Losing The Republic My Ancestors Fought To Preserve
I am a descendent of two Hoosiers who fought in the American Civil War. Two of my great-great grandfathers enlisted in Indiana regiments to preserve the United States.
When an emerging Republican congressional “leader” – U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia – used “Presidents Day” to call for a “national divorce,” my first instinct was to take this offense personally.
“We need a national divorce. We need to separate by red states and blue states and shrink the federal government,” Greene said. “Everyone I talk to says this. From the sick and disgusting woke culture issues shoved down our throats to the Democrat’s traitorous America Last policies, we are done.”
The reaction from Indiana’s Republican dominated congressional delegation was mute.
It would be easy to dismiss Rep. Greene’s ranting as one more crazy thing she has said. A year ago, she called out “Nancy Pelosi’s Gazpacho Police” (I think she had meant Nazi Germany’s “Gestapo” as opposed to a force consisting of cold soup made of blended vegetables). She described the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol insurrection as a “little riot” instead of the attempted coup d’etat that it was. She suggested on Fox News that joining the U.S. military is “like throwing your life away.”
During the last war of secession, one of my great-great grandfathers, Harvey Hopping Platt, was a private in Infantry Company G, 7th Indiana Volunteers. The second was Jacob Wesley Main, who was a private in Company D, 104th Indiana Infantry. Both were born in 1838 and were 23 years old when 11 southern states formed the Confederacy.
Pvt. Platt was wounded in the head, on May 12, 1864, at Battle Laurel Hill, part of the Wilderness campaign near Spotsylvania Courthouse in Virginia. He received his discharge on Jan. 20, 1865, returning home with a steel plate in his head. A farmer near Aurora in Dearborn County, he wore a cork hat when working in the sun, and he died on June 27, 1873, from effects of the wound.
Jacob Main was a Ripley County farmer working the land carved out of a forest. He mustered in on July 10, 1863, one of six brothers who served in Indiana regiments. One of those brothers, Charles, was killed in the Battle of Mark’s Mill in July 1864 in Arkansas, as a member of the 43rd Indiana regiment.
According to the Indiana Historical Bureau, Pvts. Platt and Main were two of the 196,363 Hoosier men served in the Civil War, the second highest among Union states.
Most recruiting was carried out at community meetings and by individuals like Benjamin Harrison and Lew Wallace. Companies generally assembled at county seats or other large towns. Fairgrounds were turned into military camps. The departures of companies were often marked by community celebrations or public meals.
Our family has scant information on why they chose to serve. Some ardently opposed slavery and its expansion to the western frontier. Theodore Upson expressed himself in this way, according to the Historic Bureau: “This Union your ancestors and mine helped to make must be saved from destruction.” Henry C. Marsh wrote: “I miss home the Church and my friends very much but am willing to give them all up for my country in this great struggle for Liber[t]y.”
Or as Ara Fraizer put it, “I, with thousands of others . . . periled our lives for the sole purpose of putting down the rebellion, & to maintain this Government, the best that the world ever knew ….”
Secession has stalked this grand, but fragile, American experiment from the beginning. Founding fathers John Adams and Thomas Jefferson pondered a federal breakup reflecting their intense rivalry. U.S. Rep. John Quincy Adams – the former president – once introduced a petition demanding the dissolution of the United States.
“The trend is old in the sense that American politics is starting to look rather similar to the way it was in the beginning, which was extremely fractured, totally dysfunctional,” said Richard Kreitner, the author of the 2020 book “Break It Up: Secession, Division, and the Secret History of America’s Imperfect Union.”
In an interview with Elaine Godfrey in The Atlantic, Kreitner adds, “That it keeps coming up suggests there is something to it. It represents an impulse that cannot be simply wished away or ignored.”
Peter Wehner, a veteran of the Reagan and both Bush administrations, observes that Rep. Greene is now an influential ally of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. He writes in The Atlantic, “My response to Greene is not ‘I must remain united with this person at any cost,’ but ‘Why would I want to be part of a government where this person is a leading figure? Why would I want to remain loyal to a Constitution so patently broken that somebody like this ascends to the highest ranks of power?’”
“Greene and McCarthy – one crazed, the other cowardly – embody a large swath of the modern-day GOP,” Wehner continues. “Any party that makes room for seditionists and secessionists is sick and dangerous.”
Founding Father Benjamin Franklin was asked if America was a republic or a monarchy. “A republic, if you can keep it,” he famously responded.
When I was a young man, I believed that America was a relatively young empire that would last for centuries. Now, if I came face to face with Pvts. Platt and Main, I would have to admit to them that I no longer believe that to be the case.
The columnist is managing editor of Howey Politics Indiana/State Affairs at StateAffairs.com/pro/Indiana. Find Howey on Facebook and Twitter @hwypol.