouhler, and Joseph Goebbels.

Goebbels recorded the following in his diary:

Regarding the Jewish Question, the Führer has decided to make a clean sweep. He prophesied to the Jews that, if they yet again brought about a world war, they would experience their own annihilation. That was not just a phrase. The world war is here, and the annihilation of the Jews must be the necessary consequence.”

Goebbels and the other participants knew that Hitler had already “prophesied” the annihilation of Europe’s Jews as early as January 30th 1939 when he said:

If the world of international financial Jewry, both in and outside of Europe, should succeed in plunging the Nations into another world war, the result will not be the Bolshevization of the world and thus a victory for Judaism. The result will be the extermination of the Jewish race in Europe

Thus Hitler’s “clean sweep” was no idle threat. Jews in Germany had been already been stripped of citizenship and had been declared an alien race by the Nuremberg Laws. Close to half had already left Germany and Austria had already emigrated after being robbed of nearly every earthly possess they had. Those who remain were doomed, as were the Jews of nations the Nazis conquered who did not even have the smallest of rights remaining to German Jews, as well as people of mixed Jewish-Gentile origins, who depending on their degree of Jewishness had more or less protection depending if they were a first or second degree Mischlinge as defined by the Nuremberg Laws on Race.

Before the Nuremberg Laws Jewishness had been defined as a religion. Afterward, it became a term denoting race, and even non-religious Jews, or Jews who had converted to Christianity were still considered Jews by merit of race. Until yesterday Jewishness was defined as a religion in the United States, then under the guise of protecting Jews on college campuses, President Trump defined Jewishness as a race and nationality, and defined anti-semitism to include opposition to the political and foreign policy actions of another nation, Israel.

I have two problems with the executive order. The first, and most important is defining Judaism as a race or nationality. That definition has been used by anti-Semites since day one. Considering the President’s overt statements about Neo-Nazis and anti-Semitic White Supremacists as being “very good people”, his own characterizations of Jews before he was President, and his unremitting support of the anti-Semitic regimes in Saudi Arabia and Turkey leads me to believe that his executive order is a ruse to deceive Jews about his true intentions and establish a legal basis for future persecution. One cannot forget that many of his supporters are anti-Semitic and racist White Nationalists and Neo-Nazis, and that these groups publicly state that they are emboldened by his support.

Likewise, my second objection is that most of the Evangelical Christian Trump supporters who lend their support to Israel only tend to on their theology. For the Jews their theology means that two-thirds of Jews living will be killed and the final third will convert to receive Jesus as their Messiah.

Now please, before I get condemned to hell, I fully support the existence of a democratic State of Israel, and the rights of American Jews to the utmost. That means not defining Jews as a nationality or race as the Nazis did. Trump’s executive order is a ruse, ultimately it will be used against them, probably by White Supremacists and Neo-Nazis should Trump get a second term. Judaism is a religion, not a race, and the dangers of classifying Jewishness as a racial or national group are extremely dangerous.

Let us start with the question of who is a Jew? The Nazis tried to define that in their Nuremberg Laws. Those debates, which endured until the Wannsee Conference of January 1942 defined which people were full Jews, mixed-Jews (Mischlinge) of the First or Second degree based on their grandparents religion.

In the United States we have Orthodox, Conservative, and Reformed Jews, as well as Christians who consider themselves Messianic Jews, and other subsets of people who believe themselves to be true Jews, regardless of their actual ethnicity. In such a case the question of “who is a Jew” matters. This was a question brought up at the Wannsee Conference where Adolf Eichmann in discussing the number of Jews to be exterminated noted that there were many nations where Judaism was not defined racially, and therefore the numbers of Jews might be far higher than Nazi estimates.

Personally, I prefer the understanding that one’s religion has nothing to do with their ethnicity or nationality. That is the basis of the First Amendment to the Constitution. It is the due to brilliance of the Founders that they understood this, and made it part of the Bill of Rights, now President Trump, who is supposedly supporting the Jews is setting them up for future slaughter, as well as curtailing every American’s freedom of speech.

