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Confederate Sunset in South Carolina 

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Historian George Santayana said “Loyalty to our ancestors does not include loyalty to their mistakes.” Today it appears that at least one legislature and governor has agreed with him.

This afternoon South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley signed a bill passed by overwhelming majorities in the South Carolina Senate and House to remove the Confederate Battle flag from grounds of the South Carolina State Capital. The ceremonial lowering will occur at 10 AM tomorrow, July 10th 2015, when it is lowered it will be transferred to a museum, which is an appropriate place. 

This is important, I did not imagine that it would occur in my lifetime, and I expect to live a fair number of years. The sad thing is that it took the murder of nine innocent African American church members at Emmanuel African American Episcopal Church in Charleston by a young man named Dylan Roof, who harbored White Supremacist dreams of a race war to bring this about. It took the abject horror of people being murdered in church to do make people begin to realize that maybe, just maybe that continuing to display this symbol of the Confederacy on state grounds was not a good idea.

I know that there are many who defend that flag. I am not among them, although I once was as members of both sides of my family fought under it during the Confederate rebellion against the United States. But it does belong to history and what it stood for, not what it stands for in myth, but what it stood for the men who raised it in rebellion in order to defend and expand what they referred to as the “peculiar institution,” the political, social, religious and economic system known as slavery.  That is a fact, simply read Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephen’s Cornerstone Speech of 1861 where he said:

“Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition. [Applause.] This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”

In fact if you read every declaration of secession issued by the various states of the Confederacy, all insist that slavery was the main issue for which they seceded and for which they went to war. That did not change during the war and after the fighting was over, the flag of the Confederacy became the standard of White Supremacists throughout the South as they worked in the legislatures and in the courts to roll back the rights of blacks, using violence, intimidation and fraud to do so.

However, it was not until April 11th 1961 during the early days of the Civil Rights movement that the legislature of South Carolina voted to fly the Confederate Battle Flag over the state house in Columbia. This coincided with the centennial of the beginning of the Civil War when South Carolina troops on the orders of President Jefferson Davis opened fire on Fort Sumter. Ten years ago the flag was moved from the dome of the state house to a monument to Confederate veterans on the grounds of that complex.

Tomorrow morning that flag will come down, and I think that is a good thing for I do not believe that this symbol of rebellion and sadly white supremacy and racism should fly from any government building or complex. That being said if an individual chooses to fly the flag they should not be forbidden from doing so. I may object to that but I can only hope that with time and exposure to the truth that even these displays will come down. As to the people that fly these banners in order to display their racism, their hatred of other Americans and their desire for yet another rebellion, I am glad that they fly it so that I will know who they are, after all I favor truth in advertising and if I see this flag flying from a business I am sure that I will not spend my money in  those establishments.

As far as the people who honestly believe that in flying the flag they are honoring their heritage or ancestors, I can offer a measure of sympathy, but I encourage them not to sanitize history from facts. The fact is that the sacrifice and “heritage” our our ancestors, and I do include mine cannot be separated from the cause for which they fought, slavery, and for which those that came after them worked to ensure; racism, discrimination and even murder.

As gallant and even as chivalrous soldiers as many Confederate soldiers were, their sacrifice cannot be separated from the cause for which they fought, just like any other “honorable” soldiers who fought for evil causes. There are many such people that I admire for their soldierly qualities, while not espousing their cause.

Like Ulysses S. Grant I can mourn their sacrifice and admire the gallantry of soldiers even while acknowledging the injustice of the Confederate cause. After Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Grant wrote, “I felt…sad and depressed, at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people has fought.” He later noted: “The Confederates were now our countrymen, and we did not want to exult over their downfall.”

