Slavery & the Civil War

What caused the American Civil War? Historians are hesitant to assign just one cause to anything. There are always many factors that come together to create an event, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be a primary cause.

Where do we go to find the primary cause for the Civil War? I suggest we look carefully at the official secession declarations of the various Southern states. They went to great pains to explain why they chose secession.

I’ve read them all. Some are rather lengthy. I’m going to have to be selective in what I use from them because I’m not writing a book here today. Yet I am not taking anything out of context. You can always check on me by reading them yourself.

What we will find in these declarations is a consistent thread for the secession rationale.

Let’s begin with South Carolina, the state that led all the others into secession.

Upset that the Northern states fought against the Fugitive Slave Law, South Carolina declared that the resistance to the law was tantamount to breaking the covenant, thereby allowing the state to leave. What bothered South Carolina specifically was any attempt to abolish slavery or help runaway slaves:

They have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States.

The declaration then turned to the election of Lincoln:

A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery.

He is to be entrusted with the administration of the common Government, because he has declared that that “Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free,” and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction.

The quote comes from Lincoln’s “House Divided” speech, but it’s taken out of context. What Lincoln actually said was that the nation couldn’t continue half-slave, half-free, and that it would eventually go one way or the other: either all states would have slavery or none would. South Carolina left out the other half of the quote. That’s historical revisionism/falsification; it’s inherently dishonest.

While South Carolina used states’ rights in its rationale, those rights were in the defense of slavery.

Mississippi, in its secession declaration was quite bold:

Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery—the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth.

An economic rationale is offered, but again, it’s in the context of protecting slavery. Then there’s this startling statement:

These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization.

So blacks need to be slaves because they are the only ones who can stand the intense heat of the sun. To rid the nation of slavery would kill both commerce and civilization, according to the Mississippians.

Georgia, meanwhile, focused on another concern:

For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery. They have endeavored to weaken our security, to disturb our domestic peace and tranquility, and persistently refused to comply with their express constitutional obligations to us in reference to that property, and by the use of their power in the Federal Government have striven to deprive us of an equal enjoyment of the common Territories of the Republic.

That complaint had to do with the exclusion of slavery in the territory won from Mexico in the recent war. Georgia believed it was only right that since it sent citizens to fight in that war, that any Georgia citizens should be able to move into that territory and hold slaves. The argument rests on the desire to extend slavery.

Then there is Texas, which provided the most combative of the declarations, accusing the Northern states of

an unnatural feeling of hostility to these Southern States and their beneficent and patriarchal system of African slavery, proclaiming the debasing doctrine of equality of all men, irrespective of race or color– a doctrine at war with nature, in opposition to the experience of mankind, and in violation of the plainest revelations of Divine Law.

Now we are being told that God has ordained African slavery. Texas’s explanation continues along this same line:

We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable.

Rightfully regarded as inferior? They can be tolerated only as slaves?

The servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free, and is abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator, as recognized by all Christian nations.

Using Christian faith as the basis for treating other human beings as less than human is abominable.

Those are the “official” declarations. We also have testimony from Alexander H. Stephens, the vice-president of the Confederacy, in his infamous “Cornerstone” speech delivered on 21 March 1861, in which he noted,

The prevailing ideas entertained by him [Jefferson] and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically.

He got his history correct on that point, but he went on to say,

Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the “storm came and the wind blew.”

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition.  This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.

Superior race? A hint of things to come in the twentieth century? And as with the Texas declaration, Stephens brings God in on his side:

Subordination is his place. He, by nature, or by the curse against Canaan, is fitted for that condition which he occupies in our system. . . .

By experience we know that it is best, not only for the superior, but for the inferior race, that it should be so. It is, indeed, in conformity with the ordinance of the Creator. It is not for us to inquire into the wisdom of His ordinances, or to question them. For His own purposes, He has made one race to differ from another, as He has made “one star to differ from another star in glory.”

Now, some argue that the common Southern soldier participating in the war was not doing so to defend slavery but his homeland. There is some truth there, but it’s also pretty well established by the evidence that even those who didn’t have slaves (the vast majority of Southerners) nevertheless supported the social system of slavery that existed.

For many of the poorer Southern whites, they liked having at least one segment of the population on a lower social rung than theirs.

Ulysses Grant, in his memoirs, shared his thoughts when Lee surrendered at Appomattox:

I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long & valiantly, & had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, & one for which there was the least excuse [emphasis mine].