We live in dangerous times, and as for me, I will always speak the truth. In this case it is complicated by the politics of Trump and the Christian Right, who hope to politicize who is a Jew and who is not, something which is best left to real Jewish Rabbis, not Gentiles, even those who fashion themselves as true Jews. No secular law can determine who is and who is nor a Jew, or a Christian, or a Muslim, or a Buddhist, a Hindu, or any other religious group. Civil, not theocratic law derives its essence from the proposition so well enunciated in the Declaration of Independence, that all men are created equal…. This is a proposition of the enlightenment, not any religion, including Christianity with the exception of dissenters such as Roger Williams or John Leland adhere to, for the true believers of most religions the truth is you are either for us or against us.

John Leland the great Virginia Baptist and promoter or religious rights for all in the new United States wrote:

“Is conformity of sentiments in matters of religion essential to the happiness of civil government? Not at all. Government has no more to do with the religious opinions of men than it has with the principles of mathematics. Let every man speak freely without fear–maintain the principles that he believes–worship according to his own faith, either one God, three Gods, no God, or twenty Gods; and let government protect him in so doing, i.e., see that he meets with no personal abuse or loss of property for his religious opinions. Instead of discouraging him with proscriptions, fines, confiscation or death, let him be encouraged, as a free man, to bring forth his arguments and maintain his points with all boldness; then if his doctrine is false it will be confuted, and if it is true (though ever so novel) let others credit it. When every man has this liberty what can he wish for more? A liberal man asks for nothing more of government.”

Now, with American Jews considered also citizens of a foreign country, what will that do? The first consideration is that of the Nazis, they could not be citizens of the Third Reich. Likewise, since they were no longer German citizens and belonged to no state they were decimated, and other Jews, throughout Europe were deprived of all rights and slaughtered during the Holocaust. You can be a perpetrator, victim, or bystander to what happens next.

Historian Yehuda Bauer wrote:

“Thou shalt not be a victim, thou shalt not be a perpetrator, but, above all, thou shalt not be a bystander.”

So if  you think Trump’s executive order is a good thing for Jews, or the First Amendment protections of free speech for all Americans, you are being deceived.
So I will leave you with that for tonight.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

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A New Birth of Freedom and its True Meaning: The Gettysburg Address


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The weekend before Donald Trump was elected President I was at Gettysburg with my students from the Staff College. We finished our staff ride at the Soldier’s Cemetery where Abraham Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address. My practice as always was to close the staff ride by reading his address. I always get a bit choked up when I read it because I realize just how important what he said was then, and still is today. That Sunday it was as if I saw the Confederate hordes advancing upon Cemetery Ridge and the fate of the country hanging in the balance.

I had already seen the assaults on our Republic and Constitution by Donald Trump and his supporters, and that particular day I was full of dread. I knew that if Trump won, and his supporters on the Alt-Right have their way, our system of government will be destroyed, the civil liberties that the men who died at Gettysburg to establish, would be curtailed or even rolled back. I feared, and it turns out quite rightly, that if Trump won, that civil rights would be threatened or rolled back, that White Nationalists would be emboldened, and racist violence and anti-Semitic attacks would increase exponentially. I would have preferred to be wrong, but I was right. Now we are in the midst of impeachment proceedings

In November of 1863 Abraham Lincoln was sick when when he traveled by train from Washington DC to Gettysburg. When Lincoln delivered the address, he was suffering from what was mostly likely a mild form of Smallpox. Thus the tenor, simplicity and philosophical depth of his address are even more remarkable. It is a speech given in the manner of Winston Churchill’s “Blood sweat toil and tears” address to Parliament upon his appointment as Prime Minister in May, 1940. Likewise it echoes the Transcendentalist understanding of the Declaration of Independence as a “test for all other things.”

