President Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation 1863

Lincoln2The recent U.S. presidential election was particularly rancourous and divisive.  There was unrest after the election as some were so shocked by the results that they couldn’t even accept it.  Even through the Thanksgiving  Holiday, some were still unsettled by the results of the election.  All of that made me call to mind President Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1863.  Talk about a divided nation – at that time we were in a civil war.  Yet, despite the war and the divided country, Lincoln still could see there were plenty of things for which the American people could be thankful.

And though Thanksgiving is already past us, I felt it is good for us, as Americans, to remember those things for which we owe our Creator thanksgiving, even in times of uncertainty or unrest or dissatisfaction.   Whatever our differences, however politics push us in polar opposite directions, we Americans also need to remember those gifts from God which we all enjoy and which make us the great nation we are.  Let us never forget our blessings and let us always remember that to be an American is to be thankful at heart, and to have gratitude for those gifts whether of nature or of freedom that we hold in common.

Here is what President Lincoln wrote to the nation:

Washington, D.C.
October 3, 1863

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

Abe Lincoln and the Will of God

Abraham Lincoln looms large in the history, memory and lore of the United States of America.

Since we are celebrating our President’s Day holiday, honoring George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, I thought it a good day to contemplate President Lincoln’s second inaugural address.  In the excerpt below, he is pondering the civil war which had gripped the entire United States and ripped it apart.

Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. . . . Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. . . . The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. . . . Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

Lincoln wrestled with what the civil war could mean for a nation in which most of the people were Christian, praying to the same God, reading the same bible, and in which both sides were invoking that same God’s aid against an enemy.  What Lincoln knew was that God’s purposes are often mysteriously hidden from humans even when all are petitioning Him.  He does seem to understand that the tragic and tremendous suffering of the civil war was serving some purpose, a necessary suffering perhaps to pay for the nation’s sins.

He hoped the civil war would bring a just and lasting peace to our nation and in our relationship with all other nations.   A war to end all wars for Lincoln?

For me, his greatness lies in his agonizing over what sense to make of it all, and seeing in the war and in the victory ambiguity and pain that would continue for a time to come.  As has been stated, one has to not only win the war, but more importantly win the peace that follows.   The hard work does not end when the war does.

Our vision and understanding of events is very limited, and yet we have to make choices with long lasting consequences.

I do wish the current cast of candidates would think about what Lincoln slaved over (pardon the pun).  The civil war may have been the price the nation paid for not ending slavery before a nation based in freedom began.  But there also was a price to be paid for the war itself – how to unite the nation.  Lincoln realized victory may have been won, but at what cost to the unity of the nation?  Current candidates think only about their winning the nomination, but not at all about the terrible price that is paid in slaughtering their opponents.  And unlike Lincoln who wrestled with how to preserve the unity and win the peace, today’s candidates care nothing for what collateral damage they cause on the nation – divisiveness, partisanship, polarity, and exclusion.    They may imagine that their winning the presidency somehow magically undoes the damage, but it only feeds the endless political polarity and irreconcilable division in America.  No candidate should be allowed to reach election day without showing his willingness to keep the union united.   Lincoln showed remorse over the price of his victory.  Our current candidates never seem to have any conscience about how their comments and attitudes rip the nation apart.  They all should have to study Lincoln’s words and what a divided nation means.

Martin Luther king 2015

M L King

I am posting this blog for our Martin Luther King national holiday, but it will be a real roundabout way of getting to the theme.   Most of my blogs consist of quotes from what I’ve read, this will be no exception, though where I am going to begin may seem to have no connection to what I claim this blog is about.  So here goes:

Charles Darwin
Charles Darwin

For whatever reason, I never felt any desire to read the writings of Charles Darwin.  But recently I did read his diary, THE VOYAGE OF THE BEAGLE, which were his recorded observations from the 4-5 years he spent touring the world onboard the ship, The Beagle.  I found the book far more compelling than I ever imagined I would.  Darwin was a good observer of geography, meteorology, geology, biology and sociology.  He has an interesting writing style and saw a lot of the world, experiencing many adventures along the way.  His theories of evolution did not come through this work very much as it was mostly his observations not his effort to synthesize what he observed or draw conclusions from them.   I was not reading the text with any agenda, so felt no guilt about skimming sections which were very descriptive scientifically but which were of little interest to me personally.  Darwin was not particularly anti-religious in this book, though probably he was religiously indifferent.  He was a cultural Christian  which means in some ways he was also arelgious.  His understanding of Christianity seems to have been closely aligned with his Eurocentric and Anglocentric viewpoint.  He is not absolutely critical of religion and even defends it at times, especially when he sees it being useful to Europeanize aboriginal peoples around the world.  He would not be considered politically correct by modern standards.  Nor would his efforts to capture, kill and study animals be viewed as particularly conservationist or humane.   We can get a sense of his viewpoint on religion:

“On the whole, it appears to me that the morality and religion of the inhabitants are highly creditable. There are many who attack, even more acrimoniously than Kotzebue, both the missionaries, their system, and the effects produced by it. Such reasoners never compare the present state with that of the island only twenty years ago; nor even with that of Europe at this day; but they compare it with the high standard of Gospel perfection. They expect the missionaries to effect that which the Apostles themselves failed to do. Inasmuch as the condition of the people falls short of this high standard, blame is attached to the missionary, instead of credit for that which he has effected. They forget, or will not remember, that human sacrifices, and the power of an idolatrous priesthood–a system of profligacy unparalleled in any other part of the world–infanticide a consequence of that system–bloody wars, where the conquerors spared neither women nor children–that all these have been abolished; and that dishonesty, intemperance, and licentiousness have been greatly reduced by the introduction of Christianity. In a voyager to forget these things is base ingratitude; for should he chance to be at the point of shipwreck on some unknown coast, he will most devoutly pray that the lesson of the missionary may have extended thus far.”

Darwin’s own Christian upbringing had given him a sense of morality, and he could see in the aboriginal people violent behaviors which he found appalling, showing no mercy to women or children. We can note in Darwin’s comments his opposition to the aboriginal practice of infanticide – especially since we are this month also upholding the Sanctity of Human Life  and opposing a modern form of infanticide.

His observations of behavior and morality are not limited to aboriginal peoples.  Whereas he does see Christianity raising the moral standards of the aboriginal peoples, he is not hesitant to point out when Christianity has failed to positively affect the moral values of the European Christians.  He was totally opposed to the practice of slavery which he found dehumanized both owner and slave, but practiced throughout the New World.  He was physically disturbed by the practice of slavery in the Americas and found it so totally appalling that any humans would enslave another people.

“On the 19th of August we finally left the shores of Brazil. I thank God, I shall never again visit a slave-country. To this day, if I hear a distant scream, it recalls with painful vividness my feelings, when passing a house near Pernambuco, I heard the most pitiable moans, and could not but suspect that some poor slave was being tortured, yet knew that I was as powerless as a child even to remonstrate. I suspected that these moans were from a tortured slave, for I was told that this was the case in another instance. Near Rio de Janeiro I lived opposite to an old lady, who kept screws to crush the fingers of her female slaves. I have stayed in a house where a young household mulatto, daily and hourly, was reviled, beaten, and persecuted enough to break the spirit of the lowest animal. I have seen a little boy, six or seven years old, struck thrice with a horse-whip (before I could interfere) on his naked head, for having handed me a glass of water not quite clean; I saw his father tremble at a mere glance from his master’s eye. These latter cruelties were witnessed by me in a Spanish colony, in which it has always been said that slaves are better treated than by the Portuguese, English, or other European nations. I have seen at Rio de Janeiro a powerful negro afraid to ward off a blow directed, as he thought, at his face. I was present when a kind-hearted man was on the point of separating forever the men, women, and little children of a large number of families who had long lived together. I will not even allude to the many heart-sickening atrocities which I authentically heard of;–nor would I have mentioned the above revolting details, had I not met with several people, so blinded by the constitutional gaiety of the negro as to speak of slavery as a tolerable evil. Such people have generally visited at the houses of the upper classes, where the domestic slaves are usually well treated, and they have not, like myself, lived amongst the lower classes. Such inquirers will ask slaves about their condition; they forget that the slave must indeed be dull who does not calculate on the chance of his answer reaching his master’s ears.  (Kindle Loc. 8551-66)

It is with his comments on slavery that he addresses the American nation of the 19th Century, and here we come around to why I connect Darwin’s diary to the Martin Luther King holiday.

Darwin made a clear and unequivocal challenge to America’s claim to love liberty and yet be so willing to enslave people.   It was for Darwin abhorrent and  completely hypocritical for men who claimed to be Christians to enslave others.

“Those who look tenderly at the slave owner, and with a cold heart at the slave, never seem to put themselves into the position of the latter;–what a cheerless prospect, with not even a hope of change! picture to yourself the chance, ever hanging over you, of your wife and your little children–those objects which nature urges even the slave to call his own–being torn from you and sold like beasts to the first bidder!

And these deeds are done and palliated by men who profess to love their neighbours as themselves, who believe in God, and pray that His Will be done on earth!

