Curtis Dahlgren
February is "American President's Month" (really!)
By Curtis Dahlgren
January 31, 2012

"Life is not a spectator sport. If you're going to spend your whole life in the grandstand just watching what goes on, in my opinion you're wasting your life." — Jackie Robinson

"When you do the common things in life in an uncommon way, you will command the attention of the world." — George Washington Carver

"If a man is called to be a streetsweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted or Beethoven composed music." — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

CAN ANYONE EXPLAIN TO ME WHY FEBRUARY IS BLACK HISTORY MONTH? Jackie Robinson was born on January 31st, MLK on January 15th, and Carver on January 10TH. January ought to be Black History Month — unless the whole idea of modern culture is to wipe out the memory of the American Revolution (a nearby town just announced the discontinuation of 4th of July fireworks). What's going on here?

Someone said that the world would have been better off if Barney Frank and Charles Rangel had gone into doing voices for Walt Disney instead of doing Washington DC. Barry Sotello would have made a great radio announcer. And America would've been much better off if many college professors had gone into street sweeping instead of brainwashing our next generation.

Well, to me February will always be "American History Month" — and I mean all races, in no particular order! SO — in honor of 3 of our 4 greatest Presidents — all born in February — this week's column is a rerun of my February 3, 2004 column on Abraham Lincoln. I'm changing the title to "Abraham, Jackie, and John" [a baseball historian was talking to some kids about Jackie Robinson, and one of them asked, "Who is she?"

Well, a lot of people who think they know Tom Jefferson or old Abe Lincoln are just as confused. Unless I waste the rest of my life, I'd like to set some historical records straight before I'm done:


Was the "real" Abraham Lincoln a "trigger happy" Barry Goldwater (as portrayed on TV in 1964)? Long before March 4, 1861, the Confederacy had begun overrunning its headlights. They were tone deaf and color blind to the difference between "perception" and reality. Two weeks before the inauguration, General Beauregard had resigned as superintendent of West Point and placed shore batteries opposite Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor. The curtain was about to be drawn on the drama that was to include Booth's final act. The perception was, as Booth's letter said, "The very nomination of Abraham Lincoln, four years ago, spoke plainly of war . . . His election proved it."

One of Abe's opening lines was, "If it were admitted that you who are dissatisfied hold the right side in the dispute, there is no single good reason for precipitate action. Intelligence, patriotism, Christianity, and a firm reliance on Him who has never forsaken this favored land, are still competent to adjust in the best way all our present difficulty."

Booth says: "Await an overt act? Till we are bound and plundered? What folly!" But like the Old Testament prophets, Lincoln had framed the situation correctly: not us versus them, but all of us versus the Almighty One.

"Suppose you go to war, you cannot fight always; and when after much loss on both sides, and no gain on either, you cease fighting, the identical old questions as to terms of intercourse are again upon you."

A guest at the Inaugural Ball found it a "melancholy function," and saw in Lincoln's "plain, ploughed face" the same "sense of becoming educated and needing education" that pained him. Toward such an end I dedicate this review of the drama.

Twenty-first century America has grave issues pregnant with consequences, too. We could use some of the wisdom of history, but most of us get our "history" in bits and pieces from our parents and our peers, not the original sources.

Apologists for Booth say that he had a fear of scarring his pretty face, but the paradox is, he and his friends had MADE Lincoln the future President back in 1857 — when he was nothing but a homely, chronic loser living in the middle of nowhere. If Davis and Lee, et al, had been as smart as advertised, perhaps cooler heads with a little foresight could have rewritten the whole script.

The South's fatal gambit happened more than three years before Lincoln arrived in Washington. It happened because hotter heads made a decision that split the Democrat party right down the middle — at the very moment it was at its zenith, in control of the White House, Congress, and the Supreme Court (re Dred Scott).

Against the warnings of many southern newspapers, they insisted upon making the prospective state of Kansas a slave state come hell or high water. We got the former, because even Senator Douglas was forced to break with his own President, Buchanan (which helped Douglas defeat Lincoln in 1858). But the southern Democrats, themselves, had made Lincoln the thing he became, "the thing they feared the most"!