It is time for this symbol of the Confederacy to come down forever and for the war that three quarters of a million American soldiers, Union and Confederates died, and for which millions of African Americans were enslaved and after the war thousands of freed blacks murdered or lynched, even as millions more were legally disenfranchised and discriminated against under Jim Crow. It is time for that to end, here and now. As far as me, I may honor my ancestors, but I will not honor the cause for which they fought.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

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Time for It to Come Down

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It has been 150 years since the revolt of the Confederate States of America officially ended. However, the flag of that revolt still flies over on the grounds of the South Carolina capitol, remains part of the state flags of a number of former Confederate states, and is displayed in many fashions by people with various motives. Some belief, even genuinely that in displaying it they are honoring the men who fought under it. For others it is a symbol of continued defiance against a government that they hate, while for others it is a potent symbol of their hatred of African Americans and their earnest longing for a racist past that they believe were the good times.

That flag in its various guises, the Confederate Battle Flag, the Confederate Naval Ensign, or the National Flag of the Confederacy, sometimes called the Stars and Bars is an important part of American history. As such it cannot be completely done away with, it should remain as a part of history and as such confined to museums and things like reenactments of the battles. That being said, it has no place being flown over statehouses and should also be removed from the state flags that still retain it.

That flag is a part of my family’s history. If I wanted to I could join the Son’s of Confederate Veterans in a heartbeat. I have ancestors on both sides of my family who volunteered to serve the Confederacy even as their neighbors were declaring for the Union in what was then the western part of Virginia, what is now West Virginia. They were small time slave owners as well as yeoman farmers and they chose to serve a regime that despised them almost as much as it did the blacks. As members of the 8th Virginia Cavalry they fought until 1865 and following the war, some were reconciled to the Union while others refused to be and continued their revolt in other ways. Only one thing could have caused them to fight for a flag that offered them so little and that was they, like so many Southerners of similar means believed that keeping the black down ensured that they were superior to someone. If that meant enslaving blacks and fighting for a regime that did so, so be it. In fact after the war the patriarch of my paternal side refused to sign the loyalty oath to the United States and lost his family’s lands and plantation in addition to the slaves that he had already lost.

There was a time when I was young and desiring some kind of American military heritage to be proud of took a type of pride in the purely military side of the family, no matter what it was, Revolutionary War, Civil War (North and South), the World Wars as well as the service of my own father in Vietnam. As such I turned a blind eye to the cause that my ancestors who served the South fought and in some cases died to not only defend but to expand, if need be by the overthrow of the Union through force of arms. That cause was slavery, and while so many want to clothe secession and the term “states rights” the one right for which the South seceded was the right to enslave blacks and to expand that institution to non-slave territories, and even force anti-slavery Northerners to cooperate with through laws such as the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the Dred Scott Decision.

But this is not surprising, the revisionist historians of the Lost Cause triumphed in telling the story of the Civil War where force of arms failed. These people, including some historians managed to shift the focus of the war to the stories of the great soldiers who fought in the war, and to the lie that the war was about “constitutional” issues when in fact the South was winning almost every court and congressional battle regarding slavery in the decade and a half before secession. The South’s over-reaction to the election of Abraham Lincoln, an election that they sabotaged for their cause by splitting their electoral votes between the candidacies of Stephen Douglas and John C. Breckenridge is to this day lost on them.

The fact is that the Confederate Flag in all of its forms is not a symbol of freedom, it is not a symbol of a heritage that any person, even descendants of Southern veterans should take pride in.

Instead it is a symbol of treason. It is the symbol of men who sworn to uphold the Constitution that Senators, Congressmen, military officers, and other Federal officers and officials callously abandoned when their side did not win an election.

It is a flag of a republic which Alexander Stephens its Vice President described in his Cornerstone Speech:

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition. [Applause.] This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”

It is the symbol of a rebellion that brought about a war that cost between 650,000 and 750,000 military deaths, many more wounded and billions of dollars of damage to the country.

It is the symbol of men who after they regained control of their states passed innumerable laws to prescribe slavery in all but name through “Black” and “Jim Crow” laws.

It is the symbol of the original American terrorist organization, the Ku Klux Klan that used violence and murder to oppress and kill blacks and their supporters for a hundred years after Appomattox.

It is the symbol that neo-Confederates, White Supremacists, neo-Nazis and other racist and hate-groups rally around.

It has also found a home in some parts of the Tea Party Movement and the current Republican Party.

