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Sunday, November 25, 2012

Lincoln's Dream (Part Three)

(Note:  This is the third and final segment in a series introducing readers to Abraham Lincoln under title of The Price of Fame.  Click here to view the first segment and second segment.)

“Who is dead in the White House?” Lincoln demanded of one of the soldiers...

As the calendar year 1863 unfolded, the clouds started to lift.  That summer Grant and Sherman were victorious through military siege at The Battle of Vicksburg (Mississippi).  During the same fateful “4th of July weekend,” the North prevailed at the Battle of Gettysburg.  Following their invasion of the North into Pennsylvania, the Confederates had hit their “high water mark.”  From that point forward, the South’s dwindling resources would compel purely defensive military operations.

President Lincoln settled on Grant as the leader of all Union armies, conferring the title of Lieutenant General.  The last namesake of this exalted status had been none other than George Washington.  Grant would come and stay east for the duration of the war, tracking the Confederate General, Robert E. Lee.  He would appoint Sherman head of western operations.  The two would pair to prosecute a harsh, unforgiving “total war.”  This was designed to demonstrate to the Confederacy the resolve of the people of the North to preserve the Union intact by defeating the South decisively in battle on its own turf.

In late September 1864 Sherman would telegraph President Lincoln the fall of Atlanta, which was now ours “and fairly won.”  The news electrified the North, catapulting Lincoln to an upset victory in his 1864 re-election effort.

The year 1864 would end with the news of Sherman’s March to the Sea, with the capture of Savannah, Georgia as a “Christmas present” to the president.  The end of the war could now be seemingly measured in weeks if not days.

All the politicians could agree on the prosecution of the war to the end, the only terms being “unconditional surrender” to lawful Union authority.  From there, President Lincoln faced a difficult path, for when it came to reconstruction of the rebellious states, there was little harmony.  The left favored a lenient peace.  The right, the so called radical reconstructionists within Lincoln’s own party, favored a harsh, unforgiving peace.

Lincoln preferred leniency, proposing lenient terms to ensure, and cement, the idea of Union, to put plows back into the hands of Southern men rather than weapons, and to promote and facilitate the healing process.  His terms would also eliminate the possibility of a longer, protracted period of guerilla warfare (today we appear to be more comfortable calling it “terrorism”), which many in the North had feared should the South refuse to surrender.

But something else began to preoccupy President Lincoln’s mind as the calendar turned to April 1865, even as Richmond fell on April 2 and the happy news of the war’s end with Lee’s surrender to Grant at Appomattox on April 9.  He hadn’t been sleeping well, for he had been having a recurring dream which had gotten the better of him.

He thus confided to his wife, Mary.  He had been in the White House, hearing subdued sobs, as if people were weeping.  He left his bed, wandered downstairs.  The rooms were lit, the objects all familiar.  But the mourners were invisible.  What could be the meaning?  He entered the East Room and was met with a sickening surprise.  Before him was a coffin on which a corpse rested in funeral vestments.  Soldiers were guarding it.

“Who is dead in the White House?” Lincoln demanded of one of the soldiers.  “The President” was the answer; “he was killed by an assassin!”  A loud burst of grief from the crowd followed.

“That is horrid!” Mrs. Lincoln cried out.  “I wish you had not told it.”

“Well,” Lincoln declared calmly, “it is only a dream.  Let us say no more about it.”

On April 14, 1865 President Lincoln’s dream came true.  His war end celebration to enjoy the fruits of victory would be a painfully brief five days following Appomattox.  Called home, Abraham Lincoln’s fame and success, such as he enjoys today, was not achieved until someone had first put a bullet in his head, and then not assured until long after his passing.  Such is the price of fame --- sometimes.

-Michael D’Angelo

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Price of Fame (Part Two)

(Note:  This is the second segment in a series introducing readers to Abraham Lincoln.  The first segment followed Lincoln's political ascent to the highest civil office in the land.  Yet the South believed it had the right to nullify the results of an election which it did not win.)

