Corporal Julius Howell 24th Virginia Cavalry C.S.A.

Born on January 17th, 1846 in Nansemond County, Virginia to his parents Rev. Edward Howell and his wife Americus Howell.

Julius grew up on a plantation the youngest of 16 children. He attended school at home and then later was a student at Reynoldson Institute in Gates County, North Carolina. The institute closed with the declaration of war in 1861. At the age of sixteen Howell entered Confederate service and would later become a member of the 24th Virginia Cavalry.

On occasions, he was on detached duty, serving general officers as a trusted courier. In the final days of the war he was captured and imprisoned until after the war’s end. In the years after the war Howell became a well-regarded educator. He remained invested in the preservation of the memories of the Confederate soldier, and his title of “General” was obtained from his time as the Commander-in-Chief of the United Confederate Veterans.

Howell’s long and useful life spanned more than a century, and when he died at the age of 102, he was purported to have been the final survivor of General James Longstreet’s Corps. He is buried at Glenwood Cemetery in Sullivan County Tennessee, USA.

 


 

In the 1940’s Julius gave a speech to the library of congress…it was recorded for future generations.

https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=3&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwj43Jvi6JXLAhVIVh4KHcbYCBsQtwIIKTAC&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DuHDfC-z9YaE&usg=AFQjCNELtKvt8T9LL9nwhJ0eTKwsX8X9gQ&sig2=ipEwBSDORvRlikyRpUDk-A

A wartime image of Julius.

http://www.wadehamptoncamp.org/j-f-h.jpg

Stop the finger pointing — both the Union and the Confederacy were full of racists.

I have this pet peeve when it comes to discussion of the War of Southern Secession and it is the people who finger point saying that such and such person or group was racists as if that ad hominem somehow settles everything there is pertaining to the war. Newsflash for the unaware: the entire United States was FULL of racists. It was ingrained in the culture and it was wrong but it was there nonetheless. It was in the South, it was in the North, it was in the East, it was in the West. It was everywhere.

Some common finger pointing statements:

There were few slaves in the North. Typically pointed out by people who are anti-Confederacy.True, but the majority of northerners still treated people of color as sub-human. Additionally, many made money off the slave trade even after getting rid of their own slaves because their issue with it wasn’t slavery itself but having to be in near proximity with people of color.

Many of the slaves in the South were treated well and didn’t wish to leave their owners after being freed. Typically pointed out by people who are anti-Union and usually when they are feeling defensive. This is quite subjective but there is evidence to support it as well. However, no matter how well you are treated being a slave means your life decisions are in the hands of someone else.

Neither of the above statements prove that either side had the moral superiority when it comes to slavery. I can think of racist southerners as well as southerners who went out of their way to free the slaves they had inherited before abolition because they felt it was immoral. I can think of abolitionist northerners but I can also think of northerners who didn’t want slavery to end, owned slaves of their own, thought people of color sub-human, and/or were known to abuse their slaves. The fact is that there were crappy people then and there are crappy people now and none of the above means a thing when it comes down to a discussion of the war. The stereotypes hurt everyone.

If some of the above is all you know to say when debating the war it’s time to do some more research and come up with some legitimate talking points.

The Faith of the Founding Fathers, Part I: Thomas Paine and Benjamin Rush

It can be very easy to generalize the beliefs and opinions of our founding fathers as the culture of the time seems much more simplified than now. Perhaps ironically, that generalization differs depending on who you ask. Some say they were all “Christian” as if that leaves no room whatsoever for variances in beliefs. Some say many or must were Deists in an attempt to separate them from religious belief. Some say that the colonies were intended for the religious freedom of Christians, as if it was only considered acceptable if the beliefs fell within that spectrum. Often we hear about the United States’ “Judeo-Christian heritage.” At this point you get the idea.

What I want to do here is show you the true spectrum of beliefs and acceptance of other belief systems during the Revolutionary War. Yes, many of our founding fathers were Christians but that doesn’t negate the wide array of beliefs and opinions they held. And for that matter, many colonists didn’t even welcome all Christians. Now people often think that different denominations and all doesn’t really matter but back then differences of opinion on theological issues could be a major point of contention. I think this is something that many people could use a reminder of.

If you know of any quotes that would make a good addition, feel free to suggest it in the comments below! (I’ll only use information where citations are available, so if you know that too I appreciate the help.)

