Look around Nebraska, and in some places you'll find weathered signage or historical markers that refer to the "G.A.R."

That's the "Grand Army of the Republic," a national fraternal organization of Union veterans from the Civil War.

Union veterans and their families made up a large portion of Nebraska's population during pioneer days. Many of those soldiers saw unimaginable carnage as they fought to defeat the South's effort to secede.

Nebraska's capital is named after President Abraham Lincoln, who dedicated himself to keeping the nation whole and preserving what our country's founders called our "Perpetual Union." Lincoln stated in his 1861 inaugural address: "I hold that in contemplation of universal law, and of the Constitution, the Union of these States is perpetual."

As for Iowa's experience in the Civil War, historian Robert Dykstra notes that "13,000 Iowans — 19 percent of those who went off to war — never came home or returned only to die. . . . However computed, a larger proportion of Iowans in uniform met death than did the fighting men from most loyal states."

The vision of our founders, as well as the enduring message of the Civil War, is that Americans must strive to promote fellowship as one people despite differences of politics.

That principle may be battered in this era of social media-fueled partisan warring, but it remains as relevant as ever.

Voices for secession now arise regularly on the fringes and even among some elected officials after presidential elections. The election of Barack Obama spurred irresponsible talk of secession in Texas.

Now, with the election of Donald Trump, a movement has arisen in California calling for that state — the world's sixth-largest economy, with 31 million people — to exit the Union. A ballot measure being prepared would jettison the section of the state constitution saying that California is an inseparable part of the United States.

Barriers to secession are high under the U.S. Constitution, since Congress and 38 states would need to approve. But secession should be rejected in any case due to our sense of loyalty and connection to each other as Americans.

James Madison, the central figure in crafting the U.S. Constitution, wrote about that principle in a manuscript he penned late in life and titled "Advice to My Country."

"The advice nearest my heart and deepest in my convictions," Madison wrote, "is that the Union of the states be cherished and perpetuated."

That's what our founders intended for our nation. It's the principle Lincoln was unwavering in defending during the calamity of the Civil War.

It's the reason young men were willing to leave Nebraska Territory and Iowa to perish in the bloodied soil at places such as Shiloh and Gettysburg.

It's why those worn markers noting the "G.A.R." remain relevant in the 21st century.

They remind us why, regardless of election outcomes and political battling, we should hold fast to our sense of nationhood as one people.

This editorial appeared in the April 21 edition of the Omaha World-Herald.


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