Tag Archives: new birth of freedom

The Promise of Riots 

 

  
Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

A short comment on the results of Super Duper Tuesday and the dangers that the day brings for both the Democratic and Reupublican parties. My words are certain to offend the sensibilities of partisans of every candidate in both parties currently fighting to win their party nomination for President, and I really don’t care, because I care more for the country than any candidate, and for the peaceful preservation of the Union and Liberty more than the short term political gain of any party, faction, or individual candidate. 

The Super Duper Tuesday primaries are over. On the Democratic side Hillary Clinton swept states in play. While the results in Missouri and Illinois were close she won each primary and in the popular vote outpolled Bernie Sanders by around 900,000 votes in the four states at play. She also increased here Delaware count in both pledged delegates and Super Delegates. Let it be known that I am not a big fan of the Super Delagate system, but that is the system that the Democratic Party has used for decades, but all the candidates know that going in, even Bernie Sanders. 

But compared to the Republican race the Democratic primaries are positively civil, boring, and mundane. Sanders has made things interesting, and probably made Hillary a better candidate, and Hillary should do her damnedest to reach out to Sanders and his supporters if she wants their support in the general election. Truthfully I like Bernie Sanders a lot, and agree with most of his positions on the issues. His Democratic Socialism is little different that Franlkin Roosevelt’s New Deal. But the fact is Sanders owes his success to the Democrat who did not run, Senator Elizabeth Warren. It was her true populist voice in economic issues and her refusal to run that gave Sanders his opening. At the same time like Hillary, but I am not blind to her faults and some of the things in her past that give people reason not to fully trust her. What does that make me? I guess an unpopular realist who because I am serving in a Federal office cannot publicly endorse any candidate, but I can comment on policy, history, and what I believe. 

Likewise, Sanders supporters who say they are progressive but would vote for Trump to spite Clinton if she wins the nomination are fools, and not at all progressive if they believe what they actually say and then do that. True progressives understand the value of realism and pragmatism and getting what you can get; for sometimes progress is slow, but it if you keep working you achieve it, ithout handing victory to people who hate you. Those Sanders supporters who call themselves “progressives” but would be willing to vote for Trump to spite Clinton are like the German Communist Party members in Weimar Germany who worked against the Social Democrats and gave Germany to Hitler. A pox on them if they do that. The same would go for Clinton supporters who if she lost the nomination to Sanders did something similar. Since I don’t see any way for Sanders to win the nomination short of a total Clinton meltdown or scandal so big that would turn the Super Delagates against her, I don’t see the latter happening, and if there was such an event the Democratic Party would rapidly coalesce around Sanders, or maybe rally to nominate Warren. 

But I digress…

No matter what happens with the Democrats, the really interesting thing is what s going on in the GOP. Trump won a crushing victory in Florida as well as convincing victories in North Carolina and Illinois. He won a very narrow victory in Missouri over Ted “nobody likes me” Cruz, and lost in Ohio to John Kasich because the Repulicans allow “winner take all” primaries means that Kasich won every delegate in his home state, without even winning a majority of the vote. And that is how the GOP hopes to defeat Trump? Give me a break. That is cloud-cuckoo-land thinking. 

That has set up an interesting scenario. The GOP “establishment” has been doing everything that they can to try to stop Trump from winning the nomination outright. Many have actually gone on record with that stirring the ire or Trump and his most vocal supporters on conservative talk radio, media, and the Internet. Prominent leaders of the right wing media including Rush Limbaugh, and Coulter, and Breitbart News are all in for Trump, and they are hammering the GOP establishment, and people still listen to them. It doesn’t matter what Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Reince Prebus, Mitt Romney, or even George W. Bush has to say; they are all weak or even traitors if you ask Trump and his most ardent supporters. In response you have Glenn Beck and many other conservative pundits and politicians  doing all that they can to fight Trump. This is a civil war and existential struggle for the GOP, and truthfully I don’t see it surviving in any form that we once knew, and as a former Republican who spent 32 years as a party loyalist, in my opinion, as much as I hate what the GOP has become, that is not a good thing, and Republicans have only themselves to blame just as the Democrats were for what happened to them in 1860 and 1968, the Republicans in 1964, and German conservatives in 1932 and January of 1933. They all destroyed themselves with little help from their opponents. Thant my friends is history, that is reality. 

