What Makes a Hero?

screen-shot-2013-06-20-at-10-51-07-amOur jaded historical minds race over the word abolitionist.

George Leonard White could have stayed at his consumptive father’s blacksmith shop in New York State but left for Ohio to become a school teacher. Nothing particularly heroic in that.

 Yes, yes. George was against slavery. Ho hum. Aren’t we all equally against slavery these days? Human trafficking as a phrase hardly captures the same depth of feeling we let rise up in us when the word slavery is mentioned but it’s the very same thing.

Part of training to become a foster parent is to recognize when children (in New York, in America!!) have been victims of sex slavery. Yes, we all say, of course we’re adamantly opposed to sex slavery.So much so that we’d rather not address the subject at all.I suppose most people living in the 1860’s sort of felt the same way.

George Leonard White saw a need. At 6′ 5″ with dark hair and intense eyes George kept an orderly classroom. He noted that black children needed schooling too, so deep in the woods he taught them as well.

The Bible and music were George’s two loves. He taught himself the fiddle and sang. I wonder did he ever share this love with the children he taught. I hope so. But let’s stay a moment with George and his pupils in the school room. Nobody held a carrot on a stick, there was no Teach for America  back then. No one held George’s hand when he decided to enrich the minds of black children. This was one person acting alone in a dark wood.

The war came and George, Bible in knapsack, eagerly joined Ohio in the fight. George was certain of his reason for fighting: to help end slavery. He didn’t put himself in harm’s way because his buddies were doing the same. He had a heroic sense of conviction and a sense that his one life mattered–though he did not need a professor or coach to convince him of it. Every word of his worn Bible told him so.

When a person slogs through cold mud on stale crackers,  maggot-infested meat and coffee for three years; faces bullets and sickness and human depravity for just as long; marches up mountains and falls apart by the roadside unable to move for hours and almost no longer caring we say this is war. People tell war stories that fit neatly into boxes. Join up, go fight, come home.

A friend spots George, his 6’5″ frame wasted to a skeletal 140lbs lying in the mud. The friend helps him into a wagon. George goes home.

Heroism becomes habit. Maybe that’s all it is–a very noble habit. A way of thinking about oneself. Can one’s life be a mission without the idea of God? For, really, what’s the point of a mission that dies with you? Knowing someone may read about you in a history book seems like a sad reward for bothering. Humanitarianism, social uplift, basic manners make no real sense without mission.

I’m already in love with George’s heart and I hardly know a thing about him yet. George never fully recovers his health after the war, but he refuses to shirk his mission. Soon we will find out how he leads a group of black singers to stardom and leads white America to a new understanding of black humanity. No degrees, no permission needed or asked for, just a heart for mission.

The practical weakness of the vast mass of modern pity for the poor and the oppressed is precisely that it is merely pity; the pity is pitiful but not respectful. Men feel that the cruelty to the poor is a kind of cruelty to animals. They never feel that it is injustice to equals; nay, it is treachery to comrades.
–G. K. Chesterton.

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GEORGE LEONARD WHITE

FRIEND OF SLAVES

QUOTE: “. . . he is still your brother, and mine, in form and color accepted and approved by his Father, and yours, and mine, and bears equally with us the proudest inheritance of our race—the image of our Maker. Hold him then to be a Man.”William Seward

Old white men. The bane of revisionist historians’ existences. Yet take a look into the eyes of William Seward. He confessed to doing nothing without determining how it might affect his political career.We can take him at his word, I suppose, but I prefer to dig beneath his veneer of cynicism.

William’s wealthy father owned slaves just north of New York City in the tiny town of Florida, N.Y. when slavery was still legal that far up the seaboard. Former slaves remembered young William running not from school to home but from home to school. In later years Seward said, “Education banishes the distinctions, old as time, of rich and poor, master and slave. It banishes ignorance and lays axe to the root of crime.”

As always, I wonder if modern education with its emphasis on class distinctions, slights, victims and the myth of the evil, old (and boring) white men of the past really elevates and inspires young adults to do great things in life. (My husband always says there are no feelings in engineering, no relativism, no racism. A bridge stands if done right).

Seward graduated top of his class at Union College after a short stay in the South with a friend. He enjoyed his time there, but came away more convinced of the evils of slavery. A later trip with his wife cemented his conviction that slavery  was “morally unjust, politically unwise and socially pernicious, in some degree, in every community where it exists.” (1858, Bruce Chadwick)

Despite Seward’s self-deprecating denial of heart, he consistently, outspokenly denounced slavery in a time when few people did (for decades!). Again, the problem was not so much that average people and politicians  didn’t believe slavery was wrong. Most in the North and some in the South did, but feared the consequences of ending the institution (would there be bloodshed and suffering?). Poor innocents. We look back upon them now wondering how did they recognize the winds of war? But that is unfair. Men (and women) spent active lifetimes denouncing slavery and pursuing justice. Seward was one of them.