Some Southerners and others have defended it and fought to keep it flying on various state capitol grounds, war memorials and state parks. It is flown or displayed by individuals over homes and on vehicles, even in states that shed thousands of lives to end the Confederate rebellion.

As for me, a career military officer and descendent of Confederate veterans I find the Confederate flags in all of its forms hateful, divisive and treasonous. When I see it displayed outside of museums and reenactments my blood boils, especially when I see it displayed as a political statement against a government and Constitution that I have committed my life to defend.

I believe that all Americans should oppose its display, especially on the grounds of government facilities. I find it little different in substance than the Swastika banner of the Nazi Party, which became the national flag of Germany. Both flags were the symbols of regimes that were based on the belief in a superior “master race” and which desired to expand their racial views to other lands. While there was a difference that the Nazis believed in exterminating as well as enslaving those that they deemed to be “sub-human” the ultimate goal of the Confederacy was to perpetuate slavery and expand it over a people that they also believed to be sub-human.

Now I do believe that the Confederate flag does have a place, and the proper place for it is in museums and historical reenactments. I think that it also can be legitimately displayed on the graves of men who fought under it. As for the men who died for that flag, despite their cause I have a measure of sympathy as one who has served in war. They were valiant and brave soldiers even if the cause that they served was evil. I agree with Ulysses S. Grant who at Appomattox stopped the cheers of his soldiers noting:

I felt…sad and depressed, at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people has fought.” He later noted: “The Confederates were now our countrymen, and we did not want to exult over their downfall.”

Apart from that I believe that displays of this flag only serve to show either historical ignorance or to display racist or anti-government attitudes that serve no constructive purpose and which only serve to encourage totalitarian enemies of freedom.

Thankfully, for the first time prominent Republican politicians beginning with Mitt Romney but now including South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley and South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham are calling for the removal of the flag from the grounds of the South Carolina State Capitol. Others need to as well. It is about time that the Confederate flag, and the racist ideology that it stands for comes down for good.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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God Bless My People, Black and White: The Complex Life of General Wade Hampton

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Lieutenant General Wade Hampton, C.S.A.

Friends of Padre Steve’s World 

I will be taking my students to Gettysburg this weekend and likewise I am continuing to periodically intersperse and publish short articles about various commanders at Gettysburg on the site. These all are drawn from my student text and may become a book in their own right.  The reason is I am going to do this is because I have found that readers are often more drawn to the lives of people than they are events. As I have noted before that people matter, even deeply flawed people, and we can learn from them.

Today’s article is about Lieutenant General Hade Hampton who commanded one of J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry brigades at Gettysburg. Hampton is one of the most fascinating men I think of the entire Civil War period. Before the war he was one of the richest planters and largest owners of slaves in the South and after the war was a stalwart supporter of the rights of African Americans in South Carolina where he served as the first post-Reconstruction governor of that state. He was not a professional soldier but became one of the finest commanders of cavalry on either side during the war. Tomorrow I will be posting a completely revised, expanded and updated chapter of my text on the opening of the Battle of Gettysburg when Major General John Buford’s Cavalry conducted a heroic delaying action against the vastly superior numbers of Confederate Major General Heth’s division as it attempted to advance into Gettysburg on the morning of July 1st 1863. 

I do hope that you enjoy this.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Brigadier General Wade Hampton is one of the fascinating and complex characters in either army who served at Gettysburg. He defies a one dimensional treatment or stereotype. His complexities, contradictions and character make him one of the most interesting men that I have written about during my study of this battle.

Wade Hampton III was born in Charleston, South Carolina in 1828. He one of the richest, if not the richest man in the Confederacy when the war broke out. Hampton inherited his family’s expansive plantation and many slaves and studied law at the College of South Carolina.