Thomas Paine

I couldn’t resist making Paine my first post because he was an unusual character and yet his writing contributed so much to our American Revolution. Paine was scandalous for the time in many ways, daring to challenge conventional thought and unconcerned about whether he made people uncomfortable in the process. His pamphlet Common Sense was instrumental in convincing many colonists of their rights to and the necessity of secession from Great Britain.

His Beliefs: Paine was, to all intents and purposes, a deist though he had been accused by some of being an atheist. He believed in a supreme, heavenly being but refused to subscribe to any one religion. His Age of Reason goes into a great deal of detail on this. To describe himself, Paine wrote:

“I believe in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life.

I believe in the equality of man; and I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our fellow-creatures happy.

But, lest it should be supposed that I believe in many other things in addition to these, I shall, in the progress of this work, declare the things I do not believe, and my reasons for not believing them.

I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church.

All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.” [1]

He wrote of Deism by name as well, stating that:

“The only religion that has not been invented, and that has in it every evidence of divine originality, is pure and simple Deism. It must have been the first, and will probably be the last, that man believes.”[2]

On Other Beliefs: Although Paine was content to simply believe in the existence of a creator and in doing right to those around us, he does express that others have “the same right to their belief as I have to mine.”[3] That didn’t mean that those other beliefs were free from his criticism though.

He was especially critical of Christianity:

“Of all the systems of religion that ever were invented, there is none more derogatory to the Almighty, more unedifying to man, more repugnant to reason, and more contradictory in itself, than this thing called Christianity. Too absurd for belief, too impossible to convince, and too inconsistent for practice, it renders the heart torpid, or produces only atheists and fanatics.”[4]

Some additional quotes from Age of Reason:

“Each of those churches shows certain books, which they call revelation, or the Word of God. The Jews say that their Word of God was given by God to Moses face to face; the Christians say, that their Word of God came by divine inspiration; and the Turks say, that their Word of God (the Koran) was brought by an angel from heaven. Each of those churches accuses the other of unbelief; and, for my own part, I disbelieve them all.”

“Every national church or religion has established itself by pretending some special mission from God, communicated to certain individuals. The Jews have their Moses; the Christians their Jesus Christ, their apostles and saints; and the Turks their Mahomet, as if the way to God was not open to every man alike.

Each of those churches show certain books, which they call revelation, or the word of God. The Jews say, that their word of God was given by God to Moses, face to face; the Christians say, that their word of God came by divine inspiration: and the Turks say, that their word of God (the Koran) was brought by an angel from Heaven. Each of those churches accuse the other of unbelief; and for my own part, I disbelieve them all.”

“When the Church Mythologists established their system, they collected all the writings they could find, and managed them as they pleased. It is a matter altogether of uncertainty to us whether such of the writings as now appear under the name of the Old and New Testament are in the same state in which those collectors say they found them, or whether they added, altered, abridged, or dressed them up.

Be this as it may, they decided by vote which of the books out of the collection they had made should be the WORD OF GOD, and which should not. They rejected several; they voted others to be doubtful, such as the books called the Apocrypha; and those books which had a majority of votes, were voted to be the word of God. Had they voted otherwise, all the people, since calling themselves Christians, had believed otherwise — for the belief of the one comes from the vote of the other. Who the people were that did all this, we know nothing of; they called themselves by the general name of the Church, and this is all we know of the matter.”

“Some Christians pretend that Christianity was not established by the sword; but of what period of time do they speak? It was impossible that twelve men could begin with the sword; they had not the power; but no sooner were the professors of Christianity sufficiently powerful to employ the sword, than they did so, and the stake and fagot, too; and Mahomet could not do it sooner. By the same spirit that Peter cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant (if the story be true), he would have cut off his head, and the head of his master, had he been able. Besides this, Christianity grounds itself originally upon the Bible, and the Bible was established altogether by the sword, and that in the worst use of it — not to terrify, but to extirpate. The Jews made no converts; they butchered all. The Bible is the sire of the Testament, and both are called the word of God. The Christians read both books; the ministers preach from both books; and this thing called Christianity is made up of both. It is then false to say that Christianity was not established by the sword.

The only sect that has not persecuted are the Quakers; and the only reason that can be given for it is, that they are rather Deists than Christians. They do not believe much about Jesus Christ, and they call the scriptures a dead letter. Had they called them by a worse name, they had been nearer the truth.”

