It is no accident, coincidence or mistake that the Battles of Gettysburg and Vicksburg weigh so heavily on the American mind and consciousness. On this day in 1863, if the Confederate States of America ever had any chance of winning its independence or achieving a newly restored constitutional synthesis in the USA, that chance died along with thousands of men, in both blue and grey, on the fields and rolling hills and ridges of Southern Pennsylvania and the bluffs of the Mississippi River and the Yazoo Basin. I love the memory of the South and honor the legacy of my Confederate Ancestors, but the memory of the freedom that existed before 1861 is bittersweet indeed. The modern world is a world of cruel, industrial slaughter and subjugation. The spirt of the times was different, very different, as David Brooks recorded in yesterday’s New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/02/opinion/brooks-why-they-fought.html?_r=0. The key point of Brooks’ article may be the final paragraph (it was a Christian nation and the warriors believed in God, and their covenant with the Almighty):
“These letter writers, and many of the men at Gettysburg, were not just different than most of us today because their language was more high flown and earnest. There was probably also a greater covenantal consciousness, a belief that they were born in a state of indebtedness to an ongoing project, and they would inevitably be called upon to pay these debts, to come square with the country, even at the cost of their lives.
Makes today’s special interest politics look kind of pathetic.”
Today, in the midst of our world of special interest politics (most fairly called the politics of distraction and inattention to real detail), e now have antibiotics, air-conditioning, and refrigeration, we can even choose our own favorite brand of tooth paste, and as a direct consequence of these technological matters we live longer. But (to paraphrase Patrick Henry) is life so dear or peace so sweet that we would live it as slaves in chains? Was freeing four million slaves from formal and open slavery paid for the occult and hermeneutic (but much more severe) total slavery of a nation of 300 million? We awaken each day to television and internet broadcasts which divert our attention from real problems. We live and sleep in a soft cocoon of dissimulated reality.
The Tenth Amendment Center’s article above refers to modern America’s 4th of July celebration as a lie, a major deception. This ten year old article is surely correct, but Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, delivered later that year after the smoke of the battle had long blown off, was a much greater day of deception. Old “Uncle Abe’s” carefully collected and assembled words amounted to the height of hypocrisy and disingenuous political manipulation. Overlooking the graves of the thousands of fallen soldiers and the Constitution for which they fought, if you can manage in your mind merely but absolutely, to invert every line of the speech my distant kinsman gave in November 1863—you will see the reality, “A new nation conceived in tyranny and dedicated to the proposition that all men should equally be chattel slaves in bondage to their government”. I read his cynical text with horror, trying to imagine what the reaction to his true purposes would have been, had he had the nerve to announce the true provisions of the new Constitution which he was creating by and through that horrible war.
I am not at all sure that the authors of the Tenth Amendment society were specifically thinking about the 150th anniversary of Vicksburg and Gettysburg 10 years ago. But I know I am thinking about mourning those calamities today. The Spirit of 76 is all but dead. The heirs of the Revolution have lost control of the country, and the reality is that the United States “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal” was the country being buried at Gettysburg, and now almost forgotten.
I have often visited the Battlefield at Vicksburg but never been to Gettysburg. I think I would find the latter much too emotional, in part because of my hatred of the falsity of the Gettysburg Address and what it implied. Six of my ancestors fought there. One was taken a prisoner. None of my ancestors fought at Vicksburg or in the Western or Trans-Mississippi theatres of war at all.
General Lee lost at Gettysburg, but much more significantly, General Grant won at Vicksburg. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia only had one reasonable strategy and that was to Capture Washington, D.C., and make IT the new Capital of the Confederacy. He and Jubal Early came so close on so many occasions, but they failed. Lee’s victory would have been largely symbolic—the North could have continued the War without Washington, D.C., although the boost to Confederate prestige by occupying the capital city would have been enormous, both at home and abroad, internationally.
And it was the lack of solid international recognition (specifically England’s and France’s refusal, in the aftermath of the Marxist led and inspired uprisings of 1848, to which both Queen Victoria’s and Emperor Napoleon III’s governments correctly connected Lincoln’s and the Republican Party’s rise) which doomed the Confederacy more than any other single factor in the war, aside from the north’s sheer brute strength, and genuine brutality.