And you thought you were having a bad day?  How were the political fortunes of President Lincoln transformed from an initial state of jubilation upon his election in 1860 to one of despondency in two short years?  Did President Lincoln have any friends, any political supporters by the time the 1862 Congressional midterm elections rolled around?

In 1861, on his way to Washington as the president-elect, Abraham Lincoln’s oratory was called into serious question during a series of random, unconnected speeches he made at stops along the route:

These speeches thus far have been of the most ordinary kind, destitute of everything, not merely of felicity and grace, but of common pertinence.  He is evidently a person of very inferior cast of character, wholly unequal to the (secession) crisis.

From there things would get much worse.  Just how unpopular was President Abraham Lincoln during the early prosecution of a Civil War which involved 11 rebellious Southern states?   Indecisive if not incompetent Union military commanders were the cause of great angst among the Northern people.  Union armies had been frustrated at best, humiliated at worst.

To some, President Lincoln himself was said to be indecisive, too slow, hesitant, weak, lacking proper energy.  He was a “patronage disaster,” naming the wrong kind of people and dishonest men who agreed with them.  On reconstruction, he was far too lenient toward the South.  To others, he was even a worse disaster than that.  He was a “coarse joker, an imbecile guilty of ‘damnable blunders.’”  It went on from there:

He lacked backbone, encouraged corruption, squandered millions, and was a flat failure as a military commander-in-chief.  The best any of them could say of him was that he was ‘too angelic for this devilish rebellion,’ … .  Too kindhearted and well-meaning --- that was the trouble.

And that was the praise among his friends!

President Lincoln’s cabinet was comprised mostly of men who had presidential ambitions of their own in 1860, each of whom felt he and not Lincoln should be president.  Perhaps the most obvious of these men was Lincoln’s Secretary of the Treasury, Salmon Chase.  Chase’s learning was rooted almost entirely in books.  As a lawyer and politician, however, he was both an awesome and convincing advocate.  But despite all his learning, he was neither a student of or well versed in the science of human nature.

Secretary Chase believed the president to be a political accident, a mistake whose duty he sought to rectify in 1864.  His hunger for the presidency was said to be palpable, “glaring out of both eyes,” one politician had remarked.  Another, US Sen. Ben Wade, R-OH, said of him: “Chase is a good man, but his theology is unsound.  He thinks there is a fourth person in the Trinity.”

Among the Democrats whose kinship formed the Southern secessionist base, the catchphrase in the campaign to the 1862 Congressional midterm elections was “the Constitution as it is and the Union as it was,” with slavery unimpaired.  They flatly rejected President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, set to take effect January 1, 1863 as to those states still in rebellion.

In their view, the Executive had trampled upon individual rights in the act of waging war against both external and internal enemies.  Among the grievances were arbitrary arrests, imprisonments and violations of habeus corpus.  This meant that citizens could be detained indefinitely without sufficient cause or evidence.  Democrats saw these as a shameless, cynical, dangerous misuse of administrative power.  They portrayed Lincoln as a tyrant and his administration a dictatorship.

These factors in combination proved to be a disaster to President Lincoln and his party at the ballot box in the autumn of 1862.  The Congressional midterm elections gave Lincoln one of the longest nights of his presidency.  Five of the key states he had carried in 1860 --- New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, all heavy hitters --- had sent Democratic majorities to Congress two years later.  A solid chunk of Northern states from the Mississippi to the Atlantic that had gone for Lincoln in 1860 had turned to the Democrats in 1862.  Had the results in 1862 been extrapolated back to 1860, Lincoln would not now have been president.

By March 1863, Charles Dana, Lincoln’s ambassador to Great Britain, had written:

As to the politics of Washington, the most striking of these is the absence of personal loyalty to the President.  It does not exist.  He has no admirers, no enthusiastic supporters, none to bet on his head.  If a Republican convention were to be held tomorrow, he would not get the vote of a State.