There is much to be learned studying the lives of brave men.

How many of us, black, white, Asian, Hispanic spend more than a few minutes liking posts about justice and love and think we’re making a difference? How many of us are so single-minded about a pet cause that we leave family and friends for months and years while suffering the slings and arrows of corrupt journalists and fellow politicians?

I plead guilty to my fickle heart and plain old laziness.

Ego can be used for good. What good is it to dampen the soul with the sense that we are all just the “little people” of the world? My father once turned tail at a restaurant with all of us in tow because he thought we weren’t quite up to snuff to eat with the other patrons. How sad for my father who did so much good but saw his reflection in such low light.

Here’s what makes Seward particularly interesting to me: When he got to Washington he held dinner parties. So? These extravagant dinner parties were attended by all and sundry. Not just Northerners. Not just abolitionists. Southerners, slaveholders and just about every type of human on the political spectrum eagerly awaited invitation.

Imagine that. Knowing that some snowflakes could not control their passions when discussing politics over dinner, the topic was forbidden and real friendship flourished–despite the fact that everyone knew where they’d stand against each other in the morning.

A noble man is one who can hold strong beliefs while allowing others the same freedom (a rare art).

Even as Seward used his home to hide fugitive slaves and helped finance Frederick Douglass’s newspaper, he visited the future Confederate president JEFFERSON DAVIS every day, rain or shine, when Davis lay sick in bed for months in Washington.

Lincoln beat him for the presidency in 1860 for a number of reasons, politics being what they are, and Seward is remembered in school  for the folly of securing Alaska. What a shame. This friend of Harriet Tubman’s was so much more than that.

After politics Seward returned to New York to write his memoirs but lost interest in them. One morning he sat at his desk and had trouble breathing. As his family gathered at his bedside they asked him if he had any final words.

The man who tried to hide his heart spoke. “Love one another.”

 

***Seward’s Rochester speech which electrified the nation is so worth reading!

The main subject, then, is whether the Democratic party deserves to retain the confidence of the American people. In attempting to prove it unworthy, I think that I am not actuated by prejudices against that party, or by prepossessions in favor of its adversary; for I have learned, by some experience, that virtue and patriotism, vice and selfishness, are found in all parties, and that they differ less in their motives than in the policies they pursue.

Our country is a theatre, which exhibits, in full operation, two radically different political systems; the one resting on the basis of servile or slave labor, the other on voluntary labor of freemen. The laborers who are enslaved are all negroes, or persons more or less purely of African derivation. But this is only accidental. The principle of the system is, that labor in every society, by whomsoever performed, is necessarily unintellectual, grovelling and base; and that the laborer, equally for his own good and for the welfare of the State, ought to be enslaved. The white laboring man, whether native or foreigner, is not enslaved, only because he cannot, as yet, be reduced to bondage.

You need not be told now that the slave system is the older of the two, and that once it was universal. The emancipation of our own ancestors, Caucasians and Europeans as they were, hardly dates beyond a period of five hundred years. The great melioration of human society which modern times exhibits is mainly due to the incomplete substitution of the system of voluntary labor for the one of servile labor, which has already taken place. This African slave system is one which, in its origin and in its growth, has been altogether foreign from the habits of the races which colonized these States, and established civilization here. It was introduced on this continent as an engine of conquest, and for the establishment of monarchical power, by the Portuguese and the Spaniards, and was rapidly extended by them all over South America, Central America, Louisiana, and Mexico. Its legitimate fruits are seen in the poverty, imbecility, and anarchy which now pervade all Portuguese and Spanish America. The free-labor system is of German extraction, and it was established in our country by emigrants from Sweden, Holland, Germany, Great Britain, and Ireland. We justly ascribe to its influences the strength, wealth, greatness, intelligence, and freedom, which the whole American people now enjoy. One of the chief elements of the value of human life is freedom in the pursuit of happiness. The slave system is not only intolerable, unjust, and inhuman, toward the laborer, whom, only because he is a laborer, it loads down with chains and converts into merchandise, but is scarcely less severe upon the freeman, to whom, only because he is a laborer from necessity , it denies facilities for employment, and whom it expels from the community because it cannot enslave and convert into merchandise also. It is necessarily improvident and ruinous, because, as a general truth, communities prosper and flourish, or droop and decline, in just the degree that they practise or neglect to practise the primary duties of justice and humanity. The free-labor system conforms to the divine law of equality, which is written in the hearts and consciences of man, and therefore is always and everywhere beneficent.

