[photo by Gary]
Yesterday (19 Nov) was the 149th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, a speech remarkable for its beauty and simplicity. A buddy and I went over to Gettysburg yesterday to participate in the annual memorial commemoration at the National Cemetery, where Lincoln actually spoke.
The featured speaker was Steven Spielberg, director of the new Lincoln movie. The day was both fun and sobering, as one remembers the real purpose of being there:
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 battle-field 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 can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not 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.
I have family members who are black, and have mixed race grandchildren.
I cannot fathom how anyone could look at those precious children and see anything less than what I see.
Slavery was an abhorrent abomination whose demise was long overdue.
Nevertheless, as a researcher and writer on the American Civil War, I feel compelled to confess my opinion that the South was right in asserting the right to secede from the Union.
That position puts me in a murky area of (probably) being right--at least in a techncial sense--yet somehow appearing to be on the wrong side of the human bondage issue.
My thinking means in turn that Abraham Lincoln and the Federal Government were wrong to oppose secession by force of arms. That the Confederacy was actually correct in their assertion of the right to freely leave the Union that they had signed up for in 1776.
Now, I fully realize that the prime reason for the Confederacy to want their autonomy was to perpetuate the vile institution of slavery. I want to be clear that I in no way am excusing the enslavement of human beings. But that does not negate the right of the southern states to assert their autonomy--to freely leave an organization they had freely joined--even though it was for a despicable reason.
So...as I see it, we have Lincoln and the Union being wrong on secession but for the right reasons (opposition to slavery). And we have the Confederacy being right on secession but for the wrong reasons (support of slavery).
It's easy for me to armchair quarterback this one from a century and a half away. Then throw in the situational ethics of "the end justifies the means." Were I alive at the time I may well have had a different opinion of things.
Ain't gonna solve this one here. So, to end on a shallow note, let me simply observe that I can't wait to see the movie.