Tag archives: Abraham Lincoln

The Gettysburg Inversion

by Robert Morrison

November 19, 2013

President Obama has declined to go to Gettysburg for the 150th anniversary of the Emancipator’s great address. It is altogether fitting and proper that he should do this. The comparisons that would inevitably have been made with Lincoln’s elegaic prose would not have been kind.

This president has said that wherever he goes is Obama Country. So, for now, that hallowed ground will be spared. Lincoln spoke to the eternal verities of the laws of nature and of nature’s God when he described this nation as one conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Lincoln would later tell listeners in Baltimore, in a less noted speech, that the world stands in need of a good definition of liberty. He compared the differing views of the shepherd’s wielding his crook to drive the wolf from the sheep’s throat. The sheep thanks the shepherd as his liberator. The wolf thinks himself deprived, his liberty infringed.

The world needs a good definition of created equal. To President Obama and his legions of supporters, created equal means, among other things, the right to marry whomever you love and to dispose of those unborn children whom you do not.

To President Obama, there is no necessary conflict between being created equal and this government-sanctioned, fully funded slaughter of innocents. Redefining marriage against the laws of nature and nature’s God is seen as a necessary evolution of an enlightened society.

Obamacare is intended to normalize abortion-on-demand. The president has internalized what NARAL founder Lawrence Lader said: “Abortion is central to everything in life and how we want to live it.” That is why Mr. Obama went to Planned Parenthood in 2007 — a year before he appeared before the famous Greek columns in Denver — to assure the world’s largest trafficker in abortion that he would never depart from their agenda.

If millions of Americans believe he deceived them about keeping their health insurance plans, Planned Parenthood’s minions are not among those feeling betrayed. The president told Speaker Boehner he would shut down the government rather than consent to one dollar being cut from Planned Parenthood’s appropriations.

President Obama became the first leader to address an abortionists’ convention, these shedders of innocent blood. He urged them to keep it up. He assured them of God’s blessing.

In the midst of the current political fight over his signature accomplishment, President Obama could ill afford to go to Gettysburg to explain how his philosophy and his actions are consistent with Lincoln’s government of the people, by the people, for the people. This is especially so when Obamacare may prove lethal to millions of those very people.

He would not want to answer a question unavoidably raised by Lincoln’s 1859 description of America’s Founders and their core beliefs. Lincoln said it was their enlightened view that “nothing stamped in the divine image was sent into the world to be trod upon.” The question the president would doubtless be asked: “Are not unborn children so stamped?”

Let’s Make it Washington & Lincoln Day

by Robert Morrison

February 22, 2013

Today is George Washington’s Birthday. It used to be a holiday, a unifying national celebration of the Father of our Country.

We used to teach children a lot about George Washington. When I told Ed Meese a few years back that an online poll of Americans had voted Ronald Reagan the greatest American, Mr. Meese almost spilled his coffee.

He didn’t think so! He thought George Washington was the greatest American.” Mr. Meese sadly shook his head over what was happening to civic education in our country.

It’s especially poignant to remember Ronald Reagan’s Farewell Address to the Nation. In January 1989, the president warned of a loss of our national memory. He was the only president known to have died of Alzheimer’s. George F. Will poetically compared that dreaded disease to aMidwestblizzard in which all the familiar signposts and landmarks are gradually lost to view in a mental whiteout.

Before his long goodbye, though, President Reagan said: “If we forget what we did, we won’t know who we are. I’m warning of an eradication of the American memory that could result, ultimately, in an erosion of the American spirit.”

One way we can see the erosion of the American spirit is through the loss of civic ceremony and a sense of our history as a people. I would point to Presidents Day as a symptom of this loss. What is this thing? Formally, it is still the federal holiday dedicated to George Washington, but what is it in the minds of the people? Is it a celebration of the presidency? Are we really celebrating James Buchanan and Millard Fillmore along with Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton? I hope not.

I was often asked by my college history students to name the greatest President of the United States. I would answer: Washington & Lincoln. No, the greatest one president. Washington & Lincoln, I would stubbornly reply.

Often, among conservatives, Washington is tops. Among liberals, it’s usually Lincoln (once they get past that inconvenient truth that Lincoln was a—shudder—Republican).

There are of course many differences between Washington and Lincoln. Washington was a wealthy planter, one of the richest. He held slaves all his life. We don’t want to celebrate that, for sure. But as president, he signed Congress’ reaffirmation of the Northwest Ordinance, which banned slavery from a vast western reserve of lands.