The slave system is one of constant danger, distrust, suspicion, and watchfulness. It debases those whose toil alone can produce wealth and resources for defence, to the lowest degree of which human nature is capable, to guard against mutiny and insurrection, and thus wastes energies which otherwise might be employed in national development and aggrandizement. The free-labor system educates all alike, and by opening all the fields of industrial employment and all the departments of authority, to the unchecked and equal rivalry of all classes of men, at once secures universal contentment, and brings into the highest possible activity all the physical, moral, and social energies of the whole state. In states where the slave system prevails, the masters, directly or indirectly, secure all political power, and constitute a ruling aristocracy. In states where the free-labor system prevails, universal suffrage necessarily obtains, and the state inevitably becomes, sooner or later, a republic or democracy.

Russia yet maintains slavery, and is a despotism. Most of the other European states have abolished slavery, and adopted the system of free labor. It was the antagonistic political tendencies of the two systems which the first Napoleon was contemplating when he predicted that Europe would ultimately be either all Cossack or all republican. Never did human sagacity utter a more pregnant truth truth. The two systems are at once perceived to be incongruous. But they are more than incongruous-they are incompatible. They never have permanently existed together in one country, and they never can. It would be easy to demonstrate this impossibility, from the irreconcilable contrast between their great principles and characteristics. But the experience of mankind has conclusively established it. Slavery, as I have intimated, existed in every state in Europe. Free labor has supplanted it everywhere except in Russia and developed in modern times are now Turkey. State necessities developed in modern times are now obliging even those two nations to encourage and employ free labor; and already, despotic as they are, we find them engaged in abolishing slavery. In the United States, slavery came into collision with free labor at the close of the last century, and fell before it in New England, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, but triumphed over it effectually, and excluded it for a period yet undetermined, from Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia. Indeed, so incompatible are the two systems, that every new State which is organized within our ever-extending domain makes its first political act a choice of the one and the exclusion of the other, even at the cost of civil war, if necessary. The slave States, without law, at the last national election, successfully forbade, within their own limits, even the casting of votes for a candidate for President of the United States supposed to be favorable to the establishment of the free-labor system in new States.

Hitherto, the two systems have existed in different States, but side by side within the American Union. This has happened because the Union is a confederation of States. But in another aspect the United States constitute only one nation. Increase of population, which is filling the States out to their very borders, together with a new and extended network of railroads and other avenues,, and an internal commerce which daily becomes more intimate, is rapidly bringing the States into a higher and more perfect social unity or consolidation. Thus, these antagonistic systems are continually coming into closer contact, and collision results.

Shall I tell you what this collision means? They who think that it is accidental, unnecessary, the work of interested or fanatical agitators, and therefor ephemeral, mistake the case altogether. It is an irrepressible conflict between opposing and enduring forces, and it means that the United States must and will, sooner or later, become either entirely a slaveholding nation, or entirely a free-labor nation. Either the cotton and rice fields of South Carolina and the sugar plantations of Louisiana will ultimately be tilled by free labor, and Charleston and New Orleans become marts of legitimate merchandise alone, or else the rye-fields and wheat-fields of Massachusetts and New York must again be surrendered by their farmers to slave culture and to the production of slaves, and Boston and New York becomes once more markets for trade in the bodies and souls of men. It is the failure to apprehend this great truth that induces so many unsuccessful attempts at final compromises between the slave and free States, and it is the existence of this great fact that renders all such pretended compromises, when made, vain and ephemeral. Startling as this saying may appear to you, fellow-citizens, it is by no means an original or even a modern one. Our forefathers knew it to be true, and unanimously acted upon it when they framed the constitution of the United States. They regarded the existence of the servile system in so many of the States with sorrow and shame, which they openly confessed, and they looked upon the collision between them, which was then just revealing itself, and which we are now accustomed to deplore, with favor and hope. They knew that one or the other system must exclusively prevail.

Unlike too many of those who in modem time invoke their authority, they had a choice between the two. They preferred the system of free labor, and they determined to organize the government, and so direct its activity, that that system should surely and certainly prevail. For this purpose, and no other, they based the whole structure of the government broadly on the principle that all men are created equal, and therefore free – little dreaming that, within the short period of one hundred years, their descendants would bear to be told by any orator, however popular, that the utterance of that principle was merely a rhetorical rhapsody; or by any judge, however venerated, that it was attended by mental reservation, which rendered it hypocritical and false. By the ordinance of 1787 they dedicated all of the national domain not yet polluted by slavery to free labor immediately, thenceforth and forever; while by the new constitution and laws they invited foreign free labor from all lands under the sun, and interdicted the importation of African slave labor, at all times, in all places, and under all circumstances whatsoever. It is true that they necessarily and wisely modified this policy of freedom by leaving it to the several States, affected as they were by different circumstances, to abolish slavery in their own way and at their own pleasure, instead of confiding that duty to Congress; and that they secured to the slave States, while yet retaining the system of slavery, a three-fifths representation of slaves in the federal government, until they. should find themselves able to relinquish it with safety. But the very nature of these modifications fortifies my position, that the fathers knew that the two systems could not endure within the Union, and expected within a short period slavery would disappear forever. Moreover, in order that these modifications might not altogether defeat their grand design of a republic maintaining universal equality, they provided that two thirds of the States might amend the constitution.

