Unity: A Principle That Could Save America
Most Americans have never studied their own history. Yet our own story contains answers to some of our most pressing problems and provides warnings of pitfalls to avoid. In addition to the great founding period, two periods which stand out to students of American history are the years 1814-1824 and 1855-1865. They can be very instructive to us.
"Era of Good Feelings" Leads to National Unity: 1814-1824
For nearly a decade after the War of 1812, America experienced some remarkable, unifying events. President James Monroe declared in his first inaugural address that "local jealousies are rapidly yielding to more generous, enlarged, and enlightened views of national policy." The strife between political parties disappeared and the parties themselves became nearly nonexistent.
The unity was so pervasive that when Monroe ran for reelection in 1820, he won every electoral vote but one. It is said that one elector cast a vote against him simply because the elector believed only Washington should enjoy the honor of unanimous election. During Monroe's second term, the people were so united in there vision for America that President Monroe was able to take the bold step to declare to the world that the Western Hemisphere was off limits to any further colonization by European powers. He also promised that the United States would leave European affairs to the countries of Europe. This was a bold position for a small, new country to announce, but this announcement by President Monroe, later known as the Monroe Doctrine, became the cornerstone of American foreign policy for many years.
Sectionalism and Secession leads to Civil War: 1855-1866
By this time in our nation's development, good feelings had disappeared. Political, social, and economic differences were dividing the nation. Even though a compromise now and then kept a lid on the boiling factions, issues such as slavery, state nullification of federal laws, and tariffs kept raising their ugly heads to a point where compromise was no longer possible. Some states began to think getting completely out of the Union was the answer, and so, they passed resolutions of secession. The eventual result, of course, was the most destructive and divisive period of war this country had ever experienced. It was a war on our own soil--citizen against citizen, brother against brother, neighbor against neighbor. History calls it the Civil War. Paul Harvey more correctly names it the "Uncivil War". Whatever one calls it, the happenings of this period should sound a warning to Americans about the dangers of factions and talk of disunion.
Will Factionalism and Secession Talk Bring Us Again to a National Disaster?
Any observer of national affairs today will know that factions are becoming increasingly divisive in the Unties States. Divisiveness is a tool of the adversaries of freedom as much today as before the Civil War. We see strong divisions on moral issues, social issues, economic issues, national sovereignty issues, family issues, and issues involving states' rights versus growing federal power. There is even serious talk of secession from the union. We hear from some academic circles, from some government officials, and from some so-called conservatives think tanks that seceding from the union may be our best option. The Founders would find such suggestions highly repulsive. They knew freedom could only be maintained in a large republic.
Small, Free Republics Must Unite to Survive
The following quote from the Making of America summarizes the founder's thinking on this topic:
"[In our study of The Making of America, we note that] the Founders saw many serious disadvantages in small republics trying to face the world alone. They said small republics would be more easily corrupted by ambitious leaders. They would be susceptible to insurrections internally and military assaults externally. They would also be too small and too weak to provide an economy capable of supporting an adequate military defense, public services, and the necessary machinery of government. "Since their own tiny republics and states were so weak and vulnerable, the Founders set out to make the United States a broad-based coalition of many states. As individual states united together they could still have all the advantages of local self-government, but, as a union, they could combine their strength in national defense, supply a coordinated system of central services, and present a united front in foreign relations. "They noted a further advantage in having a large population under a union of states: if any radical movements or insurrections erupted, they would tend to burn themselves out before they destroyed the whole nation. Furthermore, a larger nation is too diverse to be easily suppressed under the control of an ambitious tyrant. Additionally, they perceived a great advantage in establishing a national common market among all the states, where they could exchange goods freely and could assist one another in case of drought or disaster in particular areas of the country." (See Making of America, p. 768)
Unity: A Principle That Could Save America
The man who tried to save the union from tumbling into the dark abyss of civil war and eventual destruction, Abraham Lincoln, pleaded with dissident forces to remember the goal of "a more perfect union". Said he:
"I hold that in contemplation of universal law and of the Constitution the Union of these States is perpetual. Perpetuity is implied, if not expressed, in the fundamental law of all national governments. It is safe to assert that no government proper ever had a provision in its organic law for its own termination. Continue to execute all the express provisions of our National Constitution, and the Union will endure forever, it being impossible to destroy it except by some action not provided for in the instrument itself."
Of those who advocated secession he asked: "Will you hazard so desperate a step while there is any possibility that any portion of the ills you fly from have no real existence? Will you, while the certain ills you fly to are greater than all the real ones you fly from, will you risk the commission of so fearful a mistake?" Lincoln then reminded them that secession will bring more secession.
"If a minority in such case will secede rather than acquiesce, they make a precedent which in turn will divide and ruin them, for a minority of their own will secede from them whenever a majority refuses to be controlled by such minority.... Plainly the central idea of secession is the essence of anarchy."
Lincoln pointed out that those who clamor for secession have not thought through completely how really rough it would be outside the union. He said that more problems can be solved in an atmosphere of union and friendship than ever could be by separation. Here's how he said it:
"Physically speaking, we can not separate. We can not remove our respective sections from each other nor build an impassable wall between them. A husband and wife may be divorced and go out of the presence and beyond the reach of each other, but the different parts of our country can not do this. They can not but remain face to face, and intercourse, either amicable or hostile, must continue between them. Is it possible, then, to make that intercourse more advantageous or more satisfactory after separation than before? Can aliens make treaties easier than friends can make laws? Can treaties be more faithfully enforced between aliens than laws can among friends? suppose you go to war, you can not fight always; and when, after much loss on both sides and no gain on either, you cease fighting, the identical old questions, as to terms of intercourse, are again upon you."
A Plea for Unity
The mission of NCCS is to teach principles of liberty and union in the tradition of America's Founding Fathers. One of the greatest Founders, Thomas Jefferson, gave the formula for today's citizens in the following words:
"We owe every other sacrifice to ourselves, to our federal brethren, and to the world at large to pursue with temper and perseverance the great experiment which shall prove that man is capable of living in [a] society governing itself by laws self-imposed, and securing to its members the enjoyment of life, liberty, property, and peace; and further, to show that even when the government of its choice shall manifest a tendency to degeneracy, we are not at once to despair, but that the will and the watchfulness of its sounder parts will reform its aberrations, recall it to original and legitimate principles, and restrain it within the rightful limits of self-government."