He also freed his slaves on his death, thus setting an example for the country. If every slaveholder had done what Washington did, there would have been no Civil War.

Washington was clearly the most unifying figure ever to occupy the presidency. He was twice elected unanimously in the Electoral College. Even Washington’s opponents, and he did have some, generally tried to blame Alexander Hamilton or John Jay for some of the administration’s policies they disliked.

If Washington was the most unifying, Abraham Lincoln was the most divisive. A bloody four-year struggle ensued almost from the day his victory was announced. That says more about us as a people, however, than it does about Lincoln. The great Southern diarist Mary Chesnut probably had it right when she pegged the root cause of the Civil War: It was “because we hated each other so.” Tragically true.

Lincoln had great faith in the power of reason to appeal to “the better angels of our nature.” He thought surely we could all recognize what Washington and the other Founders recognized: Slavery is an evil and should not be extended. But by 1860, millions had been swayed by the seductive arguments of John C. Calhoun that slavery was “a positive good” for slaveholder and slave alike.

Lincoln playfully exploded the illogic of that argument. Though volumes have been written to prove the good of slavery, he said, we seldom hear of “the man who seeks the good of slavery by becoming a slave himself.”

If only those swayed millions had heard Lincoln’s arguments. His speeches, his writings were effectively banned across eleven states. In the election of 1860, his name did not even appear on the ballot in ten states.

The reason to oppose Presidents Day is because we cannot focus on forty-four presidents. They become a blur. Ronald Reagan understood this when he led the commemoration of the Fortieth Anniversary of D-Day. He went to Normandy and invited grizzled veterans of the invasion, brave airborne rangers, to sit before him. “These are the boys of Pointe-du-Hoc,” he intoned, “these are the men who liberated a continent and left the vivid air signed with their honor.”

Scholar Douglas Brinkley understood Reagan’s sense of the dramatic. Just as Shakespeare’s Henry V immortalized “we few, we happy few, we band of brothers,” Ronald Reagan let those Boys of Pointe-du-Hoc stand for the millions who fought to free Western Europe in World War II.

By celebrating Washington & Lincoln, we give the honor due to our Founding Father and our Redeemer President. It was Lincoln who, in freeing the slaves, assured freedom to the free. And it was clear throughout his presidency that Lincoln revered Washington above all his predecessors. Lincoln fought for “a vast future;” Washington secured this haven for “millions yet unborn.” We should honor both of our greatest leaders and celebrate Washington & Lincoln Day.

A Pro-Life Lincoln?

by Robert Morrison

November 19, 2012

This is the 149th Anniversary of the Gettysburg Address.

An old man in Boston in the 1830s peeked out from his closed shutters at the horrible spectacle in the streets below. His house was locked up tight against the visit of that monster, the President of the United States. He had sent his family away, but the old man stayed behind to guard the estate, to protect the family silver. When the presidential carriage passed below, however, the old man saw the happy throng of his neighbors. He saw not a rough, savage backwoodsman, but a tall, spare, white-haired war hero, cloaked in dignity, and wrapped in goodwill. The old man couldnt help himself. He threw open the shutters and waved enthusiastically. He yelled out the window: Hurrah! Hurrah!

Graciously, President Andrew Jackson tipped his hat and bowed to Mr. Boston. Mr. Bostons heart was the first of the many Old Hickory won that day. I am like Mr. Boston. I went to the local theater today to see Lincoln. I expected to hate it. I know the politics of the director and the producers of this film. And what could I expect of that British actor, Daniel Day-Lewis? But I fling open the shutters of my heart and Im yelling: Hurrah! Hurrah! This is a wonderful movie. Go see it! Take your children (your teenage and above children.) View it as a family. Day-Lewiss performance as Lincoln may be the best Lincoln we will ever see. He is wise and funny, sometimes crude, and yet elevated beyond the ken of normal men.

You will see here why his young secretaries, John Hay and John Nicolay, called Lincoln the Tycoon. Most Lincoln biographers treat his White House years as a burden, a trial. They deplore the fact that poor Mr. Lincoln was beset by an endless parade of office seekers and those wanting favors of every kind. Well, why didnt Lincoln tell his shrewd and politically savvy Secretary of State William Seward to handle the appointments? Or why didnt he summon Sewards man Thurlow Weed down to Washington and let Weed handle all political patronage?

