“Well, then, here we sit, an old, grey, withered, sour-visaged, threadbare sort of gentleman, erect enough, here in our solitude, but marked out by a depressed and distrustful mien abroad, as one conscious of a stigma upon his forehead, though for no crime. We were already in the decline of life when the first tremors of the earthquake that has convulsed the continent were felt. Our mind had grown too rigid to change any of its opinions, when the voice of the people demanded that all should be changed. We are an Episcopalian, and sat under the High-Church doctrines of Dr. Caner; we have been a captain of the provincial forces, and love our king the better for the blood that we shed in his cause on the Plains of Abraham. Among all the refugees, there is not one more loyal to the backbone than we. Still we lingered behind when the British army evacuated Boston, sweeping in its train most of those with whom we held communion; the old, loyal gentlemen, the aristocracy of the colonies, the hereditary Englishman, imbued with more than native zeal and admiration for the glorious island and its monarch, because the far-intervening ocean threw a dim reverence around them. When our brethren departed, we could not tear our aged roots out of the soil. We have remained, therefore, enduring to be outwardly a free-man, but idolising King George in secrecy and silence, — one true old heart amongst a host of enemies. We watch, with a weary hope, for the moment when all this turmoil shall subside, and the impious novelty that has distracted our latter years, like a wild dream, give place to the blessed quietude of royal sway, with the king’s name in every ordinance, his prayer in the church, his health at the board, and his love in the people’s heart. Meantime, our old age finds little honour. Hustled have we been, till driven from town-meetings; dirty water has been cast upon our ruffles by a Whig chambermaid; John Hancock’s coachman seizes every opportunity to bespatter us with mud; daily are we hooted by the unbreeched rebel brats; and narrowly, once, did our grey hairs escape the ignominy of tar and feathers. Alas! only that we cannot bear to die till the next royal governor comes over, we would fain be in our quiet grave.”
—Nathaniel Hawthorne, “The Old Tory”
I love all fifty United States of America — I have been in each of them. If, in our first two civil wars I sympathise more with the losers than the victors, I do not love one whit less this country and her flag. Ideology aside, she is the land of my birth, the land to which my ancestors came from other countries, and in which they and their descendants did very well. She is the land that God decided I should be born in, and whose conversion to the One True Faith, I as a patriotic Catholic American must aspire. I swore to defend her constitution against “all enemies, foreign and domestic” — albeit my short and pleasant service in the ROTC and National Guard was in the quiet 1980s. I love her history, literature, and culture — and have studied them far more carefully than many who believe the Constitution to have been Holy Writ, and the Founding Fathers Apostles. Indeed, for me, her founding fathers are really the relevant Kings and Queens of Spain, France, and England on the one hand, and Irving, Hawthorne, Poe, Longfellow, and Stephen Foster on the other. If you ask me about George Washington, I’ll tell you that for the French Canadian, he is the man whose criminal actions began the Seven Years War, which resulted in the Conquest — the great historical trauma of my ethnicity. For the Loyalist, the Britisher, and the Anglo-Canadian, he is the traitor and rebel who perjured himself — breaking his oath to a King who had shown him nothing but kindness. To an American, he is father of our country, victorious leader of our revolution, and our first president. Which of these are true? All of them. Washington was an enthusiastic Freemason — and quite probably converted on his deathbed. If he didn’t, he certainly showed the Faith sympathy. This is the kind of historical complexity which the discerning Catholic American must accept as part of his inheritance.
But there is so much more. I don’t celebrate the Fourth of July out of reverence for the Declaration of Independence; I love the fireworks because in a real sense they have come to mean a celebration of the nation as a whole in all its messy reality. Within its boundaries can be found all the world’s peoples — and our own American Indians and Blacks, both of which groups really have no roots elsewhere, save the most tenuous, and whose contributions have helped create our unique identity. A trip to Washington, D.C. is always a joy for me. Regardless of their denizens past, present, or future, the White House, Capitol, and National Mall are fascinating historically, as are the Monuments and Memorials to Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln, regardless of my mixed feelings toward those gentlemen. The Smithsonian Institution, National Archives, and Library of Congress are our national memory, while the National Cathedral is truly a testimony to that American civil religion which must needs be converted. The National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is — for all of its…well…mixed architectural success, still an amazing testament to the devotion of our country’s Catholics to our beloved patroness.
