Essay Contest 2011 First Place, Senior Entry
Tyler Koteskey, 12th Grade
Teacher: Mr. Nicholas Manjoine
School: The Harker School, San Jose, CA
Preserving 150 Years of History: Secession and the War's Beginning
“Before the war, it was said ‘the United States are’…it was…a collection of independent states. And after the war it was always ‘the United States is.’”1 Shelby Foote’s words capture the Civil War’s defining impact on American Society, but because of the threat of commercial development, that legacy is in peril.
From our country’s founding until April 1865, the United States was torn between two irreconcilable philosophies of what our nation was to be. Under a variety of different names, nationalists consistently viewed America as one permanent union, established by “We the People,” under the guidance of a supreme federal government. Their counterparts argued that the United States was a voluntary compact created by the states and dissolvable at any time. By 1861, the conflict over slavery had reduced this long-raging battle of Constitutional paradigms to such raw hatred that it took four long years and half a million lives to decide the matter definitively—to truly unite the states of America for the first time.
Understanding our identity as Americans requires that we preserve the hallowed ground upon which that identity was forged. Recently, the efforts of the Civil War Trust have been successful in preventing the commercial development of parts of the Gettysburg and Wilderness battlefields, the sites of some of the war’s bloodiest engagements.
While we celebrate these hard-won victories, the struggle to save our history continues. Commercial development on battlefields can seem economically prudent in the short-run, especially during these challenging times, but the loss of Civil War battlegrounds deprives the American people of something much more sacred—their long-term cultural legacy. It’s something more enduring and significant than anything a casino or Walmart Super Center could offer. A connection to our beginnings, our story—that’s something worth preserving.
1. Shelby Foote, http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/remember/jan-june05/foote_6-29.html