GDG- NPS & Slavery

Tom Ryan pennmardel at
Wed Jan 4 12:42:51 CST 2012


Thanks for your comments and sharing some of your personal experiences.  My
sense, however, about this issue is that the place for educating American
society should be elsewhere, and not specifically at Gettysburg.  There have
been several philosophical reasons given in this thread why it is important
to insure that visitors to Gettysburg learn how the battle fits within the
big picture of the war and its causes.

I do not totally disagree with this concept, but still am uneasy with it.
My preference is to maintain a certain sense of "purity" about what took
place at Gettysburg and its significance as so well articulated by President
Lincoln at the National Cemetery dedication on November 19, 1863.

Gettysburg is and of itself a lesson in perseverance and dedication to a
cause.  What it should not be seen as is an opportunity to compensate for
the shortcomings of society who no longer learn about the origins of the
Civil War through the education system or their own personal endeavors.

To expect or require the NPS to instruct visitors to Gettysburg about the
causes of the CW to the detriment of what actually took place there, seems
to me to be beyond the pale.  I realize that this is a minority opinion on
this board, but it is what it is.

Some have used the term "politically correct" in describing this recent
phenomenon at Gettysburg.  However it is characterized, it appears to be a
response to pressures from those who have an agenda to promote an
interpretation of the war that supercedes to a certain extent those
singularly important events that occurred at Gettysburg.

Regards, Tom Ryan


I have thoroughly enjoyed and learned a tremendous amout from all of you on
this topic. Blessed indeed to have so many smart, well read, and articulate
people in this group. With that said...
Ironically I don't think it is an oversimplification to say that this is an
extraordinarily complex issue with no easy answers. Although our founders
authored the greatest governing charter ever devised by mortal men (read
here, 'Miracle At Philadelphia' a wonderful book and one of my faves) they
weren't perfect and neither was it. They dropped the ball when it came to
slavery. They didn't want to face it head on. And thereafter it would
periodically raise its ugly head (e.g. 1820 & 1850 compromises) only to be
pushed forcibly below the surface. Its remarkable that the country didn't
break up long before 1861 and probably would have if we were'nt blessed with
Clay, Calhoun & Webster (among others).
Lincoln, our most able and brilliant political president, wanted to save the
Union, above all else, and probably would be willing to do so at the
exclusion of all else if thats what it took. He manipulated people and
institutions (including the Constitution) in the worst ways in order to do
so. The role that limiting and ultimately ending slavery played in the
calculus was at least secondary and evolved over time. E.g. apart from being
the right thing to do (and tepidly undertaken at best) the primary purpose
of the Emancipation Proclamation was to add a decidely moral tone to the war
thus ensuring that the Eurpoean powers did not enter. At least thats how I
understand it. Coincidentally I have just finsihed reading Gary Wills
wonderful book 'Lincoln at Gettysburg'. Lincoln wasn't even choosy about
which founding document got him to where he wanted to be. The Constitution
was fine but he was willing to change horses in midstream basing his
positions and
 justifications in support of the war and preserving the Union (and the
Gettysburg Address) primarily on the Declaration of Independence. The fact
that eridicating slavery at the same time while timely was only a bonus.
The fact that some folks might think there to be too much of an emphasis on
slavery at Gettysburg, Arlington, etc. is normal I think. The role and
understanding of race relations in this country is a central and seminal
issue. I think it nearly impossible for it to be overemphasized in just
about any discussion of the history of our country, Gettysburg included. And
the fact that it had been pushed to the back burner for so long, both before
and after the Civil War makes it all the more startling when it enters areas
where heretofore it has not, some of which has been discussed here. See here
the actions undertaken by the federal government and courts beginning in the
1950's. It was through these actions undertaken almost a century after the
Civil War concluded that effectuated the war's results and post war
amendments to the Constitution. What took so long?
Finally, a personal anecdote and analogy (I hope)...I was at a conference
this past summer on criminal justice reform at the state legislative level.
At an initial workshop on media relations we were asked to share our
greatest success during the past legislative session. I spoke about our
successful effort to secure a pardon for John Gordon, last man executed in
RI in 1845 and how it engendered many, many public and private conversations
about other criminal justice reform issues generally. I explained it this
way to folks from about 30 other states, "Think a Rhode Island, Irish
version of Sacco & Vanzetti." About a dozen people raised their hands to
ask, "Who are Sacco & Vanzetti?" I wish I was kidding. Unfortunately, I'm
not. We have to start these conversations wherever and whenever the
opportunity presents itself.
Sorry to have gone on for so long.
Mike DiLauro

More information about the Gettysburg mailing list