As a slave owner, he expressed an aversion for the institution and ensured that his slaves were well cared for by the standards of his day, including medical care. He never condemned slavery or worked for the abolition of a system that had made him and his family quite prosperous. He served in the South Carolina legislature and Senate, where he took an “active and prominent role in the public debate on many issues. He was vocal not only on the perils of reopening the African slave trade but also on whether and how his state should seek redress of wrongs, real and imagined, by the federal government.” [1]

As a state senator, Hampton was pragmatic, and while he defended the South’s economic interests in slavery, Hampton cautioned against the rhetoric of secessionist fire-breathers. His argument was about “the preservation of the South’s political power and her social and economic institutions, now threatened by the short sighted policies of otherwise good and decent men.” [2] He did not wish to do anything that would lead to the destruction of the South, and he felt that the “only viable course was moderation, conciliation, compromise….” [3]

Hampton was a classic rich “Southern moderate He had opposed secession, and the fire eaters repulsed him.” [4] However, when Lincoln called for volunteers Hampton volunteered to serve in a war that he did not want, which would cost him dearly, and change him from a moderate to a vociferous opponent of most Reconstructionist policies.

Volunteering at the age of forty-three, Hampton had no prior military training. However, he had great organizational skill, leadership ability and a tremendous care and compassion for those who served under his command. Using his own money Hampton organized what would now be called a combined arms unit, the Hampton Legion, which comprised eight companies of infantry, four of cavalry and a battery of light artillery. He was careful in the appointment of the Legion’s officers choosing the best he could find.

Hampton rapidly rose to prominence as a respected officer and commander despite his lack of military training or experience. His soldiers fought well and took over command of an infantry brigade on the Peninsula, and was promoted to Brigadier General in May of 1862 and given command of a cavalry brigade serving under J.E.B. Stuart in July. Hampton “became Stuart’s finest subordinate.” [5] The contrast between the two men was remarkable. “Hampton and Stuart forged a professional relationship but not a friendship. They shared an adherence to duty and to the cause. But the contrasts between them in style and personality were undeniable.” [6] Stuart’s flamboyance, love of pageantry, and ambition clashed with Hampton’s simplicity and calm self-assurance. Serving as a brigade, and later division commander, Hampton had “little fondness or respect for Stuart. He regularly criticized Stuart for pampering the Virginia regiments and assigning his South Carolinians to the more arduous tasks.” [7]

During the war he was wounded several times, including at             Gettysburg where he took two saber cuts to the head. Eventually, he took command of the Cavalry Corps after Stuart was killed in action. This was something that Stuart in life would not have abided. When Stuart was scheming to get a promotion to Lieutenant General in another military department, he wrote that if he was to serve elsewhere he did not want Hampton to Command. In a curious post-script to a letter to Custis Lee Stuart wrote:

“Hampton is not the man for such a command, and I know he will not suit Gen’l Lee, nor the particular requirements of such a station. Hampton is a gallant officer, a nice Gentleman, and has done meritorious service, but there you must stop.” [8]

He fought in nearly every cavalry engagement under Stuart and led his own raids deep into Union territory. He fought well, but “hated the war.” In October 1862 he wrote home: “My heart has grown sick of the war, & I long for peace.” [9] Hampton’s Confederate service was unusual, especially for an officer of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia which favored those who had prior service, especially West Point graduates. As such Hampton was “one of only three civilians to attain the rank of Lieutenant General in Confederate service.” [10] At Petersburg, his son Preston was mortally wounded and died in his arms even as his other son Wade IV was wounded while coming to Preston’s aid. Douglass Southall Freeman wrote of Hampton:

“Untrained in arms and abhorring war, the South Carolina planter had proved himself the peer of any professional soldier commanding within the same bounds and opportunities. He may not have possessed military genius, but he had the nearest approach to it.” [11]

The war that he opposed cost him the life of his brother, one of his sons and his livelihood. “His property destroyed, many of his slaves gone, and deep in debt from which he would never recover, Hampton faced the future with $1.75 in his pocket.” [12] The war changed the former moderate into a man who sought vindication in some ways, but reconciliation with the black population.

Hampton again entered politics and became the first post-Reconstruction Governor of South Carolina when President Rutherford Hayes withdrew the Federal troops which had supported the Reconstructionist governor. Initially he was “hailed as a redeemer by white constituents desperate to throw off the yoke of Reconstruction” [13] yet Hampton stood stalwartly against White Supremacy and White Supremacists. He acted on the belief that whites and African Americans could live, work and prosper together.