It was an awful cause for which to fight. All the talk of states’ rights, tariffs, commerce, etc., cannot conceal the obvious truth: slavery was at the heart of secession. Without the existence of slavery in the mix of causes, there would have been no civil war.

Today’s post is an attempt to provide the evidence for slavery as the primary reason for the Civil War. I’ve added what I believe are appropriate comments about that evidence. I can do no less. I can do no more. The decision whether to accept this evidence rests with those who read what I have written.

The Monuments & Memorials Controversy

Monument: “Something venerated for its enduring historic significance or association with a notable past person or thing.” Memorial: “Something, such as a monument or holiday, intended to celebrate or honor the memory of a person or an event.”

As a historian, I’m into monuments and memorials. I want historic events and significant people in history to be remembered. Sometimes, I want them remembered because they deserve honor; other times, they should be remembered as valuable lessons of what can go wrong.

Auschwitz is a memorial to those who lost their lives in Hitler’s Holocaust. No one of sound mind would consider it a veneration or celebration of a historic event. Yet it serves a purpose: a reminder that we should never allow this to happen again.

So even awful things that have occurred in history should be recalled for our benefit. We have to be sure, though, that we have the right reason for the monument or memorial.

Which brings me to the current desire of some to tear down monuments to those who served the Confederacy during America’s Civil War. A lot of heat has been generated on this issue, but a lot less rational thought.

A little personal history here. In my early days studying history, I had sympathy for the Southern position because I believe in our federal system of government that leaves most decisions to the states. My concern for overreaching federal power led me to think that Lincoln and the North should have allowed the Southern states to secede without intervening.

Then something happened: I studied more. I came to realize that the secession was illegitimate constitutionally; I eventually saw that the states’ rights argument, in this particular case, always revolved around defending slavery as a positive good; I saw more clearly the attitude of the South and its aggressiveness in seeking to spread slavery into more areas; and I read a lot of what Lincoln had to say and gained tremendous respect for his constitutional basis and decency as a man.

In short, I changed my mind about the Civil War. Those who took leadership in the South, both in its government and in the military, were in rebellion against the legitimately elected American government.

Now, I may have just lost some readers who continue to believe otherwise, but stay with me.

I don’t paint all Southern leaders with the same broad brush. I know that both Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson didn’t like slavery. I have respect for how Lee conducted himself once he understood the war was lost. He used his reputation to put down the suggestion that the South should continue the conflict through guerrilla warfare. He called for unity.

While I disagree with his decision to join in the rebellion, his personal character can still be admired despite the flaws in his thinking. So I can understand why some want to erect monuments to him. When it comes to character, his is far and above most of those who are now either promoting or protesting any memorial to him.

And the mania for tearing down all monuments relating to the South during the Civil War has gotten out of hand. Protesters in Durham, North Carolina, took matters into their own hands and tore down a statue without any authorization. They constituted a mob, and we don’t have mob rule in America.

When rational thought is dismissed, where will we end up?

Where do I stand on those Civil War monuments to the South? It depends. If they are simply memorials to those who lost their lives, I have no problem with them. They mark a tragic event in American history. If, however, they are there to celebrate those who openly rebelled against the government, basing their rebellion on how wonderful slavery is and defying the Constitution, I have no problem with their removal, especially due to the horrific memory of slavery and racial prejudice that affects so many today.

It also depends on the location of those monuments. For instance, when I visited the Manassas Battlefield, I took this photo of an iconic statue:

This marks the spot where Thomas Jackson stood like a “stone wall” and rallied his troops in the battle, thereby earning his nickname. It is appropriate to have this statue at this particular spot. It notes a significant historical event. Leave it alone. Learn from it.

So while I’m not a full supporter of keeping all such monuments, neither do I believe it is right to succumb to mobs and allow them to be torn down without regard to the rule of law. Consider each monument and memorial individually and make a decision on each, taking into account whether they advance historical memory in the right manner or if they inflame passions with the wrong emphasis.

There is also the matter of the slippery slope. Some are so exercised against what took place in history that they are beginning to promote the argument that the Founders, because some were slaveholders, ought to have their memory erased from our national consciousness.

Tear down the Jefferson Memorial, some would say. Destroy the Washington Monument. Rub off Mt. Rushmore. It gets silly, but also dangerous to real history. Even though some Founders owned slaves, those who know history also know their consciences bothered them about an institution that existed before they were born and into which they were placed. They thought a lot about how to end that institution because they believed it was detrimental to the nation.

