Give me liberty or give me death! Death and the Civil War 2

by Andrea Elizabeth

To get context for the Civil War, as slavery was in America almost from the beginning of the colonies, I then watched a reenactment of Patrick Henry giving his famous speech. In addition to comparing the British to slave masters, Henry explained their actions of disarming the colonists while arming themselves for war.

“Suddenly Henry stepped out into the aisle, bowed his head and held out his arms, pretending they were chained. This is what he said: Hear It Now - Patrick Henry “Our chains are forged—their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston. The war is actually begun. The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms.” Then Patrick Henry threw off the imaginary chains, stood up straight and cried out clearly, Hear It Now - Patrick Henry “Our brethren are already in the field. Why stand we here idle?… I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!” (description from here)

My first thought is, how hypocritical! How can slave owners say it’s wrong to be enslaved!? That it’s better to die than be enslaved? And then use that as a means to motivate people to kill instead? But the black lady’s commentary at the end said that this speech had ramifications Henry never expected. Instead of unequalized people thinking he was a hypocrit, black people, Indians, and women felt empowered themselves to revolt against bad treatment.

But what I think Henry did was define what it meant in our country to die well. Dying well is discussed at length in the American Experience documentary, “Death and the Civil War”, that I recommended in my last post. When the deaths started mounting up, soldiers began thinking more about what it meant to die badly. It was bad to die alone in an open field and to be left there, which is what they saw happening.

Our country was founded on the notion that freedom is worth dying for. It’s not like the founding fathers didn’t realize that there was a discrepancy with their all men are created equal words, and their treatment of people of African and Native American descent.

“Although Washington personally opposed the institution of slavery after the American Revolutionary War, he had no tolerance for slave revolts and in 1791 as President he authorized emergency financial and military relief to French slave owners in Haiti to suppress a slave rebellion.[1] In 1789 Congress passed and President Washington signed a law that reaffirmed the previous ban on slavery in the Northwest Territory; it did not free slaves already in the territory. The 1790 Naturalization Act provided a means to incorporate foreigners as United States citizens, but was available only to “free white persons” of “good moral character.” Washington signed the 1793 Fugitive Slave Law, the first to provide for the right of slaveholders to recapture slaves even in free states that had abolished slavery.” (from Wikipedia)

Apparently people get so caught up in business and in their own success that they lose sight of those they are responsible for. This tunnel vision makes one blind to reality. It demonstrates a lack of empathy with anyone other than people like you, aka cronyism. Women are said to be more empathetic than men. This is why it was mostly women, most notably Clara Barton, as well as a bereaved father, that organized care of the wounded, and then the retrieval of bodies during and after the Civil War.

One can get down on men for the slave trade, the near extermination of the American Indians, war in general, and the Industrial Revolution, which I suppose filled in the gap left by departed slaves, (and football concussions). All of this can also be laid at the feet of greedy women, but they didn’t credit or allow the women in their exclusive clubs or meetings, so…. I suppose it’s all part of the curse. When Adam was sent out to till the ground, he had to take it from something if not someone. Did it really have to be this way?