JOPLIN, Mo. —
It was 150 years ago today, at approximately 2:30 p.m. on a blistering July afternoon, that Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee watched as 12,000 men under the command of Gen. George Pickett charged the center of the Union line at Cemetery Ridge near Gettysburg, Pa.
In less than two hours, over half of the men that made up Pickett’s Charge lay dead or wounded and the Union that President Abraham Lincoln would so humbly speak of four months later was secured.
It was 237 years ago Thursday that 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 were epic struggles, one forming the union, the other preserving it, both deserving of their hallowed place along the American timeline.
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 Revolution. And indeed much similarity can be found in the political grievances of today and those redressed in our past.
Yet what they all 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 inflicted upon them not by the British Empire but rather a polarized and dysfunctional Continental Congress. If not for George 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 Gettysburg, the North had lost every major engagement with Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia? It was the leadership of Lincoln that rallied the North to preserve the 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. They made their decisions, and because of those decisions, America today has advanced beyond the wildest dreams of Americans in 1776 and 1863.
Yet for all our technological advancements, our progress on civil rights, our unparalleled economic and military power, we find ourselves lacking 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. They care not about the havoc they create.
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 — would not be here.
Without the humble and principled leadership of a few reluctant patriots at the most critical of times, we would not be here.
And if we continue on this course, with a populace uneducated in that history and unwilling to learn from 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.
Geoff Caldwell lives in Joplin.