Things I've Tagged ‘History’

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Dedication of the Cemetery at Gettysburg by Abraham Lincoln

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate–we can not consecrate–we can not hallow–this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us–that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion–that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain–that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom–and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

What an incredibly powerful, yet succinct, speech given by a universally lauded President. He has his critics, and rightly so, but the noble words used on that day, November 19, 1863, are highly inspiring and somber.

Letter to the Editor: Response to Claims of Historical Ignorance

Dear Editor,
This is in response to the letter, “Tea Partiers should try learning some history” published Friday April 23rd.

Limiting government is a very real and historical American political tradition; from the founding and the institution of the Articles of Confederation, limiting Federal power in such a way as to make the common defense of our citizenry difficult, to the balance created in the United States Constitution so as to ensure ONLY those powers specifically enumerated to various levels of government are exercised, as a people we have often been at odds with government power whether for ill or good.

What the Tea Party represents is simply a reflection of this tradition: a simple repudiation of a level of taxation and spending that is hardly good for the fiscal future of this nation; a realization that what works best in a Federal system is more local control, rather than centralization of control; and finally, a problem with elected officials adhering to a set of principles that serve their careers better than constituents, whether Republican, Democrat, or somewhere in between.

Another bit of history: the debate concerning the power of the Federal government has been taking place since the Articles of Confederation were in place. There was a very real concern at the time of the Constitution’s writing that the Federal government would be granted too much power, and the debate has continued well beyond its ratification.

You can read what arguments were written in favor of our constitution in the Federalist Papers, but note that these arguments do not emphasize the need for unlimited Federal power, only enough to grant the government the authority to attend to its affairs without the constraints placed on it in the Articles of Confederation, which made such action impossible.

I didn’t learn any of this from Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, et al. Instead, I cracked open a few books and read them long before the Tea Party was ever in place. Traditions change, and there is nothing wrong with that, but we should read and understand the real needs and concerns surrounding the founding of our nation in order to better understand why people feel the need to continue in them. This debate is a legitimate one, but it is better to address the issues rather than to disparage the messenger for the beliefs they hold.

Mike Mattner

Sent to the Herald Palladium for consideration.

The Need for Historical Primacy

It is with great humility and with great pride that we tonight will make history for our country and progress for the American people. — Nancy Pelosi1

This president seems particularly fixated on doing something for the sake of historical magnanimity. His election was historical, healthcare reform is historical, cap and trade is historical, we’re at a cross roads in history, etc. The list is long and arduous–historical moments are what this government is all about.

And we may very well be approaching some of the most important events of our era, but our identification of them as such should seem dubious. Who are we to say what will be considered important details in one hundred years time. Certainly President Obama’s election would be one moment, but the passage of a flawed set of rules and regulations that do not approach the change they were believing in?

Perhaps. For good or ill, I don’t know.

I’m just a little unnerved by this unhealthy need to create these moments for the books; it is incredibly egotistical and narcissistic of the lot of them.

Should a man seek history’s pen or should history’s pen seek him? Depends on who is in charge when said pen strokes paper, though I suspect telling everyone you’re doing something historic does not equal historicity.

  1. Pelosi, Nancy. Making History, Making Progress, and Restoring the American Dream. The Gavel Blog. Accessed 4/15/2010.

Why We Are Not Living in Western Civilization

I’ve not had the opportunity to watch this video yet, but the lede is very interesting and indeed thought provoking to say the least:

A crucial part of the self-consciousness of individuals and the way they define themselves socially is a perception of their location in a historical narrative, however vague. For most people in North America and Europe the narrative in question is that of ‘Western Civilization’ – this is true for all parts of the political spectrum and includes those who see this narrative as one of triumphant success and others who perceive it as a much darker story. However, the picture that emerges from historical research does not support any of these accounts. Rather they lead us to the conclusion that historic Western Civilization no longer exists but has perished or been transformed. This should make us think about how to understand our historical location and lead us to see past, present, and future in a new way.

To my mind I suppose this is discussing classical western civilization; the world of Rome and Greece is long dead, but perhaps we’re living the fallacy much as our ancestors did when crowning Roman emperors a millennium ago. Though these societies seem to survive in many ways in our modern institutions, I’m torn on this subject until I view the clip.