It makes one’s blood boil, yet heart tremble, to think that we Englishmen and our American descendants, with their boastful cry of liberty, have been and are so guilty; but it is a consolation to reflect, that we at least have made a greater sacrifice than ever made by any nation, to expiate our sin.”   (Kindle Loc. 8572-78)

Darwin did think religiously when it came to the politics of slavery, and labeled it a sin.  He noted as did many Americans that slavery is a sin for which many have paid a heavy price.  So the great human, Abraham Lincoln said in his second inaugural speech:

“If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgements of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

Humans will be humans

Critics of religion readily point to history to show the many  examples of religion leading societies to extremism, persecution and war.  The atheists among them pine longingly for a world free of religion in which they imagine human rationalism, perhaps guided by science, will bring about a utopian world free of the destructiveness they believe religion causes human civilization.

Countless fictional accounts exist of such utopias spinning quickly out of control to dystopias.  Obviously it is not hard for people to imagine what could go wrong in such societies claiming to be based in scientific rationalism.  Why?  Because we do know people will be people.  The committed atheist may imagine it is purely religion which causes the problem, but human nature is not going to change because people now follow scientific ideas instead of religious ones.  A world guided purely by rationalism and reason would look a lot like the world today – because humans will be humans.   We do not operate just on facts – emotions, assumptions, personal gain, and a number of other factors will and would continue toguide us.  Long ago I read the aphorism:

“In capitalism, man oppresses man. In communism, it is just the reverse.”

It doesn’t matter which ideology governs people, they still will be people.  Christians at least can imagine another factor at work in the world that will not change as a result of the disappearance of religion:  sin.  People are willing to lie, cheat, steal, and don’t need religion to cause that behavior.

Minerva: Goddess of Learning

The January/February magazine issue of DISCOVER  focuses on the top 100 science stories of 2014.   Story Number 8 is entitled, “The Year in Fraud.”  It describes the growing number of fraudulent papers published in peer reviewed science journals each year.  Men and women governed by the scientific principles, still are human, and still sin.  Many are repeat offenders or serial liars – one doctor having had to retract 183 published articles.  Even the world currently governed by science cannot escape the human temptation to sin.  Sin does not disappear because we no longer believe in it or because we rename as a social problem or give it a scientific classification.  Interestingly, the articles authors say science itself has to realize:

“The paper is not sacrosanct.  It does not come into the world like flawless, shining deity immune to criticism or critique.”

Even scientists are prone to the same temptations and failures as the religious.  Human pride and greed motivate people to manipulate scientific data.  Relying more on data does not change the humans who use the data.  Apparently the “retraction” is the scientific equivalent of repentance.

Today, on the news, is the release of the Senate’s report on the investigation into the CIA’s use of torture.  Here again we see people relying on the best scientific beliefs about methods for interrogating terrorists.   And what we find is people using science to commit torture because they believe the ends justify the means.  Humans will be humans.  Science cannot save us from this fact.  Senator John McCain said after the report’s release:

“I have often said, and will always maintain, that this question isn’t about our enemies; it’s about us. It’s about who we were, who we are and who we aspire to be. It’s about how we represent ourselves to the world.”

“When we fight to defend our security we fight also for an idea…that all men are endowed by the Creator with inalienable rights.”

Government, even one uniquely based in liberty, as President Lincoln realized in his Gettysburg Address, will be put to the test. Can everything be allowed and tolerated, permitted and approved, and yet one nation exist? Or will a nation conceived in liberty realize that some forms of behavior cannot be acceptable or tolerated? And then how can liberty and government by and for all exist?

Lincoln’s answer was only when everyone is treated as a human being and when everyone behaves humanly towards others. He didn’t even think this meant equal citizenship for all only that we recognize that all are created equal.

JFK: Riding the Wave

JFKSince the 50th Anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy has filled the airwaves, the printed media and the Internet with nostalgia for the slain president, I decided to ride the wave publish one more blog on JFK (see also my JFK Assassination Plot: 50 Years in the Making), this time quoting a speech he gave at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel on April 27, 1961.  It has a great deal of America’s self-mythology  in it, which the Camelot President was great at voicing to inspire Americans about their role in the world and their hopeful future.  Somewhere in the last day or so I heard a quote which I tried to find on the world wide web but didn’t succeed and I don’t remember where I heard it or who said it.  The quote was something like: “America is the first nation on earth which believes it was born perfect but whose task is to constantly improve itself.”  That is why our nation has the split personality of permanently enshrining the ideals of the constitution (a conservative principle) and yet ever pushing into the future with the hope of an even better tomorrow.   We uphold the ideal of the past (Declaration of Independence and the Constitution) and find new ways of applying it to the present to shape the future.  The conservatism demands constant creativity to apply it to every new situation which arise in the present.   It creates the strange situation where both liberals and conservatives deny they are establishment but both lay claim to be the true heirs of the political tradition.  The federal government is given the sacred trust to protect the rights of citizens and yet the citizens don’t trust the federal government or anyone else to do it.