President Lincoln and the “Union” cause had hit rock bottom.  But the president’s vision yet extended far enough into posterity to issue an executive order closing government departments, setting apart the last Thursday of November, 1863 in national recognition to a local day of thanksgiving.  Henceforth, a day of “Thanksgiving and Praise” would become permanently etched into American custom and tradition.

(In next week's third and concluding segment readers see the clouds finally start to lift following a pair of signature military victories by Union armies in the summer of 1863, as the war grinds along toward conclusion.)

-Michael D’Angelo

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Price of Fame (Part One)

(Note:  This is the first segment in a new three part series which begins here today.)

How dear is the price of fame?  Why is it that some stop at nothing to achieve it, yet it will elude them consistently?  Why do others pay little regard to fame, yet it will find them, become cemented into our culture and endure?

With President Obama’s successful 2012 re-election to a second term now behind us, the minds of ordinary citizens are free once again to draw upon the inspiration of the Great Emancipator.  Consider the case of Abraham Lincoln, who also faced significant second term headwinds.  Most would agree that Lincoln was a modest man of humble and ordinary ambitions.  Consider that Lincoln’s now legendary fame was not achieved until a bullet from the gun of John Wilkes Booth, the assassin, lodged in his brain.  And the success of his visionary leadership was not assured until many, many decades after his passing.

Lincoln held the belief, somewhat peculiar during his time, that a black man was entitled to that same fair chance in the race of life as his white counterpart.  It is interesting to study Lincoln from his own perspective:  “Understanding the spirit of our institutions is to aim at the elevation of men.  I am opposed to whatever tends to degrade them.”

In the election of 1860 that catapulted Lincoln to the presidency the South had split into divided political camps, each putting up their own man for president.  Lincoln’s name was not even on the ballot in 10 Southern states.  However, the split among his political opposition enabled Lincoln to win the election with less than 40% of the popular vote.  But, in an ominous sign, Lincoln had received exactly 0 electoral votes from the 15 southern slave states. [i]

These states believed, in essence, that they had the right to nullify the results of an election which they did not win.  So, it was no mystery that between the presidential election in November 1860 and Lincoln’s inauguration in February 1861, 7 Southern states would secede from the Union.  After the attack on Fort Sumter, South Carolina a few months later, 4 more states would secede, bringing the total to 11.  A new country, the Confederate State of America, had been born.

Frederick F. Dent, a Missouri slaveholder, and the father of General Grant’s wife, perhaps put it best:

Good Heavens!  If old Jackson had been in the White House, this never would have happened.  He would have hanged a score or two of them, and the country would have been at peace.  I knew we would have trouble when I voted for a man north of Mason and Dixon’s line.

Few people today remember that a rebel plot in 1861 to assassinate Lincoln in Baltimore before his inauguration on the train ride from Illinois to Washington, DC was foiled.  Disguised in a sleeper car and without guard, Lincoln rode through the station the night before he was scheduled to come through.  The would-be assassins were left scratching their heads, when the train Lincoln was supposed to be on came through the station the next day, empty.

The Civil War was upon us.  President Lincoln saw it not just as a conflict in arms but, rather, a “people’s contest:”

On the side of the Union, it is a struggle for maintaining in the world that form and substance of government whose leading object is to elevate the condition of men … to afford all an unfettered start, and a fair chance, in the race of life.

But to put it mildly, Abraham Lincoln’s war did not make him a very popular man.  The early prosecution of the war by the North was notorious for its incompetence.  Blame was, of course, laid at the feet of the Union’s commander-in-chief.

If President Lincoln harbored any ambition at all toward re-election, he guarded that ambition closely.  And the odds were not favorable in any case.  For since the time of George Washington, no northern president had ever won re-election.  It was highly unlikely that Lincoln should be the first.

(Readers follow President Lincoln's trail in the second segment to the depths of his political lows during the 1862 Congressional midterm elections.)

