I came across a rather interesting webpage concerning the founding and commemorative activities of Santa Barbara’s GAR post: the Starr King Post #52. Most of the information is typical – dates, names, places…what you might expect. And I particularly enjoyed descriptions of GAR Comrades parading down State Street to the beach. I am a little suspect on the analysis, however, and troubled by the sloppy research. King died in ’64 not ’66. But hey, why pick at the details? The author emphasizes the forgetfulness of the Union veterans suggesting that the former soldiers had long forgotten all war-time issues. Well, I do know that that the Post invited Confederate veterans in the area to participate in some Memorial Day commemorative activities – but it’s a bit of a leap to assume that the old soldiers had left the war behind. Reconciliation and forgetfulness are not the same thing – not at all.
Who knows? Maybe I’m wrong. But it’s worth it to have a look for myself, and a trip to Santa Barbara would be fine and dandy. I’ll be looking closely at any Memorial Day speeches, news articles, and post minutes that I can find. If our friends in Santa Barbara are anything at all like their comrades throughout the rest of the country, I doubt that they forgot much of anything.
Well, that’s the legend anyway. In reality – his efforts didn’t amount to the whole difference…but he certainly did what he could. For Californians, King’s popularity as a preacher and a lecturer made him the “moral tutor to the commonwealth.” According to one historian, King challenged Californians to “highmindedness” and to seek, as he put it, “Yosemites of the soul.”
During the Civil War he preached the Union – one and indivisible. And he did so when other preachers foresaw alternate futures for the Golden State. Charles Edward Pickett, for example, called for a independent Pacific Republic free from the colonial relations with the East. William Anderson Scott thought that California could be a great pluralist haven for northerner and southerner alike. Scott was run out of the state when he offered prayers for both Presidents Davis and Lincoln.
But King was all for the Union. He stumped for Lincoln in 1860 and Leland Stanford in 1861. He spoke up and down the state and inspired Californians to lead the nation in contributions to the Sanitary Commission. Imaging a reconciled future – he preached of the Pacific Slope in reconciliationist terms. “And they shall come from the east and the west, and from the north and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God.”
In his efforts – he wore himself down. King died of pneumonia and diphtheria on March 4, 1864. “Keep my memory Green,” King said as he died, and Californians obliged. His statue, along with that of Junipero Serra, represent the state in the National Hall of Fame.
I recently read Kevin Starr’s Americans and the California Dream, in which he notes King’s enduring significance and the ecclesiastical side of California’s history. The earliest historiography was near silent on the religious history of the state – not until the 1880s did secular historians begin to take religion in California seriously. Check out Starr’s book – it is lively and engaging and well worth the read.