“Nothing that is here said can apply, even with the most distant disrespect, to the real character of Jesus Christ. He was a virtuous and an amiable man. The morality that he preached and practised was of the most benevolent kind; and though similar systems of morality had been preached by Confucius, and by some of the Greek philosophers, many years before; by the Quakers since; and by many good men in all ages, it has not been exceeded by any.”

Benjamin Rush

Not as well known as some but Rush was a very interesting man. Born in Pennsylvania, he was a skilled physician, wrote the first American textbook on chemistry, served as surgeon-general of the Continental Army and was later a professor at the University of Pennsylvania. Unfortunately for his patients, Rush was an avid supporter of the practice of bleeding. [5]

His Beliefs: Rush was a Presbyterian and wholly supportive of the Christian religion, up to the belief that we should base our public education on the Christian faith and teachings.       

On Other Beliefs: Despite Christianity being his first choice, Rush was not opposed to the followers of other religions. He wrote:

“Such is my veneration for every religion that reveals the attributes of the Deity, or a future state of rewards and punishments, that I had rather see the opinions of Confucius or Mahomed inculcated upon our youth, than see them grow up wholly devoid of a system of religious principles.”

Further, he said:

“It is foreign to my purpose to hint at the arguments which establish the truth of the Christian revelation. My only business is to declare, that all its doctrines and precepts are calculated to promote the happiness of society, and the safety and well being of civil government.”[6]

 


 

[1] Paine, Thomas. Age of Reason. http://www.ushistory.org/paine/reason/singlehtml.htm

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] http://www.ushistory.org/declaration/signers/rush.htm

[6] The Selected Writings of Benjamin Rush. Edited by Dagobert D. Runes. New York: Philosophical Library, 1947. http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/v1ch18s30.html

The Intent of the Second Amendment

As Abraham Lincoln said, “if you read it on the internet it must be true.”

I dearly hope that at least 99.99% of readers realize immediately that the above is a joke. The sad fact of the matter is that there is a great deal of misinformation on the internet and that includes wrongly attributed quotes. This tendency seems to reach a formidable height when it comes to the second amendment, where everyone and their brother will copy any quote in sight to justify their position.

The debate on whether guns contribute to or prevent crime is a completely separate discussion and while I have opinions enough when it comes to that I won’t be getting into it just now. Right now what I want to do is look at documents from the early days of our republic to see what exactly was intended by our Founding Fathers when it comes to the Second Amendment.

First, let’s look at the full text of the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution:

“A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

The Bill of Rights

The initial Constitutional amendments that form the Bill of Rights are of a nature which are to protect the rights of individual citizens, not to protect the rights of governments (by plural I mean federal, state, or local). Even if you don’t know the history of what brought about the Bill of Rights, you have only to read through the other amendments added early on to see that the rights of the individual was their concern after already detailing the rights and responsibilities of government in the Constitution itself.

These amendments are something that were debated at length following the writing of the Constitution. Some felt that there was no need for a Bill of Rights because the government had no right to do anything not specifically granted to it by the Constitution. Zachariah Johnson, in Virginia’s state convention regarding ratification of the Constitution, addressed the concern by saying that as things stood “[t]he people are not to be disarmed of their weapons. They are left in full possession of them.”[1] He also objected to making any amendments to the Constitution which were redundant by addressing fundamental rights the people were already known to possess.

Others, like Patrick Henry, felt that specifying a Bill of Rights was imperative to protect the rights of the individual against those who might later attempt to claim such things were not rights at all. This is the foundation of why we have our Bill of Rights – the individual. Yes, the wording of the founders refers to militia because they considered that to be the entirety of the people but the key purpose to specifying the second amendment in the first place is to protect the right of the individual person to keep and bear arms just like it protects the right of the individual to free speech.

In fact, the lack of assurances of individual rights in the Constitution itself was a major concern for many:

“Madison also wrote to Edmund Pendleton, just three days later, noting the dangers of a new constitutional convention, which antifederalists were advocating. The alternative was that Congress would propose a bill of rights: ‘In the mean time the other mode of amendments may be employed to quiet fears of many by supplying those further guards for private rights which can do no harm to the system in the judgments even of its most partial friends.’”[2]

There were concerns among many that the militia would become a select force with those in it having a greater power over the citizens versus a general militia comprised of all citizens. Richard Henry Lee wrote that “to preserve liberty, it is essential that the whole body of the people always possess arms, and be taught alike, especially when young, how to use them.”[3]

“A well regulated militia…”

This is the part of the amendment that seems to draw the most controversy so let’s also look at what constituted “militia” in 1791 when the Second Amendment was added. While in the modern day “regulation” is considered as being laws or restrictions, keep in mind that a meaning less often used now refers to something being in good working order, functioning well.

