Abraham Lincoln for a Modern Perspective

I wrote about one experience on here, but I don’t recall when I first learned what has become one of the most important lessons in my life.  Often it doesn’t matter, at least not initially, as to whom or what is to blame for creating a mess.  The reason is that if you must work or live in that area, you can either begin to clean and fix things yourself or you can just flounder around trying to get things done in spite of the mess.  We might not like it.  We might think it is unfair.  Still at some point we will need to alter our plans because of something else which happened.  It doesn’t matter if what happened was my fault, your fault, his fault, her fault, everybody’s fault, or nobody’s fault.

Listening to many people today, the desire to blame someone else has become more important than doing what is necessary to solve the problem.  What someone says they want to do is more significant than what they have done or will do.  As my Dad still observes, you often face the decision of flash or substance, cost or quality.  On some things the cheapest option is best because the need is for one time only.  For other things, that cheap option ultimately costs more from breakage and replacement than starting with something of better quality with a higher initial cost.

With a lot of the political bickering taking place today, I tried to think of a historical comparison of just fixing problems first and only then giving any consideration to blame.

Quickly, Abraham Lincoln’s final public address which he made on 11 April 1865 came to mind.  Had the seceding states actually formed a new country, the Confederate States of America?  How could the union be restored?  Who should decide and who should be allowed to vote?  I should note that Northern legal opinion as to whether or not the Confederate States of America existed changed for many between the years 1861 and 1865.

Did opinion matter?  (I will state that I am a Southern historian who argues that the South suffered more in the years following the Civil War than it did during the 4 years of fighting.  The losses of lives on both sides were devastating, but life in the so-called New South would continue to be a difficult struggle into the 20th century).

You can read the complete statement made 11 April 1865 by Abraham Lincoln here.

Quoted below is the conclusion which focused particularly on my home state of Louisiana and this question of the importance of moving forward versus assigning blame.  

I have been shown a letter on this subject, supposed to be an able one, in which the writer expresses regret that my mind has not seemed to be definitely fixed on the question whether the seceding States, so called, are in the Union or out of it. It would perhaps, add astonishment to his regret, were he to learn that since I have found professed Union men endeavoring to make that question, I have purposely forborne any public expression upon it. As appears to me that question has not been, nor yet is, a practically material one, and that any discussion of it, while it thus remains practically immaterial, could have no effect other than the mischievous one of dividing our friends. As yet, whatever it may hereafter become, that question is bad, as the basis of a controversy, and good for nothing at all–a merely pernicious abstraction.

We all agree that the seceded States, so called, are out of their proper relation with the Union; and that the sole object of the government, civil and military, in regard to those States is to again get them into that proper practical relation. I believe it is not only possible, but in fact, easier to do this, without deciding, or even considering, whether these States have ever been out of the Union, than with it. Finding themselves safely at home, it would be utterly immaterial whether they had ever been abroad. Let us all join in doing the acts necessary to restoring the proper practical relations between these States and the Union; and each forever after, innocently indulge his own opinion whether, in doing the acts, he brought the States from without, into the Union, or only gave them proper assistance, they never having been out of it.

The amount of constituency, so to speak, on which the new Louisiana government rests, would be more satisfactory to all, if it contained fifty, thirty, or even twenty thousand, instead of only about twelve thousand, as it does. It is also unsatisfactory to some that the elective franchise is not given to the colored man. I would myself prefer that it were now conferred on the very intelligent, and on those who serve our cause as soldiers. Still the question is not whether the Louisiana government, as it stands, is quite all that is desirable. The question is, “Will it be wiser to take it as it is, and help to improve it; or to reject, and disperse it?” “Can Louisiana be brought into proper practical relation with the Union sooner by sustaining, or by discarding her new State government?”

Some twelve thousand voters in the heretofore slave-state of Louisiana have sworn allegiance to the Union, assumed to be the rightful political power of the State, held elections, organized a State government, adopted a free-state constitution, giving the benefit of public schools equally to black and white, and empowering the Legislature to confer the elective franchise upon the colored man. Their Legislature has already voted to ratify the constitutional amendment recently passed by Congress, abolishing slavery throughout the nation. These twelve thousand persons are thus fully committed to the Union, and to perpetual freedom in the state–committed to the very things, and nearly all the things the nation wants–and they ask the nations recognition and it’s assistance to make good their committal. Now, if we reject, and spurn them, we do our utmost to disorganize and disperse them. We in effect say to the white men “You are worthless, or worse–we will neither help you, nor be helped by you.” To the blacks we say “This cup of liberty which these, your old masters, hold to your lips, we will dash from you, and leave you to the chances of gathering the spilled and scattered contents in some vague and undefined when, where, and how.” If this course, discouraging and paralyzing both white and black, has any tendency to bring Louisiana into proper practical relations with the Union, I have, so far, been unable to perceive it. If, on the contrary, we recognize, and sustain the new government of Louisiana the converse of all this is made true. We encourage the hearts, and nerve the arms of the twelve thousand to adhere to their work, and argue for it, and proselyte for it, and fight for it, and feed it, and grow it, and ripen it to a complete success. The colored man too, in seeing all united for him, is inspired with vigilance, and energy, and daring, to the same end. Grant that he desires the elective franchise, will he not attain it sooner by saving the already advanced steps toward it, than by running backward over them? Concede that the new government of Louisiana is only to what it should be as the egg is to the fowl, we shall sooner have the fowl by hatching the egg than by smashing it? Again, if we reject Louisiana, we also reject one vote in favor of the proposed amendment to the national Constitution. To meet this proposition, it has been argued that no more than three fourths of those States which have not attempted secession are necessary to validly ratify the amendment. I do not commit myself against this, further than to say that such a ratification would be questionable, and sure to be persistently questioned; while a ratification by three-fourths of all the States would be unquestioned and unquestionable.

I repeat the question, “Can Louisiana be brought into proper practical relation with the Union sooner by sustaining or by discarding her new State Government?

What has been said of Louisiana will apply generally to other States. And yet so great peculiarities pertain to each state, and such important and sudden changes occur in the same state; and withal, so new and unprecedented is the whole case, that no exclusive, and inflexible plan can be safely prescribed as to details and colatterals [sic]. Such exclusive, and inflexible plan, would surely become a new entanglement. Important principles may, and must, be inflexible.

Now will the 113th Congress continue to point fingers while We the People wallow around in the mess, or will they actually work on helping the country and wait to blame after problems have been solved?