From Gettysburg to today

Phil:  One hundred and fifty years ago changed America forever.  On July 1, 165,600 soldiers descended upon Gettysburg. On July 3, only 100,000 of them walked away.

Ethan: Racism, economics, freedom, and federal control forced our government to strike back on those who wished to oppress their fellow human and tear our country apart. Thankfully, on that field and in the end, the side of justice won.

Phil: I’ve walked the Gettysburg Battlefield many times and I can tell you something spiritual courses through your body when you stand where President Lincoln stood to deliver his infamous address. Do you believe today that his words still hold true?

Ethan: Certainly. In particular, his words declaring that the men who died that day must not be allowed to die in vain. These words ring true for all our fallen soldiers.

Phil: How about “a new nation, conceived in Liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

Ethan: We still have a ways to go, especially in terms of economic inequality, but we are certainly getting there. Women and people of color have gained much greater power and political acceptance since they were shut out by our founders. And now our LGBT friends are starting to knock down the barriers of bigotry. Here is a phrase for you: “Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.”

Phil: To be sure we are being tested and whether we can endure is not clear.

Ethan: That is kind of pessimistic.

Phil: Look at how much power and control the federal government has claimed.  Whether you agree with me or not it’s undeniable that welfare, Obamacare and 17 trillion dollars of debt have fundamentally changed America.

Ethan: You speak of federal power like it is some universal negative when it has done so much to help us become a more perfect union. Not only did federal power begin the end of slavery on those fateful days in Gettysburg, it has since won World War II, given seniors a life out of poverty, and built roads, schools, and protected our environment. The importance of a strong government, which looked out for everyone, really came to life under Lincoln.

Phil: Federal power comes from the Constitution, which was framed to limit it and empower private citizens with life, liberty and property rights. That balance has tipped so far towards government that many fear their government: the IRS for example. Can’t we agree that first private citizens must succeed to generate revenues for the government and that piling on debts we have no plan to repay is oppressive?

Ethan: Government debt during the civil war went up 1,500 percent and the federal government imposed more power over the country than we had ever seen before or have ever seen since. From martial law, to the first imposition of income taxes, to a national banking system, Lincoln bravely took control of this country to bring it through a terrible time. Did people complain then that he had too much power? You bet. But I am sure even you look back at that time and are thankful for what he did.

Phil: I am. The difference then was that America was engaged in a declared war to assure all people are equal under our Constitution. Today we are in a political war where some elected officials undermine our constitutional protections from government by ignoring it.

Ethan: You lost me on that last one, unless you are referring to the Bush/Obama NSA spying program. How about we get back to celebrating America as opposed to bashing it? We have come a long way since Gettysburg, and I imagine even you believe there’s more opportunity today than there was in 1863, despite your fear of the IRS (which was created by your party’s founder Abraham Lincoln, I might add).

Phil: No wonder we lost you. I celebrate individuals pursuing their diminishing rights and you see more government power leading us to a “more perfect union.”

Ethan: Well, you lost me because you started talking about rewriting the Constitution by ignoring it, which has nothing to do with the price of a cheese steak at Gettysburg. The difference between us in regard to individuals versus government is that I see both as necessary. The Civil War is one of the greatest examples of how government must step in when the individual pursuit of greed is harming others and institutionalized racism is being couched as state’s rights.

Phil: America is the greatest human experience in the history of the world, because of free people pursuing happiness. That is what makes Independence Day, not massive government.

Ethan: If it weren’t for “massive government” as you call it, plus the individuals willing to give their lives, two separate countries would be celebrating Independence Day. One that enslaves people and one that does not. At the end of the day, I expect both of us are happy that did not occur.

Phil: True. I am just more skeptical that Lincoln’s last line will hold true for another 150 years if we continue on our current path: “…government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”