Appomattox + 150

Appomattox + 150

One hundred fifty years ago today marked the end of a period of national blood letting.  At the home of Wilmer McLean in Appomattox, Virginia, Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia to Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, commander of the Federal Army of the Potomac effectively ending what is now known in the parlance of Americana as The Late War Between the States.  The first major American conflagration resulting from internal political intransigence lasted four years, claimed the lives of some 620 to 630 thousand Americans, left thousands more maimed and forced a deep national soul searching and questioning if the human cost was worth it.  I know I am one of many who look back on our national history and respect its cyclical nature.

gettysburg-dead

The aftermath of the Battle of Gettysburg

As we look back on this day 150 years hence a reasonable question is how far have we really come as a nation in terms of basic values and world view.  The issue of whether the USA would remain one country or become two was decided by force of arms.  The key issue leading to that conflict, states rights, is still a huge bone of contention in today’s political discourse.  The human flaws written into our national DNA have remained despite the best efforts of so many to overcome them starting with President Lincoln’s second inaugural address.  In spite of everything, the USA is still one nation.  Indeed, after Gen. Lee surrendered his dwindling army, Gen. Grant extended him gracious terms in the spirit of fellowship and decency; he allowed the Confederate officers to keep their horses and side arms and sent 35,000 rations to feed Lee’s starving troops.

The Authentic History Center

Image by authentichistory.com

One thing a lot of Democratic Party critics take pleasure in pointing out is how solidly Democratic the South became after the end of Reconstruction in 1877 and remained such up through the Civil Rights era nearly 100 years later.  One thing most fail to do is offer an explanation as to why so many former Southern Democrats switched party affiliation, people like the late senators Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms and the former Texas governor Rick Perry for example.  The truth it that little can be credited to a political party label.  Just about all can be attributed to the values of a guiding ideology, mainly conservatism or liberalism, and which one allows for outside-the-box thinking.  It is no accident or oddity of history that the former Confederacy which was once a strong Democratic bastion is now solidly Republican.  Now as then it is also stalwartly conservative.  Now as then the social and economic policies that have held the region back have been hard line conservative in origin and have had a predictable outcome on their application.  Now as then the federal government gives more to that region than it receives in return.

poverty_areas

Lee may have surrendered to Grant at Appomattox 150 years ago today but the nation they sought to preserve remains as divided as it ever was on so many fronts.  It is my hope we never have to settle another episode of internal intransigence in the same fashion.

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