Before Gettysburg there was Philadelphia

July 3, 2013

150 years ago today, at approximately 2:30 pm on a blistering July afternoon, West Point graduate turned Confederate General Robert E Lee watched as 12,000 men under the command of General George Pickett charged the center of the Union line at Cemetery Ridge, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. 

 In less than 2 hours, over half of the men that made up “Pickett’s Charge” lay dead or wounded on the battlefield and the Union that President Abraham Lincoln would so humbly speak of 4 months later was secured.

 237 years ago tomorrow 56 men in Philadelphia declared that “…the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States…..with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

 Both epic struggles, one forming the Union, the other preserving it, both deserving of their hallowed place along the American time-line.

 Review the political commentaries of today and you will find no shortage of columns linking the political discourse of today, to the divides of the Civil War and the tyranny of the Revolutionary.  (And indeed there can be found much similarity in the political grievances of today and those redressed in our past.)

 Yet what they all seem to miss is that America has always had political polarization and deep, profound ideological divides. 

 Most Americans today do not even realize that the disgraceful treatment of our soldiers at Valley Forge was not inflicted upon them by the British Empire, but rather a polarized and dysfunctional Continental Congress.  If not for Washington’s leadership then, there would never have been a battle of Yorktown four years later.

 And while those same Americans know the Civil War was fought over slavery and states’ rights, how many know that for two long years, until the Battle of Gettysburg, the North had lost every major engagement with Lee’s Army of Virginia?  It was the leadership of Lincoln that rallied the North to preserve a Union free of slavery.

 Lee had no more reason to believe he would be soundly defeated than the signers of the Declaration of Independence had to believe that they would prevail over the greatest military power of their time yet  decide they did and the consequences they came.  And because of those decisions, America today has advanced beyond even the wildest dreams of those Americans of 1776 and 1863. 

 Yet for all our technological advancements, our progress on civil rights, our unparalleled economic and military power, we find ourselves today dearth of the leadership that got us here.

 For unlike our leaders of yesterday, our professional political class of today prefers a path pocked with envy, jealousy, depravity and division.  So eager to shred the fabric of society and distribute its swatches to the clamoring masses they care not the havoc they are creating.

 Today and tomorrow mark two of the most defining moments of our history. 

 Without those two moments, we, you, me, all of “us” that make this “America”, are not. 

 Without the humble and principled leadership of but a few reluctant patriots, at the most critical of times, we are not. 

 And if we continue on this course of a populace uneducated in that history, unwilling to learn from it, and uncaring in defending it, we will, most certainly be, no more.

 So whatever your plans, wherever you find yourself this week, remember we all got here via Philadelphia and Gettysburg.

(Publisher’s note:  The above column first appeared in the July 3rd, 2013 edition of the Joplin Globe print edition.)

UP NEXT:  237 years after the Declaration of Independence what would the Founders think of what we’ve “declared” upon ourselves?

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