Those who cannot make a distinction between the attitude of the Founders and those who later took up arms to defend slavery are too simplistic in their analysis. In most cases, I fear, analysis is lacking; emotion reigns.

Let’s revisit this issue of which monuments are proper, but do so rationally.

The Confirmation Circus

Confirmation hearings for Trump’s nominees have become quite a circus. It was to be expected, unfortunately. I remember when Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin was putting forth his agenda a few years ago. Democrats in the Wisconsin legislature ran away to Illinois so there wouldn’t be a quorum to conduct business. Senate Democrats seem to be copying that strategy, refusing to show up to vote on whether to send nominees to the full Senate.

It’s a tried and true method used by toddlers, angry juveniles, and immature people everywhere.

Republicans had to alter the rules even to get the nominees out of committee. Perhaps it’s the only way to deal with temper tantrums.

In the Democrats’ crosshairs now is Betsy DeVos, slated to be the new education secretary. Since she’s an advocate for private schooling, the teachers’ unions are up in arms. They’ve been busy consolidating their support with the Democrats:

I’m always amused by cries of “influence” when aimed at various conservative groups who donate to Republicans. The National Education Association (NEA) and its allies practically own Democrats; they have more money to throw around than all conservative groups combined.

Soon we’ll be treated with the confirmation hearing for Neil Gorsuch, chosen to take Antonin Scalia’s seat on the Supreme Court. The circus will continue. Over a decade ago, Gorsuch received a unanimous vote for his current judicial position. That’s history.

I trust Gorsuch is prepared for what he is about to experience:

Will Republicans have to turn to what is called the “nuclear option,” not allowing a filibuster on the nomination?

What a shame that this scenario has turned into an unbridgeable political divide. Democrats have become unhinged over these nominees, using their outrage to raise even more funding for their theatrics.

I know that theatrics have played a role throughout American political history, but I don’t believe we’ve ever witnessed the kind of role-playing that has come to the forefront ever since Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980, at least not on such a sustained basis. We are a nation that is verging on a complete cultural and political division not seen since the Civil War.

What will be the result?

A Historian’s Perspective on Bad Times in American History

I don’t think there’s really any disagreement about how pessimistic the majority of Americans are about the future. Currently, all the polls reveal that pessimism.  As I survey the scene—the spiritual/moral, political, and cultural aspects [what does that leave?]—I have grave concerns as well. I’d like to offer a historian’s perspective.

Since I teach American history, I have a more in-depth knowledge of what has transpired previously. I can imagine myself transported back into earlier eras and think about how I might have felt about current events at those times. Bad moral climates, disunity, and devastating government policies have cropped up throughout our history.

If my life had spanned the late colonial and revolutionary era, for instance, I would probably have been quite distressed over the state of affairs. The colonies had declared independence, and it was a thrilling prospect, but the progress of the war was anything but thrilling.

George Washington was often near despair over the inability of the Congress to pay his troops or provide for their needs. Thousands deserted during events such as Valley Forge. There was talk of meekly bowing to the British because all hopes for the future now appeared to be delusional. Even after achieving independence, the new states didn’t seem to want to work together; the entire national governmental structure was on the verge of collapse.

If I had experienced the 1790s, I would have been shocked by the vitriol that spewed forth daily in some of the newspapers, particularly those that accused Washington of wanting to set himself up as king. The French Revolution, which took place at that time, was one of the bloodiest episodes in all of history, and many in America were hailing it as a magnificent development. I would begin to question the wisdom of the electorate and wonder if this fledgling country could survive its first decade after the Constitution.

Later, during the War of 1812, our military defenses were so disorganized that the British actually burned Washington, DC, including the president’s house and the Capitol. Their troops were ravaging the countryside, destroying everything in their path without any effective countermeasures. What a low point for a nation.

Then there’s the Civil War and the decade that led to it. Passions were so heated in Congress that representatives started bringing their weapons with them into the House and Senate for protection. Slavery, by this time, had become entrenched. The Founding Fathers had hoped to eliminate it, but now the South was proclaiming it to be a positive good from God.

The nation split; more than 620,000 died in the war that followed, the highest tally for any American war. Bitterness remained for years afterward [you can still see its remnants today].

The Progressive Movement, after the turn of the twentieth century, introduced more government involvement in people’s lives and decided that the Constitution was an outdated document that had to be reinterpreted. Woodrow Wilson, a racist and a eugenicist, took the presidency. The eugenics movement sought to limit who could have children; only the “best” should reproduce. This movement formed the cornerstone of Nazi policies in Germany later.

