“God Bless Everyone, No Exceptions”

So here we are this week (at least in this part of the world): the Red Sox have won 50 games; strawberries are deliciously in season—and especially plump this year from all the rain, rain, rain; day lilies are in bloom; a water lily graces our little koi pond; and red, white, and blue’s everywhere.

As our nation prepares to celebrate its birthday with fireworks and bunting, I’m finding my waxes-and-wanes appreciation for my country enlarged by Team of Rivals. (Sorry to recommend such wrist-challenging books: Far from the Tree: 706 pp. This one: 754 pp!)

Having gone to a segregated high school in Lynchburg, Virginia, my knowledge of “The War of Northern Aggression” had been spotty, at best. Certainly Miz Wallace, my American History teacher, was not Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of Team of Rivals, i.e. not a Pulitzer Prize historian nor resident of abolitionist-haven Concord, Massachusetts.

Given that Miz Wallace may have displayed a Confederate flag in her classroom*, it’s easy for me to accept Ms. Goodwin’s gushing over Abraham Lincoln whose “political genius” saves the day again and again. (Sometimes the outcome seemed more about luck than cunning.) Because, of course, the larger story—and at 754 pp, that larger story is well elucidated—is page-turning dramatic: warring political factions, terrible conflicts among Lincoln’s cabinet members, a devastating civil war, the dehumanizing and passionately-felt issues of slavery, The Lincolns’ marriage and family life. We’re even treated to People Magazine-like peeks Inside The Beltway as the First Lady and Kate Chase, the stunningly beautiful daughter of Secretary of the Treasury, Salmon Chase, vie to outdo the other in home decor and entertaining.

Here’s what I’m especially appreciating: I get presidential. Although appalled by slavery, Lincoln was often condemned by people like Frederick Douglass and other abolitionists for not taking a strong enough stand against that evil. But when I read page after page of all the factors Lincoln took into account, knowing he wanted to resolve the war so as to continue a United States, I see why he was so mealy-mouthed, sometimes. (And, by extension, why Obama is, too, I guess.)

Which is not to say that I applaud mealy-mouthedness. I guess that’s what presidents have to do, sometimes. BUT: now I see more clearly how incredibly important activist, progressive voices are!

So let’s hear it for all our forefathers and foremothers. Let’s hear it for “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Let’s hear it for the birthplace of  that endearing, self-evident truth that we are all equals at the (summer-fare-laden) table.

*Dr. Lynda Woodruff, another E.C. Glass grad, asserts that Miz Wallace indeed did.

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5 Comments

  1. As we’ve said before, many people (I want to believe my president) are doing the best they can with what they have.
    But it’s better if they have strawberries…

  2. I would agree that Team of Rivals is a fine historical tome–one of the best. But I disagree strongly with your “appreciation for my country enlarged by Team of Rivals” and “knowing he wanted to resolve the war so as to continue a United States.”

    To do this Lincoln was responsible (along with the “fire-eaters of the South) for the slaughter of almost a million humans:-(. No other country needed to do this to end slavery; and Lincoln certainly didn’t believe in equality of Negroes with Whites.

    During Reconstruction and after many Negroes were worse off than before the Civil War. They had no real rights in the South and few in most Northern States. The next 100 years (until the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950’s) was hell for most Negroes.

    I think the wise view was that of Quakers who were active abolitionists but who were conscientious objectors to Lincoln’s war, opposing the mass slaughter.

    Also, Team of Rivals is about the 8th book I’ve read on Lincoln, and the more I read of his political lying, political “bribery,” and his “ends justify” wrong means–the more I no longer see him as I once did. While he had a gentle personal side, he was a cunning politician who caused some of the worst events in American history.

    It also troubles me that he was such a theological determinist, thinking that the horror of the war was God’s will:-(

    In the Light,

    Daniel Wilcox

  3. You and I could debate, point by point. But let’s not, Daniel. Instead, can you and I agree that politics and religion are apples and oranges? (Wonder bread and manna?)

  4. This brings up an issue that is terribly hard for me. I recognize that politics in this country, and seemingly everywhere, is in part a very dirty business. It seems that all presidents have to lie and cheat in order to accomplish laudable goals; but of course the lying, cheating, and killing make the goals ultimately unattainable (is that true?). What is left for the citizen? To keep pushing, I guess, for incremental improvements in our political process, more openness, more listening and frank exchange. (Is that stuff happening?) I have a friend who is a “Christian anarchist,” who believes that what he needs to do is to figure out what is right for him, to do it to the extent he is able in the context of our political system and his own survival in it, and not to worry about what everybody else does or how to work for a better system. I just can’t do that.

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