It remains to say on this point only one word, to guard against misapprehension. If these States are to again become universally slaveholding, I do not pretend to say with what violations of the constitution that end shall be accomplished. On the other hand, while I do confidently believe and hope that my country will yet become a land of universal freedom, I do not expect that it will be made so otherwise than through the action of the several States co-operating with the federal government, and all acting in strict conformity with their respective constitutions.

The strife and contentions concerning slavery, which gently disposed persons so habitually deprecate, are nothing more than the ripening of the conflict which the fathers themselves not only thus regarded with favor, but which they may be said to have instituted.

It is not to be denied, however, that thus far the course of that contest has not been according to their humane anticipations and wishes. In the field of federal politics, slavery, deriving unlooked-for advantages from commercial changes, and energies unforeseen from the facilities of combination between members of the slaveholding class and between that class and other property classes, early rallied, and has at length made a stand, not merely to retain its original defensive position, but to extend its sway throughout the whole Union. It is certain that the slaveholding class of American citizens indulge this high ambition, and that they derive encouragement for it from the rapid and effective political successes which they have already obtained. The plan of operation is this: By continued appliances of patronage and threats of disunion, they will keep a majority favorable to these designs in the Senate, where each State has an equal representation. Through that majority they will defeat, as they best can, the admission of free States and secure the admission of slave States. Under the protection of the judiciary, they will, on the principle of the Dred Scott case, carry slavery into all the territories of the United States now existing and hereafter to be organized. By the action of the President and Senate, using the treaty-making power, they will annex foreign slaveholding States. In a favorable conjuncture they will induce Congress to repeal the act of 1808 which prohibits the foreign slave trade, and so they will import from Africa, at a cost of only twenty dollars a head, slaves enough to fill up the interior of the continent. Thus relatively increasing the number of slave States, they will allow no amendment to the constitution prejudicial to their interest; and so, having permanently established their power, they expect the federal judiciary to nullify all State laws which shall interfere with internal or foreign commerce in slaves. When the free States shall be sufficiently demoralized to tolerate these designs, they reasonably conclude that slavery will be accepted by those States themselves. I shall not stop to show how speedy or how complete would be the ruin which the accomplishment of these slaveholding schemes would bring upon the country. For one, I should not remain in the country to test the sad experiment. Having spent my manhood, though not my whole life, in a free State, no aristocracy of any kind, much less an aristocracy of slaveholders, shall ever make the laws of the land in which I shall be content to live. Having seen the society around me universally engaged in agriculture, manufactures, and trade, which were innocent and beneficent, I shall never be a denizen of a State where men and women are reared as cattle, and bought and sold as merchandise. When that evil day shall come, and all further effort at resistance shall be impossible, then, if there shall be no better hope for redemption than I can now foresee, I shall say with Franklin, while looking abroad over the whole earth for a new and more congenial home, “Where liberty dwells, there is my country.” You will tell me that these fears are extravagant and chimerical. I answer, they are so; but they are so only because the designs of the slaveholders must and can be defeated. But it is only the possibility of defeat that renders them so. They cannot be defeated by inactivity. There is no escape from them compatible with non-resistance. How, then, and in what way, shall the necessary resistance be made,? There is only one way. The Democratic party must be permanently dislodged from the government. The reason is, that the Democratic party is inextricably committed to the designs of the slaveholders, which I have described. Let me be well understood. I do not charge that the Democratic candidates for public office now before the people are pledged to-much less that the Democratic masses who support them really adopt-those atrocious and dangerous designs. Candidates may, and generally do, mean to act justly, wisely, and patriotically, when they shall be elected; but they become the ministers and servants, not the dictators, of the power which elects them. The policy which a party shall pursue at a future period is only gradually developed, depending on the occurrence of events never fully foreknown. The motives of men, whether acting as electors or in any other capacity, are generally pure. Nevertheless, it is not more true that ” hell is paved with good intentions,” than it is that earth is covered with wrecks resulting from innocent and amiable motives.