-Michael D’Angelo

 [i]  In the presidential election of 1860, the national vote tally was as follows:

    Candidate:                     Party:                Popular Vote:              Electoral Vote:      Voter Participation:

    Abraham Lincoln         Republican      1,865,593 (39.8%)               180                              81.2%

    Stephen A. Douglas    Democratic      1,382,713 (29.5%)                 12

    John C. Breckenridge  Democratic         846,356 (18.1%)                 72

    John Bell                       Union                  592,906 (12.6%)                 39

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Audaciously Brazen (Part Three)

(Note:  This is the third and final segment in a three part series under the general heading of Recent Currents: From the "Tea Party" to the 2012 Election.  Click here to view the first segment and second segment.)

What will be the primary features of life among the ordinary following a Teavangelical victory in the 2012 presidential election?  What are the critical flaws in their ambition to amass material wealth?  Is there any room for tolerance and inclusion?  Or is opposition to Obamacare but a smokescreen for other  unreasonable sentiments?

The election of 2012 contains enormous implications for ordinary citizens.  Should the Teavangelicals be permitted to run their play unimpeded, what ordinary citizens may experience is the real agenda, designed to “repeal” virtually every aspect of F.D.R.’s New Deal social order.  It is a huge undertaking, understood to be a reverse social engineering project of revolutionary magnitude.  And “replace” with what?

The real “Teavangelical” agenda appears to begin and end with the same basic principle.  It envisions an unregulated system of capitalism with a select few individuals sitting atop.  This is coupled with a strong national military to facilitate the transportation of goods and services and to protect investments in furtherance thereof.  Period.  The social safety net is effectively eliminated.  It’s every man for himself in a land where every man is slave to a wealthy few.

It is big government, Tea Party style.  Unfortunately, it is best suited to serve the occasional rich man who lives on an exclusive island than the masses of ordinary citizens who live in an inclusive democracy.  It is a bridge to the past, genuflecting before the foot of that runner who has already crossed the finish line, while the masses of ordinary citizens remain tethered to the starting block.  And coming as it does less than a handful of years following the failed priorities of the Neocons, attempting to target and obstruct the Obama administration as the scapegoat, the agenda is audaciously brazen.

In what is seen as an increasingly narrow vision of the democratic ideal, the theory of American capitalism favors materialism and material accomplishment first and foremost.  To protect material interests, it champions the legal protection of property rights, corporate and special interests over the interests of human welfare.  It also tends to favor the cementing of private material gains in perpetuity. This gradually and unacceptably concentrates equality of opportunity which is supposed to be available to all citizens into the hands of fewer and fewer individual beneficiaries of special privilege.

Over the succeeding generations, the present rules of the game have been utilized to create a class of numerically small but extremely wealthy conservative citizens which today we call Teavangelicals.  If the rules can never be modified to correct inequities by the very same government that created those rules, the formula will continue to favor growing economic disparity and class division.

And so it is little wonder as to why the Teavangelical platform wants less government.  When government attempts in good faith to call a foul and change the rules, government is portrayed as the evil.  Finally, claiming the moral high ground, it is said that both the existing plan and its material beneficiaries have the blessing of God.  Therefore, no effective impediment can be placed in their path.  Their victory is complete.

But the argument is sophistry, since the Teavangelical agenda contains at least two critical flaws.  First, any platform which favors property rights over human welfare by definition fails the basic litmus test of adherence to the disinterested ethical obligation to serve others before self.  Teavangelicals are unable to effectively reconcile that a Christian God, in fact, appears to advance quite the opposite claim.  And secondly, the main interest which binds Teavangelicals together is selfishness.  So when they are attacked, they divide their energies into individual fits of independent, self-possessed despotism and are thereby degraded.

On occasion, a situation occurs which provides a glimpse of what American society might look like in a future world where ordinary citizens live in perpetual subjugation to their Teavangelical “brethren.”  Might a bit of room be allotted for tolerance and inclusion in the rich man’s continuing obsession to acquire even greater material wealth? [i]  Don’t count on it.