What portends is an absolute disaster for the GOP. If they fail to stop Trump from winning a majority, he wins. If they stop him, and keep him from an outright majority, even though he will likely have 400-500 more delagates at the convention than eith Cruz or Kasich, they will have achieved a Pyrrhic victory. Trump is not your run of the mill boring Republican. It is his money and brains in stoking the anger of Republicans, not only against the Democrats and Obama, but the GOP establishment that has brought him thus far, and he is not done. 

He has tacitly endorsed violence against opponents, and journalists, even conservative journalists who get in his way. On Wednesday he said that there “would be riots”  if the GOP tried to deny him the nomination, even if he was short of the majority needed to win the nomination at the GOP convention in Cleveland outright. He is not joking. His supporters have almost as little love for the GOP as they do the Democrats. He and they will not accept what they see as being cheated out of the nomination, and frankly, while I am not a Trump supporter by any means I would have to agree with them if I was in their shoes. The current GOP is Republican in Name Only. It is not the party or Lincoln, not the party of Ulysses Grant or Teddy Roosevelt, not that of Dwight Eisenhower, or even Barry Goldwater or Ronald Reagan. It has become a proto-fascist party run for the most part by Christian radicals bent on establishing a theocracy, embodied by Ted Cruz, that is now collapsing on the weight of unfulfilled promises to people that they have made for decades. Frankly, Trump’s supporters are declaring war against the GOP establishment, and if they don’t win that war they will leave the GOP as a smoldering ruin of hubris as they destroy it in their way out. 

Maybe my analysis of both parties is wrong. As a historian I don’t think it is, but I could be wrong. It wouldn’t be the first time and certainly won’t be the last. But as Mark Twain is reported to have said, “history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”  

But then maybe I’m just too much of a realist and have too much understanding of people and history for any ideologue or radical of any persuasion to take what I have to say seriously. But then as bad is this all is maybe it is what we all need to cause us to wake up and re-embrace the promise of of the words spoken by Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg, “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 shall not perish from the earth. ” 

Until tomorrow, 

Peace

Padre Steve+ 

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Filed under News and current events, Political Commentary

Dedicated to a Proposition: Super Tuesday & the New Birth of Freedom 


Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I have returned from my time teaching at Gettysburgt and today is Super Tuesday, a day that will most likely establish who will be the Democratic and Republican nominees for President. Thus it is an important day and like any Election Day one that we should approach with a matter of solemn responsibility.

When I go to Gettysburg I always learn more than I teach. Part of this is because I am always reading, researching, writing, and exploring the subject so when I get there I look for things that I might have missed in previous visits. I enjoy the time with my students, not just on the battlefield staff ride, but in our table talk at ouch, dinner, and at the bar. But I think most importantly I am touched with the sense that what happened on that hallowed ground still matters today. At least I think that it should matter today if we honestly believe the words spoken by Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address:

“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.” 

Those words, spoken on the site were Federal soldiers turned back the invading Confederate Army just a few months before were as revolutionary as when Thomas Jefferson penned the words “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. – That to secure these rights governments are instituted among men….” 

Of course when Jefferson wrote them they were revolutionary, but they only guaranteed the rights of white men, primarily those who owned property, which in many cases in those early days included the human property of African American slaves. But just a year prior to speaking at Gettysburg, Lincoln issued the provisional Emancipation Proclamation, giving the Confederacy a last chance to end the war and free their slaves. This was followed by the issuance of the proclamation on January 1st 1863. Lincoln’s action was even more revolutionary than that of Jefferson, for he began the process of univerasalizing the understanding that “all men are created equal.” He followed this with the passage of the 13th Amendment. His allies in Congress passed the 14th Amendment after his assassination over the strident objections of President Andrew Johnson, and Ulysses Grant followed this by ensuring that the 15th Amendment was passed.