The very constitution of the Democratic party commits it to execute all the designs of the slaveholders, whatever they may be. It is not a party of the whole Union, of all the free States and of all the slave States; nor yet is it a party of the free States in the North and in the Northwest; but it is a sectional and local party, having practically its seat within the slave States, and counting its constituency chiefly and almost exclusively there. Of all its representatives in Congress and in the electoral colleges, two-thirds uniformly come from these States. Its great element of strength lies in the vote of the slaveholders, augmented by the representation of three-fifths of the slaves. Deprive the Democratic party of this strength, and it would be a helpless and hopeless minority, incapable of continued organization. The Democratic party, being thus local and sectional, acquires new strength from the admission of ever new slave State, and loses relatively by the admission of every new free State into the Union.

A party is, in one sense, a joint stock association, in which those who contribute most direct the action and management of the concern. The slaveholders contributing in an overwhelming proportion to the capital strength of the Democratic party, they necessarily dictate and prescribe its policy. The inevitable caucus system enables them to do so with a show of fairness and justice. If it were possible to conceive for a moment that the Democratic party should disobey the behests of the slaveholders, we should then see a withdrawal of the slaveholders, which would leave the party to perish. The portion of the party which is found in the free States is a mere appendage, convenient to modify its sectional character, without impairing its sectional constitution, and is less effective in regulating its movements than the nebulous tail of the corset is in determining the appointed, though apparently eccentric, course of the fiery sphere from which it emanates.

To expect the Democratic party to resist slavery and favor freedom is as unreasonable as to look for Protestant missionaries to the Catholic propaganda of Rome. The history of the Democratic party commits it to the policy of slavery. It has been the Democratic party, and no other agency, which has carried that policy up to its present alarming culmination. Without stopping to ascertain, critically, the origin of the present Democratic party, we may concede its claim to date from the era of good feeling which occurred under the administration of President Monroe. At that time, in this State, and about that time in many others of the free States, the Democratic party deliberately disfranchised the free colored or African citizen, and it has pertinaciously continued this disfranchisement ever since. This was an effective aid to slavery; for, while the slaveholder votes for his slaves against freedom, the freed slave in the free States is prohibited from voting against slavery. In 1824 the democracy resisted the election of John Quincy Adams-himself before that time an acceptable Democrat and in 1828 it expelled him from the presidency and put a slaveholder in his place, although the office had been filled by slaveholders thirty-two out of forty years.

In 1836, Martin Van Buren-the first non-slaveholding citizen of a free State to whose election the Democratic party ever consented-signalized his inauguration into the presidency by a gratuitous announcement that under no circumstances would he ever approve a bill for the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia. From 1838 to 1844 the subject of abolishing slavery in the District of Columbia and in the national dockyards and arsenals, was brought before Congress by repeated popular appeals. The Democratic party thereupon promptly denied the right of petition, and effectually suppressed the freedom of speech in Congress, so far as the institution of slavery was concerned.

From 1840 to 1843 good and wise men counselled that Texas should remain outside the Union until she should consent to relinquish her self-instituted slavery; but the Democratic party precipitated her admission into the Union, not only without that condition, but even with a covenant that the State might be divided and reorganized so as to constitute four slave States instead of one.

In 1846, when the United States became involved in a war with Mexico, and it was apparent that the struggle would end in the dismemberment of that republic, which was a non-slaveholding power, the Democratic party rejected a declaration that slavery should not be established within the territory to be acquired. When, in 1850, governments were to be instituted in the territories of California and New Mexico, the fruits of that war, the Democratic party refused to admit New Mexico as a free State, and only consented to admit California as a free State on the condition, as it has since explained the transaction, of leaving all of New Mexico and Utah open to slavery, to which was also added the concession of perpetual slavery in the District of Columbia, and the passage of an unconstitutional, cruel, and humiliating law, for the recapture of fugitive slaves, with a further stipulation that the subject of slavery should never again be agitated in either chamber of Congress. When, in 1854, the slaveholders were contentedly reposing on these great advantages, then so recently won, the Democratic party unnecessarily, officiously, and with super-serviceable liberality, awakened them from their slumber, to offer and force on their acceptance the abrogation of the law which declared that neither slavery nor involuntary servitude should ever exist within that part of the ancient territory of Louisiana which lay outside of the State of Missouri, and north of the parallel of 36′ 30′ of north latitudes law which, with the exception of one other, was the only statute of freedom then remaining in the federal code.