Outside the nation’s capital, what a world of wonders awaits the traveller! The National and State Parks, National and State Forests, National and State Wildlife Refuges, Federal and other Public Lands, Scenic highways, Land Trusts, Historic Public Buildings, Museums, Public Gardens, Presidential Homes and Libraries, and Historic Sites in general are a priceless legacy from the past open to us all. So too are the Historical and Preservation societies, Hereditary Organisations, Garden Clubs, Civic Organisations, Fraternal Societies, Learned Societies, and Conservation Organizations who attempt to maintain it all. Moreover, there are the compelling history and traditions of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard charged with America’s defence — regardless of the poor and often unjust manner in which they have too frequently been used. It is always a sobering experience to visit Arlington National Cemetery, or any of the military cemeteries within our country or overseas.
For myself, as a son, grandson, and brother of veterans of this country’s conflicts, as an Eagle Scout, a Fourth Degree Knight of Columbus, and a Third Degree Knight of Peter Claver, as well as a believing Catholic, patriotism is to me a religious as well as a civic duty. I was a longtime member of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and a devoted subscriber to American Heritage Magazine. In recent years I have had to drop the latter two over their wokery, which unfortunately brings us to the real subject of this article.
Two of the sadder episodes of our country’s history have been her two civil wars — key as they have been to the development of her national character. The first of these is generally called the American Revolution. This pitted those loyal to the King and country to which they had always been devoted against the partisans of a self-made regime, controlled by those who had already had the largest part of power and wealth in the thirteen colonies. It was attendant with all the nastiness and horror of any civil war. As with any such conflict it divided families, communities, churches, and every other institution. When it was over, 100, 000 Loyalists had to leave their homeland for Canada, the Bahamas, Sierra Leone, and Great Britain. Those who remained behind — such as the parents and future in-laws of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton — had to adjust themselves to the new regime as best they could. The result was the new republic.
Those United States of what would be called in other countries our “first republic” began with several divisions which would in time break int another civil war. The slavery issue, of course, was one such; one cannot help noting that it was peacefully ended in the British, French, Danish, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, and Brazilian Monarchies — which might lead one to wonder if the political divisions inherent in a republican government made such a conflict inevitable. But there were others — States Rights over Federal Sovereignty, and the like. Some have seen the looming conflict in more purely regional terms: Puritan North versus Cavalier South; Anglo-Saxon North versus Celtic South; Industrial-Banking North versus Agricultural South; and more besides. Doubtless there is some truth in all of these. But in addition to the War between the States of our second civil war, there was also a War within the States. For in each of the so-called Union States, there were areas that were “Copperhead” — that is, for whatever reason, opposed to using force to compel the South to remain within the Union. So too, within each Confederate State, there were “Unionist” areas and individuals opposed to secession. It is noteworthy that in the thirteen oldest states, Copperhead and Unionist areas tended to have been Loyalist during the first civil war — once again distrusting the elites who would lead them to spend blood and treasure in a an internal war. Nevertheless, unlike the first civil war — and despite the horrible bloodiness of the second conflict — national reconciliation was relatively quick afterwards. Few Confederates went into exile — save a few to Brazil. In our “second” republic, Southerners were allowed to revere their “Lost Cause,” even as Northerners could honour those who died for the “Glorious Union.” Unhappily, however Reconstruction led directly to Jim Crow, and that evil duo have poisoned racial relations in America ever since.