  
Of course it took many years of struggle to see the “proposition that all men are created equal” was extended to Native Americans, Women, and most recently Gays and Lesbians. Even so many people according to one recent survey said that they thought that some 13% of Americans disagreed with the Emanicaption Proclamation while 17% weren’t sure. Many others despise the 14th Amendment that provided citizenship rights to African Americans, the 15th Amendment which gave Blacks the right to vote, as well as the 19th Amendment which gave women the right to vote, and most recently the Oberfell v. Hodges decision which gave Gays the right to marry. Of course the precedent for most of the after decisions was found in the 14th Amendment.

emancipation

Today our country is nearly as divided as it was before and during the Civil War, Lincoln said, “Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.” There are politicians, pundits and preachers who are intent on rolling back or eliminating the rights of others in order to preserve their privilege, and to crush the rights of others in doing so for the flimsiest of reasons. That my friends frightens me, but I do believe that the wrong will fail. Even so I do get concerned, but then I remember Lincoln’s words:

“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.”


When I walked among the graves the men men who fought and died to ensure those rights over the weekend I again felt that call, the call to embrace and fight for the new birth of freedom that Abraham Lincoln so eloquently spoke. Yes my friends, it is for us the living to be dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. If we do not do so what good are we?

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

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Filed under civil rights, civil war, History, leadership, News and current events, Political Commentary

The Unfinished Work of the New Birth of Freedom

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I am on the way back from another Staff Ride with my students to Gettysburg. For me the place is incredibly important, when I go it is not just a trip back into history, it is an intensely spiritual trip, especially when I visit the National Soldier’s Cemetery where Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address. For me, like Lincoln, this is hallowed ground, and a place from which I always recommit myself to the unfinished work of the New Birth of Freedom, a work that has all too often suffered due to those who for whatever reason, be it racial, economic or political are willingly to work against freedom and equality. The message of the address takes us back to those words of the Declaration of Independence, that all men are created equal and endowed with certain unalienable rights; among them life liberty and the pursuit of happiness. 

Sadly these noble words of our founders in the Declaration were not meant for all. They were only applicable to White men and not to African Americans, Native Americans or women. In fact the Constitution was explicit in treating blacks as less than human. For eight-seven years blacks awaited some form of redemption, and that came initially in the Emancipation Proclamation. Six months later Robert E. Lee was defeated at Gettysburg. When the Cemetery was dedicated Lincoln recalled and made the first steps by an American President, all but two of whom before him had been slaveowners to begin to universalize the promise of those words in the Declaration. He talked of a new birth of freedom, and reminded his audience that the mission was not finished and that “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…” 

The following is a chapter of my Gettysburg text which deals with that event and that speech. 

Have a great weekend.

Peace

Padre Steve+

gburg address

I am always humbled when I travel to Gettysburg. It is hard to believe in that now peaceful pastoral setting that over 157,000 Americans, almost 82,000 Union and 75,000 Confederate met in a three day battle. In those three days over 28,000 Confederates and 23,000 Union soldiers were killed, wounded, missing or captured. It was the greatest number of casualties inflicted in one battle on American soil in history.

The places that the battle was fought have become legendary, for they are “hallowed ground” as President Abraham Lincoln so eloquently put it. The places, McPherson’s and Herr’s Ridge, Seminary Ridge, the Railroad Cut, Barlow’s Knoll, Cemetery Hill, Culp’s Hill, The Wheat Field, Devil’s Den, the Peach Orchard, Little Round Top, Cemetery Ridge, the Apse of Trees, the Angle and the High Water Mark are in a sense holy, or hallowed, consecrated by those who struggled there, those who lived and those who gave the last full measure of devotion to their country. When I take my students there I always finish at the Soldier’s Cemetery where Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address.

I think about those men of both sides, fully convinced of the rightness of their cause who fought valiantly in the struggle. That being said when I go there though my family predominantly fought for the Confederacy my heart is drawn to those men who remained loyal to the Union and those who answered the call of Abraham Lincoln to serve in a cause greater than their own interests, the great and the small alike.