To go a little further back to our days as colonists, the militias were meant to defend the colonies in the absence of the British army. During conflicts like the French and Indian Wars, the colonial militia fought alongside the British army in defense of the colonies and in support of Great Britain’s interests. The militia laws in the colonies at this time “required every able-bodied male citizen to participate and to provide his own arms. Militia control was very localized, often with individual towns having autonomous command systems. Additionally, the colonies placed relatively short training requirements upon their militiamen: as little as four days of training per year.”[4]

Though these laws were in place, as the colonists moved closer to revolution and the British tried to disarm them the colonists began forming their own militia that didn’t report to the colonial governors. These militia belonged to the people and operated based on the wants and needs of the people.

During the American Revolution militia didn’t have the best reputation, for while they had undoubtedly made a difference (Battle of Concord and Lexington) military leaders often lamented their reputation for being unable to stand and face the British as was needed (Battle of Camden). That reputation was so well known that Brigadier General Daniel Morgan was able to use it to his advantage in the Battle of Cowpens, drawing the British into a trap when they assumed that yet again the American militia was running from the battle. The end battle in The Patriot, a Mel Gibson film loosely based on various people and events of the American Revolution, is inspired by that Battle of Cowpens where the character Benjamin Martin proposes that they use the militia’s poor reputation to their advantage. Militia were loosely organized, local men gathering to protect their homes using what weaponry they had, and in the early United States of America they were considered under the control of the state.

The published materials on the history of militias are rather lacking from what I have found and quotes from our Founding Fathers allow for a variety of interpretation. One of the most enlightening documents I came across when researching this topic was actually the Militia Act of 1792. This was the first legislation on a federal level to address how our militias should function since the beginning of the war other than the Constitution’s mentions of who had the authority to call form or organize them. This act went in far more detail than the Constitution and sheds a good deal of light on what the Founders’ envisioned for the organization of our militias. In this act the militia is specified as comprising of every (male) citizen from age 18 to 45 and required that every such citizen arm himself with a musket or firelock, bayonet, cartridges, powder, musket balls and other items to be kept on hand.[5]

As mentioned earlier there were known weaknesses of militia for the defense of the nation and that led Congress to pass the Dick Act in 1903 and the National Defense Act of 1916. These provided for the formation of the National Guard and a centralization of power over them, in turn giving them support and resources from federal funds.[6] These and later acts have fundamentally changed the modern perception of what “militia” means but does not and cannot change what it meant historically.

Tench Coxe, who was a delegate from Pennsylvania to the Continental Congress from 1788 to 1789, wrote that:

“The militia of these free commonwealths, entitled and accustomed to their arms, when compared with any possible army, must be tremendous and irresistible. Who are the militia? Are they not ourselves? It is feared, then, that we shall turn our arms each man against his own bosom. Congress have no power to disarm the militia. Their swords, and every other terrible implement of the soldier, are the birth-right of an American. . . . [T]he unlimited power of the sword is not in the hands of either the federal or state governments, but, where I trust in God it will ever remain, in the hands of the people.”[7]

If we are to assume that “militia” refers only to those bodies organized, supplied and maintained by the government, then why do we have an amendment guaranteeing that the government have access to weapons? Is it not inescapable that governments have access to weaponry? They hardly need a Constitutional amendment to guarantee the right of the government to have weapons. The government doesn’t need protection from itself but rather the individual needs protection from government overreach as is the entire purpose of these other amendments that were added in the same time period. This is a fatal flaw in my estimation to the supposition of some that the right to bear arms refers only to entities like the National Guard.

Conclusion

In the modern day the right to own a gun is considered by many as a privilege granted by government to those who are deemed worthy, subject to certain limitations. However, that was certainly not the view of our Founding Fathers. To them the private ownership of guns by law abiding citizens, barring a religious objection to violence, was not just the right but the responsibility of Americans.

 


 

[1] As quoted in Halbrook, Stephen P. The Founders’ Second Amendment: Origins of the Right to Bear Arms.

[2] Halbrook, Stephen P. The Founders’ Second Amendment: Origins of the Right to Bear Arms. pp. 247-248.

[3] Published as Letter from the Federal Farmer in May 1788. As quoted in Reynolds, Jack. A People Armed and Free: The Truth about the Second Amendment.

