If you are following current events these days, you might be thinking that our country is more divided than ever. I know it seems that way, especially in the midst of the impeachment proceedings of late.
The election season makes it even worse. Candidates for the Democratic Party numbered more than 20 at the onset of campaigning and the ones remaining in the race are jockeying to set themselves apart from their opponents. But even more so, they are trying to set themselves apart from a president they hope to unseat.
But conflict on the national stage is nothing new. Our country has faced major divisions from the very beginning of our history. Here are just a few examples.
There was by no means a consensus among the people of the Colonies in 1776 to break from Britain. Some were adamant that revolution was not the answer. Others were equally adamant that it was. This was an important decision. After all, their lives were at stake. John Adams believed that about one-third of colonists remained loyal to Great Britain even after the Declaration of Independence.
Slavery was a controversial question from our nation’s inception. John Adams, our nation’s second president, was a vocal opponent to slavery. This argument continued for almost 100 years until it was at least partially resolved by the Civil War.
The decision to double the size of the United States through the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 was not a simple one. Thomas Jefferson had to persuade his own cabinet it was a good idea. And even at the bargain price, the United States didn’t have the money for it. Many citizens opposed it on that fact alone.
Starting with an opening shot on Fort Sumter in 1861, northern states went to war with their southern brothers. These were among our darkest days and the war was one in which more Americans died than in any other. Primarily at question was the sovereignty of independent states of the Union.
Despite the words “all men are created equal” in the Declaration of Independence, non-whites and women could not vote for many decades. Women finally won the right to vote in 1919. Unfortunately, it was several decades later before non-whites were assured of that privilege. Note that Alexander Hamilton, a founding father and the first Secretary of the Treasury, only wanted landowners to have the right to vote.
In 1929, following the crash of the stock market, the country was plunged into the Great Depression that lasted well into the 1930s.
The country was seriously divided for a time on whether or not to enter World War II, but with the bombing of Pearl Harbor, sentiments changed and the U.S. entered that global conflict in 1942.
For nearly a decade, the U.S. Government hunted for citizens who might be Communists in the midst of what became known as the Red Scare. Led by Joseph McCarthy, the essential right to believe what you want, say what you want, and support any political system you want was compromised by our leadership.
The Equal Rights Amendment failed to be ratified after being passed by Congress in 1971. But there actually was an earlier version of the ERA in 1923. It took nearly 50 years to bring the vote to the states. Interestingly, the ERA failed in the 1970s because of a significant female sentiment against it.
The Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, U.S. involvement in Vietnam, and the assassinations of Robert Kennedy, John Kennedy, Malcom X, and Martin Luther King brought our country closer to self-destruction than any other time in history with the exception of 1861.
In 2001, following the tragedy of 9/11, the United States entered into war in Afghanistan as part of the “War on Terror.” This remains one of the most controversial political issues of our day and the war continues, making it the longest war in American history.
Three presidents besides Donald Trump faced impeachment. Bill Clinton (1998) and Andrew Johnson (1868) were actually impeached, but neither were convicted by the Senate. Richard Nixon was on the road to impeachment and almost certainly would have been impeached if he hadn’t resigned to avoid it in 1972.
So there you go. Our history is full of division and very dark days. These examples are all I can fit into this column.
I’m not suggesting division is good just because it is our history. I don’t like it any more than you do. But it tells me we are strong. Like a bickering family at a summer reunion, we are still family. We can get along with some people better than others, but the important thing is we can get along. We’ll survive.
[Gregory K. Moffatt, Ph.D., is a college professor, published author, licensed counselor, certified professional counselor supervisor, editorial columnist and public speaker. His website is gregmoffatt.com.]