We call our country the United States, and we hold on to the belief that we are "united." Of course, we never have been, really. The United States was established when a certain segment of the American colonists - with some real grievances and many more imagined ones - worked themselves up to the point that they committed all the colonies south of Canada to an insurrection against Great Britain. WE (the colonists) eventually won independence from Britain, but only after some of US were tarred and feathered; beat up; shot and killed; jailed; burned out; dispossessed of our land, valuables and family mementos; and forced to flee from OUR country. The "history" that most of us were taught made this war against Britain seem like an effort in which colonial hearts and minds were united. We heard about those Loyalists/Tories/traitors who opposed the war, but were left with the impression that they were just a small group of the Rich and Powerful, who didn't want to alienate the King and risk losing their wealth and influence. In truth, those opposing the insurrection were rich, poor, and in-between, and young, old, and middle-aged. And there weren't just a few: those who openly declared themselves against the war may have included a quarter of the population of the colonies; the ranks of those more passively opposed were much greater. 

"Complicating the war effort were the internal divisions within the colonies. Fought for independence, the Revolutionary War was also a civil war, pitting family members and neighbors against one another. The Loyalists, between 15 and 30 percent of the population, questioned whether British policies justified the rebellion... Since probably half the original population was apathetic at the beginning of the struggle, the patriots, like the Loyalists, constituted a minority of the population. The patriots, however, managed to win over many of the uncommitted, either by persuasion or by force." [Spielvogel, J. J. 2008. Western civilization: since 1500. Belmont, CA: Thompson Wadsworth. Page 572.]

 In our first big test, "The Majority" may have won, but only with the help of coercion and indifference. We did get rid of some of the original Loyalist fat-cats. Guess who we replaced them with: the Patriot Rich and Famous.


 Our next big test of unity came with the development of the Constitution and its ultimate ratification by the states.  Loud rhetoric about equality and equal rights quickly developed a noticeable hollowness as southern states threatened to quit the proceedings if restrictions on slavery or the slave trade were proposed. Suggested compromises that included limiting new trade in slaves but not abolishing slavery, and a moratorium on discussing slavery until 1808, were in vogue for awhile, but eventually even those possibilities were rejected. Some of those most strongly in favor of eventual abolition worried about what to do with slaves if they were freed. Thomas Jefferson did not feel that the two races could live together because of "deep rooted prejudices entertained by the whites--ten thousand recollections by the blacks of the injuries they have sustained--new provocations--the real distinctions that nature has made, and many other circumstances which divide us into parties, and produce convulsions which would never end but with the extermination of one or the other race." [Quoted by J. J. Ellis. 2000. Founding brothers, the Revolutionary generation. New York: Vintage Books. Page 101] The upshot of all this was that the delegates decided that the Federal government could do absolutely nothing about slavery. 

Compromise in government matters is inevitable - even desirable when trying to fairly address a variety of wants and needs within the population - but this failure to confront what appeared to many to be one of the basic issues for which we'd gone to war was not compromise, but giving in to blackmail. The outcome was inevitable at that time: having committed treason and separated ourselves from the Empire that was both master and protector, neither North nor South was strong enough to stand alone as a secure nation. Not having a clear idea ahead of time what our new nation would be like, necessity forced the loose joining of two factions whose values were too different to ever be "united."


 The Civil War came and went. The slaves were "freed" at the cost of 600,000 lives. Some semblance of integration was achieved --but it was 100 years later -- and the resentment against  the Federal Government by the "losers" of the War was greater than it had been before. I lived in Atlanta in the late 1960s and traveled extensively through the South. Our Governor at the time had become renowned just a few years earlier for passing out axe handles to his white constituents for "protection" against civil rights activists.  A well-educated friend told me that it was all right that "colored people" crossed the street when whites approached, because both races agreed it was "more comfortable" that way. I quit going down to coffee at work because of the pointed discussions by my coworkers of the failings of African Americans - conversations that went on freely while those same African Americans were serving them coffee. Although I had been a churchgoer in the West, I couldn't bring myself to attend "christian" churches in Atlanta, most of which were pointedly segregated. "History" was well recognized in monuments and museums, but apparently there was little "history" in the South before 1860 or after 1870. What I'm getting at is that my experiences were almost five years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the "Bloody Sunday" marches at Selma, Alabama in March 1965. The South may be part of the United States geographically and (at least, superficially) constitutionally, but philosophically and culturally it is a different country from the Pacific States where I had been raised.


 Racism affecting African-Americans has been the most obvious factor that has separated the United States into two strongly different cultural areas, but it is clearly not the only separation. The list of major issues on which there are major disagreements continues to grow - or perhaps, and maybe more likely, we  have entered a period in which people are more openly saying what they have really believed right along. The differences are usually manifested in specific issues - taxation, abortion, gay rights, stem-cell research, gun control, government regulations, immigration. These, however, are merely current and recurring focus points of an all-encompassing debate (that has never really openly occurred in our country) on the role of government and the role of religion. The debate is not political, and can't be resolved by some political compromise (even assuming that our representatives in government would be willing to compromise on anything). It involves major disagreements on intangible, personal subjects like "morality" and "ethics." Comparing the situation our country is in with marriage, I think it is fair to say the next obvious step would be divorce, on the grounds of "irreconcilable differences." No marriage counseling will help, and the longer we continue to live together the more we will hate each other.


 Dividing the United States into two autonomous countries would obviously not be easy. Many people would consider even talking about it to be treasonous. Many would be too frightened of what the change might bring. Many are just so proud to be Americans that they couldn't conceive of a world without the "United States." Beyond these "gut reactions" would be the calculations (practical and mercenary) of what might be gained and what might be lost - energy sources, transportation networks, natural resources, cultural assets, etc. But a number of states have in recent years floated the idea of "secession" - surely there are practical people on both sides who would see advantages to beginning a national debate on the subject.

 The United States are not "united." There is no hope of reconciling the two principal "points of view" existing in the country. Half of the population will never be reconciled to living in a "christian theocracy;" the other half will never stop trying to force their "moral values" on the whole. Those who want government regulation of commerce, protection of personal health and safety, and guaranteed equal rights in society will always be at odds with those who don't. The situation can't get better; it can only get worse. I think it's time we quit denying the real problem in our country, and seek a real solution.




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