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1787 -  39 men signed the US Constitution, moving this nation forward towards a structure of government that for more than two centuries has been a shining light in self-government, something we should perhaps remember as we listen to those who would purport to lead this nation in directions that would abandon the hope and promise of that document

1862 - Robert E. Lee's first invasion of the North is turned back near Sharpsburg MD at the Battle of Antietam, the bloodiest single day in US history, with around 23,000 casualties.   Yet despite knowing Lee's order of battle, George B. McClellan failed to destroy Lee's army, allowing his escape back across the Potomac and thus the bloody internecine conflict of the Civil War would continue for more than two and half additional years.   Still, the victory was sufficient for Lincoln to announce the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation, a document that turned the war into an effort to end slavery and thereby prevented possible intervention on behalf of the South by the British.

All American public schools which receive federal funds are supposed to do a lesson on the Constitution on Constitution Day.  I teach government, and the timing of my curricula always has me on some aspect of the Constitution around this time, although in my nonb-AP classes we will begin the Constitutional Convention on Monday, because of the two days lost due to a hurricane and an earthquake.  

I wonder what the effect would be on America were we to have a national focus on either or both of these events each year, as we do on the events of ten years ago in NY, PA, and DC?  Might we better appreciate what the Founders created for us?  Might we have greater understanding how a battle not that far from the national capital helped preserve and transform for the better the Republic with which those Founders gifted us?

At the end of the Preamble to our Constitution we read that the document signed this day was intended to "secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity"  - The Founders were thinking of the future.  

I cannot help but think of George Mason of Virginia, who refused to sign the document, in large part because it lacked an explicit protection of individual liberty.  Himself the author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, written before the Declaration of Independence, Mason is as responsible as anyone for the commitment made to introduce a Bill of Rights in the First Congress.  

Mason also connects with the events of 1862.  Although himself a slaveowner, he was, like some others of his generation including Jefferson, very conflicted about the practice.  He wanted the government being designed to ban the further importation of slaves, but could only get that allowed in the future:  the Constitution said that Congress could not ban such importation until 1808, at which time it promptly did.

He opposed attempting to ban slavery, in part because he understood that any attempt to impose such a ban would mean the new government would never come into being:  too many in the South would oppose such a move on economic grounds and some even would attempt to justify their opposition on religious grounds.  

I do not propose to revisit the entire history of either the drafting of the Constitution nor of the Battle of Antietam.  As you can read in places like the Wikipedia article on the Battle, this day was bloody:  

The Union had 12,401 casualties with 2,108 dead. Confederate casualties were 10,318 with 1,546 dead. This represented 25% of the Federal force and 31% of the Confederate. More Americans died on September 17, 1862, than on any other day in the nation's military history.
 Granted, Americans were killing each other, but 3,654 total deaths exceeds the death toll in the three events of 9/11/01.  If you want a full understanding of that battle, I would suggest reading the magnificent book by Stephen Sears, Landscape Turned Red:  The Battle of Antietam.

I often turn back and reread about the past to help me understand the present and the future possibilities that confront us.

Too often we are ignorant of our own history.

Too often we fail to remember lessons learned at great cost, and have to reexperience what we should already understand.

We read in Madison's secret journal of the Convention that as the delegates - with the exception of Randolph, Gerry and Mason - were signing,  Benjamin Franklin offered some remarks  

Whilst the last members were signing it  Doctr. FRANKLIN looking towards the Presidents Chair, at the back of which a rising sun happened to be painted, observed to a few members near him, that Painters had found it difficult to distinguish in their art a rising from a setting sun. I have said he, often and often in the course of the Session, and the vicisitudes of my hopes and fears as to its issue, looked at that behind the President without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting: But now at length I have the happiness to know that it is a rising and not a setting Sun.

On this day in 1787, our Founders moved forward in hope.

On this day in 1862, that hope was not extinguished and the blessings of liberty began to be extended to millions still in slavery.

And on this day in 2011?

Do we still believe in securing the blessings of liberty not only to ourselves but to those who will follow?

Is political liberty possible in an environment wherein we see the development of the moral equivalent of chattel slavery in allowing too many in this nation to slip into economic servitude?

Would the Founders have argued for securing the blessings of liberty to themselves and the corporations, with the latter being allowed to have greater influence than the bulk of the American people?