Constitution DetailThough history shows Kennedy didn’t live up to his own idealism (think Bay of Pigs  and also his personal sexual escapades), he did in speech express our ideals well.  In this speech we see some of these ideals which we need to reawaken in our country today.  The press is the only business protected by the Constitution.  The world is dangerous, but a secret and oppressive society is not the answer; rather, a free and open society is the correct response.  Disagreement, dissent and debate are not the signs of a society fragmenting into irreconcilable factions, but a firm footing for democracy.  Critics of government policy are not disloyal; instead, they are an important resource for improving the general welfare of the people.  Government has its proper role as defined by the Constitution to serve the citizenry and to uphold America’s ideals, but government is not infallible and can embrace a means toward an end in which the means and/or the ends are simply wrong.  America may have been born perfect (at least in our self mythology), but neither the nation nor its government nor its citizenry always behave perfectly.   We have to be honest enough to point that out and recognize that truth.  You can listen to Kennedy delivering the speech at JFK: Presidency and the Press  or read the text of his 1961 speech below:

“The very word “secrecy” is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths and secret proceedings.

We decided long ago that the dangers of excessive and unwarranted concealment of pertinent facts far outweighed the dangers which are cited to justify it. Even today, there is little value in opposing the threat of a closed society by imitating its arbitrary restrictions.

Even today, there is little value in insuring the survival of our nation if our traditions do not survive with it. And there is very grave danger that an announced need for increased security will be seized upon by those anxious to expand its meaning to the very limits of official censorship and concealment.

That I do not intend to permit to the extent that it is in my control.

And no official of my Administration, whether his rank is high or low, civilian or military, should interpret my words here tonight as an excuse to censor the news, to stifle dissent, to cover up our mistakes or to withhold from the press and the public the facts they deserve to know.”

For we are opposed around the world by a monolithic and ruthless conspiracy that relies on covert means for expanding its sphere of influence–on infiltration instead of invasion, on subversion instead of elections, on intimidation instead of free choice, on guerrillas by night instead of armies by day.

It is a system which has conscripted vast human and material resources into the building of a tightly knit, highly efficient machine that combines military, diplomatic, intelligence, economic, scientific and political operations.

Its preparations are concealed, not published. Its mistakes are buried not headlined. Its dissenters are silenced, not praised. No expenditure is questioned, no rumor is printed, no secret is revealed.”

Time42312No President should fear public scrutiny of his program. For from that scrutiny comes understanding; and from that understanding comes support or opposition. And both are necessary.

I am not asking your newspapers to support the Administration, but I am asking your help in the tremendous task of informing and alerting the American people. For I have complete confidence in the response and dedication of our citizens whenever they are fully informed.

I not only could not stifle controversy among your readers– I welcome it.

This Administration intends to be candid about its errors; for as a wise man once said: “An error does not become a mistake until you refuse to correct it.” We intend to accept full responsibility for our errors; and we expect you to point them out when we miss them.

Without debate, without criticism, no Administration and no country can succeed– and no republic can survive.

That is why the Athenian lawmaker Solon decreed it a crime for any citizen to shrink from controversy.

U.S. Bill of Rights
U.S. Bill of Rights

And that is why our press was protected by the First (emphasized) Amendment– the only business in America specifically protected by the Constitution– not primarily to amuse and entertain, not to emphasize the trivial and sentimental, not to simply “give the public what it wants”–but to inform, to arouse, to reflect, to state our dangers and our opportunities, to indicate our crises and our choices, to lead, mold educate and sometimes even anger public opinion.

This means greater coverage and analysis of international news– for it is no longer far away and foreign but close at hand and local. It means greater attention to improved understanding of the news as well as improved transmission. And it means, finally, that government at all levels must meet its obligation to provide you with the fullest possible information outside the narrowest limits of national security…

And so it is to the printing press–to the recorder of man’s deeds, the keeper of his conscience, the courier of his news– that we look for strength and assistance, confident that with your help man will be what he was born to be: free and independent.”

