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By Staff | Jul 2, 2020

Recently, while reviewing on the website about a terrible event, I read these words, “This event has been considered symbolic of the breakdown of reasoned discourse and contributed significantly to our country’s polarization.” Reading these words one could rationally conclude they were referring to an American event of recent days.

However, this event actually occurred May 22, 1856 on the floor of our United States Senate. On this date, Representative Preston Brooks, a pro-slavery Democrat from South Carolina, used a walking cane to attack Senator Charles Sumner, an abolitionist Republican from Massachusetts. Brooks did this in retaliation for a speech given by Sumner two days earlier. In his speech, Sumner criticized slaveholders, including a relative of Brooks. The beating nearly killed Sumner and it contributed significantly to our country’s polarization over the issue of slavery. This “breakdown of reasoned discourse” and the use of violence eventually led to the Civil War.

In fact, our history from 1852 through the Civil War was particularly violent and bloody. The negative rhetoric and protests were equally as bad due to the dividedness over the issue of slavery. Preceding the Civil War, local militias and vigilante groups, especially in the Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska territories, over the issue of free versus slave states, led to many violent and bloody events. Often I wonder how the United States survived these trying times.

But, we did. Today marks the 244th birthday of the United States of America. On July 4, 1776 we became a free, democratic and sovereign nation. And we still are today. Our early founding fathers included in the Declaration of Independence these familiar words, “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.”

But, at the time these founding fathers signed this document, those “Rights” certainly did not include all men and women. Many of these that placed their signature on this document were, in fact, slaveholders from the southern states.

On July 4, 1776, not only were African-American slaves not entitled to these unalienable rights, but it also included other factions of our society including Native Americans and other minorities, and women, orphans, and people with special needs as well. These citizens certainly did not have all the “Rights” for many years, as did our white, male citizens. Our country’s treatment of these groups of individuals has often been shameful.

But, with time, eventually these rights have been more inclusive for all our citizens. We have gotten better but we still have, no doubt, more work to do. We should be proud of the steps we have made and committed to doing what we can do to make this a more caring nation through demonstrating love and concern for our fellow man. But again, and keeping things in perspective, our nation’s history demonstrates that healing and understanding does not usually happen all at once. It takes time, so let us not give up on our hope that we can do better.

In these 244 years we have survived dissent, negative rhetoric, violence, depressions, assassinations, and wars. When we have faced these great challenges, we have often found the way to be the most united. We have always had men and women willing to serve and protect our democracy and our freedoms. I believe if we commit ourselves to stand united, to work hard at respecting our fellow man, and putting our trust and faith in our God, then we will be even a stronger nation. And as Abraham Lincoln so eloquently said in his Gettysburg Address, then “this government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from this earth.”

So, Happy Birthday, America. May God, in spite of our faults and failures to do His will, continue to bless our nation, both now and in the days and years to come.

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