Yankee brutality was apparent nowhere more than in the six week siege of Vicksburg, Mississippi, by Ulysses S. Grant, which reduced the population, military and civilian, to eating rats before the riverside fortress-town’s defenders’ final surrender on July 4, 1863. The skirmishes between Seminary ridge and Cemetery Ridge at Gettysburg suggested a kinder and gentler war, more humane and genteel, by comparison. But on those two battlefields died the heart and soul of the American dream of liberty and freedom, never really to rise up again over the past 150 years.
Unfortunately, July 4th has become a day of deceit.
On July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress formally declared its independence from Great Britain. Thirteen years later, after a difficult war to secure that independence, the new country was open for business.
It was truly unique – the first nation in all of history in which the individual was considered more important than the government, and the government was tied down by a written Constitution.
It was the one nation where you could live your life secure in the knowledge that no one would ask for your papers, where you weren’t identified by a number, and where the government wouldn’t extort a percentage of your income as the price of holding a job.
And so each year July 4th has been a commemoration of the freest country in history.
But the America that’s celebrated no longer exists.
The holiday oratory deceitfully describes America as though it were the unique land of liberty that once was. Politicians thank the Almighty for conferring the blessings of liberty on a country that no longer enjoys those blessings. The original freedom and security have disappeared, even though the oratory lingers on.
What made America unique is now gone, and we are much the same as Germany, France, England, or Spain, with:
- confiscatory taxes,
- a Constitution and Bill of Rights that are symbolic only – merely documents used to justify governmental actions that are in fact prohibited by those documents,
- business regulated by the state in the most minute detail,
- no limits on what Congress or the President might decide to do.
Yes, there are some freedoms left, but nothing like the America that was and nothing that you can’t find in a few dozen other countries.
Gone, too, is the sense of peace and security that once reigned throughout the land. America, bound by two huge oceans and two friendly neighbors – was subject to none of the never-ending wars and destruction that plagued Europe and Asia.
Now, however, everyone’s business is America’s business. Our Presidents consider themselves the rulers of the world – deciding who may govern any country on earth and sending Americans to die enforcing those decisions.
Whereas America was once an inspiration to the entire world – its very existence was proof that peace and liberty really were possible – Americans now live in fear of the rest of the world and the rest of the world lives in fear of America.
Because the education of our children was turned over to government in the 19th century, generations of Americans have been taught that freedom means taxes, regulations, civic duty, and responsibility for the whole world. They have no conception of the better life that could exist in a society in which government doesn’t manage health care, education, welfare, and business – and in which individuals are free to plot their own destinies.
Human beings are born with the desire to make their own decisions and control their own lives. But in most countries government and social pressures work to teach people to expect very little autonomy.
Fortunately, in America a remnant has kept alive the ideas of liberty, peace, and self-respect – passing the concepts on from generation to generation. And so today millions of Americans know that the present system isn’t the right system – that human beings aren’t born to serve the state and police the world.
Millions more would be receptive upon being shown that it’s possible to have better lives than what they’re living now.
Both groups need encouragement to quit supporting those who are taking freedom away from them.
You and I may not have the money and influence to change America by ourselves, but we can keep spreading the word – describing a better society in which individuals are truly free and government is in chains (instead of the opposite).
And someday we may reach the people who do have the money and influence to persuade tens of millions of Americans to change our country for the better.
I don’t know that it’s going to happen, but I do know it’s possible. I know that the urge to live one’s own life is as basic in human beings as the will to live and the desire to procreate. If we keep plugging away, we may eventually tap into that urge and rally the forces necessary to restore the real America.
And then the 4th of July will be worth celebrating again.
Harry Browne (RIP 1933-2006), the author of Why Government Doesn’t Work and many other books, was the Libertarian Party presidential candidate in 1996 and 2000, a co-founder of DownsizeDC, and the Director of Public Policy for the American Liberty Foundation. See his website.