As you know, Memorial Day is a national holiday to reflect on United States Military personnel who died defending our nation. The origins date back to the Civil War. Some speculate that the tradition dates back to Abraham Lincoln’s dedication to the Gettysburg National Cemetery which he gave his inspiring yet short “Gettysburg Address” on November 19, 1863, where he eloquently defined what the Civil War was truly about:
“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate—we cannot consecrate—we cannot hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
In short, Lincoln was promoting a nation of, by and for the People where it was the sacred duty of such a government would ensure that all men, who are created equal would be treated equally. He honored the men who died for that basic proposition of our founders that was to a degree enshrined in the Preamble of the Constitution:
“We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
It was later when the 13th Amendment was ratified followed by the 14th, 15th, 19th, 23rd, 24th and 26th that all men and women born or naturalized in this nation all shared the same rights regardless of race, creed, ethnicity etc. An interesting event occurred prior to the Gettysburg Address was first spoken which adds a certain, but little discussed context to Lincoln’s words.
As you know, this nation had Articles of Confederation prior to the Constitution being written and ratified in order to create a “more perfect Union”. The Articles of Confederation weren’t an actual Constitution, only the individual states had those. Instead it was essentially an agreement for the former colonies, now sovereign States to work together. However, it was weak, ineffective and the new nation was about to destroy itself for lack of a strong central Federal Government.
Flash forward to the Civil War. The States that seceded from the Union wanted a new Confederation. However, they didn’t want their central federal government to be as strong as in the United States. They wanted most of the power to remain in the sovereign individual States. They still wanted a central Government, but the individual States’ governments would have equal representation in the Central Government.
What is interesting is that the Confederate Constitution was almost a carbon copy of the Union’s Constitution, but with certain significant changes. As mention before, most of the power remain in the States and each state determined how the people in their states would be treated and what if any rights they would have. Instead of a two chamber Congress, a unicameral legislature was created with each State having one vote and the President being elected by that Congress to serve one six-year term.
Further, the Confederacy weakened the ability of the Courts to overrule anything from the States. Finally, certain wording from the original Constitution was omitted from the Confederate version. The “general welfare clauses” were removed. In effect, the States had power, but that power may or may not initially reside with the People of those States by popular consent. Regardless of how the State Governments were selected and maintained, that power structure dictated the Confederacy. It did not guarantee government of, by and for the people. Instead it was government of, by and for the power base of each state. Namely the plantation owners, people of property and wealth. The ordinary people of each State owed their allegiance only to the power base of each State with few if any recourse to address grievances.
So when Lincoln spoke of government “of, by and for the People” he was either intentionally or unintentionally contrasting our government to the limited rights of the People of the Confederacy, even the White folks who didn’t have wealth or property.
I am drawn to the words of Lincoln today because unlike the ongoing Civil War our nation was enduring in the 1860’s we are now engaged in for lack of a better term, Civil Cold War with certain elements of our nation who for several generations have worked to negate the ongoing pursuit of a more perfect union, limiting the power of the people to levels the Confederacy demanded. The plantation owners of the Civil War are now the multi-national billionaires and corporate CEO’s. Since the 1960’s they have slowly and successfully curtailed the rights of the governed ceding more control to the wealthy and ensuring government sees to their needs first and foremost.
In recent years it’s more obvious that the Republican Party (though shrinking in membership) still maintains enough power to thwart the needs and demands of the majority of this nation. We’re becoming “a nation of, by and for the People” to a nation “of, by and for Republican leadership.”
The Republicans have declared a cold war on the ordinary people of the United States, while using propaganda to say otherwise. Majorities of Americans support higher taxes on Corporations and the wealthy, the GOP cuts their taxes; majorities of Americans support voting rights, the GOP pushes gerrymandering and voter suppression; majorities of Americans support immigrations, the GOP wants to close the borders; majorities of Americans support Checks and Balances of the three branches of government, the GOP is enabling our current president to be held above the law with no oversight. The list continues. Our Constitutional Republic is under attack, and it’s being done behind the scenes, using unethical and immoral methodology, but within the law (though they bend the law like a pretzel).
On this Memorial Day where we’re all supposed to honor our military dead who sacrificed for a nation founded on the premise of government of, by and for the People. Per Lincoln, we are to dedicate ourselves to making sure their sacrifices were not in vain, that the principals of our government survives. Sadly, the Republican Party of today demeans and insults Abraham Lincoln and his Gettysburg Address each time they push legislation that denies rights and privileges of American Citizens to be represented, heard and obeyed by her Government. That our government is led by competent men and women dedicated to the nation and her people, not a party or a flawed and clearly incompetent accidental president installed by nefarious help from a foreign power dedicated to disrupting our influence in the World by destroying our government from inside.
The Civil War continues, will we survive it and will we as a people have a new birth of freedom or is it time to inscribe our epitaph? The battlefield is all around you, either fight back or give in and deny the honor our fallen deserve.