Because Lincoln knew thats where the power was. He knew that this was how you learn what the American people are thinking, feeling. To have given those reins to another was to let that man drive the team. Not going to happen. Early in his administration, Lincoln had told Hay and Nicolay, I cant afford to let Seward take the first trick. Wings clipped, but not too severely, Seward became Lincolns ally and then his best friend. Daniel Day-Lewis has rescued Abraham Lincoln from the embalmers. Sometimes I think Im the tiredest man on earth, Lincoln said late in his term. Day-Lewis walks as if his feet hurt. His shoulders are hunched. He slumps in the saddle.

If you want a Napoleonic figure on horseback, call for Gen. George B. McClellan. That Young Napoleon had all the qualities of the Corsican conquerorexcept, of course, decision. And speed.

The movie covers only a few weeks at the end of Lincolns life. And yet it captures so much of the drama of the times Lincoln lived through. Did he shape events? He was quick to say no. I confess events have shaped me, he said. We know, though, that Lincoln was the central figure in Americas Civil War. Okay.

Does Hollywood mess up the history? Yes and no. They certainly get U.S. Grant wrong. They show Gen. Grant giving Lincoln political advice and dealing with the Confederate peace commissioners as a proconsul. Thats not Grant. Thats one of his greatest qualities. Unlike McClellan, who lectured Lincoln on his political responsibilities, Grant avoided all such. He was strictly subordinate to Lincolns authorityat all times. But the movie certainly gets Grant right at Appomattox. And thats the big thing. This is the Grant who orders his jubilant artillerists to cease firing their One Hundred Gun salute. The rebels are our countrymen once again, says Grant, determined not to allow a single gesture that might humiliate Lees defeated gray legions.

The story involves the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment in a lame-duck session of the U.S. House of Representatives. January, 1865, was the first time the Constitution mentioned slaveryas it abolished it forever. President Lincoln signed the Thirteenth Amendment. There is no provision in the Constitution for a president to sign an amendment.

So why did he? Those on the right today who try to argue that Lincoln didnt really care about slavery all that much will have to answer this question: Why therefore did he feel compelled to sign that instrument? Too bad the movie didnt show Lincoln signing the amendment. Hollywood shows Sec. of State William Seward dealing with some low, shady characters. Are they some of Sewards Albany, New York, wire-pullers and backroom manipulators? Probably. Did Seward bribe Democratic House Members who had been defeated in the previous November election? Did he offer them federal jobs as a reward for voting for the Thirteenth Amendment?

I will quote the Great Emancipator himself: Damfino. I wont spoil the ending by telling the reader what happens. Suffice it to say it is probably not news that the Thirteenth Amendment is part of the Constitution. What may be news is that every vote cast against the Thirteenth Amendment was cast by a Democrat.

How can I maintain that this is a pro-life Lincoln? He speaks of the sacrifice of his day as necessary for millions yet unborn. We know Lincoln thought the Civil War was being fought for a vast future. We know he looked to an America in the 1930s that would have 130 million peopleand he welcomed that quadrupling of our population. Would he have disapproved of abortion? We cannot say. He certainly did approve of womens suffrage and said so. But he might well have been like Susan B. Anthony and the other early Suffragists who were for womens rights and strongly pro-life.

Liberals today embrace Lincoln. Good for them. Let us rally around Lincoln. Lincoln said nothing stamped in the divine image was sent into the world to be trod upon. Are not unborn children so stamped? Lincoln spoke in parables. Even an ant knows when he has been wronged. Take from him the crumb of bread he has earned from his own labor and he will resist.

TIMEs Joe Klein tells us that ultrasound has made it impossible to deny the reality that that thing in the womb is a human being. Look at The Silent Scream. See that unborn child try to fend off the lethal probe. See as she struggles for her life. If the ant knows he is wronged, what would Lincoln say of that ultrasound homicide? Would he deny that reality?

Film critic Rex Reed panned Daniel Day-Lewiss portrayal of Lincoln. He says its as wooden as George Washingtons teeth. Rex Reed knows no more of Lincoln than Ralph Reed does. And besides, Washingtons teeth were hippopotamus ivory. Rex Reed must have missed the scene where President Lincoln pardons a 16-year old soldier boy. The boy has been condemned to be shot for cowardice. He pauses, reflectively, and you know what Abraham is thinking: My son Willie would be 16 now, or nearly so. It moved me to tears. Youd have to have a wooden heart not to appreciate what Lincoln is feeling.

Daniel Day-Lewis, from Wales, has captured our Lincoln better than any other before him. This is doubtless fitting. It was a British biographer of Lincoln, after all, Lord Charnwood, who gave us this priceless insight a hundred years ago: The Union soldiers stopped calling the president Old Abe and Uncle Abe in the bloody autumn of 1862. That was after hed issued his Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. Then, they began calling him Father Abraham. Now, with this triumphant film, we have a Father Abraham for all Americans to share. The Union forever, hurrah, boys, hurrah.