Lincoln was a masterful orator who managed to rally the Union and bring hundreds of thousands of men volunteer before Gettysburg. They came for an ideal an ideal which Lincoln’s oratory was probably the most effective at articulating in a way that men would volunteer to suffer hardship, fight and die to bring about. It was well put in the movie Gettysburg where Colonel Joshua Chamberlain, played by Jeff Daniels said:

“This is a different kind of army. If you look at history you’ll see men fight for pay, or women, or some other kind of loot. They fight for land, or because a king makes them, or just because they like killing. But we’re here for something new. This has not happened much, in the history of the world: We are an army out to set other men free. America should be free ground, all of it, from here to the Pacific Ocean. No man has to bow, no man born to royalty. Here we judge you by what you do, not by who your father was. Here you can be something. Here is the place to build a home. But it’s not the land. There’s always more land. It’s the idea that we all have value, you and me. What we’re fighting for, in the end… we’re fighting for each other…” [1]

On November 19th 1863 Lincoln delivered a “few words” at Gettysburg which were in all practical aspects a benediction at the dedication of the battlefield cemetery. Lincoln was the second speaker at the ceremony following former Pennsylvania Congressman Edward Everett who spoke for more than two hours, a typical speech from the period.

Everett was one of the leading orators of his day. Everett was “a scholar and Ivy-League diplomat who could hold mass audiences in thrall. His voice, diction, and gestures were successfully dramatic, and he always performed his carefully written text, no matter how long, from memory.” [2]

The 270 words of Lincoln’s address are perhaps the most important of any speech or document in American history save the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States, in those words “Lincoln, nevertheless managed to justify the ways of democracy more than anyone, then or now.” [3]

The speech was so powerful that Everett wrote Lincoln the next day:

“Permit me also to express my great admiration of the thoughts expressed by you, with such eloquent simplicity & appropriateness, at the consecration of the Cemetery. I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.” [4]

The speech is short, but its eloquence is unmatched. Lincoln wrapped ideas, concepts and ideals that men have written volumes about into a speech so powerful that many have memorized it.

But few realize the context that it must be placed. Though the Union had defeated Lee’s Army at Gettysburg and Grant had taken Vicksburg to cut the Confederacy in half the North was growing war weary. During the fall of 1863 after a series of inconclusive battles in northern Virginia both Lee and Meade’s armies had sent significant numbers of troops to the west, to support operations in eastern Tennessee.

Lee sent Longstreet’s First Corps, which took part in the bloody battle of Chickamauga, which “is a Cherokee word meaning “river of death.” [5] where on September 19th and 20th the Federal Army of the Cumberland under General Rosecrans “were soundly whipped at …and driven back into the strategic point of Chattanooga.” [6] The number of casualties on both sides, over 16,000 Federal and 18,000 Confederate, a “combined total of 34,634 was exceeded only the three day slaughter at Gettysburg and by the week-long series of five battles known collectively as the Seven Days.” [7] Despite the number of casualties it was one of the biggest Confederate victories of the war. A clerk in Richmond wrote “The whole South will be filled again with patriotic fervor, and in the North there will be a corresponding depression.” [8] That changed rapidly when the Union reacted quickly and reversed the strategic situation. One action taken was to deploy Oliver Howard’s XI Corps and Henry Slocum’s XII Corps west, where “they would be commanded by Joe Hooker, who was conveniently at hand and unemployed.” [9]

In the east during the following weeks “Lee and Meade, like two wounded, spent gladiators, sparred listlessly along the Rapidan. It seemed to Northerners that the fruits of Gettysburg had been thrown away.” [10] Lee sensed an opportunity to go back on the offensive against Meade’s weakened army, but his offensive was stopped on October 14th when “the Union Second Corps shattered a reckless attack by A.P. Hill’s corps at Bristoe Station, five miles south of Manassas.[11]

There was a faction in the North, the Copperheads, who were willing even after Gettysburg and Vicksburg to end the war on terms favorable to the Confederacy, even allowing for Confederate independence and the continuation of slavery. They “clamored for negotiations with the Confederacy to restore the Union on the basis of status quo antebellum and, until the closing months of the war charged that as long as the antislavery party remained in power the restoration of the Union could not be achieved.” [12] They believed that the war was a failure and that military action could not be achieved by force of arms.

