This week marks a great anniversary for scholars and history buffs alike. On this day 150 years ago, two great armies were lumbering toward each other in the hills and valleys of southeastern Pennsylvania. From July 1 to 3, 1865, the mighty Army of Northern Virginia would meet the northern Army of the Potomac in the Battle of Gettysburg.
If you’ve never been to the Gettysburg, I strongly suggest that you consider the trip. You can get a much better perspective on the land and the sheer scale of the battle when you step out onto the field.
Surely veterans will tell you that it puts things into a much clearer perspective when you can stand in the same place a soldier once stood during times that were trying indeed.
You will no doubt see the tributes to the battle throughout the coming days as we commemorate what was surely a turning point in the Civil War and, to a larger degree, our nation’s history. I am reminded of a quote that I must have heard in a movie or read somewhere long ago.
At the time of the Civil War and for much of our pre-war history, our nation was referred to as "These United States."
"These" was used in a way that said that we were united, but retained a pretty loose alliance, almost a voluntary union that could be broken for any reason.
If you read history before the Civil War, you find that the arguments were much like our own arguments today. Representatives and senators argued for the prerogatives of their individual states and districts, but all seemed to have a trump card they could pull out - the idea of disunion, secession.
Ir's funny that the first region to put that card on the table was New England. They, of course, felt that their interests were being trampled on without a consideration of the needs of the shipping industry in and around Massachusetts.
Fifty years later, the southern states led by South Carolina would argue that newly-elected President Abraham Lincoln would not give their states a fair hearing on the issue of slavery. To the benefit of the world, that war was fought and won on the principle that men could rightly expect freedom to benefit from their own sweat and labor.
That is what we celebrate on the Fourth of July, complete with images of the Founding Fathers, the original stars and stripes and fireworks. We celebrate freedom from a distant government, one that we had no say in electing.
This week, we also celebrate the culmination of the American Revolution with the image of Lincoln and the Civil War. That war really was the completion of the work that was set out in the immortal words of Thomas Jefferson, himself a slaveholder: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
This week, we celebrate with parades, fireworks and oratory – all made possible because a nation stood together. Communities across the nation do that same thing every day, working toward a more perfect union.