In late June of 1863 General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia was sweeping north with the intention of capturing the city of Harrisburg then swing south and surround Washington DC. The strategy was designed to force President Lincoln either to surrender or at least end the war with the Confederacy. Lee came very close to success but on July First outside of an obscure town in Pennsylvania Union Scouts stumbled upon a Confederate patrol. That began the battle that was the turning point of the war. The death and carnage from combined armies of some 163,000 fighting men created an estimated 50,000 casualties causing the streets of the village to run red with blood. Those three days of scourge enshrined the small town as one of the most sacred places in American history: Gettysburg.
The fighting was so fierce because of the political conditions that would hinge on the outcome of the war. Just ten months before Lincoln had issued the first Emancipation Proclamation. This war order, actually issued as commander in chief, began the process of ending the greatest scar on the collective American consciousness, then or now, slavery.
Therein lies the roots of the Republican Party. Founded in 1854 as an anti-slavery movement the party’s first president was Abraham Lincoln. He, along with Pennsylvania’s Thaddeus Stevens, the Republican Senate Leader in 1862, began the process of ending one of the most grotesque practices in the history of humanity. Their courage and determination prevailed over Democratic concerns about property rights in the south – that property being human beings. In the last century that same determination proved itself again. While in 1963 Democratic President Kennedy moved a civil rights bill, the potential political consequences deferred his direct action. After his tragic death Democratic President Lyndon Johnson, when members of his own party wouldn’t support it, had to turn to Republican Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen to enact the long over due Civil Rights Act of 1964. Bold and courageous decisions in their political times.
Now today we see a new and different Republican Party. The party of "reach across the aisle" moderates who vote for tax and spend Democratic plans that this week will throw nearly a trillion dollars into economic stimulus or into a new form of Federalized slavery to indebtedness, with who knows how many billions simply being thrown away.
It is said that Lincoln shed tears over the dead at Gettysburg. Today one wonders if he might do the same at the lack of courage led by political expediency in the party that he was the first to carry into the White House.
As we ponder our current fate we can only hope that someday this will be righted if only Republicans would remember the immortal words he left us with on the cemetery at Gettysburg in November of 1863: "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." Happy 200th Birthday Abe.
Albert Paschall is senior fellow at Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research, a non-profit educational foundation based in Harrisburg. Somedays is syndicated to leading newspapers and radio stations in Pennsylvania. [email protected]