The leading Copperheads included Clement Vallandigham of Ohio and George W. Woodward of Pennsylvania were typical, both opposed the use of force against Confederate secession; Woodward had written in 1860 that “Slavery was intended as a special blessing to the people of the United States,” that “Secession is not disloyalty” and “I cannot condemn the South for withdrawing….I wish Pennsylvania could go with them.” [13] The efforts of the Copperheads to gain governorships in Ohio and Pennsylvania met defeat in November 1863, as the Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg “undercut their theme of the war’s failure.” [14] Their efforts would persist through the 1864 Presidential election, but instead of preaching the war’s failure they would concentrate on defeating emancipation. The Copperheads, “labeled all Republicans, including Lincoln, as radicals bent upon destroying the Union and undermining the Constitution.” [15]

However, the anti-abolitionist and racist views espoused by the northern Democrat Copperheads had begun to lose their potency in the North after July of 1863 with the onset of “the New York draft riot, which shocked many northerners into a backlash against the consequences of virulent racism” [16] and the sacrifice of the African American 54th Massachusetts Infantry when it assaulted Fort Wagner outside of Charleston South Carolina, which occurred “just after the Democratic rioters in New York had lynched black people and burned the Colored Orphan Asylum. Few Republican newspapers failed to point the moral: black men who fought for the Union deserved more respect than white men who fought against it.” [17]

It is also important to understand how Lincoln’s address at Gettysburg is reflective of the various intellectual and philosophical movements of the time. Even the location of the cemetery and the burial plots within it was significant. A Gettysburg lawyer, David Wills proposed to “Governor Andrew Curtain of Pennsylvania the establishment of a soldiers’ cemetery where the Union dead could be reburied with dignity and honor.” [18] The place was then outside the city, a plot of 17 acres purchased by Wills adjacent to the existing town cemetery on Cemetery Hill. That was significant culturally, for the Gettysburg Cemetery was part of a movement called the Rural Cemetery movement. The movement was part of the Greek revival in the United States and connected with the Transcendentalist movement.

The Rural Cemetery movement was launched at Cambridge’s Mount Auburn Cemetery, and Edward Everett was a key figure in it. Mount Auburn “took Athens’s Kerameikos as its model, since that ancient burial ground existed outside the city proper, near the groves of the Akademy, in what was still countryside.” [19] In his speech at Mount Auburn’s dedication, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story noted:

“The Greeks exhausted the resources of their exquisite art in adorning the habitations of the dead. They discouraged internments within the limits of their cities; and consigned their relics to shady groves, in the neighborhood of murmuring streams and merry fountains, close by the favorite resorts of those who were engaged in the study of philosophy and nature, and called them, with the elegant expressiveness of their own beautiful language, cemeteries or “places of repose.” [20]

He further noted:

“Our cemeteries, rightly selected and properly arranged, may be made subservient to some of the highest purposes of religion and human duty. They may preach lessons to which none may refuse to listen and which all that live must hear. Truths may there be felt and taught, in the silence of our meditations, more persuasive and more enduring than ever flowed from human lips.” [21]

Everett in his Gettysburg oration linked what they were doing at the Soldiers’ Cemetery with the Greek tradition:

“It was appointed by law in Athens, that the obsequies of the citizens who fell in battle should be performed at the public expense, and in the most honorable manner. Their bones were carefully gathered up from the funeral pyre where their bodies were consumed, and brought home to the city. There, for three days before the interment, they lay in state, beneath tents of honor, to receive the votive offerings of friends and relatives,–flowers, weapons, precious ornaments, painted vases (wonders of art, which after two thousand years adorn the museums of modern Europe),–the last tributes of surviving affection. Ten coffins of funereal cypress received the honorable deposit, one for each of the tribes of the city, and an eleventh in memory of the unrecognized, but not therefore unhonored, dead, and of those whose remains could not be recovered….” [22]

The layout of the cemetery, and the manner in which the dead were buried was also significant when one considers the messages of both Everett and Lincoln that day. “The cemetery at Gettysburg was arranged so that every grave was of equal importance; William Saunders’s design, like Lincoln’s speech, affirmed that every dead soldier mattered equally regardless of rank or station.” [23] In this place “some 3,577 Union soldiers (half of them unknown) from eighteen states are buried.” [24]

