Tuesday, February 10, 2009

“The Last Best Hope of Earth”

I have always believed that when a president is inaugurated, swears that oath and enters the Oval office for the first time, he undergoes a sea change. Suddenly, he becomes wise, and just (there have been some few exceptions, one of whom was from Pennsylvania), and this is because when they swear that oath, they don the Mantle of Constitution. It can sometimes wear very heavily, as it did with Lincoln.

I believe Lincoln stands out as perhaps our wisest, if not greatest Chief Executive (close call among Washington, Jefferson, Jackson, and the two Roosevelts). To me, his wisdom was on so much a higher plane than the others, that it is almost supernatural.

When you look at the hand he was dealt, the slavery issue, secession before he even entered office, the seizure of Southern forts and arsenals by secessionist mobs -- and he never complained, never excused, just quietly went about his work, formulating his plans, and devising a path to ultimate victory. It would not be easy, would require his most skilled persuasions, and above all, would take patience, and consistency.

He had to look into the morass of issues and divine where the vulnerabilities lay. He had to deal with those vulnerabilities, and he did so, offering reconciliation with the South for a year and a half at the start of the war. He made promises that must have galled him personally, but were agreeable Constitutionally. He became a president locked into enforcing the Constitution’s protections of slavery, at the cost of his personal beliefs.

Horace Greeley, the Radical Republican editor and owner of the New York Tribune chastised Lincoln in an editorial for not having a clear policy on the secession issue and with emancipation. Lincoln responded with a letter essentially saying he would do almost anything to re-unite the nation, no matter what effect it would have on slavery. He wrote:

I would save the Union. I would save it the shortest way under the Constitution. The sooner the national authority can be restored; the neared the Union will be "the Union as it was". If there be those who would not save the Union, unless they could at the same time save slavery, I do not agree with them. If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy slavery, I do not agree with them. My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and it is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union. I shall do less whenever I shall believe what I am doing hurts the cause, and I shall do more whenever I shall believe doing more will help the cause. I shall try to correct errors when shown to be errors; and I shall adopt new views so fast as they shall appear to be true views.

Many of Lincoln’s modern detractors seize on this to declare him a closet pro-slavery politician, and a racist to boot. [Lincoln, indeed, was as much a racist as most Northern white men were in the era. They were anti-slavery, but against accepting the Blacks into society as full partners. Lincoln’s stance on race was softened over time, by his relationship with Frederick Douglass, and the work of the many Blacks in uniform, who fought bravely for the Union during the Civil War.] What those detractors miss, as did many who read his printed response to Greeley, is the closing paragraph of Lincoln’s letter.

I have here stated my purpose according to my view of official duty; and I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men everywhere could be free.

A. Lincoln

Here, Lincoln clearly enunciates the difference between Lincoln the man and Lincoln the President, and clearly draws the line between what he personally desires, and what he is legally, Constitutionally bound to do as President.

When this strategy did not achieve the reunification with the seceded states, he took a harder line. He got to the heart of secession by going directly at slavery with the Emancipation Proclamation. His strategic thinking that early in the war showed a foresight and confidence that would have failed lesser men. The confidence that the North would prevail, and would do so completely is clearly part of his thinking when issuing that document. To go along with that, the war declaration (the Emancipation Proclamation was a Presidential War Aim Proclamation) that freed the slaves in territory then under non-US control was a masterstroke of social, military, and political strategy. In so doing, he essentially removed the slavery issue from the reconciliation/reconstruction track at the end of the war. It was delivered in a document that is layered with meaning, and cause and effect, both immediate and long term, militarily, politically and socially. In so doing, he not only created the appearance of causing labor problems at home in the South, but he also softly, indirectly began to bring his Northern constituency around to the view that the war wasn't just about the Union, it was also about slavery.

He mollified northern abolitionists, and emancipationists, and took those who were less than against slavery and began to move them toward that end. He leaked it to his cabinet in the summer of 1862, and then the issued a preliminary release after Antietam, giving the South 100 days to return to the fold WITH slavery, or do so without when forced to return later. This carefully crafted document put no direct pressure on slavery in the non-Confederate states where it was legally protected by the Constitution, yet it hit the heart of slavery, the deep South.

It was a true stroke of genius. And it is still greatly misunderstood today.

What a pity. The man had perhaps the greatest mind of any president. And to be faced with such adversity, both that of disunion and civil war, and the personal losses he faced in his family, yet he maintained his humble humanity, again and again. (After someone publicly commented that he was two-faced, Lincoln self-deprecatingly replied, “Madam, if I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one?”) That escapes public knowledge these days. The many nights he and Mary spent tending to the wounded at the hospitals in Washington is a story seldom told. Neither is the fact that he spent many a late night...often until the wee hours of the morning sitting in the War Department’s telegraphic office reading stacks of daily dispatches from the armies in the field, writing responses, getting the picture of what was going on, so he could intelligently give orders to Halleck, and later to Grant. Neither is the story told that during his days, he spent hours greeting visitors to the White House (a presidential tradition long since gone), and listening to every Tom, Dick, and Harry who came to "call on the President".

When did the man sleep? When did he have time to craft these great strategies that worked? When did he have time to write those magnificent speeches, and letters? When did he even have time to mourn the death of his young son, or console his wife, or care for her in her grief and madness?

He was not just a genius, he was a great man who was also a genius, and one of our greatest communicators ever.

Witness the words of the Gettysburg Address, and try to tell me that he was not including the Confederate fallen, even though they were not included in the National Cemetery he was dedicating.

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 may 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.