Around the Corner: Douglass and Lincoln at Fords Theater

by Robert Morrison

February 16, 2012

One of the many advantages of working in Washington is to be literally around the corner from history. Fords Theater, where President Lincoln was shot on April 14, 1865, has been refurbished and used to stage many an interesting play about the nations storied past. Its a short walk from my office to step into time.

Last night, I attended Necessary Sacrifices, a play about the sometimes stormy relationship between editor, orator, abolitionist Frederick Douglass and President Lincoln. Richard Hellesen has taken the two brief office meetings between the harried president and the acknowledged leader of Americas black community and turned them into compelling drama.

We have no detailed record of the face-to-face meetings except from the powerful memoirs of Frederick Douglass. So, the playwright uses well-known statements by both men to build on their dialogue. Its certainly acceptable dramatic license. If Douglass and Lincoln did not actually say all that they say to each other in this two-hour presentation, they certainly delivered their lines in one context or another.

Both men were ravenous readers. Lincoln consumed many newspapers each day and used his endless stream of visitors to pump them for information. Frederick Douglass had learned from childhood the power of reading to liberate. When Hugh Auld, his Baltimore master, learned that his sweet wife was teaching the boy Frederick to read, he raged at the dear woman. Reading will ruin the best n_____ in the world! Frederick quickly learned that literacy was his ticket to freedom.

The Douglass character is played by Craig Wallace. Initially, I thinkWallace is a bit too short and too stocky to accurately convey the impression of Frederick on stage. But he has a powerful basso profundo voice that shakes the farthest reaches of the theater. In that, he soon assumes the commanding platform presence that made Frederick Douglass one of the highest paid and eagerly sought after speakers in Americaas well as Canada, Scotland, and England. Elegantly attired in vest and suit, his Douglass is conscious of the honor he is being paid in visiting Mr. Lincoln.

Douglass starts off calling Lincoln Excellency, but Lincoln waves all that folderol away. Lincoln called his younger law partner, William Herndon, Billy, but most of his political associates he calls by their last names, as they call him Lincoln. He does pay Frederick the respect, however, of calling him Mr. Douglass.

David Selbys Abraham Lincoln is a marvel. He looks the part, but better than that, he knows his character thoroughly. President Lincoln certainly seems august as he comes on stage in his familiar stovepipe hat and three-piece black suit. But soon, Lincoln is slouched in his chair, running his fingers through his hair, throwing a bony leg over the arm of the threadbare chair.

You can readily see why so many Americans of refined manners thought Lincoln uncouth, even vulgar. Selbys voice pierces. Its not the Disneyland Lincoln you get, no somber baritone. Instead, its a tenor that at first is irritating but is soon compelling. The accent is Hoosier. Rustic. No, lets be honest with Honest Abe. Hes a hick. You can easily imagine this Lincoln calling out Mr. Cheerman, for Chairman. And saying skeered for scared.

But is he ever shrewd. The play is not so much a debate as a verbal wrestling match. Their first meeting was in August, 1863, eight months after the Emancipation Proclamation, so Douglass concentrates on enlistment of black troops, equal pay for Negro, or colored, soldiers, as they were called.

Douglass is incensed that his promises to young black men seem not to have been honored by the War Department. Lincoln has reasons for all the invidious discrimination. He reminds Douglass of the New York Draft Riotshundreds killed, Negroes lynched, a colored orphanage burned down. And this in the north?

Lincoln threatens rebels with reprisals if they continue to murder colored soldiers they capture. (My own great uncle, Jonas Lipps, was one of those prisoners of war so threatened.) But he drags his feet in carrying out that order.

Returning to my seat after intermission, I note the bizarre sign posted at the entrance to the theater: Firearms Prohibited. This is Fords Theater.

The second act shows Lincoln and Douglass meeting in August, 1864. Hes convinced he is going to be defeated in the November election. The Democratic nominee is Gen. George B. McClellan, whom Lincoln had fired two years earlier because he had the slows.

Lincoln makes Douglass the most amazing offer. I want you to be my agent in the South.

Once I am defeated, I can do nothing more about the Emancipation Proclamation. McClellan will probably revoke that executive order on the Inaugural Stand, as soon as he takes the oath. Lincoln appeals to Douglass to go into the unconquered South and lead millions of slaves out of bondage. Lincoln knows that only when they enter Union lines, will they be legally free. He will thus present McClellan with an insurmountable obstacle: Will the new president actually re-enslave millions?