President Lincoln is credited with freeing the slaves in America.  Yet we too can become slaves to prosperity – deciding that wealth is the ultimate and highest good and that we must sacrifice some or all freedoms to preserve the nation’s prosperity and wealth.  Or maybe we come to realize that we need to put some limits on government or business in order to preserve the freedom and independence of every citizen and the general welfare of the nation.   Jesus said that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath.  So too the Constitution was made for man and not man for the Constitution.  The Constitution exists for the good of the people.    It is the people the Constitution and the government are meant to serve: “government of the people, by the people, for the people”.  As Lincoln said in his Gettysburg Address (whose 150th Anniversary was also celebrated this month):

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Abraham Lincoln’s Rise to Greatness

Rise to GreatnessEach year around the American Independence Day holiday I read a book on American history just to remind myself of the great effort it has taken to create “America.”    This year while on vacation I read David Von Drehle’s Rise to Greatness: Abraham Lincoln and America’s Most Perilous Year.  A good summary of the book is found in the book’s epilogue where Drehle writes:

“The twelve tumultuous months of 1862 were the hinge of American history, the decisive moment at which the unsustainable compromises of the founding generations were ripped up in favor of a blueprint for a much stronger nation. In the process, millions of lives were transformed: the lives of the slaves who were to be freed, and of the slave owners who would be impoverished; the lives of the soldiers and their families who bore the suffering of the first all-out war of the Industrial Age; the lives of those who would profit from new inventions, longer railroads, and modern finance; the lives of students who would be educated in great public universities. The road taken in 1862 ultimately led to greater prosperity than anyone had ever imagined.”  (Kindle Loc. 6866-71)

Abraham Lincoln was a great man, and so a good book on a great man is a winning combination!   I really liked the book which traces the development in Abe Lincoln’s thinking during the course of 1862 on the issue of slavery, how to carry out the civil war militarily, and what it meant to preserve the union.  I felt while I was reading the book that I was inside Lincoln’s heart and head, listening to the opposing voices feuding, feeling the pressure rising as the decisions loomed ahead, and agonizing over how to hold the union together while at the same time resolving the very issue that made union impossible.  The varying, 0ppositional viewpoints and the building pressures on Lincoln were unrelenting.  Really, one wonders how he survived it all – the reports of his acquaintances were that it took a tremendous toll on him physically and emotionally.   How he worked to hold it altogether was amazing; somehow Lincoln guided the nation through very treacherous and tumultuous waters.  Lincoln who frequently offered pithy wisdom said:

“To steer a true course through violent seas, one must understand the wind and tides, despite being powerless to change them. So it was with Providence.”   (Kindle Loc. 4834-35)

Lincoln wrestled with issues of the divine will, the will of the people, idealism about what “America” meant and is.  There were countless forces over which he had no influence let alone control, and he mused over the nature of life frequently.

“Lincoln now tried to discern a divine purpose behind the string of failures and betrayals that made the summer of 1862 so miserable. At his desk one day in September, “his mind … burdened with the weightiest question of his life”—of slavery, the survival of the Union, and the role of each in the war—Lincoln took out a fresh sheet of lightly ruled paper and began writing down his thoughts. “The will of God prevails,” he started, slowly and carefully. This was true by definition: if God exists, and God wills a result, then the result must come to pass. That is the nature of infinite power. Lincoln added a second proposition: “In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God.” From these two ideas, Lincoln began methodically building his analysis, brick by brick, writing more quickly and fluidly as he went. “Both sides may be, and one must be wrong. God can not be for, and against the same thing at the same time,” he noted. “In the present civil war it is quite possible that God’s purpose is something different from the purpose of either party.” The Almighty might favor the North or the South—or neither side: Providence chooses its own goals. But the players in this great drama—the generals, whether effective or incompetent; the soldiers, brave or cowardly; the politicians and opinion makers, wise or foolish; indeed, all the “human instrumentalities” of the struggle, as Lincoln put it—must somehow perform the roles they had been given by the directing spirit of God. When John Pope met mutiny rather than triumph on the road to Richmond, it must be because God had something other than immediate Union victory in mind. All this flowed logically from the first proposition: that the will of God prevails. Now Lincoln inserted a hedge. “I am almost ready to say that this is probably true”—almost, probably—“that God wills this contest, and wills that it shall not end yet.” If one believed in a divinity shaping history, then it followed that God could have saved or destroyed the Union short of war, or ended the war already, without this painful seesaw struggle. “Yet the contest proceeds.” He put down his pen. Perhaps he was interrupted, or ran out of time, because he seems to have stopped abruptly. The final period at the end of his meditation was jabbed with such velocity that it looked more like a dash. Clearly, he wasn’t finished, because the last sentence led so obviously, so irresistibly, to the next question: Why? Toward what end was this uncontrollable force moving? Nicolay and Hay, who discovered this unfinished rumination long after the president had folded it in half, and half again, observed that it had not been intended for others; it was Lincoln’s way of ordering his own thoughts. Yet these few lines suggest a first draft of what would become Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address. In that magnificent speech, delivered two and a half years later, he completed the chain of his logic. The contest proceeds, the president declared then, because “American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove.” And because the offense was too large and too grave to be removed without suffering, God “gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came.” Slavery, Lincoln believed, was like a tumor on the neck of the American nation. Cutting it out might be fatal, but the patient would surely die if the cancer grew unchecked. Thus the president was led to conclude that God was prolonging and inflaming the war so that slavery could not survive the inferno. Providence had chosen to remove the cancer; Lincoln had no choice but to act accordingly.”   (Kindle Loc. 4839-67)