In 1856, when the people of Kansas had organized a new State within the region thus abandoned to slavery, and applied to be admitted as a free State into the Union, the Democratic party contemptuously rejected their petition, and drove them with menaces and intimidations from the halls of Congress, and armed the President with military power to enforce their submission to a slave code, established over them by fraud and usurpation. At every subsequent stage of a long contest which has since raged in Kansas, the Democratic party- has lent its sympathies, its aid, and all the powers of the government which it controlled, to enforce slavery upon that unwilling and injured people. And now, even at this day, while it mocks us with the assurance that Kansas is free, the Democratic party keeps the State excluded from her just and proper place in the Union, under the hope that she may be dragooned into the acceptance of slavery.

The Democratic party, finally, has procured from a supreme judiciary, fixed in its interest, a decree that slavery exists by force of the constitution in every territory of the United States, paramount to all legislative authority, either within the territory or residing in Congress.

Such is the Democratic party. It has no policy, state or federal, for finance, or trade, or manufacture, or commerce, or education, or internal improvements, or for the protection or even the security of civil or religious liberty. It is positive and uncompromising in the interest of slavery-negative, compromising, and vacillating, in regard to everything else. It boasts its love of equality, and wastes its strength, and even its life, in fortifying the only aristocracy known in the land. It professes fraternity, and, so often as slavery requires, allies itself with proscription. It magnifies itself for conquests in foreign lands, but it sends the national eagle forth always with chains, and not the olive branch, in his fangs.

This dark record shows you, fellow-citizens, what I was unwilling to announce at an earlier stage of this argument, that of the whole nefarious schedule of slaveholding designs which I have submitted to you, the Democratic party has left only one yet to be consummated-the abrogation of the law which forbids the African slave-trade.

I know-few, I think, know better than I-the resources and energies of the Democratic party, which is identical with the slave power. I do ample justice to its traditional popularity. I know further-few, I think, know better than I-the difficulties and disadvantages of organizing a new political force, like the Republican party, and the obstacles it must encounter in laboring without prestige and without patronage. But, understanding all this, I know that the Democratic party must go down, and that the Republican party must rise into its place. The Democratic party derived its strength, originally, from its adoption of the principles of equal and exact justice to all men. So long as it practised this principle faithfully it was invulnerable. It became vulnerable when it renounced the principle, and since that time it has maintained itself, not by virtue of its own strength, or even of its traditional merits, but because there as yet had appeared in the political field no other party that had the conscience and the courage to take up, and avow, and practise the life-inspiring principle which the Democratic party had surrendered. At last, the Republican party has appeared. It avows, now, as the Republican party of 1800 did, in one word, its faith and its works, ” Equal and exact justice to all men.” Even when it first entered the field, only half organized, it struck a blow which only just failed to secure complete and triumphant victory. In this, its second campaign, it has already won advantages which render that triumph now both easy and certain.

The secret of its assured success lies in that very characteristic which, in the mouth of scoffers, constitutes its great and lasting imbecility and reproach. It lies in the fact that it is a party of one idea; but that is a noble one-an idea that fills and expands all generous souls; the idea of equality-the equality of all men before human tribunals and human laws, as they all are equal before the divine tribunal and divine laws.

I know, and you know, that a revolution has begun. I know, and all the world knows, that revolutions never go backward. Twenty, senators and a hundred representatives proclaim boldly in Congress to-day sentiments and opinions and principles of freedom which hardly so many men, even in this free State, dared to utter in their own homes twenty years ago. While the government of the United States, under the conduct of the Democratic party, has been all that time surrendering one plain and castle after another to slavery, the people of the United States have been no less steadily and perseveringly gathering together the forces with which to recover back again all the fields and all the castles which have been lost, and to confound and overthrow, by one decisive blow, the betrayers of the constitution and freedom forever. (NYHistory.com)

Bravery=Freedom

What would you do if you saw a person you knew as an acquaintance being taken away by two strange men?

John Price escaped from slavery in 1856 with few skills and in sorry health. When the residents of the utopian Christian town of Oberlin, Ohio took him in, they found Price odd jobs and had him stay at various homes realizing Price didn’t have the strength or skill set to make it further up the Underground Railroad.

As the leaves turned on a chilly fall day in 1858 an Oberlin teenager picked up Price who’d been gathering potatoes on a freedman’s farm at the edge of town, for Oberlin was fully integrated and strongly abolitionist. Oberlin had been established by two Presbyterians who believed that Christians needed to work out their salvation by living a truly righteous life–one that advocated freedom for slaves. Oberlin College was open to men of all races and their town had hidden many runaway slaves.

Let us stop to wonder about men who establish towns. From scratch.

Sometimes I fear I may offend a random visitor to my blog who hates Christians. This random visitor may see my favorite Bible quote , “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28 and dismiss me as one of those people.