Frederick Douglass never has a chance to play the role of Americas Black Moses. Thats because Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman wins a critical victory. Atlanta is ours, and fairly won. Atlantas fall, and Gen. Phil Sheridans campaign of destruction in the Shenandoah Valley, the breadbasket of the Confederacy, change everything. Lincoln is overwhelmingly re-elected. Long Abraham a little longer, reads the caption on one famous cartoon that November.

Re-elected, Lincoln will send the Thirteenth Amendment to the states for ratification. He signs the amendment. No president before or since has signed an amendment to the Constitution. As with his Proclamation, his whole heart and soul are in the measure.

In one of the plays many humorous moments, Lincoln invites Douglass to sit in his presidential chair. Its rather battered and worn, he says, but youd be amazed how many want to sit in it. They still do, Mr. President!

In the climactic finale, Douglass avoids being ejected from the Inaugural Reception at the White House on March 4, 1865. Lincoln spies his towering figure in the crowd of white faces. He summons him to the head of the line. Douglass, come here. He asks his friend, his antagonist, what he thinks of the Second Inaugural Address. Mr. Lincoln, it was a sacred effort.

Its the last time they will ever meet. Five weeks later, in this theater, Lincoln will be assassinated. That summer of 1865, Lincolns widow sends his walking stick to Frederick Douglass. In a silent, but poignant gesture, actor Craig Wallace takes up Lincolns walking stick and with it salutes the Presidential Box where Lincoln sat that moody tearful night.

Lincoln at GettysburgAnd Us

by Robert Morrison

November 18, 2011

We already know who the featured speaker at the Gettysburg Address Sesquicentennial will be. Organizers of this one hundred fiftieth celebration have asked President Obamatwo years ahead of 2013—to lead the list of distinguished Americans expected to commemorate President Lincolns immortal words, delivered November 19, 1863. Event planners must be assuming that Mr. Obama will be re-elected. It would be awkward, wouldnt it, to have him be the lead speaker if he has been defeated for office?

Well, awkward fits. President Lincoln went up to Gettysburg by train the afternoon before the cemeterys dedication. He tried to get some sleep that night, but revelers kept him up with their drinking and singing. The party atmosphere that prevailed in Gettysburg at that time was worse than awkward; it was ghastly. Lincoln seems not to have noted it.

Nor did he mind being asked merely to deliver some appropriate remarks. The President of the United States, the commander-in-chief of the greatest armies and navy this country had ever assembled, the Great Emancipator himself, was given only a secondary role in the ceremony. It reminds us of the story of Lincoln greeting an old friend from Illinois. The visitor expressed surprise that the nations leader should be blacking his own boots. Whose boots should I black, Lincoln asked humorously.

I have been to Gettysburg dozens of times. I never tire of seeing that battlefield and walking through that National Cemetery, that hallowed ground. I took scores of students there on field studies. I made a point always of having them join hands atop the monument to the 20th Maine Regiment, the unit commanded by Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain.

Chamberlains men were running out of ammunition on Little Round Top as the 15th Alabama Regiment charged that critical point. If the rebels succeeded, they would be able to mount cannon on that high point and rake the entire Union left. Chamberlain ordered his men, mostly Maine fisherman and lumberjacks, to fix bayonets and counter charge their foes. The Alabamians had never tasted defeat until that moment.

The 20th Maine monument is not like many of the others at Gettysburg. Rich, powerful Northern states like New York and Pennsylvania, erected grand memorial palaces in the post-war years to tell the world what their sons had done.

Southerners, stricken by defeat and poverty, nonetheless, dug deep into their pockets to erect the most moving tributes to the sons of the Lost Cause who died at Gettysburg. My great great Uncle Jonas Lipps survived that battle, and a dozen others, only to die in a Union prison camp at age 24.

The 20th Maine monument is most moving in its simplicity. It is made of cheap stone. Those Mainers were just fishermen and loggers, after all. Still, it touches something deep in our hearts. It was for just such menand their descendants—that President Lincoln carried on this great peoples struggle. He said it was not just a war for the present, but for a vast future.

I take inspiration from Lincolns words on that great dedicatory occasion. He finished his brief 272-word address saying this nationunder Godwould have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.

We are engaged today in a great cultural clash, more protracted and more wrenching in many ways than even that civil war. For many in our national leadership, including President Obama, the fate of millions yet unborn is merely matter of constitutionally protected choice. Their lives, their yearning to breathe free, is a matter of no special concern to this administration. In fact, under Mr. Obamas health care law, the destruction of the millions of unborn children will proceed with government financial support.