Such was the nature of the thinking of the man who held the presidency during this period of great trial for the United States.  Lincoln took diverse and irreconcilable  ideas and weighed them in his mind ever searching for what the right path was for the country.  He made choices in the most difficult of circumstances.  He was not always right but he labored hard and carefully through all of the issues put before him while also dealing with a number of personal failures in those around him.

An example of Lincoln wrestling with what is right and with the will of God:

The president had already told the delegates that he was accustomed to hearing from religious leaders on the topic of slavery, and he found it strange that while clergymen held every variety of opinion, all of them claimed to know “the Divine will.” Why, Lincoln now wondered, didn’t God take the forthright approach and reveal his intentions “directly to me, for, unless I am more deceived in myself than I often am, it is my earnest desire to know the will of Providence in this matter. And if I can learn what it is I will do it!” The attending stenographer did not record that a pause followed, but it is reasonable to assume that there was one. Then Lincoln continued on a less declarative note: “These are not, however, the days of miracles, and I suppose it will be granted that I am not to expect a direct revelation. I must study the plain physical facts of the case, ascertain what is possible and learn what appears to be wise and right.”   (Kindle Loc. 5134-41)

Lincoln had an awareness of the historical significance of the decisions he faced and the profound impact his decisions would have on the future of the country.  Facing the issue of the curse of slavery of the slaves, Lincoln weighed the issues for a long time and only very slowly and deliberately came to the conclusion that there was no choice but to emancipate the slaves as the only way forward to save the union.  Drehle writes that Lincoln

“… understood, more than many of his contemporaries, that his actions on the first day of 1863 would be far more significant than any earlier promise he had pledged and kept. As he would put it later, the Emancipation Proclamation was “the central act of my administration and the great event of the nineteenth century,” for it “knocked the bottom out of slavery.” Here was the “new birth of freedom” he would speak of so brilliantly at Gettysburg.”   (Kindle Loc. 6692-95)

It is rare to find a man with Lincoln’s depth of thought and power to weigh and analyze diverse opinions and to discern a path forward for the entire nation.   Today’s presidents face just as complicated issues and challenges, and are in need of the same powers to analyze and form decisions.  Lincoln was a giant among men.   Few other men have Lincoln’s gifts of deliberation and analysis, and few have the knack for bringing together rivals as advisors that he had.

Our presidents need Lincoln’s wisdom and understanding.   That is why they each also need our prayers.

A Prayer for our Nation’s Leaders

O our God, whose mercy is inscrutable:  Grant unto Your servants, our country’s rulers, the prosperity of Moses, the courage of David, and the wisdom of Solomon, so that they make give glory to Your Holy Name.

Impartial Justice: Justice Isn’t Blind

LadyJusticeAs I was reading the 13 July 2009 Washington Post  article, Hearings Not Just About Sotomayor, I was  struck by the comments of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the highest-ranking Republican on the committee, in an interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”   Senator Sessions reportedly said:

“She has criticized the idea that a woman and a man would reach the same result. She expects them to reach different results. …   I think that’s philosophically incompatible with the American system.”

He added that he is “flabbergasted by the depth and consistency of her philosophical critique of the ideal of impartial justice.”

Now I didn’t see the interview with Senator Sessions, so it is risky to take his quotes out of context, but his comments seem pretty incredible to me.  For though in America we do believe in “liberty and justice for all” and that “all men borg(and women) are created equal” have we really gotten to the point of total unisex thinking about men and women?  Do we really believe that it doesn’t matter whether a male or female, black or white, youth or senior citizen are making decisions and judgements?  To put it in Star Trek terms, are we all “Borg“?   Even a young child can figure out that mom and dad do judge things differently and they appeal to the more favorable judge!

