By Dianne Witte
A recent trip to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois has broadened my perspective on the recent election and its place in history. This Library uses 21st century technologies to envelop the visitor with the life and times of Abraham Lincoln. As a former librarian, I especially recommend the “Ghosts of the Library” experience. The special effects used in the presentation help emphasize the reasons we have libraries and museums in an entertaining and engaging way. I noticed hundreds of teens and adults engaged and enthralled by the history it presented, myself included. After this experience, I’ve learned to love history as never before and appreciate the lessons it has to teach.
Another exhibit that peaked my attention was, “The Whispering Gallery.” This is a twisted, nightmarish hallway where voices are heard whispering vicious rumors and brutally unkind things about Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln. On the walls are cruel caricatures and mean political cartoons of the time that attack the Lincolns. Reminded me so much of what is happening to our current president. The most impressive remarks were those made verbally. But there were also those made in print media, such as the responses to the Gettysburg Address.
From the Chicago Tribune:
“The dedicatory remarks by President Lincoln will live among the annals of the war.”
From the Chicago Times:
“The cheek of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly flat and dishwattery [sic] remarks of the man who has to be pointed out as the President of the United States. … Is Mr. Lincoln less refined than a savage? … It was a perversion of history so flagrant that the most extended charity cannot view it as otherwise than willful.”
It demonstrates so vividly how even then, the nation was divided, much like today. The Gettysburg Address was given at the dedication of Soldier’s National Cemetery, a cemetery for Union soldiers killed at the Battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War. Note it was for Union soldiers not Confederate soldiers. There were 7,000 dead on the battlefield that day, but only 3,500 are buried in the Soldier’s National Cemetery. That’s another whole interesting story.
Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address in less than 2 minutes. It contained just 272 words. The speech honored the soldiers who died at the battle and called for renewed dedication to winning the Civil War and restoring the Union.
At that time the nation was so divided they were willing to kill each other over the issue of slavery. The carnage is unimaginable when compared to recent war casualties; 620,000 in the Civil War and 644,000 in all other conflicts since.
Thankfully, it does appear we have lost our taste for settling differences physically. Now we are called to use our higher gift of intelligence to come to compromise and cooperation to settle our differences.
Just as in Lincoln’s time, we have experienced real or perceived divisions caused by the recent election. It is clear that the best advice is to “wait and watch” how the results will manifest. While not ignoring the issues related to bigotry, it is the wise citizen who looks to well-balanced reporting, and fact checking, rather than the dramatic rantings on social media, to reach conclusions and make decisions.
We are, first of all, citizens of a great country that has survived many such tests, not the least of which was the Civil War. Surely we can come to agreement on some issues without “throwing out the baby with the bathwater” just because some obstacles seem overwhelming.
“Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater” is an expression from Colonial times when people bathed in order from the oldest to the youngest. By the time the baby was bathed, the bathwater was pretty dirty, hence the expression…Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.” Meaning, don’t discard something valuable along with something desirable.
While it originates as a German proverb, German scholar, Thomas Carlyle used it in an essay denouncing slavery, entitled Occasional Discourse on the Nigger Question (1853). Despite going against the establishment view on slavery that was held in his day, Carlyle wasn’t quite the freedom fighter we might imagine. His analogy compared the dirty bathwater to slavery (to be discarded) and the ‘little child’ to the useful service provided by the slave (to be kept). He suggested that “the Black gentleman is born to be a servant and is useful in God’s creation only as a servant”. What he in fact proposed was that servants should be hired for life and given payment, not kept as slaves.
For instance, we could look at the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Some support it, others, not so much. But, when you realize that 85% of us were covered by insurance before it went into effect, it changes your perspective. This law primarily affects the 15% who couldn’t afford coverage. Some people were forced into bankruptcy because insurance dropped them in a health crisis. Others were dying for lack of medical care and college aged children were forced off their parents policies.
Those are some of the advantages, but even the most ardent supporter of the ACA will acknowledge there are some shortcomings. However, remember it’s a very complicated issue that had never been addressed before. We have learned a lot, and I trust, in the future, a compromise can be reached to keep the best parts and improve others. No one, except possibly the insurance companies, wants to go back to where it was. The next version will probably need tweaking down the line too. This is how evolution works.
When I took a government class in college my professor, who was a State Senator at the time, pointed out the fact that the bureaucracy moves ever so slowly. I was impatient to see things accomplished. Now, I realize there is some wisdom in it. The evolution of the ACA moved us toward providing “…the highest attainable standard of health as a fundamental right of every human being” as envisioned by the World Health Organization and all freedom-loving peoples. It was never going to be the be-all end-all for healthcare, but it was a beginning. Things can’t evolve without a beginning. But it is one example of how people working together in a spirit of compromise, with good faith and cooperation, can accomplish great things, eventually, one issue at a time.