[4] Chuck Dougherty, The Minutemen, the National Guard and the Private Militia Movement:Will the Real Militia Please Stand Up? , 28 John Marshall Law Review 959, 962-970 (Summer 1995) (195 footnotes). Excerpt found online at http://academic.udayton.edu/health/syllabi/Bioterrorism/8Military/milita01.htm

[5] The Militia Act of 1792, Passed May 8, 1792, providing federal standards for the organization of the Militia. Retrieved from http://www.constitution.org/mil/mil_act_1792.htm

[6] Romano, John F. “State militias and the United States: changed responsibilites for a new era.” Air Force Law Review Winter 2005: 233+. General OneFile. Web. 10 Dec. 2015.

[7] Published in the Pennsylvania Gazette on February 20, 1788. As quoted in Halbrook, Stephen P. The Founders’ Second Amendment: Origins of the Right to Bear Arms.

 

Thanksgiving

There has been controversy around Thanksgiving because of what would eventually happen to the Native American tribes despite the generosity of the Wampanoag and others like them. However, I think tomorrow is a good day to recognize that generosity and how it can and should be applied to modern events. If we don’t value other humans than what is our humanity worth?

Stock Photo by freeimages.com/thefarside-31164

Stock Photo by freeimages.com/thefarside-31164

Do you agree? Feel free to share the above graphic! You can do so easily on Facebook by clicking share from our Facebook page.

Freedom or Fear?

When the Europeans came to the New World they brought with them civilization. A funny word because essentially what it means is “our way of life is the right way and you will comply or we will force you because we are right and your differences cannot be tolerated.” The native American tribes had their own religious beliefs, some of which were not far from Christianity but different enough that it was a threat. So over years it was stamped out. Only Christianity could be tolerated among the natives because any other belief is a threat. Fear of their differences won out, even when it was among tribes they were allied with.

I remember when I was about nine years old reading a book called the Witch of Blackbird Pond. That book was one of my favorites and even as I grew older I’d still occasionally read it. It was set in the late 1600s in New England and there was a character named Hannah Tupper who was an elderly Quaker woman that lived on her own. She was suspected of being a “witch” essentially because she didn’t conform to the social norm of her community. Her greatest “sin” was in being a Quaker, a variation of Protestant faith that emphasized the relationship between a person and God rather than putting faith in a central church. To the Puritans of New England this was abhorrent, a threat to them and their faith. They had both been persecuted in Europe but when the shoe was on the other foot the Puritans had no problem persecuting the Quakers because they allowed their fear to rule them.

Around the late 1700s and early 1800s there was discussion about Islam. Many of the slaves brought into the country followed that faith and this required some careful thought on the part of those Christians already established here. Some founding fathers were opposed but many including George Washington actually either found merit in the Muslim teachings or at the very least supported their freedom to continuing practicing that faith. After all, had we not just fought a war for freedom, to create a country where we could have differences but still work together?

Into the 1800s, forgetting how we had worked together to gain independence, the divisions in the country once again began to fester. Tariffs unfairly targeting certain sections of the country, no matter that we had objected against unfair taxation practices from King George. It festered and it festered and when things came to a head with secession fear was once again used to control the populace. The Union, as Lincoln admitted, was terrified of losing the tax revenue from the South if they successfully seceded since they had been financially supporting the majority of the federal government as well as subsidies to many industries that didn’t wish to take a financial hit (the early days of our crony capitalism). The South was afraid of losing their autonomy as they lost more and more power within the government while their share of the taxes seemed to only get higher. For some there was a fear of abolition, though that was far from the only fear. In that war, terrorizing others became a favorite tool. Rarely did the Confederate armies attempt to cross into the Union but in the South civilians, both free and slave, were being targeted by the Union armies. All food was stolen, homes burned to the ground, women were raped, black men regardless of whether they were free or slave were forced into leaving and joining the Union army, graves of the newly dead were desecrated on the off chance that civilians might be attempting to hide supplies. Fear and destruction were the tools to obtain compliance.

Following the war came a period known as Reconstruction which is somewhat glossed over by the history classes. Immediately after abolition of slavery the southern legislatures had passed laws of their own volition, modeled after laws in the north, in order to make sure the newly freed would have no trouble with their rights to travel freely, etc. However, soon after more and more started migrating from the north to buy up land and take political power. There began to be laws and policies meant to divide the races, to keep everyone as separated as possible to keep the south weak and ensure the northerners maintained control. Fear was the order of the day. Whites, fear blacks. Blacks, fear whites. Worry about each other and don’t look over here at what we are doing. The racial tensions from that still rock us to this day.