The speeches of Everett and Lincoln are deeply connected with Romanticism, the Greek revival and the Transcendentalist movement in the United States. Both were children of the enlightenment, and Everett, a former President of Harvard was well versed in these subjects and Lincoln, though a politician who appealed to the tenets of the Enlightenment, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Lincoln appealed to the “sacred principles of the laws of nature,” and hailed “the constitution and laws” as “hewn from the solid quarry of sober reason.” For Lincoln, the war was a test of the practical worth of liberalism.” [25]

Everett had been a mentor to some of the leading Transcendentalist thinkers of his era including Ralph Waldo Emmerson who found that the experience of “Everett’s classroom gave him an entirely new direction in life. He wrote:

“Germany had created [literary] criticism in vain for us until 1820, when Edward Everett returned from his five years in Europe, and brought to Cambridge his rich results, which no one was so fitted by natural grace and splendor of his rhetoric to introduce and recommend….The novelty of the learning lost northing in the skill and genius of its interpreter, and the rudest undergraduate found a new morning opening to him in the lecture room at Harvard.” [26]

Everett, who had previously dedicated battlefields at Bunker Hill, as well as Lexington and Concord, was at his best when dedicating battlefields and cemeteries. He spent weeks preparing his speech. Everett had studied the battle and knew it well from official reports and talks with those who fought it. Everett painted a vivid picture of the battle for his audience and connected the sacrifice of those who fought and died to preserve the Union form antiquity and from those who founded the nation. He noted why they had gathered:

“We have assembled, friends, fellow-citizens, at the invitation of the Executive of the great central State of Pennsylvania, seconded by the Governors of seventeen other loyal States of the Union, to pay the last tribute of respect to the brave men who, in the hard-fought battles of the first, second, and third days of July last, laid down their lives for the country on these hillsides and the plains before us, and whose remains have been gathered into the cemetery which we consecrate this day. As my eye ranges over the fields whose sods were so lately moistened by the blood of gallant and loyal men, I feel, as never before, how truly it was said of old that it is sweet and becoming to die for one’s country. I feel, as never before, how justly, from the dawn of history to the present time, men have paid the homage of their gratitude and admiration to the memory of those who nobly sacrifice their lives, that their fellow-men may live in safety and in honor. And if this tribute were ever due, to whom could it be more justly paid than to those whose last resting-place we this day commend to the blessing of Heaven and of men?” [27]

In his narrative Everett aspired to more than mere accuracy. Along “with Bancroft and other romantic historians of his time, he meant to create a tradition that would inspire as well as inform. Like the Attic orators- and dramatists- he knew the power of symbols to create a people’s political identity.” [28]

Lincoln was sick when he delivered the address having what was mostly likely a mild form of Smallpox when he gave the address. Thus the tenor, simplicity and philosophical depth of the 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 being appoint Prime Minister in 1940. Likewise it echoes the Transcendentalist understanding of the Declaration of Independence as a “test for all other things.”

Many in the United States and Europe did not agree and 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.” [29]

But Lincoln disagreed. 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.” [30]

The Unitarian pastor and leading Transcendentalist 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.” [31]

Likewise Lincoln’s address echoes the thought of 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.” [32]

Parker’s words also prefigured an idea that Lincoln used in his address, that being: 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…” [33]

Lincoln delivered these 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.[34]

In a time where many are wearied by the foibles and follies of our politicians, even wondering about our form of government can survive Lincoln’s words matter. 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.” [35]

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. I do believe that we will recover because for the life of me I see no nation anywhere else with our resiliency and ability to overcome the stupidity of politicians, pundits and preachers.

The amazing thing was that in spite of everything the Union survived. Lincoln was a big part of that but it was the men who left lives of comfort and security like Joshua Chamberlain and so 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 realize this fact “then we can contemplate the real meaning of “that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion.” [36]

Now I for one do not think that we are currently living up to the ideals enunciated by Lincoln 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 that hallowed ground I am again a believer. I believe that we can realize the ideal, even in our lifetime should we desire.

