Each year on the 4th of July as we celebrate our national unity we should also take time to remember the human toll exacted when national unity is severed. At times in our history the allegiance and loyalty of the common man has been manipulated by those that profit from disharmony.
If you doubt the fragile nature of American unity, then remember a cheerless Independence Day on July 4, 1863 in the small, rural town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Imagine the horror experienced by the 2400 residents of this small town when they awoke on the morning of July 4th to find the carnage of 8000 American dead scattered on their fields.
The Battle of Gettysburg during the Civil War was one of the costliest battles in our nation’s history. Nearly 150 years after the American Civil War the causes are still a matter of passionate debate.
Slavery, the central issue, was defined in economic terms rather than as a moral issue. Southern Politicians were slave owners, therefore the economic factors resulting from the elimination of slavery impacted directly on them. But for the average soldier on both sides, the issue of slavery was not paramount; southern farmers could not afford slaves and most northern farmers had never seen a slave. Therefore southern politicians convinced their majority that the North was intent upon destroying their culture and way of life, and northern politicians convinced their majority that by seceding the Confederacy was destroying our beloved democracy.
Both Northern and Southern politicians knew that it would be a mistake to base the fight solely on the economics of slavery because many on both sides would refuse to fight. Regardless, many soldiers came to realize the Civil War was in truth a "rich man's war and a poor man's fight".
Long before Abe Lincoln took office he was demonized in the South. He was pictured as a radical abolitionist of the John Brown type. The South claimed Lincoln was prepared to override the laws and tread on the Constitution in order to achieve his radical agenda. According to historian Michael Burlingame, the south saw Lincoln as a "Robespierre ready to overturn the fabric of our society". In some ways, the denunciations of Lincoln are eerily similar to the onslaught heaped on President Obama today.
I have walked the somber battle fields of Gettysburg on more than one occasion in my life; I have climbed the rocks at Devil's Den, stood on Little Round Top, walked the rolling fields of Picket's Charge and looked out from the Union Lines near the High Water Mark. I used to wonder how Americans could turn against each other with the degree of anger and hatred necessary to fight this bloody conflict; brother against brother.
Presently, tumultuous political voices have opened a door to understanding the mindset that pits brother against brother. The intensity of discord that we have experienced beginning with the 2008 Presidential campaign and continuing over the last 4 years provides a virtual laboratory for the study of the process that resulted in the division of our country prior to the Civil War.
As of late, despite the hard-fought lessons of history and the legacy of our Civil War, I have heard some extremists threaten rebellion if President Obama is re-elected or armed revolt in response to nonexistent threats to their gun rights. These foolish claims of tyranny and threats of rebellion against our federal government come from those that believe they are better Americans simply because they wrap themselves in the flag and call themselves patriots.
The burial markers at Arlington National Cemetery are not separated based upon partisan politics; there are no liberal or conservative sections of this sacred place or areas of Arlington designated Democratic or Republican. Progressive F.D.R. Liberals are buried next to the most conservative of Republicans and that is only fitting, they fought to defend our nation together and they died together without concern for partisan politics.
In defense of our national unity, we must listen to the whispers of those long dead on the battlefield of Gettysburg, as they say to us, "Beware my brother, beware of ignorance and greed disguised as patriotism".