Equality for all does not mean we all are identical.  The richness of society and democracy is that all people bring their ideas to the table and people do see things from different points of view.   The very plea of minorities is that their point of view be included in political discussion and debate.  This is something foundational to America which James Madison wrote about extensively – the voice of the minority must not be shut out by the voice of the majority.  This is the temptation in any democratic society to uphold only the view of the majority as the basis for excluding the minority point of view.  Republican Abraham Lincoln led the country to war over this issue because he understood that government of, by and for the people must include all the people, not just the powerful, the rich, the well placed or even the majority. 

Impartial justice does mean considering the minority point of view, even if that point of view is decided against, it must be allowed to be voiced.   E pluribus unum.   Impartial justice means the many points of view are considered in shaping the one voice of the courts.   Yes if we all were identical it wouldn’t matter whether the supreme court was all male, all white, all republican, all gay.     But we aren’t identical, though we profess a belief that all humans are created equal.  The divergent views are according to American democracy equally to be considered, but they are not TeamRivalsidentical.  American is not a monolith and so we do have to consider how to incorporate into our great nation the many voices which make up our society.  Having just finished reading Doris Goodwin’s TEAM OF RIVALS, I am of the impression that was the very genius of Abraham Lincoln: to consider all points of view as American and to work on preserving the union by including and incorporating all of those points of view which were not incompatible with the notion that all humans are equal and that government is of, by and for all the people.

Abe Lincoln: The Genius of the People’s President

TeamRivalsI had time this weekend to finish reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s TEAM OF RIVALS: THE POLITICAL GENIUS OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN.    A truly excellent read which because I knew how the story ends I also found the last chapter totally heartbreaking.   Lincoln never got to enjoy for one whole day the victory that he had achieved for humanity.

It is not overstating the case to argue that Lincoln, by his personality and wisdom was the person who held together the Republican Party as well as the tremendously fragile coalition which was the United States of America during the Civil War which had torn the U. S. apart.  The person of Abe Lincoln is what made the difference – not only his ideas but how he dealt with the various factions he was constantly juggling, balancing as well as holding together. 

Lincoln was criticized from every side and from every extreme, blamed for all that went wrong, and yet in the end many of these factions came to see how right he was.   He was a determined and ambitious fellow to rise to the presidency as he did, but he knew how to spread credit around for what was going right and how to accept blame even when it was others who failed.  He was forced to deal with the most divisive issue which all American politicians before him had avoided – that of slavery which also in America was founded in racism.   And even for those who opposed slavery as an evil, the issue of the Black man’s role in America was far from secure as many who opposed slavery did not want to give citizenship to blacks for they were still at the point of only granting basic human rights to a people they previously did not consider fully human.    It was not just slavery that had enslaved America, it was racial prejudice which had blinded the citizens of the country to their hard fought claim that “all men are created equal.”   lincolnLincoln came to understand that this was the real issue that America itself had neither resolved nor embraced.

Compared to modern politicians, I think Lincoln’s greatness lay in his ability to see his rivals and opponents as having different points of view rather than as being enemies of himself, the government or the nation.  The American political divide today is so caustic because political factions do not see each other as Americans with different points of view but rather only as enemies, traitors, treacherous who must be destroyed.   Lincoln on the other hand was always trying to figure out how to hold it all together.   He wanted to preserve the Union and understood he had to preserve the unity of those who called themselves Republicans to do it.

He believed the government of the United States was of, by and for the people.  What he felt had never happened before in history was whether such a government could hold itself together at a time of deep political crisis and division.  Do humans need a king, emperor or dictator to force themselves to live and work together?    Nobody knew until the American Civil War, and Lincoln showed that in fact democracy – even democracy deeply divided by civil war – can resolve its differences.  No king or tyrant is needed, people can resolve to deal with evil in their midst without making each other evil.

Washington then as today was greatly influenced by rumor.  Of course in Lincoln’s day getting the true story or picture of what was happening somewhere in the country was not always easy.  News filtered in slowly and incompletely and people acted on rumor and misinformation constantly.  Unlike today where CNN or 100 cell phone cameras and video cameras constantly record and instantly report to the world every little thing that goes on, in the mid-19th Century it took days for stories to be reported – even events that everyone knew were going to happen such as battles.   People knew that it took time for news to be reported and digested and they expected their leaders to act in a timely fashion – which as Lincoln wisely showed does not always mean instantly.   He understood the difference between the imminent and the important. 

