Ripples of Lincoln Assassination in Humiliation of Countrymen


Father John Kiley has a letter in today’s Providence Journal lamenting the powerful advantage that TV sitcom writers have over the giants of millennia of Western thought.  His specific topic is the redefinition of marriage, but his observation applies much more broadly.

Progressives’ post-modern approach to knowledge has permeated our culture for generations, now, and we’re rapidly losing everything that made us uniquely American and that made the United States great.  For example, I’ve found myself thinking of Ulysses S. Grant’s autobiography, lately — specifically these paragraphs after he tells of the end of the Civil War and the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln:

… The joy that I had witnessed among the people in the street and in public places in Washington when I left there, had been turned to grief; the city was in reality a city of mourning. I have stated what I believed then the effect of this would be, and my judgment now is that I was right. I believe the South would have been saved from very much of the hardness of feeling that was engendered by Mr. Johnson’s course towards them during the first few months of his administration. Be this as it may, Mr. Lincoln’s assassination was particularly unfortunate for the entire nation.

Mr. Johnson’s course towards the South did engender bitterness of feeling. His denunciations of treason and his ever-ready remark, “Treason is a crime and must be made odious,” was repeated to all those men of the South who came to him to get some assurances of safety so that they might go to work at something with the feeling that what they obtained would be secure to them. He uttered his denunciations with great vehemence, and as they were accompanied with no assurances of safety, many Southerners were driven to a point almost beyond endurance.

The President of the United States is, in a large degree, or ought to be, a representative of the feeling, wishes and judgment of those over whom he presides; and the Southerners who read the denunciations of themselves and their people must have come to the conclusion that he uttered the sentiments of the Northern people; whereas, as a matter of fact, but for the assassination of Mr. Lincoln, I believe the great majority of the Northern people, and the soldiers unanimously, would have been in favor of a speedy reconstruction on terms that would be the least humiliating to the people who had rebelled against their government. They believed, I have no doubt, as I did, that besides being the mildest, it was also the wisest, policy.

The people who had been in rebellion must necessarily come back into the Union, and be incorporated as an integral part of the nation. Naturally the nearer they were placed to an equality with the people who had not rebelled, the more reconciled they would feel with their old antagonists, and the better citizens they would be from the beginning. They surely would not make good citizens if they felt that they had a yoke around their necks.

A century and a half after that time, nobody who had actually rebelled against the country, precipitating that war, remains alive, and it’s fair to say the vast majority even of those who retain some nostalgia for the Confederacy consider themselves fully united with the Union.  We are like siblings who fought in our youth over some principle of disagreement in our home, and now in our late middle age, the younger brother, who ultimately lost the dispute, keeps some reminder of it.  He’s conceded that he was wrong, but the keepsake has dropped its former meaning and now symbolizes his willingness to stand up to his older brother and his family’s belief in reconciliation even with rebels.

Unfortunately, our country no longer behaves as the United States of America.  Our Constitution — the written rules that ensure we follow a fair process for changing the terms of our union — is now “a living document” subject to change when powerful people decide that they are right beyond dispute.  It’s a perfect symbol of the arbitrary and capricious nature of such an attitude that a simple flag with no words, but only symbols, is now on the verge of being banned on the grounds that its meaning can never change.  The consistency isn’t that historical documents are living or fixed, but that whatever serves the powerful must always be correct.

In the perfect instantiation of that perfect symbol, Walmart is refusing to sell special-order class rings that contain Rebel symbolism… even to the point of giving an aunt her money back when she came to pick up a gift for her nephew, for which she’d paid and which was sitting right there behind the counter.  The store is going to “melt” the ring.  For some perspective, this isn’t even like a baker declining to provide a cake for a same-sex wedding.  The cake is done, lettered with the names of the groom and groom; they have come to pick it up the morning of the ceremony; and the baker refuses to hand it over, saying he’s going to smash it because his policy has changed.

These are dangerous times.  A secure society shows its power in having the graciousness to allow minorities to hold on to their integrity and to find a way to integrate their past beliefs into the shared principles of the nation.  What we’re witnessing, now, is the moralizing totalitarian hysteria of an insecure movement that knows it cannot be maintained in competition with the past and with differing ideas.

  • Warrington Faust

    To use an old saw, the Constitution may be a “living document”,but it is not a “suicide pact”.

    Pres. Grant, and Justin, lend credence to the idea of a rebellion. The Confederate states had legally seceded and took up arms when they were invaded. They did not take up arms, rebel, and then secede as an after thought. An old argument. The victors always write in calmer prose. Not approving of the method does not mean that I do not approve of ‘these United States”. What we celebrate is the greatest failure of American democracy and our willingness to resort to force.

    Justin is correct in his interpretation of governmental action. The government is taking the lead in supporting an emotional response when logical discourse should be the order of the day. I fail to see any logical connection between the Stars and Bars and the atrocious murders in Charleston. It may give the appearance that the government is “doing something”. The are “eliminating hate”. This serves to mislead us. In a country of 320 million, we have to expect a few loonies with aberrant beliefs.

    Wal Mart is a lesser God. They have clearly failed to honor their contract which only requires that they accept the consequences (there may be arguments of “specific performance”). There are established legal remedies for this. In the current climate, I would not anticipate significant “damages”. The same should be true of the bakers referenced above. Unfortunately, the government is now in the business of “teaching lessons”, not administering justice.

    • msteven

      Unfortunately, the government is now in the business of “teaching lessons”, not administering justice.
      — best line I’ve read in a while. And an excellent post Justin.

  • ShannonEntropy

    These are dangerous times. A secure society shows its power in having the graciousness to allow minorities to hold on to their integrity and to find a way to integrate their past beliefs into the shared principles of the nation.

    You wrote those words … yet you are AGAINST same-sex-marriage ??

    WTF ,, Justin ??

    • Justin Katz

      “Integrating past beliefs into the shared principles of the nation” doesn’t mean redefining the principles of the nation to accord with conflicting beliefs. Marriage as the building block of a family, uniting mother, father, and children, is the principle. Same-sex couples could affirm that structure without necessitating that we declare the centrality of children in the nuclear family to be void.
      The parallel with the Confederate flag would be demanding that freedom can be redefined in such a way as to bring back slavery.

      • Warrington Faust

        “find a way to integrate their past beliefs into the shared principles of the nation.”

        I don’t know why this should not accord with “civil unions”. That would have accomplished all, without redefining marriage.

        • Mike678

          Separate but equal? Civil unions don’t work, in part, because it puts homosexuals in a different bin, an anathema. Toleration isn’t enough–acceptance, even admiration, is required.

          • Warrington Faust

            And the wolf will dwell with the lamb, And the leopard will lie down with the young goat, And the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; And from the White House a young boy will lead them .
            (Isaiah, King James, I beg your pardons)

          • ShannonEntropy

            “And the lion shall lie down with lamb.
            But the lamb shall not get much sleep.”

            —- Woody Allen

  • Warrington Faust

    A comment on Rhode Island and Lincoln’s assassination. I belong to a reading group in Providence, which shall remain nameless. At a recent meeting I was asked what I was reading next. I was tempted to reply Xenophon’s “Anabasis”, in the original Greek. I was truthful and responded that I had just picked up Bill O’Reilly’s Assassination of Lincoln. You should have seen the hands fly to hold their noses, while they screeched “Bill O’Reilly”. I had understood the book to be very well researched, still haven’t gotten to it.

    • ShannonEntropy

      You should have seen the reaction I used to get when I told people at Brown U that I had read Pat Buchanan’s
      The Death of the West !!