Might Franklin looking today at the decline of so much in America other than the expansion of the military and the power of the corporations and the wealthy have reinterpreted the image on Washington's chair as a setting sun?  After all, a half century ago one might well hear the expression that the sun never set on the British Empire, yet it did, and Britain is no longer an imperial power.  Could the American imperialism of recent decades now be fading as well?

Thousands died in 1862.  Thousands more were wounded.   A key moment in the Union success came because of a Union officer from Mississippi actually named Jefferson Davis.   On such small moments can turn great events.  Those deaths, that battle, lead to a promise, a commitment, one repeated a bit more than a year later when Lincoln offered his words at the dedication at the site of Lee being defeated on his second invasion North.  Lincoln spoke at Gettysburg of "a new birth of freedom."  President Obama took that as the theme of his inaugural.

Freedom ... Liberty ...  to ourselves and our Posterity  

22,719 casualties

3,654 deaths

I think back to a July day in 1776, and also remember these words:

And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.

I can only hope that in our political conflict of today we remember how we got here, the price paid by the generations before us, the commitments made, the risks even unto death taken by those who helped shape this country.

Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation after the bloodiest single day in this nation's military history.

The promise of that document did not begin to get fulfilled until a century had passed, and involved the deaths of more fighting for achievement of full rights.

Event today some would deny freedom and liberty to those of a different faith, whose skin color is darker, who are born into economic misfortune . . .

Franklin spoke of a rising sun.  As I write on an overcast morning I wonder if that sun is now being eclipsed by greed, by fear, by hatred.

If only we would truly learn our history, all of it, without blinders.

So I continue to learn.

So I teach.

So I write.


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Comment Preferences

  •  offered for your reflection (21+ / 0-)

    or rather, because I took the time for myself to remember and reflect, and chose to share the process

    do with it what you will

    "what the best and wisest parent wants for his child is what we should want for all the children of the community" - John Dewey

    by teacherken on Sat Sep 17, 2011 at 06:35:24 AM PDT

  •  What we believe (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    grannycarol, teacherken, texasmom, Temmoku

    I give a talk every year to a legal assistants class at the local community college.

    I take a copy of the Bill of Rights and Article I of the Oregon Constitution which has similar and expanded personal rights.

    I am no longer shocked that most of the class have no memory of ever reading these two documents. I am always dismayed that a significant number, often a majority, DO NOT AGREE with these basic rights. WOW!

    It's not just the lack of learning or teaching. We have an active movement to discredit belief in the fundamental freedoms that underlie our form of government. We have treason.

    •  while I rec'd your comment (6+ / 0-)

      not sure I can agree with your final sentence

      we may have active efforts to undermine, but they are being done within the structure that is set up

      and treason is the only crime defined in the Constitution and I am afraid that as despicable as what some people may be doing, it does not meet the test of that definition

      "what the best and wisest parent wants for his child is what we should want for all the children of the community" - John Dewey

      by teacherken on Sat Sep 17, 2011 at 07:06:30 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  A distant exercise (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      texasmom, Tinfoil Hat, Temmoku

      1964—prompted by our 8th grade social studies teacher, a friend and I rewrote the Bill of Rights in contemporary language and typed it up as a petition to our Congressional delegation. We then went door-to-door in our NJ suburb asking people to sign it.

      This was not exactly a statistically valid exercise. However, the result was, that out of about 80 people who answered the door, 10 or 12 people signed; most refused—often citing disagreement with one or more of the protections. A couple of people thought we already had most of these rights, but only a few recognized it as the Bill of Rights.

      •  That should be something we should make up (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        texasmom, Temmoku

        and take to EVERY gathering of Tea People and see if they agree with it.

        Then publish the results and watch it go viral.

        "Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." --M. L. King "You can't fix stupid" --Ron White -6.00, -5.18

        by zenbassoon on Sat Sep 17, 2011 at 07:17:13 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Well, it's not a bill of rights -- (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        It is an enumeration of specific prohibitions --what agents of government are not to do, unless it is warranted.  That's a big out.  Who decides what's warranted?  Some judge --another agent of government.
        Our human rights are supposedly inalienable, but they're only as good as the people who respect them.  Rights do not exist in a vacuum.  They must be honored.  Expecting honor from dishonorable people, people who attain their positions by lying and cheating and deceiving the public is a bit much.

