What the Battle Of Harbert's Fort Can Tell Us About Principles In the Age of Trump

Image by JIm Hammer via Wiki Commons and via Flickr Creative Commons https://www.flickr.com/photos/hammer51012/


In his dissent in the 1949 case of Terminiello v. City of Chicago, Justice Robert H. Jackson said, “The choice is not between order and liberty. It is between liberty with order and anarchy without either. There is danger that, if the Court does not temper its doctrinaire logic with a little practical wisdom, it will convert the constitutional Bill of Rights into a suicide pact.” Over time, the “Bill of Rights” has become the “Constitution.” but the larger point remains. It makes no sense to allow the principles upon which the Republic was founded to be used to destroy the Republic, itself.

That lesson seems to have fallen by the wayside since November 8, 2016. After that day, and really since May 3, 2016 when Donald Trump won the Indiana Primary and locked up the GOP nomination for president, there has been a contingent inside the GOP that Kurt Schlichter has rightfully lampooned as the “muh principles” conservatives, the people who have such high standards that to admit that Donald Trump has accomplished some laudable things–or is even capable of accomplishing them–would see them cast, forever, into Gehenna, itself.

These principles include the political equivalent of the Donatist heresy which holds that Trump, himself, is so unfit for the presidency that every act he performs as president is likewise unworthy and if you applaud that act they will scream “but Gorsuch” at you, in an ironic way as though Gorsuch didn’t exist, and claim you are unworthy. If you point out that exactly the same acts undertaken by Trump were undertaken by Obama, you are guilty of “whataboutism.” If you stand by your friends, even, or especially, when they are wrong you are a “tribalist.” The days of “you dance with them what brung you” are long gone and the virtues of loyalty and constancy has become a joke. (A brief digression, do you correct your spouse in front of strangers in a loud voice and berate them for betraying principles? If you do, it may explain your f***ed up personal life. I correct my wife and my children gently and in private. I don’t correct them to convince strangers what kind of a self-righteous douchebag highly principled individual I am. If I yell at someone in public its going to be that idiot that let his shopping cart bang into my car.)

And it seems that we are being told that unilateral disarmament is the way we must go. We can no longer call the media out on lies, distortions, and fabrications because then we are succumbing to Trump’s #FakeNews mantra, which, we all know, doesn’t exist and besides that Trump lies anyway so who are we to judge the media on their lies. Jake Tapper is one of the good guys. Rachel Maddow makes some valid points. Rick Wilson and Bill Kristol are our spirit animals. Fox be de debbil. Patriotism is, I think both deliberately and dishonestly, conflated with a kind of nationalism that has no basis in American history and which one suspects is dragged out to try to link patriotism by Trump supporters to Nazism. Google and Facebook and Twitter are all free to ban conservative speech because they are private companies with no thought of just how bizarre that idea is and where it takes us. Maybe, we’re told, it is okay to actually punch people…not antifa, of course…because they say something that someone with high principles doesn’t want to hear–principles that don’t, apparently, extend to the First Amendment. It is déclassé to fight fire with fire because we are better than that and the best way to demonstrate our superiority is by losing elections.

The people who are espousing this stuff are is either willfully dishonest or engaging in self-delusion. Conservative principles only matter, beyond the realm of academic onanism, if you win elections and are able to turn those principles into policy. As Vince Lombardi said, “show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser” and “if winning isn’t important then why do they keep score?” You can’t work for the defeat of Trump and, at the same time, work for the advancement of conservatism. Oddly enough, conservatives tend to have to fight both the establishment and the Democrats and opposing Trump is much more likely to cause disproportionate losses among conservative office holders.

If you’ve followed my writing for any period of time you know that I’m a history buff. One of my favorite eras is the American frontier of the 18th century.

A guy named Alexander Scott Withers wrote a book called the Chronicles of Border Warfare at the turn of the 20th century. It is a collection of stories collected by Withers from the children of people who had borne the fight on America’s frontier. By today’s standards of history, it is a pretty shabby work. There are no homosexuals or transgenders. The heroes tend to be white males of modest means and even more modest education. Women and minorities play bit, supporting roles. There is no doubt about the efficacy of Christianity or a free market economy or individual liberty. And the bad guys are the Indians.

One of my favorite stories takes place at the Harbert blockhouse (this is a photo of it taken in 1939) on Jones Creek near Wheeling, West Virginia on March 3, 1778.

The local families were afraid that an Indian raid was imminent and had gathered at the blockhouse of Thomas Harbert. One day the children were outside playing and ran back to the blockhouse saying that they’d seen Indians heading in their direction. A man named John Murphey opened the door and was promptly shot by an Indian coming around the corner of the house. Three Indians forced their way into the blockhouse. One Indian jumped Harbert, the two wrestled on the floor. Harbert struck him several blows with a tomahawk and was gaining the upper hand until another shot from the Indians struck Harbert in the head, killing him. The badly wounded Indian fled the blockhouse.

As Harbert was fighting for his life, a settler named Edward Cunningham pulled the trigger on his musket but it misfired and he found himself engaged in hand-to-gland conflict with an Indian warrior. Cunningham tore the tomahawk from the Indian’s hand and hit him with it. Cunningham’s wife picked up and ax and struck the Indian in the face. That warrior also fled the house.

The third Indian struck a young woman named Reece in the head with his tomahawk, wounding her. Her mother jumped on the Indian as he was striking which probably saved her daughter’s life. The Reece’s were all Quakers. And Mr. Reece had refused to fight when the Indians entered the blockhouse. Only after his daughter is struck does he try to fight the Indian but is thrown to the floor. As the Indian is about to kill Reece, Cunningham kills the Indian with a blow from his tomahawk.

While the battle was raging inside the blockhouse, the women pushed the door shut and held it closed by brute force. The Indians rounded up the eight or so children outside, killing and scalping the youngest and taking the older ones as prisoner.

Of the whites in the house, one only was killed and four were wounded; and seven or eight children in the yard, were killed or taken prisoners. One Indian was killed, and two badly wounded. Had Reece engaged sooner in the conflict, the other two who had entered the house, would no doubt have been likewise killed; but being a Quaker, he looked on, without participating in the conflict, until his daughter was wounded. Having then to contend singly, with superior prowess, he was indebted for the preservation of his life, to the assistance of those whom he refused to aid in pressing need.

For me, this is the perfect metaphor for where we are today. The Indians have pushed open the door the blockhouse and we’re rolling around, hooking and gouging on the dirt floor trying to survive. The guy who holds principles above all is sitting in the corner, taking it all in and can’t even help the women push the door shut. And when all is said and done, we’re bloodied and the guy with the principles gets a share of the rewards. And to boast about how he held true to his principles and everything worked out just fine.

Trump is just a temporary blip on the radar. We can’t afford to have the Democrats in charge for four or eight years or for a generation and expect for conservatism to be anything other than a trivial pursuit question. And unless we’re willing to stand together, regardless of our feelings about Trump, and fight the left, we are going to lose. I’m done with being lectured by people on how to lose. I intend to fight to win because, in the end, we do keep score for a reason.

Like what you see? Then visit my story archive.

I’m on Facebook. Drop by and join the fun there.