West Point, our nation's premier military academy for army cadets, became filled with tension in the months preceding the Civil War. Plebes (first year students) and cadets found themselves abandoning the traditional harmony of "God and Country" for the sectionalism of "north" and "south." In his article, Alan Aimone writes of the first recorded fist fight on the grounds of West Point over the division arising from principled differences that formed the cause of the Civil War. The fisticuffs between Emory Upton (Class of May 1861) of New York and Wade Hampton Gibbes (Class of 1860) of South Carolina was "the first determined stand by any Northerner against the long, aggressive and unchallenged dictatorship of the South" against those West Point cadets who held to abolitionist principles.
Cadet Upton had attended Oberlin College in Ohio, an institution that was "hated and despised by the South for ... admitting negroes as students." Cadet Gibbes made unflattering comments to his Southern friends regarding Upton's "intimate relationship with Negroes." Battle lines were then drawn and a fight was held behind closed doors in the barracks while a crowd of cadets gathered in the hall to listen to the skirmish. A contemporary of the fight's participants, cadet Morris Schaff, stood in the hallway and later wrote home describing the scene:
From time to time we could hear angry voices, the scuffling of feet, and those other dull sounds which fall so heavily on the ears ... (W)hen the fight was over, I saw Upton's resolute face bleeding. Upton's roommate and his second in the fight, John Isaac Rodgers, stood at the top of the stairs and defied the mob of cadets, yelling, 'If there are any more of you down there who want anything, come right up!' No one accepted his challenge. I am satisfied that the South then and there beheld what iron and steel there was in the Northern blood when once it was up."This interesting anecdote gives some insight on why people of previous harmony wind up fighting.
(1). When differences in beliefs are not debated with civility, and one side or the other begins to personally denigrate and ridicule the character and personhood of those who believe differently, the beginnings of a fight emerge.
(2). From the group being abused personally--usually those who hold to a minority viewpoint--there arises one who stands firm against those who denigrate and abuse.
(3). When those in control feel threatened or are challenged, they will attack with ferocity, believing themselves in danger of losing their dominating position.
(4). If the minority leader successfully holds his ground, others who also hold to the same viewpoint are emboldened and begin to rally, eventually feeling safe enough to issue challenges of their own to those who have personally denigrated those with whom they disagree.
(5). Eventually the fight will cease because those who love to bully and attack those with whom they are exposed as lacking the kind of character needed in true leaders.
An illustration of all five principles at play in a modern "fight" among Southern Baptists is forthcoming.
In His Grace,