Wilson moved the country down the path that led to Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930s—the fulfillment of progressive dreams as the government took charge of getting the nation out of the Great Depression. FDR’s policies were so dismally foolish that the Depression continued until WWII. If I had lived during those decades, I would have mourned the loss of Biblical principles and constitutional limitations. The reigning ideology tossed out the concept of the rule of law. Now, anything could happen.

I did live during the 1960s and 1970s. It was not pleasant. First was LBJ’s Great Society, which could be described as the New Deal on steroids, followed by the rancor of the Vietnam War, then Nixon’s Watergate fiasco, and finally, the debilitated presidencies of Ford and Carter. The economy was in the tank, the worst since the Great Depression. Along the way, we also concluded that innocent children in the womb could be murdered.

I say all of this to make this point: there have always been bad times. Quite often, those who believe in Biblical morality and constitutionalism have come to the edge of despair. Yet we are still here. There is still hope to turn things around. We survived the disunity of the Revolution and the Civil War. We overcame the disgrace of the burning of the nation’s capital. Calvin Coolidge reversed Woodrow Wilson’s policies and Jimmy Carter brought forth Ronald Reagan.

Will the disaster that is the Obama administration become a footnote in our history that will bring forth another resurgence of sanity, or have we turned a corner and lost our way forever? That page in our history has yet to be written. We are the ones who will write it. If we take our responsibility seriously, hope remains.

Book Review: 1861

I read a lot. I mean, a whole lot. That’s what historians do. Sometimes, the books pile up on me and I have a hard time staying up with them. My resolve to get through the ones I already have before buying another one always weakens when I stumble across one that seems to stand out, particularly when it might be a candidate for a text in one of my upper-level courses.

That’s how I came to purchase and read 1861: The Civil War Awakening, an intriguing volume I finished yesterday. A good history book, for me, has to go beyond basic facts; it also has to bring historical figures to life. Yes, I know we need statistical analyses and other types of studies that concentrate on narrow slices of the historical pie. But I still prefer a really well-written story that incorporates character, plot, and theme. History is literature’s very close sister, with the major difference being that you don’t have to invent the characters or devise the plot—they await the avid researcher, already full-blown.

Author Adam Goodheart [how’s that for a name to attract attention?] spins a spellbinding yarn, taking the reader into details he never expected to find. Goodheart understands the necessity of placing people in the midst of his tale because readers will identify better with people than abstractions. I was pleasantly surprised to be introduced to individuals I had never heard of before. Take, for instance, Ralph Farnham, the Revolutionary War veteran who, at age 104, was celebrated the year the Civil War began in 1861. Farnham serves as a link to an earlier era, connected to the age of the Founders. Yet he is still on the scene as the opening salvos of this new war are heard.

Even when Goodheart spends time with people I know, such as James Garfield, he uses them in inventive ways to shed extra light on events other authors have covered. Each chapter has either a key individual around which the theme and plot revolve or a strange occurrence that puzzles the generation that witnesses it. What about that Great Comet of 1861? It startled the world. What did it signify? Was it a sign from God? If so, did it portend a glorious future or doom? Did it mean anything at all?

I so enjoyed reading 1861 that I have decided to incorporate it into my Civil War course when I next teach it. I never will comprehend why most students have difficulty being interested in history. It’s endlessly fascinating. You have my recommendation. Check it out for yourself. Try it; you may like it.

American Wars: A Retrospective

I could have just relaxed today, put up a photo of Memorial Day, and said nothing more. But I thought instead this might be a good opportunity to provide some ponderings on the various wars in which America got involved. Perhaps this is the best way to remember those who sacrificed the most for us all. From the American Revolution to the various manifestations of the War on Terror, here is an abbreviated attempt to offer some thoughts on the goals, meanings, and accomplishments of each major conflict.

