EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Opinion

July 4, 2013

Column: Freecdom and independence, constantly tested

In the shadow of the Fourth of July and the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, the winds of freedom are blowing in my head.

Not to spoil the joy of fireworks and hot dogs, but my thoughts today are about the nature of freedom, that most stirring of ideas — but perhaps the most abused.

Celebrated presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin got me thinking. She was the main speaker at a National Park Service ceremony in Gettysburg Sunday celebrating the great anniversary of the battle.

As reported by my colleague Ann Rodgers, who is usually our religion writer and thus the perfect person to praise the Lord and report on passing the ammunition, Goodwin linked the outcome of the battle to the civil rights movement a century later, to the women’s rights movement and to the recent Supreme Court decision on gay marriage.

At first blush, it seems quite a leap from one to the other to the other. It is not as if the federal troops who won the battle may have been thinking about much beyond preserving the union. No record exists of one of their officers leaping onto a parapet, waving his sword and shouting: “One more volley, boys, for Adam and Steve.”

But Goodwin has put her finger on a profound point: Each generation has to fight for its own new birth of freedom, and that can have unexpected outcomes.

It does seem to me that all the shots fired at Gettysburg, whether they landed in fields or flesh, also fell into the pools of history, sending ripples out ahead, just as the shots fired at Lexington and Concord and in the later battles of the American Revolution made ripples that converged to wash up in 1863 at that little market town in Pennsylvania.

The Southerners who fought bravely at Gettysburg were also intoxicated by the heady promise of freedom — in their case, the idea that their states should be free of the federal government, the better to keep enslaving part of their populations on the basis of skin pigmentation. But that idea was always destined to be a loser, even if Maj. Gen. George Pickett and his men had never made their doomed charge.

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