Over the next few decades the world continued to turn and life went on. Technology was developing quickly and there was so much going on in the world. Wars happened, as they always do.

Fast forward to World War II and the Nazis were quickly gaining control in Europe. We knew Jews were being persecuted but that wasn’t on our doorstep and it was easier to say we didn’t want them here. After all, they had money. They could figure something out and it wasn’t our problem. Besides, we were just coming out of the Great Depression so we really didn’t have the resources to be helping foreigners… If millions died, well, we had to protect our own first. Why didn’t the Jews do more to stand up to the Nazis if it really was so terrible? And there could have been Nazi agents that snuck in with them had we accepted the refugees!

We helped our allies from a ‘safe’ distance but that sense of safety wasn’t to last. Pearl Harbor happened and our fears skyrocketed. We had so many Japanese immigrants already, what if they turned on us too? If they didn’t agree with what the Japanese had done to us, why weren’t they doing more to speak out against it? Keeping our borders safe and preserving our culture was the most important thing, so we rounded up all the Japanese-Americans and put them in internment camps to make sure they couldn’t act against us. Though, if they wanted to serve in our military we would let the young men out and arm them with guns and planes to go into battle. The women, children and elderly though? They were scary. They needed to stay in the camps so we could feel safe.

Now, in 2015, we have forgotten the threat of the Native American faiths, the Quakers and other dissenting Protestant faiths, the Japanese… but some fears we still cling to. Why? Are we better people for allowing our fears to rule us?

Yes, we are told to fear the Syrian refugees. We are told we have enough economic troubles as it is, that these are Muslims who hate us, that they could do something else and don’t need to come here, that there could be agents of ISIS among them. If they truly oppose ISIS, why haven’t they done a better job of standing up to ISIS?

My question is, “Why are a people who claim to cherish freedom so quick to cling to fear?”

Veteran’s Day

War is always a tricky subject. Throughout the history of the United States of America there have been many conflicts which we have taken a part of and they aren’t always black and white. Some we joined in late, some maybe we shouldn’t have taken part at all. Some conflicts were with other countries, some with those who lived here before us and one that pitted brother against brother.

No matter the timing, the motivations of the presidents or other leaders who controlled events, the men and women who have fought or supported those who fought have had a purer purpose. They fought out of love and duty. Love for their families and their home, duty because they knew they couldn’t leave the battle for others to fight.

All who return from war return with wounds. Sometimes visible, physical wounds and sometimes invisible, the psychological wounds of facing the horrors of war and in some cases having to live with doing things for their country that perhaps they never saw themselves doing before being put in that scenario, seeing things they never wanted to see.

I don’t say thank you for your service because the words are too simplistic to me. Today, and every day, I honor the service of those past and present for making difficult choices and sacrifices because they believed it was needed.

As Robert E. Lee said, war is terrible. Let’s remember the wars that have been fought. Remember the reasons for them so we can avoid needing to repeat them but no matter the reasons remember those who showed their love for us all.

Exploring Jefferson’s “Wall of Separation”

There are some things that I suppose I take for granted knowing about and just assume most Americans know it as well. Yeah, I’ve been told what happens when we assume. I had a conversation the other day with a friend and to make a long story short the topic of “separation of church and state” came up while we were talking and it made me realize just how common it is for our children to go through a K-12 education then often 4 more years of a college education and at the end of it still take for granted that these things we hear everyone reference must be accurate and in context.

Even more rare than those who know the origin of this phrase is those who have actually read the letter that prompted it. Are you lost? Read on and I’ll explain.

First and foremost you have to understand that Great Britain had long had a state religion. First Catholicism, then the protestant Church of England, then back to Catholicism, then protestant… ANYWAY, if you weren’t a member of the religious group in control at that particular moment you might face prejudice or worse over your beliefs. This part is fairly straight forward and most people (I think? I hope?) are familiar with this as the reason that some early American colonists traveled to the New World.

Due to these experiences and knowledge of their own history, those citizens of the newly formed United States of America were cautious about allowing a state religion that might interfere with their freedom to pursue their own religious beliefs in their day to day lives. This is NOT to say they wanted the government to be completely separate from religion but rather than they didn’t want the government to mandate that only one set of religious beliefs were acceptable under the law.