Many people in the United States and Europe did not agree with Lincoln’s restatement of the founding premise of the Declaration of Independence. Opponents argued that no nation found on such principles could long survive. The more reactionary European subscribers of Romanticism ridiculed the “idea that a nation could be founded on a proposition….and they were not reluctant to point to the Civil War as proof that attempting to build a government around something as bloodless and logical as a proposition was futile.” [1]

As late as 1848, the absolute monarchies of Europe had fought against and put down with force revolutionary movements attempting to imitate the American experiment. Many of the revolutionaries from Germany, Poland, and other nations fled to the United States, where 15 years later, clad in the Blue of the United States Army fought to preserve that experiment on the battlefields of the American Civil War, including Gettysburg.

But Lincoln disagreed with the conservative reactionaries of Europe, or the American Slave owning aristocracy. He believed that Americans would fight to defend that proposition. He believed that the “sacrifices of Gettysburg, Shiloh, Murfreesboro, Chancellorsville, and a hundred other places demonstrated otherwise, that men would die rather than to lose hold of that proposition. Reflecting on that dedication, the living should themselves experience a new birth of freedom, a determination- and he drove his point home with a deliberate evocation of the great Whig orator Daniel Webster- “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” [2]

The Unitarian pastor, abolitionist, and leading Transcendentalist thinker, Theodore Parker wrote:

“Our national ideal out-travels our experience, and all experience. We began our national career by setting all history at defiance – for that said, “A republic on a large scale cannot exist.” Our progress since that has shown that we were right in refusing to be limited by the past. The practical ideas of the nation are transcendent, not empirical. Human history could not justify the Declaration of Independence and its large statements of the new idea: the nation went beyond human history and appealed to human nature.” [3]

Lincoln’s address echoes the thought of historian George Bancroft, who wrote of the Declaration:

“The bill of rights which it promulgates is of rights that are older than human institutions, and spring from the eternal justice…. The heart of Jefferson in writing the Declaration, and of Congress in adopting it, beat for all humanity; the assertion of right was made for the entire world of mankind and all coming generations, without any exceptions whatsoever.” [4]

Theodore Parker’s words also prefigured an idea that Lincoln used in his address. Parker, like Lincoln believed that: “the American Revolution, with American history since, is an attempt to prove by experience this transcendental proposition, to organize the transcendental idea of politics. The ideal demands for its organization a democracy- a government of all, for all, and by all…” [5]

Following a train trip to Gettysburg and an overnight stay, Lincoln delivered these immortal words on that November afternoon:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.[6]

In a time where many are wearied by the foibles and follies of our politicians, especially a man as singularity ill-equipped and ill-tempered as Donald Trump, Lincoln’s words still matter. Since Trump’s election he, and his supporters, many of whom are White Nationalists, and authoritarians have moved on many fronts to curtail civil rights and re-establish White rule in a way unseen since secession, and Jim Crow. So far our institutions have held, but there is no guarantee that they will. In such an environment, one has to wonder if our very form of government can survive.

But it is important that they do, and despite our weariness, we need to continue to fight for those ideals, even when the world seems to be closing in around us as it must have seemed following Lee’s initial success on the first day of battle at Gettysburg.

Dr. Allen Guelzo, Professor of Civil War Studies at Gettysburg College wrote in the New York Times:

“The genius of the address thus lay not in its language or in its brevity (virtues though these were), but in the new birth it gave to those who had become discouraged and wearied by democracy’s follies, and in the reminder that democracy’s survival rested ultimately in the hands of citizens who saw something in democracy worth dying for. We could use that reminder again today.” [7]

Dr. Guelzo is quite correct. Many people in this country and around the world are having grave doubts about our democracy. I wonder myself, but I am an optimist, and despite my doubts, I have to believe that we will eventually recover.