 LincolnMemLincoln came to recognize that any little thing he said became part of the public record and so he learned caution in speech.  He had by nature a wisdom which told him do not speak or act in public when you are angry.  Think before you commit yourself to anything and differentiate between that which provokes anger in you and that which really matters for one’s true goals.  In Lincoln’s words:

“With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds … to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”

Ending the Limitations of Slavery

TeamRivalsAs I continue reading through Doris Kearns Goodwin’s TEAM OF RIVALS: THE POLITICAL GENIUS OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN I really am stuck by what a totally amazing thing it is that the citizens of the United States elected an African-American as president in 2008.  

Goodwin’s book explores the many tumultuous issues surrounding slavery that were churning in the mid-19th Century in America.  What is also very clear is that even the abolitionists had no good plan for what to do with the millions of slaves once they were free.   The Northern states were adopting “Black Laws” – laws which sharply curtailed the rights and freedoms of blacks in those states.  Illinois itself had adopted a law making it illegal to bring into the state anyone whose was even one-quarter black.  No wonder the Southern States in which more than one third of the population was slave were alarmed at what the abolition of slaves would mean for them.

Lincoln and his cabinet and the Republican Party’s anti-slavery ideas mostly wanted to limit slavery to the South, not abolish it everywhere in America.  They were not abolitionists and in their own speeches distanced themselves from the abolitionists.  When Stephen Douglas warned white America that voting for Lincoln meant submitting themselves to black voters and judges, Lincoln denied that he was advocating such a thing. 

Lincoln2Slavery was abhorrent to Lincoln and his Republican cohorts, but they were only advocating that blacks be treated as humans, not as citizens.   Basically the main argument was being fought between the pro-slavery people who framed the argument in terms of state rights (and thus could appeal to the War for Independence and Constitution as the basis of their convictions) and the anti-slavery folk who were pushing for human rights for blacks not the rights of full citizenship for them.  The anti-slavery Republicans wanted “all men” to be treated as “equals” meaning as human beings, but that didn’t mean to them that blacks should be given full citizenship or seen as equal to the whites in terms of voting or political power. 

Stephen Douglas said to cheering crowds:

the signers of the Declaration of Independence had no reference to negroes at all when they declared all men to be created equal.  They did not mean negro, nor the savage Indians, nor the Fejee Islanders, nor any other barbarous race.  They were speaking of white men… I hold that this government was established.. for the benefit of white men and their posterity forever, and and should be administered  by white men, and none others.”

What truly amazes me is that in America, the land of the free, just 90 years before I was born slavery was still practiced.  When I was born, there were people still alive who had been born when slavery existed.  When my parents were born there would still have been alive former slaves.  The slavery issue is not something from the distant past of America but has had its repercussions right down to the present.

obamaOne black American I know always told his children, “you can be anything you want in America, except for President of the United States.”  Though he is a pro-life, Republican voting conservative, he told me that the election of Barack Obama has truly shattered the shackles of slavery for all people of color in this country.   That is something for conservative Americans and Republicans to think about.   It is not the policies of Obama they need to embrace, but they need to consider he does represent symbolically the end to the limits slavery imposed on every black American.   Argue against his policies, but give recognition to the fact that he does represent what the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, sweated and “slaved” over to save these United States from tyrannizing over anyone.

As we approach our Independence Day holidays, we can be humbled by the land of the free’s willingness to enslave a people.   The strength and wealth of America was built upon denying freedom to millions.   We also can be amazed at the American ability to end adversity and overcome adversaries by spreading freedom to all.   Freedom comes with a price, freedom is invaluable, and it is worth giving freedom to every American.

Giving the black man freedom, electing a black man as president, doesn’t mean that we will have greater oneness of opinion, but we have been strengthened as a nation by the competitiveness and cross pollination of ideas which comes with giving full recognition to our ideal “that all men are created equal.”   The united part of the United States is formed into a more perfect union by granting freedom and citizenship to all.

ProlifeAnd I will say that I think the example of the debate and the issues which swirled around slavery give us an example and a hope for recognizing the humanity of and citizenship to the children in our country conceived and yet unborn.   It was a painful and hard fought battle to recognize black Americans as humans let alone as citizens.  I think we will awaken to the truth that all are created equal, and that each child conceived deserves to be treated as a human being deserving the rights and protection which our Constitution guarantees for all citizens.   Abortion is no more a right than is owning a slave.   One day we may come to recognize this self evident truth that we do not limit citizenship nor humanity to landowners, to the educated, to whites, or to males.  Neither should we limit them to those children conceived and living in their mother’s wombs.