During his campaign and during his terms as Governor, Hampton “opposed the South’s imposition of so-called “black codes” which so restricted the freedom of former slaves as virtually to return them to civility.” [14] Unlike many in the post-reconstruction South, Hampton won the thanks of African Americans for condemning whites that would vote for him if they thought that he would “stand between him and the law, or grant him any privileges or immunities that shall not be granted to the colored man.” [15] Over his term, the former slave owner “extended more political benefits to African Americans than any other Democratic governor in the post-war South.” [16]

Hampton came to dominate South Carolina politics for fifteen years. After two terms as Governor, he served as a U.S. Senator until 1891 when a political enemy won the governorship and forced him from the Senate. When he died on April 11th 1902 his final words were “God bless my people, black and white.” [17]

Like so many leaders of so many tumultuous eras, Hampton was complex, contradictory and cannot be easily classified. He was certainly not perfect, but in war and in peace gave of himself to his state and community.

Notes

[1] Ibid. Longacre, Gentleman and Soldier pp.26-27

[2] Ibid. Longacre, Gentleman and Soldier p.28

[3] Ibid. Longacre, Gentleman and Soldier p.28

[4] Goldfield, David. America Aflame: How the Civil War Created a Nation Bloomsbury Press, New York 2011 p.399

[5] Ibid. Wert A Glorious Army p.64

[6] Ibid. Wert Cavalryman of the Lost Cause p.116

[7] Ibid. Glatthaar, General Lee’s Army p.352

[8] Ibid. Wert Cavalryman of the Lost Cause p.333

[9] Ibid. Goldfield, America Aflame p.399

[10] Ibid. Warner Generals in Gray p.123

[11] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.770

[12] Ibid. Goldfield, America Aflame p.399

[13] Ibid. Longacre, Gentleman and Soldier p.xv

[14] Ibid. Longacre, Gentleman and Soldier p.265

[15] Ibid. Longacre, Gentleman and Soldier p.265

[16] Ibid. Longacre, Gentleman and Soldier p.xv

[17] Ibid. Longacre, Gentleman and Soldier p.276

 

 

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Reflecting on the High Water Mark of the Confederacy and the Importance of Our Union

Yesterday was the 148th Anniversary of Pickett’s Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg. There is a spot near the Copse of Trees along Cemetery Ridge which is referred to as the “High Water Mark of the Confederacy.” It is the spot close to where Confederate Brigadier General Lo Armistead fell mortally wounded as the decimated remains of his command were overwhelmed by Union forces shortly after they breached the Union line. It is a place immortalized in history, literature and film. It is the place that marked the beginning of the end for the great evil of slavery in America.

My ancestors lived in Cabell County which in 1861 was part of Virginia. They were slave holders along the Mud River, a tributary of the Ohio River just to the north of what is now Huntington West Virginia. When war came to the country the family patriarch James Dundas and my great, great grandfather joined the 8th Virginia Cavalry Regiment in which he served the bulk of the war as a Lieutenant.  When it ended he refused to sign the loyalty oath to the Union and had his lands, which are now some of the most valuable in that part of West Virginia confiscated and sold by the Federal Government.  He was a believer in the “Lost Cause” that romantic and confused idea about the rightness of the South in its war against what they called “Northern aggression.”

Because he served I am eligible for membership in the Sons of the Confederacy. However it is something that I cannot do.  There are some that do this as a means to honor their relatives that served in the war and I do not make light of their devotion to their family, but there are some that take that devotion to places that I cannot go.  As much as I admire the valor and personal integrity of many military men who served the Confederacy I cannot for a moment think that their “cause” was just.