Admittedly, that is an act of faith based on our historical resiliency, and ability to overcome the stupidity of politicians, pundits and preacher, including the hate filled message of Donald Trump and his White Supremacist supporters, especially supposedly “conservative ” Christians. That doesn’t mean that I am not afraid for our future, or that despite my belief that our institutions will hold. Historian, Timothy Snyder correctly noted:

“The European history of the twentieth century shows us that societies can break, democracies can fall, ethics can collapse, and ordinary men can find themselves standing over death pits with guns in their hands. It would serve us well today to understand why.”

The amazing thing during the Civil War was that in spite of everything, the Union survived. Lincoln was a big part of that. His steady leadership and unfailing resolve help see the Republic through manifold disasters.

But, it was the men who left lives of comfort and security to defend the sacred principles of the Declaration, like Joshua Chamberlain, and many others who brought about that victory. Throughout the war, even to the end Southern political leaders failed to understand that Union men would fight and die for an ideal, something greater than themselves, the preservation of the Union and the freedom of an enslaved race. For those men that volunteered to serve, the war was not about personal gain, loot or land, it was about something greater. It was about freedom, and when we finally realize this fact, and take up the cause that they fought and died for, then maybe, just maybe, we can contemplate the real meaning of “that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion.d. [8]

Now, I for one do not think that we are currently living up to the ideals enunciated by Lincoln on that day at Gettysburg. I can understand the cynicism disillusionment of Americans, as well as those around the world who have for over 200 years looked to us and our system as a “city set on a hill.” That being said, when I read these words and walk the hallowed ground of Gettysburg, I am again a believer. I believe that we can realize the ideal, even in our lifetime should we decide to again believe in that proposition and be willing to fight, or even die for it. Of course, it is quite possible that we will not measure up to the example set by Lincoln and the men who fought for the Union at Gettysburg. If we don’t, The blame will be upon all of us.

So, have a great day and please stop to think about how important Lincoln’s words remain as we wait to see what the next day of Trump’s America brings. This is important because Trump and his supporters respect tyrants like King George III, as his supporters like Attorney General William Barr have said that the Colonialists revolted against the Parliament, not the King. To make that argument one has to ignore the Declaration of Independence in its entirety and declare that Trump is King, and that his word is law.

That cannot be allowed to happen, and I will be damned if I allow that happen without speaking out.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

Notes

[1] Ibid. Guelzo. Fateful Lightening p.409

[2] Ibid. Guelzo. Fateful Lightening p.408

[3] Ibid. Wills. Lincoln at Gettysburg p.110

[4] Ibid. Wills. Lincoln at Gettysburg p.105

[5] Ibid. Wills. Lincoln at Gettysburg p.105

[6] Lincoln, Abraham The Gettysburg Address the Bliss Copy retrieved from http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/gettysburg.htm

[7] Guelzo, Allen C. Lincoln’s Sound Bite: Have Faith in DemocracyNew York Time Opinionator, November 17th 2013 retrieved from http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/11/17/lincolns-sound-bite-have-faith-in-democracy/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0 July 18th 2014

[8] Ibid. McPherson This Hallowed Ground p.13

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History, Biography, and Organizing my Library at Home

 

 


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today has been a very difficult day where I worked in the house, the storage space, and. helped Judy and some of her friends break down their wares at the end of a craft show. This evening I did some more work organizing books in my library here at home. This week while doing my transfer I also caught up with some reading since my orders didn’t actually show up until late Wednesday. I read Mark Rosen’s “The Wannsee Conference and the Final Solution: a Reconsideration”; “The Participants: the Men of the Wannsee Conference” edited by Hans Christian Jasch and Christopher Kreutzmuller; finished reading “Our Declaration: a Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality” by Danielle Allen; and began reading Stefan Kühls “The Nazi Connection: Eugenics, American Racism, and German National Socialism.” While browsing my books I pulled out “Hidden Horrors: Japanese War Crimes in World War II” by Yuki Tanaka.