  • The American Revolution. My preferred name for this war is the American War for Continued Self-Government. Why? It’s a more accurate descriptor of what took place. This was no revolution in the ordinary usage of that word. The have-nots did not rise up against the haves. Class conflict played a small role. Rather, the colonists were backed into a corner, witnessing their age-old British rights being violated. They wanted to reestablish those rights, but met with stubborn resistance from the Crown and Parliament. Declared by their king to be in rebellion and fired upon by the King’s troops attempting to remove the colonists’ store of weapons for self-defense, they felt they had no choice but to fight back. The result? They founded a nation based on a combination of Biblical principles and British constitutionalism. That successful “revolution” would serve as an inspiration to many, although most who sought to follow in its wake lacked the Biblical basis for similar success.
  • The War of 1812. Another woefully misnamed war, which lasted until 1815. Americans were still being treated as a second-class nation by the British, who hadn’t left their posts in the Northwest as they had promised and who were continuing their policy of stopping American ships and “impressing” sailors into service into the British navy. This war featured a rather disorganized strategy, with too much reliance on militia than the regular army. It showcased some stunning victories at sea against the world’s greatest seapower, a humiliating loss of the nation’s capital, a resounding defense of Baltimore that gave birth to our national anthem, and a final battle at New Orleans that sealed the legitimacy of the Louisiana Purchase in the eyes of the European world. Although there was no declared winner, Americans, by virtue of that final battle, felt very much like they had won indeed.
  • The Mexican War. Next to Vietnam, this is the most controversial war in our history. Mexico was not a good neighbor and manifested constant political instability, but it cannot be denied that President Polk had his eyes on more territory from the very beginning of his term. Technically, it began as a border dispute, yet it was the idea of Manifest Destiny that inspired it. The Whig Party deplored it; Congressman Abraham Lincoln disputed Polk’s rationale for the war; the nation was split on its honorable nature. When the fighting ended, America received a vast new territory. Unfortunately, that acquisition led to an attempt to spread slavery in that new territory, to fiery rhetoric on the issue, and eventually to our next war.
  • The Civil War. Some prefer another name for this one, whether the War of Southern Rebellion, the War of Northern Aggression, or simply the War Between the States. Even the various preferred names reveal the divide that still haunts us today. While some insist slavery was not the cause, I believe there would have been no war without the existence of slavery. The Civil War was the most devastating of all our wars—700,000 [new estimate] died in the conflict. Over time, I have come to consider Lincoln as one of the greatest of presidents. His perspective on the war, as he tried to see it from God’s point of view, is probably accurate: the Lord allowed it due to the sins of both sides. Although devastating, it did bring an end to slavery and the country eventually united in action. And even though scars remain, we eventually became one people again.
  • Spanish-American War. This war began on a false premise—the Spanish blew up our ship in Havana harbor. However, it was the best-informed opinion at the time, and I don’t hold it against McKinley for concluding something had to be done. The Cubans had been calling for us to help them for decades. Next to WWII, this is probably the most altruistic war in American history. The citizenry rallied to free Cuba from Spanish control. It lasted only ten weeks and the goal was achieved. Unforeseen results were the acquisition of Puerto Rico and the Philippines as the Spanish retreated from being an empire. This led to a guerrilla war in the Philippines for a few years, but eventually peace reigned there, the Filipinos received self-government under U.S. supervision, then finally their independence. The American “empire,” if that’s even the proper term, was one of the best in human history.
  • World War I. We were very reluctant to get involved in a European war. But when the Germans unleashed unrestricted submarine warfare, sinking more American ships, and when they tried to get Mexico to attack us in a strategy to keep us distracted, we finally declared war. American participation lasted only one and a half years, but the flood of American soldiers to the front turned the tide. The promises made by President Wilson were unfounded—The War to End All Wars—and disillusion with the results led to a strong sense that we should never do this again. Progressives used the war to put the federal government in control of most American businesses. Once the war ended, we reversed that policy, once again pledging we would never do it again.
  • World War II. No major controversy here—nearly all Americans agreed we had to respond to the attack at Pearl Harbor. Then when Hitler declared war on us, we had a two-front war without seeking it. The goal was to dismantle the regimes that sought world domination. That goal was achieved. The price was high, with over 400,000 dead. America also emerged from this war as the leader of the Free World, with new and heavy responsibilities. Those responsibilities became more onerous as the Soviet Union set up a rival empire with the stated goal of ushering in the age of universal communism. Our defense of freedom became known as the Cold War.
  • The Korean War. This conflict was the first to arise out of the new Cold War. While technically a United Nations action, the U.S. was clearly in command of the strategy, and we provided most of the troops. The Communist North invaded the South; we defended the South and pushed those troops back into the North. It ended with a truce, a stalemate actually, and we still have troops stationed at the border between the two nations. North Korea has become a major threat to stability and has been characterized as one of the Axis of Evil. We were right to defend the South; the decision to return to the status quo rather than win the war remains a source of controversy to this day.
  • The Vietnam War. Easily the most divisive war of the twentieth century, we had a reasonable rationale for getting involved: stop the spread of communism in Southeast Asia. Fine goal, but questionable strategy. There are many ways to critique how this war was prosecuted, but suffice to say it led to the demise of the LBJ presidency. When Nixon took over, he eventually ended the active hostilities with a peace agreement, but the decision by Congress to cut off aid to South Vietnam and the problems of Watergate allowed the North to resume the war, this time with success as it overran the South. I consider this the saddest of all American wars. Our loss of life, over 55,000, ended with communism taking over the entire country. Our soldiers were not treated as heroes, as in other wars, and it took far too long for their sacrifices to be honored.
  • The Persian Gulf War. I have no problem with this war’s aims: get Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait and corral him so he wouldn’t be a threat to the entire region. The first President Bush cobbled together a coalition of nations that did just that. Yet we didn’t follow through and took on the immense task of overseeing Saddam’s compliance with U.N. resolutions. Iraq became a festering sore that had to be dealt with eventually.
  • The War on Terror. Iraq and Afghanistan are the centers of this conflict, but in reality it knows no boundaries. Neither can we know at the present time how winnable this war may be; controversy centers on whether we should be out there prosecuting it or hunkering down behind fortress America. Strategies and tactics are an ongoing debate, but one thing is certain: soldiers are still laying down their lives and should be honored for their commitment. This is a war that must be won; let there be no doubt on that score.