It has been said that the North won the war but that the South won the history.  I think this is true. Many people now days like to reduce the reasons for the war to the South protecting its rights.  Sometimes the argument is “states rights” or “economic freedom” and those that make these arguments romanticize the valor shown by Confederate soldiers on the battlefield but conveniently ignore or obscure the evil of the Southern economic system. The “rights” and the “economic freedom” were based upon the enslavement and exploitation of the Black man to maintain an archaic economy based on agriculture, particularly the export of King Cotton.  Arguments which try to place the blame on the North, especially arguments that attempt to turn the Northern States into economic predators’ intent on suppressing the economic rights of Southerners only serve to show the bankruptcy of the idea itself. The fact that the “economic and political freedom” of Southerners was founded on the enslavement of a whole race of people matters not because the “cause” is greater.

The fact is that the longer the South relied solely on its agriculture which was supported by the institution of slavery it deprived itself of the means of economic progress, the same progress that propelled the North to prosperity. The south lagged in all industrial areas as well as transportation infrastructure. The majority of non-slave owning whites lived at the poverty line and only enjoyed some elevated social status because the slaves ranked beneath them on the sociological and economic hierarchy.  The South depended on cheap imports from England, which then was still considered an enemy of the country. When tariffs to protect newly establish American industries were enacted in 1828 South Carolina attempted to nullify the Federal law even raising troops and threatened a revolt in 1832.

The Southern economic system was immoral and antiquated. It enslaved blacks and it impoverished most rural Southerners, with the exception of those that owned the land and the slaves. It was a hateful, backward and loathsome system which even the southern churches attempted to justify from Scripture.  Southern Baptists, Methodists and Presbyterians would all break away from their parent denominations regarding slavery.

This does not mean that I think that the average Confederate soldier or officers were dishonorable men. Many officers who had served in the United States Army hated the breakup of the Union but served the South because it was the land that they were from. It was the home of their families and part of who they were.  To judge them as wanting 150 years later when we have almost no connection to family or home in a post industrial world is to impose the standards of a world that they did not know upon them. For those that gave up everything to serve one can feel a measure of sympathy.  So many died and so much of the South was destroyed in the defense of that “cause” one has to wonder just why the political and religious leaders of the South were willing to maintain such an inadequate and evil economic system one that hurt poor Southern whites nearly as much as it did blacks.

The war devastated the South and the radicals that ran “Reconstruction” ensured that Southerners suffered terrible degradation and that Southern blacks would have even more obstacles raised against them by the now very angry and revengeful whites.  It would take another 80-100 years to end segregation and secure voting rights for blacks. Thus I have no desire to become part of an organization that even gives the appearance of supporting the “cause” even if doing so would allow me to “honor” an ancestor who raised his hand against the country that I serve.

I was raised on the West Coast but have lived in the South much of my adult life due to military assignments. I have served in National Guard units that trace their lineage to Confederate regiments in Texas and Virginia. Despite my Confederate connections both familial and by service I can find little of the romance and idealism that some find in the Confederacy and the “Lost Cause.” I see the Civil War for what it was, a tragedy of the highest order brought about by the need of some to enslave others to maintain their economic system.

Today there are many that use the flags of the Confederacy outside of their historic context. They are often used as a symbol of either racial hatred or of defiance to the Federal Government by white Supremacist or anti-government organizations.  Many that use them openly advocate for the overthrow of the Federal Government.  The calls for such “revolt” can be found all over the country even in the halls of Congress much as they were in the 1830s, 40s and 50s. Some of this is based in libertarian economic philosophy which labels the government as the enemy of business, some based social policies which are against their religious beliefs and some sadly to say based in an almost xenophobic racial hatred.  The scary thing as that the divisions in the country are probably as great as or greater than they were in the 1850s as the country lurched inexorably to Civil War with neither side willing to do anything that might lessen their political or economic power even if it means the ruin of the country.