In Lincolns time, the federal government was pledged to return runaway slaves to their owners. Only with Emancipation did that policy officially end. He said it most eloquently: Nothing stamped in the divine image was sent into the world to be trod upon. I have had the privilege this fall of seeing ultra-sound images of my grandchildren, twins stamped in that divine image. Their right to be is not above our pay grade.

I appeal to President Obama: Dont wait until 2013; go to Gettysburg now. Mr. President, you should seriously study Abraham Lincolns words and his principles. Lincoln always said he would not play the Pharisee. He would not impute to himself all righteousness. He had vast sympathy for others points of view. But he knew and he said that if slavery was not wrong, nothing is wrong. We know that if abortion is not wrong, nothing is wrong.

To protect life at its most vulnerable has always been right. In doing so, we must try to win over our opponents. To achieve this, we should remember Lincolns modest stand. He did not claim that the Lord was on his side: I am not at all concerned about that, for I know that the Lord is always on the side of the right. But it is my constant anxiety and prayer that I and this nation should be on the Lords side.

Why they do it

by Robert Morrison

May 10, 2011

The images from that two-story slum of a compound are eerily familiar. Osama bin Laden appears, wrapped in a blanket, hunkered down in his bunker, remote in hand, and watching re-runs of his greatest hits. How squalid. How very predictable.

Readers of James Swansons outstanding history, Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincolns Killer, will recognize the scene. In that book, Swanson relates how John Wilkes Booth was holed up in the woods in southern Maryland a full week after he assassinated the president. Dirty, unshaven, hungry, and suffering acute pain from his broken leg, Booth craved one thing above everything else: newspapers. Like the famous actor he was, he wanted to read the reviews of his most spectacular performance.

That Booth would kill Lincoln in a crowded theater tells us volumes about the mindset of these assassins. John Wilkes Booth might have presented his calling card to the White House usher any day of the four years that Lincoln was president. As one of the most famous Shakespearean actors in America, Booth would doubtless have been admitted to the presidents office. Lincoln, after all, was an avid theatergoer and he could quote long passages from Shakespeare. John Wilkes Booth might then have pulled out his bulldog derringer from his waistcoat and shot the president as he sat at his desk.

But that would not have served Booths craving for attention. Imagine the horror this young man felt as hid in those bushes and read his notices in the newspapers. He found himself condemned, not just in the Northern newspapers, but roundly condemned by the Southern papers, too.

Had he really wanted to serve the South, he could easily have slipped through Union lines and volunteered to go into battle with Lees Army of Northern Virginia. That would have required self sacrifice and subordinating his ego to the cause of Southern independence. That much, Booth was unwilling to do.

We are forever getting this stuff wrong. We keep thinking we will learn something in delving into the twisted psyches of these vicious killers. Thats why NBC News decided to air the video made by the Virginia Tech killer in 2007. Bill Bennett sharply criticized the news division at that time, asking pointedly what we learned from giving the publicity craving killer what he wanted. Did we learn he was crazed? Did we learn that he had delusions he was being persecuted? Did we learn he was filled with violent hatreds?

Did we ever doubt that?

Observing anniversaries of mass shootings, employing the term massacre, and calling them the biggest, the worst, the most only incites hate-filled and violent killers.

And finding the hidden motivation of these deranged persons also fulfills a media longing for root causes. If Congresswoman Giffordsassailant had ever been seen near a TEA party rally, you may well imagine what the media reaction would have been. Similarly, what if the Oklahoma City bomber had ever joined the campus YRs?

Instead of all this pointless and repetitive analysis, I recommend reading Dostoevskis classic Crime and Punishment. There, you will get inside the killers brain. You will find in Raskolnikovs mind all you need to know about killers motivation. It might not seem as exciting to have a penurious young Russian split the skull of his grasping landlady. He took the axe he had secreted inside his heavy overcoat in early nineteenth century Saint Petersburg. Thats hardly something to inspire the same morbid fascination as the Hitler Channel, but as this killer confessed in his self analysis, Napoleon, the slayer of millions, had to start somewhere.

You may note that I havent listed the names of the Virginia Tech, Oklahoma City, or Tucson killers. That would be a good place to start if we really wanted to learn something from mass murderers: Deny them any publicity, any notoriety in this world or the next. Its their oxygen.

Writer Bob Morrison served for three years in the federal education department where he researched suicide among youth.

