Lost amongst all of the celebration of the nation’s 237th birthday is the fact that the Battle of Gettysburg celebrated its 150th anniversary just this past week. I was in Gettysburg on its 148th anniversary and had some significant thoughts about the battle and its ramifications. (This aside from it allegedly being one of the most haunted places in the US of which my weak constitution was ever-aware… and I truly believe that my wife’s toothbrush was “taken” while we were there and not simply left behind…)
Here’s what I wrote back then…
The other day I learned an interesting fact about our founding fathers. Apparently our nation’s second and third presidents, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, both died on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. As we know, the Declaration of Independence was written by Jefferson and delivered to the King of England, leading to the Revolutionary War and the founding of the United States of America.
At the same time that I was learning this interesting tidbit of trivia, I was watching a television show about someone’s relative who fought in the American Civil War. And it struck me at that point that the period of time between the death of two of our founding fathers and the Civil War was a mere 35 years– the length of time that I have been alive. I still consider myself to be fairly young, so to think that only 35 years separated the founding fathers from the Civil War was staggering.
Which got me to thinking– what would Adams and Jefferson have thought about the Civil War? A war fought by Americans against Americans, brothers against brothers, fathers against sons… Our founding fathers worked and fought so hard for independence, to be a sovereign nation no longer under the rule of any other nation; so many patriots were killed, and less than 35 years after the death of two of our greatest patriots, the nation was divided in a conflict which threatened to end the union for good. How would Adams and Jefferson and Washington and Hancock and Patrick Henry and Paul Revere and Israel Bissel and Crispus Attucks have felt about the Civil War?? Wouldn’t they have been appalled by this threat to the Union they worked so hard to create? How dare these Southerners declare their independence and destroy everything they worked so hard to create! Who the heck did these people think they were?
And then it occurred to me. I deal with this every day. No, not on the level of a nation divided and the death of an ideology… but the disruption of a family’s legacy. Brother fighting against sister, father fighting against daughter, with the result being the destruction of a family’s estate. We are seeing so much these days of children who are fighting over assets; those assets that their grandparents worked so hard to create. Grandparents who struggled through the Great Depression, who are no longer around to see the object of their struggles. Just like our founding fathers who struggled to create this Union.
Now look, I can play devil’s advocate and I can argue the other side– after all, isn’t that what attorneys do? I can argue that our founding fathers would have applauded the Southerners for standing up for what they believed in and demonstrating a willingness to die for their cause. After all, isn’t that what the Patriots did? Fought for their beliefs and showed that they would die for their cause? I can see that. I can also see the same argument being raised in the matters I see every day. Wouldn’t the grandparents and ancestors approve of efforts to fight for what is right and not allow wrongs to go unpunished? Sure, I can argue that way–
But at the end of the day, would the founding fathers have approved of the Civil War if its end result was the destruction of everything they had fought so hard to create? And would the ancestors endorse litigation that threatens to deplete all of the assets that were earned with the years of hard work and exertion?
It may just be my own sensibilities, but I’ve got to think that the founding fathers would have been turning over in their graves about the Civil War. They had to have wondered what the Southerners were thinking when they seceded from the Union and thought that they could tear apart the nation. It would have felt like a slap in the face, as if all that they had worked for was stomped on and demolished. And that isn’t even taking into consideration the merits of the Civil War. Regardless of whether the impetus for the war was reasonable, was it all really worth the destruction of the nation?
Of course, there is always the flipside– that the strife between the two sides, the strife between siblings, can only be resolved through warfare. In which case, batten down the hatches and prepare for ultimate devastation, because the wounds that are caused in warfare run so deep as to span future generations. Ask the Southerners who still fly Confederate flags.