Today is the 150th anniversary of the end of the Battle of Gettysburg, writes Ilya Somin on Volokh Conspiracy. As Frederick Douglass said in an 1871 speech in honor of the Union war dead, we should not forget “the moral chasm between the two sides.”
We are sometimes asked, in the name of patriotism, to forget the merits of this fearful struggle, and to remember with equal admiration those who struck at the nation’s life and those who struck to save it, those who fought for slavery and those who fought for liberty and justice.
I am no minister of malice. I would not strike the fallen. I would not repel the repentant; but may my “right hand forget her cunning and my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth,” if I forget the difference between the parties to that terrible, protracted, and bloody conflict….
. . . If we met simply to show our sense of bravery, we should find enough on both sides to kindle admiration….
But we are not here to applaud manly courage, save as it has been displayed in a noble cause. We must never forget that victory to the rebellion meant death to the republic…. If today we have a country not boiling in an agony of blood, like France, if now we have a united country, no longer cursed by the hell-black system of human bondage…. , we are indebted to the unselfish devotion of the noble army who rest in these honored graves all around us.
Born into slavery in Maryland, Douglass learned to read and write when it was illegal for a slave to do so. “He made the neighborhood boys his teachers, by giving away his food in exchange for lessons in reading and writing.” He learned oratory from a schoolbook.