Notes

[1] Shaara, Michael. The Killer Angels, Ballantine Books, New York. 1974 p.28

[2] Wills, Garry. Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words that Remade America Simon and Schuster Paperbacks, New York 1992 p.25

[3] Guelzo Allen C. Fateful Lightening: A New History of the Civil War Era and Reconstruction Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 2012 p.407

[4] Everett, Edward Letter from Edward Everett to Abraham Lincoln, (Transcription) 20 November 1863 retrieved from http://www.in.gov/judiciary/citc/files/everett-to-lincoln.pdf July 18th 2014

[5] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lighteningp.352

[6] Hebert, Walter H. Fighting Joe Hooker University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London 1999. Originally published by Bobbs-Merrill, New York 1944

[7] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 p.758

[8] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.757

[9] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.764

[10] Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg Mariner Books, Houghton Mifflin Company Boston, New York 2004 p.513

[11] McPherson, James M. Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief Penguin Books, New York and London 2008 p.200

[12] Harris, William C. With Charity for All: Lincoln and the Restoration of the Union The University Press of Kentucky, Lexington KY 1997 p.7

[13] McPherson, James. The Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1988 p.685

[14] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.685

[15] Ibid. Harris With Charity for All p.7

[16] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.686

[17] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.687

[18] McPherson, James M. This Hallowed Ground Crown Publishers, New York 2003 p.137

[19] Ibid. Wills. Lincoln at Gettysburg p.63

[20] Ibid. Wills. Lincoln at Gettysburg p.64

[21] Ibid. Wills. Lincoln at Gettysburg p.65

[22] Everett, Edward Gettysburg Address retrieved from http://voicesofdemocracy.umd.edu/everett-gettysburg-address-speech-text/ 21 August 2014

[23] Faust, Drew Gilpin, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War Vintage Books, a division of Random House, New York 2008 p.100

[24] Ibid. McPherson This Hallowed Ground p.137

[25] Ibid. Guelzo. Fateful Lightening pp.406-407

[26] Ibid. Wills. Lincoln at Gettysburg p.45

[27] Ibid. Everett Gettysburg Address

[28] Ibid. Wills. Lincoln at Gettysburg p.51

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

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

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

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

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

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

[35] Guelzo, Allen C. Lincoln’s Sound Bite: Have Faith in Democracy New 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

[36] Ibid. McPherson This Hallowed Ground p.138

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Friday Morning Myth Busting before a Trip to Gettysburg

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Dear Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today I head up with my class to Gettysburg for our Staff Ride. Of course this comes on the heals of the San Francisco amazing game seven victory in the 2014 World Series, and if you read this site you understand that I was up until the wee hours of the morning because I was much too excited to sleep. This is actually, despite the lack of sleep a blessing because most of the time that I don’t sleep it is because of anxiety, nightmares, flashbacks and night terrors that torment me. As Gouverneur Warren, one of the heroes of Gettysburg wrote after the war:

“I wish I did not dream that much. They make me sometimes dread to go to sleep. Scenes from the war, are so constantly recalled, with bitter feelings I wish to never experience again. Lies, vanity, treachery, and carnage.”

But last night was different, to was hard to get to sleep because of the excitement of one of the best World Series games in history. That being said I am tired. I revised my chapter on the ideological nature of the American Civil War, and I should have another chapter revision on the Confederate decision to allow Robert E. Lee to invade Pennsylvania in the late spring of 1863 done by the time that I leave tomorrow. But those chapters, which are around 80 pages long are now too big to post in one fell swoop here.

However, in my readings I encountered a quote by historian Drew Faust Gilpin, as well as another that was part of a Methodist tract from 1860 that both seem absolutely timely today. I included both in the chapter, but I am going to post it here as well, because in the religious-historical myth that has become the staple that frauds like David Barton, Glenn Beck and their political and media allies flood the the airways and internet with, it is timely. Gilpin wrote:

“Sacred and secular history, like religion and politics, had become all but indistinguishable…The analogy between the Confederacy and the chosen Hebrew nation was invoked so often as to be transformed into a figure of everyday speech. Like the United States before it, the Confederacy became a redeemer nation, the new Israel.”

The Methodist tract noted:

“Confederate independence, explained a Methodist tract quoting Puritan John Winthrop, was intended to enable the South, “like a city set on a hill’ [to] fulfill her God given mission to exalt in civilization and Christianity the nations of the earth.”

