With the recent passing of the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, on July 4th, another event in our history needs to be considered. It is sometimes called the second birth of our nation. Civil War buffs know that I am referring to the signing of the peace treaty at Appomattox, Virginia that brought the bloody American Civil War to an end. We should never tire of learning more about our history. This singular event must be appreciated for the great event that it was. In so many other wars, the conquering general turns the conquered into pseudo-slaves. But the rather “easy” terms of surrender that Abraham Lincoln wanted General Ulysses S. Grant to extend to General Lee, the Southern Confederate leader, and his men, set a very high standard for this country which I am afraid is not very well appreciated. All the Southern soldiers were simply let go to make their way back to their homes. Officers were allowed to keep their side arms, and most were allowed to keep their own horses.
General Lee was not merely signing a peace treaty; he was signing a new national birth certificate…for truly a new nation was being born. This is important for us today, because it shows that this country has gone through “growing pains”. Our nation, like us as individuals, has a personality, and that personality is developed over time. At the heart of this personality change is the lesson of slavery. The understanding of the human person is always at the heart of societal change. The Civil War taught this nation that the black man was indeed a human person and deserves the full protection of law. Today, the issue of “who is a person” has taken on a different incarnation.
Today, the unborn child remains the non-person person. This challenge is at the heart of a modern “civil war”. This is at the heart of the present call by our Pope and the US Catholic bishops to stand up for Religious freedom. As important as this issue is, I wish to call your attention to another aspect of the slavery lesson that is a cause of concern. It is what we might call the “moral relativism” argument. It goes something like this. Since America approved of slavery for so long and now we see that slavery is wrong, that proves that morality changes. So, if morality changes, how can we trust moral leaders, like the leaders of the Church, to be right about the unborn, or the nature of marriage, or the nature gender related issues?
The beauty of the peace treaty at Appomattox is that our nation embraced a new truth that was a truth from the beginning of time. It was an old truth that made a new nation. And our nation, like each of us as individuals is in need of constant conversion. During this month, in which we remember the first birth of American freedom, each of us must do what we can to defend the spirit of freedom as we combine this spirit with the defense of the dignity of each human person, especially the unborn. Greatness, like the greatness of this wonderful country, needs constant efforts to maintain its greatness. It will degenerate further if we fail to learn, once again, the true nature of a person.