On Aug. 19, 1862, my mother’s grandfather was commissioned a major in the Union Army and appointed Surgeon of the 66th Regiment Illinois Volunteers. He participated in the second battle of Corinth in November 1862; the 12 bloody battles of the Atlanta Campaign and Sherman’s March To the Sea in 1864; the Carolinas Campaign and the last action of the Civil War, the Battle of Bentonville, in early 1865. He then accompanied General Sherman to Washington, D.C., marching in the  Grand Review of the Armies on May 24, 1865. He was subsequently discharged from Union Army service on July 7, 1865. Almost 50 percent of the 66th Illinois died in action or were taken by disease. He returned to his home in Edwardsville, Illinois, to practice medicine. He died in 1919. 

The other side of the story. My father’s grandfather’s heart was in a different place. Living in Newport, Kentucky, he was drafted into the Union Army in 1863, but paid a $300 bounty to a black man to serve in his place, as was so often the custom during the last two years of the Civil War. For four years he refused to walk in the front door of his home under the U.S. flag flown there proudly by his wife. His heart was still in Northern Virginia where he was born.

Those were difficult times. These are difficult times. 

Too many of the same issues so prevalent then haunt our country today. Most particularly is our deep divide on issues which we, predominately raised in the long-standing Judeo-Christian tradition with its so simply stated moral code of “Do unto others as you would like them to do unto you,” do not share with significant equanimity.

Despite our so nobly stated declarations in 1776, 1787, and 1789 we, the whole body politic of this nation, have failed each other and ourselves in not applying these hallowed principles to our daily life since 1868 when we adopted the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, fully accepting all who are born or naturalized here as citizens of this nation to be guaranteed equal protection under the law. 

A significant number of us still, after over 150 years, do not accept the equality of our all of our fellow citizens, much less all humankind, nor do we practice even neighborly tolerance of so many of our fellow citizens, especially those who look different from ourselves or who follow the tenants of a religion different from our own. 

Worse yet, many of those in our country’s leadership today and those with significant authority and power to influence and control are not dedicated to uphold and equally enforce the adherence to the principles we espouse as a nation and have codified in the Constitution and its Amendments each of us has accepted and pledged to uphold. 

Once and for all, we need to apply ourselves with significantly increased vigor to include all of us together as equals, and to celebrate our diversity as the strength it has always been. This can wait no longer.

Once again, our future as a nation, and especially a great one, is at stake.

Hilton Smith ’63
Seattle, Wash.