        Anyway, the commitment to human rights was negated from the outset by the legalization of slavery.  That provided evidence, if evidence was needed, that property trumps persons.  It's been an uphill struggle ever since. The rights of children are still not recognized.  Instead parents and the agents of the state contest over their welfare, each trying to argue that the other is responsible. Meanwhile the children exist in a state of malnutrition and illness.

        The Rights of the Child should be one of the defining issues of the up-coming election.

        by hannah on Sat Sep 17, 2011 at 07:41:36 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  I had a history of the Civil War and it had (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    BarackStarObama, Temmoku

    pictures of the aftermath of Antietam.  The piles of bodies were staggering.

    "Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." --M. L. King "You can't fix stupid" --Ron White -6.00, -5.18

    by zenbassoon on Sat Sep 17, 2011 at 07:15:38 AM PDT

    •  Civil War had lots of photographs (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      zenbassoon, BarackStarObama, Temmoku

      and people who were not there began to grasp the impact and destruction of war

      it was not the first war with photographs, but it was the first American war.  The Crimean War, in the mid 1850s, was the first war for which we have a serious photographic record

      "what the best and wisest parent wants for his child is what we should want for all the children of the community" - John Dewey

      by teacherken on Sat Sep 17, 2011 at 07:24:47 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Some hope: (0+ / 0-)

    As someone else noted, this is also Playing for Change day.

    Changing one life at a time through music:

    "Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." --M. L. King "You can't fix stupid" --Ron White -6.00, -5.18

    by zenbassoon on Sat Sep 17, 2011 at 07:19:03 AM PDT

  •  In a Time of Obsessive "Liberty" Propaganda for th (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    penguins4peace, Tinfoil Hat, Temmoku

    purpose of liberating the global rich and their global corporations to do to us what they will, I will repeat the Preamble to make a point:

    We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

    Welfare before liberty -- literally. GET IT?

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Sat Sep 17, 2011 at 07:42:22 AM PDT

    •  I don't think the Preamble doesn't suggests (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      that liberty is less important than welfare (although you are certainly right that liberty is only one of the values mentioned).  I think what this suggests is that these things need to be understood in ways that are not in conflict.

      A view of liberty that denies government the power to achieve all these other things is untenable.

      Personally, I am unconvinced that paying your share of taxes to support the general welfare is a threat to liberty (which should not be a synonym for laissez faire market fundamentalism).

      Politics is the art of the possible, but that means you have to think about changing what is possible, not that you have to accept it in perpetuity.

      by David Kaib on Sat Sep 17, 2011 at 10:02:46 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thank you (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    BarackStarObama, teacherken, Temmoku

    You are so right that we pay insufficient attention to our history and its significance in getting from where we have been to where we are today, and the role it plays in setting our direction to the future.  

    In the area I have focused on, one of the things that I learned from early on was how important the revision and reinterpretation of history has been to the development of the Religious Right -- to be able to describe the once and future Christian Nation -- how it was taken away by conspiracies of liberals and an out of control Supreme Court, and how it must be restored in order for our nation to regain God's favor.  Such ideas are a central, animating feature of the Religious Right.  We see it all the time. I found a classic example in the middle of a recent LA Times story about GOP presidential politics in Iowa, and wrote about it in some detail.

    Behind some of our contemporary politics, there is a battle underway for control of our own history from events of the founding centuries, right up to the present.

  •  Enjoyed your diary Ken... (0+ / 0-)

    I'm always amazed that these two monumental events occurred exactly 75 years apart.  

    "The United States will not be able to dictate the pace and scope of this change. Only the people of the region can do that. But we can make a difference." 3/28/11

    by BarackStarObama on Sat Sep 17, 2011 at 02:04:39 PM PDT

  •  Visited Antietam a few years ago (0+ / 0-)

    and was snacked by some of the stories I read while there.
    I had never heard about the number of casualties...only that it was the bloodiest day.
    It literally was. Soldiers were standing in blood up to their knees fighting off their union opponents!
    Our Civil War history really needs to be better taught.

    While visiting the Somme battlefield, it was so obvious why the British were so against another war and that "Peace in our time" was such an important slogan....the deaths were staggering and the size of the ossuaries prove that the numbers were unimaginable.

    We so need to stress the sacrifices given by people to guarantee our way of life....

    Thank you again for your posts.

    Character is what you are in the dark. Emilio Lizardo in Buckaroo Bonzai

    by Temmoku on Sun Sep 18, 2011 at 07:22:39 AM PDT

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