In like of what I have been doing I am reposting an edited and expanded version of an older article emphasizing the connection between history and biography. This is something I try to do when I write. Tomorrow, I start my check-in process after having signed in to my new command, before they send me to Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth.

So until tomorrow, 

Peace,

Padre Steve+

English historian and military theorist Colin Gray noted that “people matter most” when we deal with history, policy, or politics, but especially in the matter of war.

I think one of the sad things about history is that many authors, especially in military history, but other areas as well, seem to treat the participants as bit players in a series of events, rather than a prism from which to understand and view history.

I cannot tell you how many times I have had students, and even colleagues tell me that history is dry, boring and uninteresting to them. I will not condemn them, for certainly if it is that is case, it is not their fault, but rather those who write and teach history. If all history is, is arbitrary dates, lists of disconnected events and names of people, without any context to their lives, why should they care about it?

When I first began to study history I was much more concerned about events than people. However, over the past couple of years I have began to develop what I call my philosophy of history. That has come about through my study of the events leading to the American Civil War and in particular my study of the Battle of Gettysburg, but also in other historical events such as the Arab Revolt of 1917,  the French adventures in Indochina and Algeria, and the Holocaust.

In doing all of my research I have read a large number of books, articles and primary sources on these subjects and my personal library appears to be growing at an exponential rate. I have noticed that much of what I have read deals very little with the people involved, unless I am reading a biography, and even some of the biographies seem to be event heavy, and person light and sometimes it seems that the subjects of the biography are often one dimensional, and almost caricatures of who they really were. Some of the alleged biographies that I read would be better described as hagiography, to make the subjects appear saintlike, the type of writing used by religious writers to make saints a lot less human. There are others who go to the opposite extreme and do all they can to demonize their subject. In either case the method is less than honest, but for many people, profit and propaganda value mean more than truth. Of course either type of writing appeals to the masses who do not care about nuance, or for that matter truth.

But such is not history. Neither are “histories” which are designed to support a particular ideology, be it political, religious, or economic. Such works are not history, but propaganda. When I see people, in this country forbidding the teaching of history because it is not patriotic enough I want to scream. It is like I am watching the propagandists of Stalin’s Soviet Union, Hitler’s Third Reich, or any of many other nations that used ideology or religion to supress history that didn’t meet their definition of “patriotic.” But then I digress…

My gut feeling says that such artificial divisions between history and biography do a disservice to the reader. I take a tremendous pleasure in writing, and I like to try to communicate and interpret facts, which is indeed the vocation of the historian, in a manner that makes them interesting. What I am finding is that when telling the stories of events we must also tell the stories of the people who make these events.

Without such a connection there is little to interest most readers. People tend to be interested in people because there is a connection. The human being is still the human being, no matter what age, country, culture, religion that they belong to. I learned a lot of this from reading the works of Barbara Tuchman who in her writings about events, never forgot importance of people, and refused to turn them in to one dimensional caricatures.

In my writing now I attempt to bring the prism of the biography into the events that I write about.

I had a fellow faculty member note that he liked what I wrote about Gettysburg because it was more than just the events, it was the personal connection he felt to the people.

People matter because they have so many layers. I guess one of the things that makes my writing approach a bit different is that while I am a historian, I am also trained in philosophy, pastoral care and psychology, all of which deal with existential matters.In the next few days you will be seeing some of my Gettysburg work, and hopefully as you read it you will notice that I attempt to find that nuance in the various men, on both sides of the conflict, who are part of the story.

I found that the complexities and contradictions of the subjects of history, the people help me understand the events more than anything. I think my epiphanies came in reading about the lives, as well at writings of men like T.E. Lawrence and Gouvereur Warren whose triumphs, struggles, weaknesses and injuries mirror my own. In learning about these men as people, in the context of what they accomplished helps me to understand their history and the era that they lived far more than simply recounting how they influenced a battle.

