memories of 150 years ago

Recently, on three most-frigid days I saw a line of waiting people that had formed around the perimeter of the National Archives building in Washington, DC.archives

This isn’t a common site, except on the 4th of July, and I mistakenly pointed out to my curious in-laws (who were visiting from their home country) how Americans would stand for hours, in below freezing weather, waiting for a glimpse of our Constitution, Declaration of Independence and other important historical US documents. I later had to amend that statement when I realized we had, unfortunately, missed the incredibly rare opportunity of viewing the Emancipation Proclamation on the 150th anniversary of the signing of the document which freed slaves of the confederacy. This document led to the creation of the 13th amendment which abolished all slavery throughout the US, two years later, in 1865. One can find just about any document online but it never compares to seeing an original, standing in the same place where the writer and signer(s) stood and being tugged back into history to a specific place and time.

This year is also the 150th anniversary of the Civil War battle at Gettysburg (in July) and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address (in November). The battle of Gettysburg did not end the war but it is considered by many as a turning point which placed the union/US in position to eventually “win” the war and defeat the southern confederacy so the states could be reunited. One hundred and fifty years later, with so many advancements and changes, one would assume the American Civil War would be ancient history only to be thought of on major anniversaries or when looking at family histories. It seems to depend on where one has lived. I have never, ever heard anyone from a northern location mention the civil war. Rarely does an occasion pass when the civil war is not mentioned among southerners.

The anniversaries remind us of more difficult times of war and unequal rights and oppression. I am also reminded that with all the tremendous changes in our country we have not come as far as we should have after the passing of so many years. Our country, which I love, still struggles with issues of inequality and is still engaged in wars. We are still seeking, as Lincoln stated in his second inaugural address in 1865, to “achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations”.

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Gettysburg National Park


7 thoughts on “memories of 150 years ago

  1. Great post. I’m sure it would have been wonderful to see the proclamation in person, but at least you took that missed opportunity and turned it into an interesting post. I was thinking about the futility of war yesterday while attending a workshop to train clinicians to help veterans. Why are these such hard lessons to learn? At the same time, we know a revolution was fought to get us to “America” and it’s hard to imagine accomplishing that without the bloodshed. Is that the problem? A failure of the imagination?

    • There must be better solutions than war and I believe less fear and more creativity would help get us there. I don’t have the answers though and I am thankful to not be in any position where I would be in charge of those decisions. This idea makes me think of the quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.:
      “It is not enough to say, ‘We must not wage war.’ It is necessary to love peace and sacrifice for it. We must concentrate not merely on the negative expulsion of war, but on the positive affirmation of peace.”
      I really appreciate your comment; thank you.

  2. Sorry to hear that you missed it! But we currently have the first and final page of Washington’s first Inaugural Address on display until January 31, if you would like to come back.

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