Growing up, I greatly admired my older brother Andrew and tried to be like him in every way. This led to following his reading interests and I found myself down a rabbit hole learning about the Civil War. Despite changing my main historical focus and interest as I became older and more independent minded, learning about the Civil War always occupies a soft spot in my heart.
This past weekend, I had the distinct privilege of going on the JCU History department-led trip to Gettysburg. I went down with a rather sizable contingent of fellow cadets from my ROTC cohort for our mandatory staff ride that is incorporated with Dr. V’s historical tour of the battlefield. I have been to Gettysburg a half-dozen times now or more, and every time I go I learn or notice something new or different. This time, mainly, I learned about both the Union XI Corps, which consisted substantially of foreign-born Germans who could not speak English, and the Union general and commander of the II Corps, Dan Sickles. An interesting side note: General Sickles is an incredibly interesting and colorful character. Look him up if you get the chance, his Wikipedia page does not disappoint.
What interested me most on this trip, however, was not what I learned, but the applications of all that I had learned. There I stood, in such places I have grown all too familiar with: Devil’s Den, the Peach Orchard, Little Round Top and the High Water Mark. This battlefield was the result of what happened when our nation was so divided over certain issues that it split and went to war: the bloodiest war in our history. The Federal cause was righteous, for the Union had to be preserved and liberty secured for all men living in the country. Final victory was theirs, but the ramifications of the Civil War and Reconstruction echoed throughout the ages.
In reference to the unrest the country faced, Abraham Lincoln uttered his famous words: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” I think this is where we find ourselves today, near where Lincoln and the nation did in 1858: facing a house divided. This is one of the most ugly, divisive elections in living memory, and possibly the most polarized since the election before the Civil War. Both candidates are despised by the other’s supporters, and sometimes even by members of their own party that they represent. We have seen odd bedfellows on both sides of the aisle, as allegiances change as people clamor to prevent either Trump or Clinton from taking office. Many voters pledge to either abstain or vote third party, which would mostly be a symbolic gesture rather than a legitimate political move.
Here’s the thing: we have already seen significant civil unrest around this election and the main issues it concerns. I know that Lincoln is correct, that a house divided cannot stand. But I also love this country and do not want to see her crumble. I do not think the outcome of this election one way or another will lead to another civil war like some have speculated. Our culture and attitudes are far too different, I think, for that to happen. But I do not doubt that if one party wins, there could be major civil unrest, to the point where the America as we know it will cease to exist. We have already seen such unrest during this administration, as it was in the 1800’s.
Our country is on a downward trend, of that I am sure. Our economy may be on the rise, but our morals and standards have fallen by the wayside. We have forgotten who we are as a country and some of the principles and truths we used to stand for. I do not doubt that our society will decay if the toxic leadership, low moral standards and dishonest, crooked politics of the current political climate are allowed to continue. America’s system has coughed up two of the most divisive candidates in history.
I do not wish for civil war or unrest, but I fear that the words of Thomas Jefferson may confirm Lincoln’s: “The tree of Liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” Let us not travel down the road traveled by other great Republics in the past, and become swallowed up in strife while our country is in her prime.