 

Like a Pistol Shot at Lincoln Cottage

by Robert Morrison

April 15, 2011

I was furiously scribbling notes as author James Swanson lectured last night at the Lincoln Cottage. He was speaking about his wonderful new book, Bloody Crimes: The he Chase for Jefferson Davis and the Death Pageant for Lincolns Corpse. The room was filled with listeners paying rapt attention as the sun set over the home where Abraham Lincoln drafted the Emancipation Proclamation. Last night was the anniversary of Lincolns assassination in 1865. One year ago, I was at the Newseum, also taking notes as James Swanson lectured on his earlier book, Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincolns Killer.

It should be clear I am a great admirer of this writers work. But in his lecture, Swanson offered an observation that stunned me as much as if he had fired John Wilkes Booths bulldog derringer above our heads:

He said: I regard Thomas Jefferson as the biggest hypocrite in American History.

What a terrible statement. And worse, the audience members nodded their approval of this stunning statement. From the Obama stickers proudly displayed on most of the newer luxury cars in the parking lot, I knew this was a pretty liberal crowd.

My first response to James Swanson, this serious Lincoln scholar is that Abraham Lincoln didnt think that. Lincoln said this:

All honor to Jeffersonto the man who, in the concrete pressure of a struggle for national independence by a single people, had the coolness, forecast, and capacity to introduce into a merely revolutionary document, an abstract truth, applicable to all men and all times, where it continues to stand as a rebuke and a stumbling block to the very harbingers of reappearing tyranny and oppression.

If the Great Emancipator thought that, it might be worthwhile to know why. Young Thomas Jefferson was distraught when fellow delegates to the Second Continental Congress cut out of his draft of the Declaration of Independence a stinging indictment of King George III. The king had repeatedly vetoed colonial attempts to end the African Slave Trade. Jefferson told Franklin his draft had been mutilated.

Jefferson didnt stop there. As a congressman, he offered an amendment that would have banned slavery from all U.S. territory west of the Appalachian Mountains. That bill failed by just one vote. Heaven itself was silent in that awful moment, Jefferson later wrote in anguish.

It wasnt a total loss, however, The Northwest Ordinance did pass Congress and it did contain a ban on slavery north of the Ohio River. But the failed Jefferson measure was far more extensive than even this great charter of freedom.

Jeffersons only book, Notes on Virginia, was published while he served as our ambassador in France. In it, Jefferson denounces slavery as tyranny, as a school for tyranny that corrupts the slaveholder as much as it debases the slave. Jefferson argues powerfully that slavery is morally wrongand tells us he trembles for his country when he reflects that God is just and His justice cannot sleep forever. [It should be candidly admitted that Jefferson also introduces some of the worst language on racial differences in this book. Decades later, black inventor and author Benjamin Banneker took Jefferson to task for these writings, and rightly so.]

Still, in the Notes on Virginia, Thomas Jefferson tells us, almost as an aside, that Northerners though they have few slaves among them, are great carriers of slaves to others.

Lincoln surely had read those words. They are chilling. Jefferson does not morally condemn his northern countrymen, but we should all know what his terrible words mean.

William Wilberforce campaigned for twenty years to get rid of the Slave TradeJefferson called it that execrable trafficin the British Empire. Jefferson fully supported his efforts.

The film Amazing Grace shows Wilberforce standing on the dcck of the slave ship Madagascar. He tells Londoners that this ship left West Africa with six hundred slaves and arrived in the British West Indies seven weeks later with only two hundred slaves surviving.

The worst Southern plantation in the bondsmans two hundred fifty years of unrequited toil could not have written such a record of horror. Novelist Patrick OBrien has his famous Captain Jack Aubrey respond to teasing from his best friend Stephen Maturin that Lucky Jack is getting fat. You know I cant swim here, Stephen, these are slave waters.

What does that mean? It means the slave traders regularly threw overboard living and dead Africans—and the sharks gathered.

This is what they call the horrors of the Middle Passage. Those were not Southerners manning those slave ships. They were Yankees from New England.

Reading those words, Lincoln would have known they were true. This is doubtless why, Lincoln, almost alone among Northern men, never plays the Pharisee. He is not self-righteous in his opposition to slavery.

Jefferson the President urged Congress to move early to ban the Slave Trade. In one of the unfortunate compromises necessary to gain ratification of the Constitution, Congress had to wait twenty years from adoption to ban the African Slave Trade.

President Jefferson in December 1806 called upon Congress in his State of the Union Message to act and act soon. Dont wait until January 1, 1808, he pleaded. Pass the ban now so that slave ships will not even start for America if they know they will arrive after the cutoff date.

