By Scott Tibbs, July 4, 2009
The Fourth of July marks 233 years since the 13 colonies seceded from England and became an independent nation. England attempted to block the colonies attempt at secession with military force, but were not able to do so as the colonists won a long and bloody war of secession. 233 years after secession, England is one of our greatest allies. Every year on July 4, we celebrate self-determination and the right to choose one's own government, and the choice made by the colonies to secede from a nation that no longer respected their liberties.
Today, we celebrate George Washington and the colonists as patriots, but that certainly was not the universal view at the time. Had the 13 colonies failed in their attempt to secede from England, our history books would be very different, teaching us that Washington was a traitor and a criminal - just as we now view Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson. The winners do write the history books, after all.
The irony does not escape me, though, that we view the Revolutionary War and the War Between the States in a completely different light. In both cases, a group of states decided that continued union with a larger entity was destructive to their liberty, and declared that they would be seceding from the larger entity. In both cases the larger entity used military force to prevent the secession. In the first case, the secessionists won the war. In the second case, the secessionists lost. That makes all the difference in how history sees both: secession was moral and patriotic in 1776 but secession was immoral and treasonous in 1860.
The popular and simplistic view of the War Between the States is that a benevolent Yankee army invaded the Confederacy to free the slaves. It was a humanitarian mission to ensure racial equality and end a grave injustice. But Abraham Lincoln's own white supremacist views are conveniently ignored, as was the political charade that was the Emancipation Proclamation. The War Between the States was not about ending slavery. It was an armed conflict over the role of federal power as opposed to states' rights and whether states were really sovereign entities with control over their own affairs.
The federalists won the war, which set into motion the ever-expanding power of the federal government at the expense of both states' rights and individual liberty. The men who founded the country would be shocked at what they see today, when truly local issues such as elementary education are debated in Congress and both major party candidates for President advocating their own views of a single national solution for a nation that stretches across the continent and has a population of over 300 million people. That is unfortunate.