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.