A final story may best serve to illustrate.  Angry over the proposed national health care bill prior to its passage, some demonstrators, mostly Tea Party activists outside the US Capitol shouted “nigger” at US Rep. John Lewis, D-GA, civil rights icon.  Lewis was nearly beaten to death during an Alabama civil rights march in the 1960s.  The protesters also shouted obscenities at other members of the Congressional Black Caucus, lawmakers said.  “They were shouting, sort of harassing,” Lewis said.  “But, it’s okay, I’ve faced this before.  It reminded me of the ‘60s.  It was a lot of downright hate and anger and people being downright mean.”

But it didn’t stop with racism.  Protestors also used a slur as they confronted US Rep. Barney Frank, D-MA, an openly gay member of Congress (Frank also happens to be left handed and Jewish).  A writer for the Huffington Post said the crowd called Frank a “faggot.”  Frank told the Boston Globe that the incident happened as he was walking from the Longworth office building to the Rayburn office building, both a short distance from the US Capitol.  Frank said the crowd consisted of a couple of hundred people and that they referred to him as “homo.”

Frank told the Globe:

I’m disappointed with the unwillingness to be civil.  I was, I guess, surprised by the rancor.  What it means is obviously the health care bill is proxy for a lot of other sentiments, some of which are perfectly reasonable, but some of which are not.

The challenge of ordinary citizens, then, is to be a proponent of progressive ideas to improve our democratic ideal, regardless of the politics, regardless of the political party.  This means striving toward that elusive goal of achieving meaningful equality of opportunity for all citizens, not just the wealthy or privileged few.

-Michael D’Angelo

[i]  It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” – Matthew 19:24; Mark 10:25; Luke 18:25.

        How might billionaire individuals such as Rupert Murdoch and the Koch brothers attempt to justify their conduct alongside this particular Biblical quotation?  Each man is understood to be among the richest known men in the world.
        Murdoch is the Australian American global media baron and the Chairman and CEO of News Corporation, the world's second-largest media conglomerate.  In 1953, Murdoch became managing director of News Limited, inherited from his father.  He acquired troubled newspapers in Australia and New Zealand during the 1950s and 1960s, before expanding into the UK in 1969.  He moved to New York in 1974, expanding into the US market, and became a US citizen in 1985.  By 2000 News Corporation owned over 800 companies in more than 50 countries with a net worth of over $5 billion.
        Murdoch has been listed three times in the Time 100 as among the most influential people in the world.  He is ranked as the 13th most powerful person in the world in The World's Most Powerful People list, published by Forbes in 2010, with a personal net worth of $7.6 Billion.
         In July 2011 Murdoch faced allegations that his companies had been regularly engaged in the illegal practice of hacking the phones of private citizens, including the cell phones of deceased victims of “9/11”.  He also faces police and government investigations into bribery and corruption in the UK and FBI investigations in the US.
         The Koch (pronounced coke) family is most notable for control of Koch Industries, the second largest privately owned company in the US.  Fred C. Koch was born in Texas, the son of a Dutch immigrant.  He started the family business in the 1920s, developing a new method for refining heavy oil into gasoline.  In 1927, Koch developed a more efficient thermal "cracking" process for turning crude oil into gasoline.  This process led to bigger yields, higher octane and helped smaller, independent oil companies compete.  The larger oil companies filed some 44 different lawsuits against Koch, Koch winning all but one.  That verdict was later overturned when it was revealed that the judge had been bribed.
     The Koch brothers, David H. and Charles G., R are two of four sons of inherited wealth who have funded  conservative and libertarian policy and advocacy groups in the US.  The Koch family foundations have given more than $100 million to think tanks like the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute, as well as more recently Americans for Prosperity.  Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Works are Koch-linked organizations that have been involved in the Tea Party movement.