Some 150 years ago, as we continue on our sesquicentennial quest to cast eyes backward to the Civil War, that national blood-letting Americans had to endure should give everyone pause for reflection.
Today, the Congress of the United States, by its own admission, is dysfunctional. We avoided a government default by hours at mid-week, and a more-than-two-week partial federal government shutdown.
Every American — particularly those in Congress — should go back and study all the mistakes, all the rancor, all the animosity that sent this country to the precipice of disunion and destruction.
Today, I would venture to say by the many polls taken of the public mood, most Americans are disgusted with our politicians’ inability to get along.
So, to all our political leaders governing this vast land from the banks of the Potomac, it’s time to take a long look into the mirror of history, and see the reflections.
Leading up to the Civil War — for decades in fact — America had been in a moral war with itself over slavery. Every position taken was political in that day. Either you were for slavery, or you were against slavery.
There was scant middle ground.
People of moderation became fewer and fewer. Individual states took states’ rights to its zenith, and turned on other states with acrimony — thus secession.
All legislation that came from either federal or state governments, somehow had to fashion compromises around the issue of slavery.
I am still amazed that to this day, some people say the Civil War wasn’t about slavery.
OK, if that’s the case, then if you took all the legislation passed those many years ago, and removed the question of slavery from it, what would you have? Not the American Civil War.
From 1787 to 1860 — up to the doorstep of the Civil War — major legislation that dealt with the American economic institution included, but was not limited to, the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, the law in 1807 ending slave importation, the Missouri Compromise of 1820, the Wilmot Proviso, the Compromise of 1850, the Fugitive Slave Law and the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854.
So, how did it come to the point where compromise ended and blood-letting during four years of the Civil War begin?
It’s both complicated and simple, all at the same time.
America, from its very founding, was a melting pot of people, of ideas, of philosophies, of religions and customs.
All were thrown together, with people from England, Ireland, Scotland, Germany and Spain and just about every other developed nation on Earth suddenly finding themselves living as neighbors, side by side, having to understand one another’s long list of differences.
Eventually, that mixing pot of people became this nation’s greatest strength.
But, just as Charles Dickens wrote in “A Tale of Two Cities" — “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of reason, it was the age of foolishness ...” — that diversity was a powder keg waiting to explode.
And, America is far from alone at having gone through civil wars. Most developed countries on the planet have, at one time or another, gone through blood-letting and acrimony and a point when one or more sets of people within a population have gone to war with another.
Compromise is the only reason America today enjoys status as the greatest nation on Earth.
Look back at history. There have been many so-called great nations and empires. The Roman Empire, Egyptian, British Empire, Persian Empire, the Byzantine, the Russian, the Ottoman empires, the Mongol and Han empires.
All were the powers of their day.
All, for the most part, have gone the way of the dinosaur.
It could be argued the British Empire is still around, but it now is only vestiges of its former self, and we certainly are its healthiest offspring.
So, how do we avoid what happened to the rest of these now seemingly quaint empires?
History says we won’t, and that is sobering.
The Constitution of the United States, even to its enemies, has to be seen as the most brilliant piece of compromise to have ever been brought forth upon this continent, to steal a phrase from the Gettysburg Address. Will we long endure?
Our Founding Fathers compromised repeatedly over slavery and the rights of individuals and states and governments, when they put quilled pen to paper those many years ago.
Did they pen the perfect document? Far from it. We still struggle with parts of it today.
Yet, the genius of the Constitution was in its compromise. Other nations and empires failed to find compromise and fell. The Civil War resulted in our forefathers’ final failure to compromise.
Will we, as a nation, follow that same destructive path?
Stayed tuned — historically speaking.
Christy is news editor at the Enid News & Eagle. Go to his column blog at enid news.com/historicallyspeaking