It’s obvious that I don’t have the moral courage to form a town based on my understanding of Christianity. I doubt I’d even have the courage to wear a t-shirt proclaiming my belief in the sanctity of all life (it helps ease my conscience that I look terrible in t-shirts, but still.). The men and women at Oberlin didn’t have to wear t-shirts. Their acts of courage and commitment were the greatest form of advertisement for the Good News of JC (I often cringe at saying Jesus Christ out loud).

My blog is a small one and I think it would be fair to admit that the likelihood of real harm coming to me for mentioning my Christian beliefs is relatively small and inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, but my ego is big. But enough about me. 🙂

John Price, the runaway slave picking potatoes, rides along with the teenager from Oberlin. The teenager slows his horse as another carriage approaches with two strange men. The men are slave hunters. They capture Price quite easily since the teenager is an accomplice in the kidnapping. Further down the road two white students from Oberlin pass the carriage carrying Price back to slavery. Price calls out to them in their buggy, but they turn their eyes away.

Ansel Lyman, one of the students in the buggy runs through the town of Oberlin upon his return with news of Price’s kidnapping, and the town comes alive. As men and women race toward Wellington, some with guns, the crowd grows as news of the kidnapping spreads. No one sits at home watching TV or watching their fireplaces.

In Wellington the slave catchers and Price watch from their hotel as the crowds gather. The catchers are armed of course but they fear their fate will be the same as the building across the way which happened to burn down that morning. I imagine this was a bit more than the catchers bargained for. The Dred Scott decision had made it legal to catch slaves in free states.

The people of Oberlin considered the Scott decision unconstitutional and morally wrong as did many brave souls in the North. Here we must remember that abolitionists were painted as extremists. Most people chose peace over righteousness.  I wonder if I would have done the same. I like staying home before the fire.

400px-oberlinrescuersRumors spread that the army will be called in. A few good men with guns rescue Price. A freedman eventually gets Price to Canada, but the incident challenges the nation.

The Rescuers as the men who stormed the hotel and hid Price are now called are marched to stand trial before a jury and judge of the Democratic persuasion who hate abolitionists. Two men are tried and both are found guilty. All the others after the judge frees them on bail refuse to pay and spend time in the jail across the courtyard. The head of the jail happens to support abolition and opens the place to visitors. At first it’s just the families of the men but before long people from across the North journey to support the abolitionists. Black and white men and women flood the area united against immoral and corrupt government policies and actions.

The Democrats‘ worst nightmare comes true. War is just around the corner, but forgive them for not knowing it just yet.

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**Featured image of John Mercer Langston, a lawyer and Oberlin’s town clerk, came from a family of abolitionists. His brother Charles and his brother-in-law O.S.B. Wall were among the town’s residents who rescued John Price from a slave-catcher.

Oberlin College Archives, Oberlin, Ohio

READ MORE: WHEN THE SLAVE CATCHER CAME TO TOWN

 

Taken Prisoner

A Confederate officer stood alone at a crossroad goading his horse to move on in the aftermath of the Union retreat at BULL RUN. Sensing danger he glanced over his shoulder. A Yankee raced over the field tramping the freshly cut hay. As the Yankee drew closer he struggled to pull something from behind his back. The Confederate, with heart thumping through his uniform, pulled out his revolver and took aim.

The Yankee waved a white flag,  stopping abruptly at some distance. He wavered there for a few minutes until the Confederate swore he would do him no harm. Looking to his left and then right, the Yankee weighed his options and moved forward.

The Confederate noted the man’s flushed cheeks and face not yet ready to be shaved. The boy could not be more than twenty yet he was a lieutenant from a New York regiment.

“I give my word to you, sir. If you let me go I’ll never pick up a gun again. I’ll leave at once for my father’s farm,” the boy begged.

The Confederate kept silent and the boy on his horse soon followed, resigned to his fate.

The Confederate and the Yankee may not have realized at this early stage of the war that to be a prisoner was as deadly as fighting on the battlefield, but something in the young man’s cowardice already worked on the Confederate’s conscience. We don’t know if this Confederate officer cursed the angel on his shoulder as the two men walked ten yards.

“Go back to your friends, boy,” the Confederate ordered. “One more prisoner will hardly make a difference.”

When the Confederate met his own scouts they asked what had happened. When they set off in search of the “escaped” prisoner, the Confederate officer refused to join them.*

I wonder about the young New York lieutenant. The other night I happened upon our cat devouring the skin and fat of a just killed chipmunk and was surprised to see the organs still in movement. What moving things did this young man see at Bull Run? Was he a shy boy having trouble fitting in? No. There was something of a leader in him to be made lieutenant. Did he run all the way home or just to his friends?

A Confederate officer stuck on a stubborn horse gave the New York lieutenant his life back. Like a fish released from a net there was no time for gratitude. The currents of war and blood and peace move men along with hardly a moment to consider a chance meeting at a crossroad.

