Of Civil War and National Unity

Photo by Veronica Livesey on Unsplash

At a sesquicentennial distance the Civil War can become too easy to romanticize.  We can be tempted to envision some charm in it.  From a prolonged study of the Civil War, via many sources and a variety of formats, I find little romance in it.  The brutality and misery of that war have not been overstated.  Fortunately, there was work that was noble and heroic, such as the ending of slavery.    

A more peaceful solution, in hindsight, was available and likely, as the operation of the Constitution was steadily bringing about.  Perhaps it took a civil war challenge to that Constitution to make people recognize—the slaveholders especially—that a peaceful end to bondage would have been preferable.  Abraham Lincoln, a casualty of the war, perceived in a few words at the Gettysburg commemoration, that the Civil War was “testing whether [our] nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.”

To what conception and dedication did Lincoln refer?  “A new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

It must be understood that Lincoln observed that this nation had not fully achieved those principles.  He called it “unfinished work.”  Building on how well that work had begun, Lincoln praised how far it had been “so nobly advanced.”  Our nation, conceived in liberty, embraced a dedication to which our Founders bound themselves and their posterity, to achieve the proposition that each of us was created equal.  As the price in blood and suffering mounted, he was asking whether such a dedicated nation, still in its adolescence, could continue.

Through the 21 months following Gettysburg, the price would grow higher and more horrid while the people of that day persevered and demonstrated that the nation would endure, as it has to our day.  Further headway was made to fulfill our founding principles.

Today is a time for our dedication to be tested, as such a nation will always be.  Loud, magnified voices—there were those in Lincoln’s day demanding to end the effort (he nearly lost his reelection to some who preferred a compromise with the slavocrats)—today parade the obvious that our nation has not yet achieved all of our Founders’ ideals, and so demand that we abandon those ideals.

They prescribe a return to the age old pattern whereby in exchange for our liberty the self-selected few are elevated to mold the rest, prescriptions that somehow end up profiting the new bosses.  As in the past, while dressed in varieties of costumes, the chieftains, kings, czars, fuehrers, commissars, and other ugly monsters reshape societies that eventually devolve into ruin.

Their “modern” strategy is similarly old:  divide and conquer.  Rhetorical crossbows aim darts first at the failings of the very human Founders, to whom they assign blame for anyone unhappy with himself.  Next they guide their unhappy victims against our founding ideal, “the proposition that all men are created equal.”  Their bizarre assertion is that any failure in the ideal’s complete achievement justifies its trashing, the more violently the better.  Upon the ruins of civil disorder, disunion, and violence, they would build in the name of “equity” where they have destroyed fundamental equality. 

That is the program of those positioned to claim to be more equal than others while they rake in a bigger share of the proposed “equity.”  It is all old naked ugliness when denuded of the costumes.  In time it has always failed, but not without putrid fruits of misery.

In 1863 Abraham Lincoln appealed to his hearers for increased devotion to ensure that our nation, governed of, by, and for the people, should not perish.  Succeeding generations have united to nurture the nation.  It is our task to answer the divisive calls with our dedication to advance the work so nobly begun.

About Wayne Abernathy
I am a disciple of Jesus Christ. I am the husband of one wife, the father of 5 children, and grandfather of 16 (and counting). In my career I have served on the staff of the U.S. Senate for some 20 years, including as staff director of the Senate Banking Committee. For just over 2 years I was the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Financial Institutions. Just recently, I retired from the American Bankers Association, where for 15 years I was an Executive Vice President, for financial institutions policy and regulatory affairs. I am most comfortable at home, where I like to read and write, and at the Temple, where I rejoice in helping to unite families.

2 Responses to Of Civil War and National Unity

  1. Valerie says:

    As usual, Wayne, you have hit it out of the ballpark! Thank you.

  2. Carrie Clark Carlsen says:

    Wayne, wonderful essay — wish we would read more in this line of thinking. God bless you and thank you.

Leave a Reply to Valerie Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: