In December 1862 President Abraham Lincoln was in the midst of a Civil War, his Emancipation Proclamation was due to take effect in a few weeks, and he was struggling to maintain some sense of our national meaning. What he wrote in his message to Congress (equivalent to today’s State of the Union address) gives us lessons on how we should handle our current crisis.
We can succeed only by concert. It is not “can any of us imagine better?” but, “can we all do better?”
We must, as a nation, stand up to tyranny, even that from within. The recent promotion of racism and neo-Naziism by the current administration is a disgrace to the nation, and it will take all of us citizens, from all sections of the country, all parties, all colors, all religions, all socioeconomic statuses, and all beliefs, to reverse this descent.
The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise — with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.
We, all of us, must stand up to racism, bigotry, misogyny, and dishonesty. We must stand up to hatred as one, as a whole nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history.
Republican leaders in Congress must act in the best interests of the nation. Democrats in Congress and across the nation have vehemently spoken up against the promotion of bigotry, but Republicans control all branches of our government. Republicans set the stage by pandering to the very elements that created this administration. Thus, Republicans must be not only outspoken against it, but take action to reverse what they have wrought.
The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation. We say we are for the Union. The world will not forget that we say this. We know how to save the Union. The world knows we do know how to save it. We — even we here — hold the power, and bear the responsibility.
Without action by Republicans and Democrats in Congress, without action by we as one nation indivisible, we are in danger of losing it all. Many years before he became president, Lincoln warned in a speech to the Young Men’s Lyceum in Springfield:
At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.
The time has come to stand up against the approach of danger from within, as exemplified by the recent events in Charlottesville and the administration’s grotesque response to it. Lincoln believed in the rule of law and warned in that same Lyceum address about the dangers of mob rule. “There is no grievance that is a fit object of redress by mob law,” Lincoln said.
We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth.
The time is now. If he were alive today, Abraham Lincoln would be the first to speak out against bigotry and the mobocratic rule of this administration.
David J. Kent is the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, now available. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.
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