by George Rasley
In the face of the Far Left’s attempts to rewrite American history through the now-discredited 1619 Project and Critical Race Theory, Republicans and conservatives must reclaim the key dates and events in American history and there is no better place to start than Memorial Day 2021.
Memorial Day was created not as a “holiday” or an excuse for corporate merchants to advertise sales, but as a solemn commemoration of the dead of both sides in the American Civil War.
In that context Memorial Day commemorates a number of constitutional conservative values, not the least of which is the inviolability of the Constitution itself.
What the Civil War decided, and Memorial Day commemorates, is that the Constitution is the unbreakable bond holding the United States together. The Constitution, rather than ties of race or language, is what unites the United States – and Americans are prepared at the enormous shedding of blood to defend that Constitution against assaults from without and within.
When the oath officers of our military and civil government take when they are commissioned states they will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against “all enemies, foreign and domestic” it means up to and including fighting a war that cost as many as 750,000 lives.
So, preserving the Constitution is perhaps the most important conservative value Memorial Day commemorates.
Conversely, Memorial Day also commemorates the terrible cost of war and preserves for the education of future generations the lesson learned by our ancestors that war can only be the ultimate resort of the state when all other means of preserving itself have failed.
In his May 30, 1868 Memorial Day address at Arlington National Cemetery Congressman, later President, James Garfield said “I am oppressed with a sense of the impropriety of uttering words on this occasion. If silence is ever golden, it must be here, beside the graves of fifteen thousand men, whose lives were more significant than speech, and whose death was a poem the music of which can never be sung.”
Garfield, one of our most underestimated Presidents, knew what he was talking about because he knew war; he served as a major general in the Union Army during the Civil War, and fought in the battles of Middle Creek, Shiloh, and Chickamauga.
Memorial Day, as originally conceived as “Decoration Day” in Garfield’s time was much less a day of jingoistic patriotism and much more a day of remembering the terrible cost of war. It is worth noting that back when the original purpose of Memorial Day was fresh in the minds of Americans, it seems that politicians and elected officials were not nearly so quick to advocate the use of military force.
And avoiding the cost of war – in lives and treasure – is a conservative value too often obfuscated by alleged “conservatives” such as Rep. Liz Cheney and other members of the DC War Party.
And Memorial Day is also a good day for Republicans to reclaim their heritage as the revolutionary party that preserved the Union and, in the process, freed the slaves and fulfilled the promise of the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal and that they are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
The Far Left and Democrats should also not be allowed to hide from the fact that it was the Democratic Party that defended slavery and sought to extend it westward in the years leading to the Civil War. And it was Democrats who brought forward the resolutions of succession in the state legislatures of the slave states – no Republican voted to preserve slavery or sunder the Union – it was all the doing of Democrats.
And there is another value commemorated by Memorial Day that Democrats and the Far Left are trying to denigrate – the post-Civil War healing of the country.
Memorial Day does not distinguish between the Union and Confederate dead in toting up the cost of war. Unlike Independence Day or Veterans Day it does not rest upon the date of any battle or act of the government – and the date was specifically chosen to avoid such associations.
Finally, there is one other value that we should commemorate on Memorial Day – the acts the former combatants undertook to assist in the healing of the Nation.
When Lee surrendered at Appomattox he also signed a parole document swearing upon his honor not to bear arms against the United States or to “tender aid to its enemies.” Lee’s surrender and his immediate parole were essential in preventing the Civil War from continuing as a destructive guerilla war that would have continued to rend the country indefinitely.
General Grant’s terms provided that all officers and men were to be pardoned, and they would be sent home with their private property – most important, the horses, which could be used for a late spring planting. Officers would keep their sidearms, and Lee’s starving men would be given Union rations.
General Grant told his officers, “The war is over. The Rebels are our countrymen again.” Although scattered resistance continued for several weeks, for all practical purposes the Civil War had come to an end.*
This good will toward the defeated Confederates was crucial to the healing of our country – and it was reciprocated by such notable Confederate figures as Generals Robert E. Lee and James Longstreet.
When Congress ordered the drafting of new constitutions in the former Confederate states and disgruntled southerners contemplated a boycott of the system, Lee announced that it was “the duty of the [southern] people to accept the situation fully” and that every man should not only “prepare himself to vote” but also “prepare his friends, white and colored, to vote and to vote rightly.”**
Lee’s code of personal conduct demanded submission to federal authority. With characteristic self-discipline, he put the past behind him and moved forward. Longstreet returned to serve his reunited country as a soldier, diplomat, and civil servant. Many southerners proved willing to follow the examples of Lee and Longstreet and through them the United States was not only reunited, but rebuilt into the preeminent military and economic power it is today.
When Democrats and their allies in the Far Left media attempt to divide Americans along the lines of race, ethnicity and economics we conservatives and Republicans should take ownership of Memorial Day as the day that commemorates how we defeated them in 1865 and our inspiration to defeat them again in 2021.
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George Rasley, Editor of ConservativeHQ.com served on the Indiana – Tennessee Civil War Commission. His ancestor Rep. Joseph H. DeFreese sponsored the post-Civil War legislation to readmit Tennessee to the Union and many in his family fought with distinction on the Union side in the Civil War.