The following excerpts are from America in 1857, a Nation on the Brink by Kenneth M. Stampp (Oxford University Press):

"A Massachusetts editor believed that Buchanan might have broken the Republican party and made his own party unbeatable in the North if he had honored his commitment to a fair vote on the Kansas constitution. Instead . . . he mistakenly gambled that the northern [Democrats] would submit even to the Lecompton fraud [a vote tilted by illegal Missouri voters crossing into the Territory] .

"The Mobile Register called the Kansas controversy 'pregnant with consequences' [and] 'The South never made a worse move,' wrote the angry editor of the Louisville Democrat at the end of 1857. 'A blunder, it is said, is worse than a crime; but this is both a blunder and a crime.'"

The generally pro-slavery Richmond Enquirer correctly predicted that trying to force northern Democrats to support the extension of slavery to the Territories would be suicidal, and would in effect guarantee the election of a Republican President in 1860. "By 1857 . . . with a substantial free-state majority already there, and with a host of northern emigrants expected to arrive that spring and summer, THE OUTCOME OF THE KANSAS CONTROVERSY SHOULD HAVE BEEN CLEAR ENOUGH." — ibid

So? Well, this is the time of year the fans of the old OLD South like to rip Lincoln on the Internet forums, calling him everything from "tyrant" to destroyer of the Constitution. I've given up trying to answer them directly, but there IS an answer. My mother taught me the power of the "dumb question" asked at just the right time, so here are a few "dumb" questions for the Lincoln haters:
    — How come they never complained about the Gag Rules of 1835-44 (that was a case of Federal meddling the South just loved, outlawing abolitionist literature in the mail)?

    — What about the wolves across the Atlantic who were praying for a divided America?

    — Would we be living under Nazi German rule today if the Rebellion had "succeeded"?

    — Once elected, what was Lincoln supposed to do — refuse to take the job?

    — Since when does sending reinforcements to protect the lives of U.S. soldiers equate with an "overt act of war" (Fort Sumter)?

    — Don't like the suspension of Habeus Corpus? There was a Revolution going on; what did you EXPECT to happen?

    — Don't like what happened after the war? Did you think that assassinating Lincoln would HELP the situation?

    — What was the role of sin in causing the Civil War, including the nation's sins of omission (England had solved its "slavery problem" without a Civil War much earlier)?
Robert E. Lee had said before war broke out that the Constitution had no provision for secession, and he didn't think the South had sufficient grounds for a Revolution. However, he would fight for Virginia no matter which side it came down on. The Civil War is a fairly "complex" topic, but the lowest common denominator is human nature. Churchill said that democracy was the worst form of human government, "except for all the others."

Speaking of Christ, Thomas Jefferson said, "He pushed His scrutinies into the heart of man, erected his tribunal in the region of his thoughts, and purified the waters at the fountainhead. He taught emphatically the doctrines of a future state [the Kingdom], . . . and wielded it with efficacy as an important incentive, supplementary to the other motives to moral conduct."

Translation: emotions are to be ruled by the mind and the "fountainhead"! One of Lincoln's lines from the opening act was: "Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field and patriot grave to every heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."

"Then" [writes Carl Sandburg, quoted by Paul Angle in The Lincoln Reader] "stepped forward Chief Justice Taney, worn, shrunken, odd, with 'the face of a galvanized corpse' . . . His hands shook with age, emotion, both, as he held out an open Bible toward the ninth President to be sworn in by him." [I forget which way he voted on Dred Scott, but that's probably why his hands were shaking].

And Lincoln did solemnly promise to defend the Constitution of the United States of America. [unquote]

P.S. I hope to continue the Lincoln story some other time. Consider this a pre-emptive strike for Truth, before our academicians start to "dis-myth" Lincoln the way they've "debunked" all of our 18th century Patriots.

© Curtis Dahlgren


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Curtis Dahlgren

Curtis Dahlgren is semi-retired in southern Wisconsin, and is the author of "Massey-Harris 101." His career has had some rough similarities to one of his favorite writers, Ferrar Fenton... (more)


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