In recent weeks I have seen the symbols of the Confederacy, particularly the Battle Flag displayed in manners that can only be seen as symbols of defiance.  Tomorrow is July 4th and it seems to me that the flag that should be most prominently displayed is not a Confederate banner, nor even the Gadsen flag, a flag from the Revolutionary War which is used as a rallying symbol for many in the Tea Party movement but the Stars and Stripes.  Somehow I find the flag flown in rebellion to the country that I serve displayed in such an arrogant manner

For many of these people it is the Federal Government which is the enemy. Now I know that our system of government has its flaws. Likewise I cannot agree more about the corruption of many in political office, regardless of their political allegiance.  While it is true that the Federal Government has taken upon itself many powers some never envisioned by those that crafted the Constitution, it has done so because leaders of both political parties have consented to it and even worked to strengthen the Federal Government with the consent of the American people that elect them again and again.

Despite this much of this has been accomplished by the Federal Government has been for the good for the country and people no matter what the critics say. Many of the things that we enjoy today are the result of the work of the Federal Government and not business as much as those that deify big corporations want to believe. There are the National Parks, laws against child labor and for safe workplaces brought about by Teddy Roosevelt, the infrastructure built in the 1930s and 1940s by the Franklin Roosevelt administration. The Roosevelt administration also brought about Social Security and banking regulations to protect Americans from corporations and banks that violated the public trust. The Eisenhower administration began the Interstate Highway system which is the backbone of our transportation system.  Likewise the Space Program and yes even the military have led the way in technological, scientific and medical innovation including that thing that we all take for granted today the Internet.

Today quite a few people are calling for revolt or secession if they do not get what they want be it socially, politically or economically. For years politicians on both sides have fought to minimize such talk and enact compromises with the usual discontent that comes with compromise.  Unfortunately many of those compromises have had the effect of widening the political divide much as the various compromises on the road to the Civil War.  Jefferson said of the Missouri Compromise of 1824: “but this momentous question, like a fire bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once as the knell of the Union. It is hushed indeed for the moment, but this is a reprieve only, not a final sentence. A geographical line, coinciding with a marked principle, moral and political, once conceived and held up to the angry passions of men, will never be obliterated; and every new irritation will mark it deeper and deeper.”

We have allowed the issues of our time to become a fire of unbridled angry passion where those with almost no historical understanding and whose history is often based on myth stake claims and promote ideas that will destroy this Union if they continue. Unfortunately we have not yet reached the high water mark of this movement yet and I fear like Jefferson that the hatred and division will only grow worse as both radical on the right and left prepare for conflict.

Tomorrow we celebrate the 235th anniversary of our Declaration of Independence.  It is a remarkable occasion. It is the anniversary that free people as well as those oppressed around the world look to as a beacon of liberty. It has been paid for time and time again, especially during that cruel Civil War which killed more American soldiers than any other war that we have fought.

A few months after Gettysburg Abraham Lincoln a man much reviled by those that have romanticized the Cause and who is demonized by many “conservative” politicians and pundits today as a “tyrant” made these brief remarks at the site of the battle:

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 battlefield 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 cannot consecrate—we cannot 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.

Today with so many radicals on both the political right and political left doing all that they can to plunge us into yet another civil war we should remember Lincoln’s word and rededicate ourselves to this Union, this remarkable Union.  Tony Blair the former Prime Minster of Great Britain remarked today:

“It may be strange for a former British Prime Minister to offer thoughts on America when the country will be celebrating its independence from Britain. But the circumstances of independence are part of what makes America the great and proud nation it is today. And what gives nobility to the American character.

That nobility isn’t about being nicer, better or more successful than anyone else. It is a feeling about the country. It is a devotion to the American ideal that at a certain point transcends class, race, religion or upbringing. That ideal is about values, freedom, the rule of law, democracy. It is also about the way you achieve: on merit, by your own efforts and hard work.

But it is most of all that in striving for and protecting that ideal, you as an individual take second place to the interests of the nation as a whole. This is what makes the country determined to overcome its challenges. It is what makes its soldiers give their lives in sacrifice. It is what brings every variety of American, from the lowest to the highest, to their feet when “The Star-Spangled Banner” is played.

Of course the ideal is not always met – that is obvious. But it is always striven for.

The next years will test the American character. The world is changing. New powers are emerging. But America should have confidence. This changing world does not diminish the need for that American ideal. It only reaffirms it.”

I think that the Prime Minister got it right.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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