Likewise, I find that the lives, beliefs, motivations, relationships, and experiences of people to be paramount to understanding events. People are complex, multi-layers and often contradictory. All of my heroes all have feet of clay, which in a sense makes their stories even richer, and the events that they helped bring about more fascinating, because then I gain a holistic perspective and develop an empathy for them. Even good and honorable people who find themselves due to race, religion, or nationality fighting for an evil cause, or evil people fighting for a good cause. Both are troubling, I think that good and honorable men who submit themselves to criminal and evil causes are more troubling.

We are seeing much of that today in regard to various members of the Trump Administration. When I was reading the article on Friedrich Kritzinger, the State Secretary for the Reich Chancellery, a conservative Prussian Civil Servant who served under the Kaiser, the Weimar Republic and Nazi Germany. In his position he made sure that the bureaucracy of the Reich ran efficiently, and also wrote legal justifications for the absorption of the rump of Czechoslovakia, and western Poland into the Reich. He also took part in the Wannsee Conference, for which he was the only participant to express remorse. Stefan Paul-Jacobs and Lore Kleiber, wrote about him in The Participants:

“Justice being taken away, then, what are kingdoms but great robberies?” (St. Augustine). This might not be a quote from Kritzinger, but it serves as a reminder that, by working as a lawyer for a regime, which he has known from the start to be criminal, he made himself a stooge.” (The Participants p.217”) 

The story of Kritzinger, is very pertinent for anyone trapped by ideological or religious constraints, or commitment to a leader that they know is corrupt, acting criminally, or undermining the law and Constitution. That may confuse or even offend you, but it is a part of the human condition. That my friends is history.

Barbara Tuchman noted “that if the historian needs to submit himself to his or her material instead of trying to impose himself on his material, then the material will ultimately speak to him and supply the answers.”

This is very important, because when we do this we discover the answers to the why questions, especially the why questions that are so very uncomfortable, are necessary if we want to discover truth.

I know that I can find connections in the strengths as well as their weaknesses of people that I admire. Thus when I see ordinary people taking part in events, for good or for evil,I can say that given the same set of circumstances that that could be me. Context matters, nuance matters, people matter. If we do not understand that, history becomes nothing more than a set of manipulated facts, devoid of context that can be used to buttress the most evil intentions.

I do plan on developing these thoughts over the coming weeks and months, but for now it will suffice to say that when I write about history, that people matter. That is why I write.

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An End and A Beginning at the Twilight of a Career

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Toady was the turning of another page in my military career, probably the last one before I retire. I left my old command, reported in to my new command and will begin checking in to the Naval Region before reporting to Norfolk Naval Shipyard, in Portsmouth where Lord willing and the creek don’t rise next summer. The shipyard hasn’t had it’s own chaplain in years and my mission, with no resources other than me is to try to help justify the re-establishment of a chaplain billet there. I will give it my best, but with the continuing cuts to religious ministries in Naval Installations Command I think the best I can do is to care for the sailors and civilian employees to the best of my ability and let the chips fall where they may.

I suppose that it is fitting that someone like me, a Priest who is a historian at heart finish his career trying to make a go of it. The shipyard is the oldest in the Navy, Drydock Number One is the oldest in the Western Hemisphere. The Frigate USS Chesapeake, one of the first six frigates built for the re-established U.S. Navy was the first major warship constructed at it. The USS Merrimac was raised and rebuilt in the Drydock One by the Confederate States Navy as the Ironclad CSS Virginia.

The Naval Yard was recaptured by the Union later in 1862 and following reconstruction it became one of the major construction and repair yards for the Navy, and our allies in the Second World War.

The battleship USS Alabama was constructed there and thousands of ships were repaired or overhauled at it, including Famous ships like the USS Arizona and HMS Illustrious, as well the largest modern Super carriers of the U.S. Navy.

I look forward to learning more of the history as I work there.

So until tomorrow, all the best.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

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