Finding a voice after the insurrection—so many write about our national interests so much better than I could and yet I have not read what has been on my mind. And I am still angry. It is more than dismaying that this self-proclaimed hero of the republic has broken the 210 year old tradition of peaceful transition, that he has lied so often and so outrageously and that he is also the first president since 1869 to refuse to attend the inauguration of the person he lost to.
For awhile now, I have been wondering what the political rhetoric was like in the years leading up the the Civil War. What were people, north and south, talking about? What was the tone of discourse? When did violence enter the minds and hearts of Americans? How did the argument of slavery and states rights—the causes of the War that I remember from high school history class—erupt into violence? I did not understand those causes fully until recently—more the shame on me. A more succinct cause would have been the power of the national government to prohibit slavery in the territories that had not yet become states and Lincoln’s platform pledging to keep slavery out of the territories. Added to that was the inept leadership of James Buchanan, customarily consider the worst president, in the years leading up to the Civil War. (Buchanan might be moving up a notch or two.)
The scenario painted in high school is so simple: Lincoln won. Seven state succeeded, forming a new government. Our federal government refused to recognize the new nation. In December, 1860, South Carolina seceded; in April, 1861, the new government fired on Fort Sumter. The federal government responded and the war began.
No one teaches about nuances, at least to non-historians. In light of the last four years presided over by the newest worst president, who can add mismanaging a pandemic to fostering national division, I want to know the nuances. Obviously, conversations have already turned to violence, and obviously, there have been vocal instigators.
I’ve always heard said that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. What should we have learned from those pre-Civil War years? What are the conversations that we need to begin having to mend our great divide? I don’t know what to say or how to begin. Someone must know. I need to find them and listen and read.