Now the Danbury Baptist Association was a group of representatives of Baptist churches in Connecticut and New York. In their area they were vastly outnumbered by Congregationalists and the laws had been interpreted in practice as setting up the Congregationalist views as having the government’s support. This had them concerned — hadn’t they just fought a war over freedom, only to have it once again threatened? With this in mind they wrote a letter to the recently elected President Thomas Jefferson. The key paragraph of their letter read as follows:

Our Sentiments are uniformly on the side of Religious Liberty—That Religion is at all times and places a Matter between God and Individuals—That no man aught to suffer in Name, person or effects on account of his religious Opinions—That the legetimate Power of civil Goverment extends no further than to punish the man who works ill to his neighbour: But Sir, our constitution of goverment is not specific. Our antient charter, together with the Laws made coincident therewith, were adopted as the Basis of our goverment, At the time of our revolution; and such had been our Laws & usages, & such still are; that religion is consider’d as the first object of Legislation; & therefore what religious privileges we enjoy (as a minor part of the State) we enjoy as favors granted, and not as inalienable rights: and these favors we receive at the expence of such degrading acknowledgements as are inconsistant with the rights of freemen. It is not to be wondred at therefore; if those, who seek after power & gain under the pretence of goverment & Religion should reproach their fellow men—should reproach their chief Magistrate, as an enemy of religion Law & good order because he will not, dares not assume the prerogative of Jehovah and make Laws to govern the Kingdom of Christ. (1)

I believe it’s important to read the letter of the Danbury Baptist Association first because it gives that background for understanding what exactly Jefferson is responding to. Yes, Thomas Jefferson’s response is the entire basis of the “wall of separation between church and state.” It is not a phrase in our Constitution, our Bill of Rights, in a law passed by Congress and then signed into law by a president. It is just personal correspondence of a newly elected president who helped with the formation of this country and therefore has insight into the intentions of those founders.

In his response, Jefferson wrote:

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties. (2)

That “wall of separation” refers to how our founding fathers meant to directly prevent mandates that you must adhere to a certain religion or that you can’t exercise freely the religion you’ve chosen for yourself. It doesn’t mean that you can’t bring up God in government, it doesn’t mean that you must bring up God in government. It means that citizens are free to believe whatever they want, worship in accordance to those beliefs, and acknowledge those beliefs freely.

Too often people hear about the separation of church and state and think that means we can’t have a shred of religious anything anywhere near a government building or mentioned in government papers or whatever else. No, all it means is exactly what the First Amendment states, that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

That’s it! The early United States did plenty that supported religion and churches so to say that the founding fathers didn’t intend any overlap whatsoever, or in the words of the Supreme Court that this wall of church and state “must be kept high and impregnable,” is preposterous. That’s plan and simple not how the young nation was treating religion. So for all that is holy (in whatever your religious beliefs are), stop reading more into it than that. It’s not there except in modern interpretations.

 

(1) https://jeffersonpapers.princeton.edu/selected-documents/danbury-baptist-association

(2) http://www.heritage.org/initiatives/first-principles/primary-sources/jefferson-s-letter-to-the-danbury-baptists

Why other movements should matter.

This is something I was pondering while working earlier. I can’t explain why some of these things pop into my head when they do but inevitably these ideas will start to form in the back of my mind and drive me nuts until I put them into writing.

I feel like there is a deep divide that we have allowed to be created. Perhaps not intentionally but it is there. We all know that for every Confederate history enthusiast there is also some idiot who knows nothing about the war but thinks the flag is cool and quite often it is that supposed connection to being … I’m not sure how I want to phrase this. White supremacist would be the best term, I suppose. I saw this a lot when I was living for a few years north of the Mason-Dixon line. There are exceptions, of course, people up north who actually do know about the history and people down south that really only care for the flag because they think of it as some sort of validation for their racist ideals. After living up there though it really made me start to question the flag owner when I saw one out somewhere. It became less of the “that’s cool” reaction and more of a “do they even know anything about that flag they are choosing to fly?”

I’m not sure if it was being a history enthusiast or knowing that I have ancestors that fought under the flag but I really began to get in a way judgmental when I saw someone sporting the Confederate battle flag. I would like to see the flag and think to myself, “Awesome. There’s someone else who understands the history of that.” Unfortunately, nine times out of ten the first thing that crosses my mind is, “Oh, great. Is this another idiot that is going to give the battle flag a bad name?” It’s such a frustrating feeling because I truly want people to be able to fly it proudly, I want more of the history of the war to be acknowledged, I want people of both sides to be able to discuss our opinions openly without resorting to insults or assumptions about one another.