Jefferson denounced the Slave Trade as a violation of the human rights of unoffending Africans. That is the strongest anti-slavery language used by any president prior to Abraham Lincoln.

And it inspired both Lincoln and the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass. Douglass honored Jefferson and powerfully quoted him, saying one hour of American slavery was worse than all the ages of British oppressions.

Yes, it is true that Jefferson failed to free the nearly two hundred human beings he held in slavery throughout his long life. Monticello was deeply in debt and Jefferson was unable to extricate himselfas the Great Washington had donefrom the serpents coils.

When I took our many FRC interns to Monticello for years, I would stand on Mr. Jeffersons lawn and make the point that George Will was wrong. Thomas Jefferson lived as free men ought to live, Will famously wrote. No, I would say, John Adams lived as free men ought to live. He never freed his slaves because he never had any.

Still, I honor Jeffersons memory as the man who powerfully taught us all why slavery was wrong, and who banned the African Slave Trade.

My question to James Swanson and to those pleasant folks chatting over wine and cheese at Lincoln Cottage is this:

If Thomas Jefferson was a hypocrite for denying two hundred human beings their inalienable right to liberty, what are we when every day in America we deny three thousand human beings unborn children—their right to Life?

Musings on Bachs Birthday

by Robert Morrison

March 21, 2011

I was researching a U.S. history book several years ago when I read about Gov. Nelson Rockefeller shaking hands with the 110-year old Henry Herndon in Indiana in 1968. Rocky was very excited. You could have given him Venezuela and the billionaire would not have been as happy. The reason?

The governor was told that Henry Herndon shook hands with Abraham Lincoln. Rocky went around for days telling everyone he met: Hey, fella, shake hands with me. I just shook hands with a man who shook hands with Abraham Lincoln.

I mentally filed that not away. Nice to know. Interesting comment, too, on American politics. When Lincoln shook hands with Henry Herndon, he was no longer the poor lad born in the log cabin. By that time, Lincoln was a successful lawyer from Springfield, Illinois.

But he was no Rockefeller. Yet, Lincoln won his first bid for national office—and the richer than Croesus Rockefeller was defeated, not once, but twice.

It was only several weeks later that it all dawned on me: Hey! I shook hands with Nelson Rockefeller in 1971. Which means I shook hands with the man who shook hands with the man who shook hands with Abraham Lincoln.

But Lincoln shook hands with J.Q. Adams, who shook hands with George Washington, his father John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, James Monroe and James Madison.

History buff that I am, I really got excited about this.

This led me to speculate that I might be similarly linked to Johann Sebastian Bach. Today is Bachs birthday. Bach spent his life as a humble kappelmeister in Germany. I think he must have walked everywhere he went. He never realized that he was a great genius.

He was a great husband and father. Two wives (he was once widowed) bore him some twenty children. Many of them went on to distinguish themselves in the world of music, too. Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach, Johann Christian Bach are only two of his distinguished progeny.

Columnist George Will says that the angels play Bachs music around the Throne of God (but when they get off on their own, they jam with Mozart!) I dont know about any of that, but it is true that Bachs music opens up a world of devotion to us. He finished every composition with the Latin words: Ad maiorem Dei gloriam—to the Greater Glory of God.

How much better our world would be if we all did our work with that dedication in mind.

Maybe then people would read what we write or consider what we accomplish 260 years after we are gone.

Bach has never really been gone. His music went out beyond the galaxy on board the U.S. Pioneer X space probe. What if Extra-Terrestrials hear it and come to Earth asking us: Take us to your Kapellmeister.

Might John Adams have shaken hands with King George III when he was our ambassador to London? And might the King have shaken hands with the London Bach, Johann Christian Bach, who of course shook hands with his father, old Johann Sebastian?

Oops. Sorry. It doesn’t work that way. Kings didn’t shake hands in those days. And besides, Johann Christian died in 1782, before John Adams arrived in London.

So this hands-on exercise stops with George Washington, Franklin and Jefferson. Perfectly fine. (Unless I can somehow make another connection between John Adams and J.C. Bach).

Now, there was my beloved professor at U.Va., Sir John Wheeler-Bennett, who shook hands with Winston Churchill, who shook hands with the whole world!

I shared my Lincoln handshake story with my doctor friend aboard the USS Lincoln. He has assured me that no matter how vigorously any of these worthies shook hands, there would be no DNA remaining to pass on.

May be. But there is a sense of how connected we all are. More important than any of these is our connection to our Lord. And His to us through His son, Jesus Christ.

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