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Original sin

If you want to get back to your roots as an American, there's not much that can beat a trip to Washington, D.C.  My wife and I did that for a couple days last week.

We saw some new stuff.  The Martin Luther King Memorial was just okay; both of us thought they could have done more with it.  And we saw some old stuff.  There's only one name on the Vietnam War Memorial that I know:  Joey Meyer.  I went to high school with him.  He was a year behind me, and dropped out before he graduated and joined the Marines.  He died on the 4th of July, 1969.  I've looked, but I've never been able to find his name.

The Lincoln Memorial is probably my favorite.  The statue is wonderful, and there's the inscription of the Gettysburg Address on one wall, and his Second Inaugural on the other.  The latter is always remembered for the "with malice toward none, with charity for all" line, but the part I'm always drawn to comes a paragraph before that.  The war was to end a month later, and its outcome wasn't in doubt, but still Lincoln recognized the roots of the conflict, where he posed the possibility that God might will the war to continue "until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword."

The American History Museum had a special exhibit on Thomas Jefferson and the slaves at Monticello.  Jefferson as a slaveowner was hardly a novelty; twelve of our presidents owned slaves, and eight of them owned them while serving as president.  Of course, none of the other ones wrote stuff about all men being created equal, either, and in Jefferson's prolific writings we can see him wrestling with the slavery issue.  And ultimately losing.  He died owing about a hundred thousand dollars (about a million to us) , and under the impression that a public lottery would be held to pay off those debts and allow the family to keep Monticello.  Didn't happen.  About three years later virtually all of the property was auctioned off.  The exhibit had a clipping of the announcement of the sale:  the lead item was the "130 valuable negroes" who could be purchased, the ad noting that "the negroes are believed to be the most valuable for their number ever offered at one time in the State of Virginia."

We stopped at the Antietam Battlefield, about an hour's drive out of Washington, on the way home.  I'm a Civil War buff.  I grew up about 30 miles north of Gettysburg, and have been to the battlefield there God knows how many times.  For my social studies project in high school, I did a 3-dimensional map of the battlefield, with plastic overlays showing the positions of each brigade of each army over the three days of the battle.  That was accompanied by a 37-page typewritten paper on the subject.

I didn't date much in high school.

I like Antietam better, though.  Gettysburg was a fascinating battle, but it's weird to be standing on Cemetery Ridge, at the precise spot where Pickett's Charge was finally repulsed, and look to your right and see a McDonald's.  Antietam isn't like that.  It probably gets 5% of the visitors that Gettysburg does, if that; in the two hours we spent touring the battlefield, we never saw more than a half dozen people in any one place.  So there's no commercialization; it's just about exactly the way it was when the two armies fought there on a single September day 150 years ago.  Over twenty-three thousand of them fell dead or wounded -- more than the casualties America suffered in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and the Mexican War, combined.  That was a small part of the butcher bill for being able to sell those "130 valuable negroes."

See you tomorrow, when we'll go back to talking about law.

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