Divided by Design

GSB_withdogWINCHESTER, Va. Strolling along the well-preserved downtown promenade of this Shenandoah Valley city, a visitor (or even an ill-informed local) might be surprised to learn that it was at the bloody center of America’s Civil War a century ago.

Both armies so valued Winchester as a military firewall and as an agricultural breadbasket that it changed hands more than 70 times. On just one day, battles and skirmishes saw it switch 13 times between Union and Confederate control.

From the beginning, our country’s history has been one of divisional strife, particularly in our politics. The only thing that seems to change is what the argument is about.

Washington’s media class spends much of its energy inciting political divisions or writing about them, dedicating great gobs of print, airtime and social media to chopping up Americans by race, political party, culture or religion.

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For the media, it sells. But for Americans beyond Washington’s Beltway, it leaves them fatigued and wondering if this is the worst time ever.

If any ghosts of the soldiers who fought on Winchester’s Loudon Street could talk, they would tell you this certainly isn’t the worst of times.

Ask historians which political era was our most bitterly divisive, and you might be surprised by how many would pick the election of 1800, according to Curt Nichols, an American history professor at Baylor University in Texas.

That election pitted Federalists against Jeffersonians, North against South, metropolitan and financial interests against agrarians, supporters of Britain against those of France, advocates of a more powerful federal government against states’-righters — making today’s squabbles seem pedestrian.

“In the end, Vice President Thomas Jefferson narrowly beat the sitting president, John Adams, in the Electoral College, 73 votes to 65, with Pennsylvania splitting its electoral vote 8-7 in favor of Jefferson,” said Nichols.



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