At any rate, for the past five years, I have lived outside the United States. But before I left, the rumblings of national division were getting ever louder. In the wake of 9/11, everyone seemed to be waving the flag, and singing “God Bless the USA” — the country seemed more united than it had been at any time since the first draught card got burned in the 1960s. This unity began to fray during the Forever War; but cracks really began to open up when Obama began waving the rainbow flag. If one wanted to draw a map of the two Americas that seemed to be emerging, one could well start with a precinct map of the 2016 presidential election. There were outposts of the Woke in Oklahoma, and Trump citadels even in Massachusetts. During Trump’s presidency, the unrelenting attacks on him by the media dove to the depths of the absurd — and his supporters were accordingly radicalised.
I moved over here to the old Habsburg lands in 2018, and I had already come to realise something: critical race theory, trans activism — all that has since been seen as wokery — was the flip side of American exceptionalism, even as Unitarianism had been the flip side of Puritanism, early in the country’s history. Instead of being “the Shining City on the Hill,” the “Last Best Hope of Mankind,” for the woke the United States are the worst country that ever was — born in genocide and built on slavery.
In January of 2020, Trump gave his Mount Rushmore speech, which his opponents reviled and his opponents praised to the skies. The speech was in a sense boilerplate, though no doubt sincere — something any politician of either party could have uttered in my childhood; but what struck me about it was that it was a dividing line. I have not believed in the American civil religion since my youth; but I know that it was the glue that kept the nation together — and its woke replacement is infinitely worse. The difference in response on the part of the post-Trump rulership, whoever they may be (it certainly is neither the senile Joe Biden, nor the content-free Kamala Harris) to the “mostly peaceful” burning, looting, and killing of the Summer of 2020 and the much ballyhooed “insurrection” of January 6 is indicative of two utterly separate views of reality between the rulers and a significant chunk of the ruled.
Without speculating on whether or not the forthcoming 2024 elections will be “stolen” (or whether the two preceding it were, as one side or the other maintain), I have tremendous fear for the future. Indicting Trump at this stage of the game can only push the two Americas further to the brink. If Trump is nominated, I do not think he can win; but if he is not nominated and chooses to run a third-party campaign, the Republicans cannot win. Either way, it means four more years in the White House for Biden. Given the increasingly high-handed methods the rulership are using in dealing with their opposition, I very much fear a Third Civil War.
Some on either side may say — “wonderful! We can at last purify the country!” Well, that sounds nice, but to those of us who have seen what modern fighting can do to a country, it is not an inviting prospect. Moreover, as a glance at the 2016 map may show, the conflict would be more like the first civil war, with rebel and government areas cheek-by-jowl. Many would be forced to make choices they will not like. It is not a wonder that neither Jefferson Davis nor Robert E. Lee favoured secession before the war began, for all they felt honour-bound to follow their native states. If the United States go down that road, the horror will be incalculable. What then, to do?
One of the differences between this possible civil war and the two we have endured already is that in those conflicts both sides shared a common set of morals, which made it possible to find points of contact. Here there is little such common ground. For one side, the other pushes perversion, suicide, infanticide, and hatred of just about everything decent; their — and yes, I may say our — opponents believe their enemies to be haters of freedom and progress. The temptation to resort to the ad hominem is enormous — but it would be wrong in any case. If you fall into arguments over the questions at issue, try to be civil; we must always defend the truth, but not our own ego. Let us try not to de-humanise the enemy. Ultimately, however, the vast majority of us will have very little control over the decision that will make or stop this conflict. The best thing we can do is to pray to Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception that unity in truth prevails as peacefully as possible, and to Bl. Emperor Karl that our land be spared the kind of division we imposed upon his in 1918. After all, we did give asylum to his wife and children when the Nazis sought their deaths in World War II!
Otherwise, if we are still around in twenty years, but on the wrong side of whatever line may be drawn, we may well find ourselves like Hawthorne’s Old Tory with whom we opened the article. But it will not be the King for whom we yearn, but the flag and the country in which we were born!