At the same time, I get it. I understand why many of these people oppose us. I think it’s based on a lot of misinformation, based on a lot of idiots appropriating the Confederate battle flag to turn it into something tainted, but when I put myself in the shoes of some of these critics and force myself to think of it from the perspective of what information and knowledge they have on it, I understand why they have such a distaste for the flag.

We have a history as a country of attempting to assimilate everyone with differences into this one culturally acceptable group rather than accepting that differences in race and culture and various opinions are acceptable and not a threat to anyone. Sitting there wondering what I mean? Think of what the United States did with the Native Americans, sending their children to “Indian schools” where the US forced them to forget their culture and adopt the beliefs and habits that were deemed acceptable for them. Did it really threaten us for them to continue believing the religion of their forebears?

Remember the Golden Rule — do unto others as you would have them do unto you — when discussing history. I’ve recently been viewing a lot of “Southern heritage” type pages on Facebook to see what bits and pieces they’ve been sharing and I’m seeing WAY too much hate from people. Outright vitriol aimed at those who don’t know any better or at those who are more interested in movements like Black Lives Matter. If the first response to those who don’t share our interest in the Confederacy is such anger, how then can we say things like “Heritage Not Hate”? If the truth is important and we want the truth about the war to be acknowledged by society, we can’t be giving people reasons to want to shut down and not listen to what we are saying. That isn’t going to win over anyone. It’s not going to give other people reason to respect our desire to openly honor our heritage with flags and license plates and whatever else.

I’ve heard it joked that a Southerner is someone who can tell someone else to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip. I’m not suggesting we tell anyone to go to hell but I am suggesting we all choose our words carefully and show others the respect we ourselves wish to be shown. There is no reason to lash out at people when we can speak with respect and facts to back us up.

What’s In A Name?

What comes to mind when you hear someone refer to a “civil war”? By definition, a civil war is a war between two or more factions of a country over control of that country. Yet the fighting between the Union and the Confederacy from 1861 to 1865 was not over control of the United States government. This is setting us all up to misconstrue the motivations behind the war.

The question was not whether the Confederacy wished to take control of the United States’ federal government – that has clearly never been an issue. The question was whether the individual states had a legal right to secede from the United States. The Union maintained that they did not, for reasons best left to other posts, and the matter was settled in blood.

However, if we are going to accept the outcome of the war as a legitimate answer to whether or not the Confederacy was within their rights to secede, then we must also accept that the American Revolution was a civil war too and that the colonies were in the wrong for declaring their independence. After all, the foundation of the Confederacy’s belief that they held this right was from a number of sources around the time of the Revolution including our Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

Now, I know there will be some people reading this who wish to point out that slaves did not consent to their slavery. That is absolutely correct, and you may enjoy reading my post On Slavery to get a better idea of where I’m coming from. However, since there were additional issues as far as taxation and federal control that went beyond disagreements regarding slavery, and since at the onset of the war Lincoln had absolutely no intention of abolishing slavery, that doesn’t really play into this. Even if we cannot agree on this point, we should be able to agree to use the most appropriate terms in reference to the war.

So what’s in a name? Let’s look at some of the names commonly used for the war between the Union and Confederacy and what is implied by each:

American Civil War … implies the Union and Confederacy fought over who would control the United States’ federal government.
War Between the States … implies a general sense that states were at war but gives no indication of how many sides there were or what was being fought over.
War of Southern Secession … implies the war was fought over whether the South could secede.
War of Northern Aggression … implies a vague sense of wrongdoing on the part of the Union.
War of the Rebellion … implies the Confederacy was simply rebelling and conveys a sense of wrongdoing.

 

The way in which we refer to previous events matters. Most of the above terms are either inaccurate, vague, or extremely biased. I use the first two at times because that is how the war is best known, but honestly I prefer War of Southern Secession because I feel it is the most factually accurate with the least bias. During the war many of these were used, including the term Civil War, but even acknowledging that I feel that it is not the best for us to use in the modern day nor do I believe they would have expected the war to be interpreted quite as it has been. The words we choose to use mean a great deal.

Do I expect my words here to have a significant impact in what terms are used by the majority of this country? Of course not. I certainly intend to begin embracing my preferred terms on this site though now that I have had a chance to briefly explain why I favor them and I hope this is further food for thought on the debate in general.