Born, Possibly Died on the Fourth of July

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One hundred and fifty years ago today, in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, America
‘s most hallowed ground was established. Over fifty thousand casualties
among both Union and Confederate forces resulted from fierce acts of bravery
and heroism on both sides over just a few days, including Pickett’s famous
last-ditch assault on the Union center, into the teeth of point-blank
cannon fire, canister, and grape shot.

The ferocious hand-to-hand fighting along Pickett’s front established the "
high water mark" of the Confederacy, and produced the most focused
military effort to date by the Union, the success of which gave impetus to the
North’s final push to end a malingering war. To make those sacrifices and
take those personal risks, you’ve got to really believe in something, a truth
summed up brilliantly in Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. The fact that the
battle culminated on Independence Day was not lost on either side.

Ten years ago, I had the honor of purchasing the last outstanding parcel
of land on which Pickett’s Charge occurred, at the far eastern end of the
field, where the Ohio 8th Regiment was dug in. Over the prior 19 years, the
National Park Service had unsuccessfully pursued the "Home Sweet Home"
motel, a 1950s-era no-tell hotel on two acres there. It paved over a hasty
trench and a temporary field hospital where men from both armies had been
treated, before archaeology became vogue.

By 2004, the motel and its blacktop were themselves things of the past,
the site archaeology was done, and the final resting place of so many
distinguished soldiers was returned to serene grass. It was one of the high
points of my career, and I worked so hard on it because, like other Americans
who visit Gettysburg, read the Gettysburg Address, and understand Gettysburg’
s role, its meaning inspired me. Preserving the Union meant continuing
and expanding the American dream. Protecting the Home Sweet Home site meant
preserving Gettysburg’s symbolism, protecting that hallowed ground, and
enshrining the American Dream of opportunity for all.

One of the most inspiring aspects of America, and core to the American
Dream, is the universal concept of private property rights. Because of America’
s unique private property rights system, generations of immigrants have
moved across mountains and oceans to become Americans, toil hard, and take
risks and make sacrifices to improve their standard of living. For hundreds
of years, anyone who was willing to work hard could use their private
property rights to shelter and feed their family, purchase an education for
their children, and build equity for the day when their hands and back might no longer be able to physically toil.

But here in Pennsylvania, just days ago and, oddly, just days before
Independence Day, the state legislature passed a two-sentence bill gutting the
private property rights of landowners who have leased their land for oil and
gas exploration. It was a shameful thing to do, and it is an echo of the
midnight legislative pay-raise that cost so many incumbents their seats a
few years ago. It is the shady act of some self- anointed few to enrich
their political friends, at the huge cost of Pennsylvania’s private

As I understand it, Governor Tom Corbett is weighing whether or not to
sign it into law. I hope he does not sign it. To enact such a law flies in
the face of everything that is American. It is against everything that
Independence Day stands for. It is against everything that the men at
Gettysburg fought and died for, and against everything that America’s Founding
Fathers and brave patriots fought for in 1776.

I wish you a happy Independence Day today, and in its spirit I ask that
you call your state legislators, and ask them if they voted for this
un-American oil and gas bill. If they did, vote them out of office, and show them that the Spirit of 1776 still stands strong. You deserve better, I
deserve better, America deserves better.

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