After four years of hard war, he gave his second inaugural address in March of 1865. The war was almost over. He knew the North had prevailed, and mightily so, and that the Confederate surrender was weeks, if not days away. His thoughts were beyond that point. 600,000 dead from both sides.

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.

People argue that he was, or was not a Christian. It has been my personal belief that Lincoln was a Deist, like many of our Founders and Framers. I also believe that he espoused a personal philosophy with which he faced daily life, that was the embodiment of Christianity. In other words, officially he was a Deist, but by example a Christian, and one of the greatest that ever walked the earth.

Certainly, his transformation of the United States during the period when western civilization was nationalizing, is as important to us as our founding. This Great Emancipator, this Great President, this Great Man shook a tired, worn national blanket that was rent from sectional strife, and made it whole and smooth again.

Look at his words concluding his annual message to Congress on December 1, 1862. Note that he had issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation in September, just after the Union victory at Antietam. The Emancipation Proclamation’s offer of restoration to the Union with guarantees for slavery and compensation for eventual emancipation was about to expire in a month, when the proclamation would become official on January 1, 1863.

Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history. We of this Congress and this administration, will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance, or insignificance, can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation. We say we are for the Union. The world will not forget that we say this. We know how to save the Union. The world knows we do know how to save it. We -- even we here -- hold the power, and bear the responsibility. In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free -- honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth. Other means may succeed; this could not fail. The way is plain, peaceful, generous, just -- a way which, if followed, the world will forever applaud, and God must forever bless.

The “last best hope of earth”. What a remarkable phrase, and so accurate. It is a measure of the value he placed on the cause of Union, and emancipation, and the liberties extolled in the Declaration of Independence. “In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free."

Abraham Lincoln did just that.

Abraham Lincoln 1809-1865


Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history.” – Abraham Lincoln

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Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Gettysburg Salutes the Opening of the David Wills House

Katie Lawhon
Public Affairs Specialist
Gettysburg National Military Park
1195 Baltimore Pike, Suite 100
Gettysburg, PA 17325

Experience your America

The National Park Service cares for special places saved by the American people so that they all may experience our heritage.

Main Street Gettysburg Press Release
For Release: February 3, 2009

Gettysburg Salutes the Opening of the David Wills House

Main Street Gettysburg is partnering with dozens of community organizations to create a six day celebration for the opening of the David Wills House, February 12 through 16, in honor of Abraham Lincoln’s 200th birthday.

Events begin with a 2:00 ribbon cutting in front of the David Wills House on February 12. The museum will be open on February 12 until 8 pm, free to all. Other special activities throughout the weekend include storytelling, living history with David and Catherine Wills and President Lincoln, and Victorian valentines will continue through President’s Day, with the museum remaining open for free from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. through February 16.

“So many groups and organizations are coming together to celebrate the opening of the David Wills House, you can’t help but be proud of the spirit of Gettysburg,” said Deb Adamik, Executive Director of Main Street Gettysburg. “This is a wonderful way to move forward with Main Street’s mission of partnering, leading and investing in Gettysburg’s future.”

After a two-year, $7.2 million construction and rehabilitation project, the National Park Service has created--for the first time ever--a museum to tell the story of the aftermath of battle, and Lincoln’s visit to the give the Gettysburg Address. The historic David Wills House is part of Gettysburg National Military Park and will be operated by Main Street Gettysburg through a partnership agreement. In addition, the Gettysburg Convention and Visitors Bureau will operate an official Visitor Information Center and Licensed Town Guides will begin walking tours of Gettysburg at the David Wills House.

Main Street partners for the Grand Opening events include Gettysburg National Military Park, the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, the Pennsylvania Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College, the Gettysburg Area School District, the Adams County Arts Council, and many others. Main Street Gettysburg wants to thank The Gettysburg Hotel and The Country Inn and Suites for their major financial support as David Wills House sponsors of the Grand Opening events.

Grand Opening exhibits and programs will be held at numerous Gettysburg attractions including the U.S. Christian Commission Museum, 17 on the Square Antiques, the Historic Gettysburg Railroad Station, and the Gettysburg Area School District will hold an art show at the Gettysburg Hotel.

Special tours for the Grand Opening include Licensed Town Guide “Lincoln Walking Tours” departing from the Wills House, Farnsworth House Tours,Gettysburg National Military Park Ranger giving programs in the Soldiers’ National Cemetery, restoration tours of the Shriver House, and a Jennie Wade program by Ghostly Images of Gettysburg Tours.

As part of the Grand Opening celebration, special performances and lectures will take place at the Majestic Theater, at the Gettysburg Historic Railroad Station, at 17 on the Square Antiques, and at the David Wills House.

On President’s Day, February 16, the Museum and Visitor Center at Gettysburg National Military Park will be open from 8 a.m. until 5 pm, with free admission to all Adams County residents, sponsored by the Gettysburg Foundation.

David Wills’ home was not just the center of Gettysburg--it was the center of the immense clean-up process after the Battle of Gettysburg and where President Lincoln put the finishing touches on the Gettysburg Address. The speech transformed Gettysburg's community from a place of devastation to the symbol of our nation's new birth of freedom.

Main Street Gettysburg is a nonprofit organization dedicated to historic preservation and economic revitalization of Gettysburg for the benefit of its citizens, businesses, and visitors.

For information about the benefits of becoming a David Wills House Charter Guardian, contact Main Street Gettysburg at 866-486-5735 or at http://www.davidwillshouse.org/.


Visit Wills House Schedule of Events (pdf) for a copy.


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