On this day, I honor those who have given their all. As a Christian, I don’t seek war with anyone, but there is nothing Biblical about allowing tyrants, terrorists, and ego-inflated dictators to run roughshod over those who want to live in peace. We have an obligation to defend ourselves and work for the greater good. There will be wars and rumors of wars until the end of this age. While they are being fought, let’s remember those on the front lines.

Bitter Division & Truth-Telling

There’s been a lot of talk lately about how the political arena has become bitterly divided. As a historian, let me first say that this is not unique in American history. There have always been periods of strong division: the 1790s, the Jacksonian era, the entire 1850s through the Civil War, the beginnings of the Cold War in the late 1940s-early 1950s, Vietnam and Watergate. And for those who think everyone loved Ronald Reagan [which is what you might surmise from current rhetoric], he was regularly accused of being a warmonger and a dastardly evil fellow who couldn’t wait to starve schoolchildren and throw old people out on the street.

No, what we’re experiencing is not unique. What is unique, though, is that I believe we are at a tipping point as a nation. We are now more divided culturally than at any point in our history, even including the Civil War. During that era, both North and South at least professed allegiance to Christian faith; both said they were fighting to preserve a way of life based on that faith [however inconsistent some of that way of life was to actual Biblical belief]. Today, we are split between Christian and secular. Our future as a nation depends on which vision becomes dominant.

These differing visions naturally play out in politics. If you are an orthodox Christian who holds to time-tested moral underpinnings for a society, you align with the political party that has the closest connection to those beliefs. Right now, that’s the Republican party. Democrats, on the other hand, while they can be vaguely “spiritual,” and can draw some support from Christians who don’t really understand the Biblical limitations on the authority of civil government, are generally further removed from basic Biblical morality, particularly on issues of sanctity of life, sexuality, and marriage and family.

In this blog, I have tried hard to point to the Biblical way as the solution for our societal problems. In so doing, I have to demonstrate the false premises of the opposing vision. My goal has been to do so in a Christian manner. Some people may think that to be a Christian, one can never criticize or judge. I disagree. Christians have a God-imposed responsibility to showcase the errors in thinking and policy that lead a society down a wayward path. Therefore, I do not apologize for attempting to reveal false concepts of governing.

I have been critical of President Obama because I firmly believe that his worldview, and the policies that emanate from that worldview, are dangerous. I also use cartoons to point out the hypocrisy and foibles of the “other side.” All of that is perfectly legitimate. You can search this blog, and I trust you will never find anything that is simply name-calling or an attempt to misrepresent another’s beliefs. I try to be as straightforward and honest as possible.

That’s not the case with some of the political rhetoric you hear nowadays. Might I use a couple of cartoons to illustrate?

The elderly lady on the right represents the Tea Party movement, which has focused on the out-of-control spending of the government. Yet what are these people being called currently? The cartoon makes the point and shows the hypocrisy involved. Who is really responsible for undermining the economy?

Those of us on the “Right” are constantly bombarded with accusations:

Yet when we use the “S” word, we are the ones who are portrayed as extremists. No, the use of “socialism” to describe what Democrats are doing is simply an accurate observation.

I will continue to offer truth-telling because I believe the fate of this nation depends upon the faithfulness of the few who are willing to tell the truth.