Personally I cannot imagine anymore hatful projections of the Christian faith, but then I was reminded by the Fox News Channel resident Shrink, Dr Keith Ablow, that the United States needs to be conducting it’s own Jihad, its own wars of conquest to impose the American way on the rest of the world. Of course the blowhard shrink Ablow who has no skin in the game doesn’t seem to mind putting the sons and daughters of the nation in harm’s way, to die in unjust, unrighteous, illegal, immoral and certainly un-Christian wars to satiate his bloodlust. Ablow revels in diagnosing the pathologies and motivations of people that he has never met, not a very professional way of doing business as a shrink, but just watching Ablow’s rants on television and reading what he puts out on the internet I wonder if he is a sociopath, a man without empathy, a man who does not seam to be motivated by the desire to help people, nor by the upholding the Hippocratic oath, to do no harm.

I find it fascinating to read what General and later President Ulysses S Grant said about such ideas:

“As the United States is the freest of all nations, so, too, its people sympathize with all people struggling for liberty and self-government; but while so sympathizing it is due to our honor that we should abstain from enforcing our views upon unwilling nations and from taking an interested part, without invitation, in the quarrels between different nations or between governments and their subjects. Our course should always be in conformity with strict justice and law, international and local.”

But that my friends is why history matters, and why you should take your time to study it, including the uncomfortable things that destroy the myths perpetuated by the Lost Causers of the modern “Conservative Christian” revisionists and their allies who sell their crap as truth to people who want to believe it because they have been conditioned by thirty years and more of propaganda, that the myth is true.

Clothed in  the garb of faith and patriotism these lies, and the political, military and economic consequences  that they have spawned over the past thirteen years, have cost more American lives and treasure, as well as destroyed our stature in the world than any series of events in our history. heretical These filthy and polluted ideas helped destroy what could have been a renaissance in international relations because their proponents painted everything in terms of black and white and you either are for us or against us. Yes let me say it, President George Bush’s, uninspired,misguided and down right ignorant  religious world views have taken us to the abyss.

This my friends is why history matters. Sometimes it may seem dry and dusty, and no you cannot get rich as a real historian, while the fake ones like Barton, Beck and Bill O’Reilly are able to make a lot of money because they appear to what people want to hear by lying, by so linking their religion with their politics and their distorted view of history that the reality of history is ground to dust under the heals of their designer jackboots.

So, tomorrow, or is it already today now, I head up to Gettysburg where the brave men of the Army of the Potomac, whose veterans, like those of other Union armies engaged in the struggle for freedom helped give our nation a “new birth of freedom.” 

I think that how the Army of Tennessee, a Union army in the West described the war is at the heart of the issue.

“The Society of the Army of the Tennessee described the war as a struggle “that involved the life of the Nation, the preservation of the Union, the triumph of liberty and the death of slavery.” They had fought every battle…from the firing on the Union flag Fort Sumter to the surrender of Lee at Appomattox…in the cause of human liberty,” burying “treason and slavery in the Potter’s Field of nations” and “making all our citizens equal before the law, from the gulf to the lakes, and from ocean to ocean.”

It is amazing what the study of history and going to the places that it was made can do in someone’s heart. For me, the study of the Battle of Gettysburg and the American Civil War, and not just the military aspects of it has motivated me to be more forceful and speak up against the lies of those like Barton, Beck, O’Reilly, Ablow and the hosts of pundits, preachers and politicians who spread their lies as truth.

But then for me, truth matters. In this I am reminded of a quote from Star Trek the Next Generation. It is from an episode called “The First Duty.” In it the seasoned Captain Jean Luc Picard confronts his young protege Wesley Crusher after a disastrous accident that leaves a Star Fleet Academy cadet dead. Picard tells the young Crusher that “the first duty of every Starfleet officer is to the truth, whether it’s scientific truth, historical truth or personnel truth…

To me, as a miscreant priest, and career officer that quote strikes home. I have a duty to the truth, believe it or not it does matter to me, and sometimes that means that I have to be a myth buster and call out the professional liars who posit themselves as historians, political scientists or experts on military strategy, when none of them have either the education or the experience to be experts in anything but being able to lie for fun and profit.

You see when I go to Gettysburg, and I stand where so many men died do make others free I become ever more inspired to confront the liars.

But now I am preaching and I try not to do that. I do need to attempt to get some sleep, so have a nice night.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

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