Why did boys on both sides enlist? CIVIL WAR SOLDIERS Their Expectations and Experiences by REID MITCHELL presents  the uplifting and awful traits that make us human.  Mitchell shares  the forgotten stories of individual men. Each one of them (unlike fish unable to escape mere instinct) left  marks on others they  encountered only briefly and never met again.

How did that New York lieutenant live and die? His fear, his youth, his innocence touched a Confederate soldier once. The man was never the same.

*A re-telling of one of the many poignant stories written about in Civil War Soldiers.

**Image courtesy CIVIL WAR TALK

What Would Cyrano de Bergerac Say?

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DeviantArt.com

Our son broke his iPhone screen the other day. He also failed his driver’s test so we didn’t have the heart to deny him a trip to the mall (an hour’s drive away) to visit the Apple store. For about 10 minutes we stood around at by far the busiest place in the mall wondering how to get help for my son’s ailing phone. The staff armed with ear pieces, tablets and matching polo shirts (allowing for just the right touch of hipster/tech geek/diversity/self-expression) scurried around answering questions and tapping away on their tablets with a surprising amount of patience considering the constant tugging at their shirt tails by the desperate iPhone-obsessed crowd.

After pushing our son to talk to a worker we were directed to a crowd of people huddled at the back of the store all waiting for HELP (not sure they were going to get it at Apple!). I playfully herded my son (who towers over me) into the sheep pen. He was not impressed. There was nothing funny about being without his phone for the two hours it was going to take to have his baby fixed. The idea of having to spend two hours at the mall wasn’t funny to my husband and I either though I figured it would be a nice, lazy day of people watching.

Not so.

We waited in the corral for a while until we couldn’t take the whining/crying toddler a minute longer. The kid’s mother was having trouble squeezing him with one arm while constantly texting with the other hand. How long would this go on I wondered aloud. That’s when my husband suggested we find the pretzel shop. Yet it was no better elsewhere. Most people had their heads down making love to their phones. The three women in full burkas were the only people who offered food for real thought.

A few nights before we went to see Cyrano de Bergerac performed at Congress Park in Saratoga Springs. As I don’t get out much I was much surprised to discover the Pokemon Go craze and how it transformed the park. Zombies everywhere–some sheepish zombies who knew they played the fool standing by lovely statues collecting imaginary, infantile monsters–missed the fact that  actual living actors would soon be performing a play about real and pretending people.

A husband and wife out for a stroll with their infant child  on the type of cool summer evening Saratoga has been famous for for centuries  grunted replies to each other as they scrolled through important info on their phones. A group of teen-aged boys who should have been hunting down cute girls and flirting with them cheered at a monster instead.

The play begins on a comic note. Young military cadet Christian de Neuvillette falls in love with Roxane but has no faith in his intelligence or romantic prowess to woo her though the two have made eye contact and he is certain they should be together. Roxane meanwhile asks her distant, big-nosed cousin Cyrano to watch after Christian when they go off to war. Christian reluctantly agrees to let Cyrano, a gifted swordsman and poet, write Roxane letters in his name.

  Hi jinks ensue for a while until Christian, showing a depth heretofore hidden, comes into his own and realizes that relying on devises to gain love is shallow at best and complete falsehood and tragedy at worst. Basically he throws away his cellphone, becomes a man and dies a noble death.

Cyrano refuses to tell the grieving Roxane the truth for various reasons and dies declaring that at least he lived with panache. I suppose we will say the same for ourselves when we die with the latest iPhone and have caught the many generations of Pokemon monsters set to come out. My daughter says that the makers of Pokemon wanted to do humanity a service by getting them out of their houses and into the public square a bit more. They lead sheep, they create pretend worlds that change real people–they are the tragic Cyranos of our day  who mask real humanity in brightly colored packages.

Now where are the Christian de Neuvillettes?

 

 

 

Death and Life in a Hospital

I wonder if many people still name their children after the great men and women of the past or have modern historians  poisoned that well too. I named my daughter after Theodore Roosevelt not so much for his policies (some of which I disagree with) but in honor of his zest for life and fearlessness after a rather wimpy start.

Daniel Webster Whittle was obviously named after Daniel Webster. Parents back then had big ideas for their children. The day before Whittle went off to fight in the 72nd Illinois Infantry he married his sweetheart. I imagine a fresh-faced young man in new uniform,  a peacock standing beside his pretty bride. She glances up at him with a mix of worry and pride. God is not in the forefront of his thinking.

The thrill of love and leaving causes mixed feelings for this young man, but he never questions his duty to the Union. This is before endless marches and blood shed. It’s before Vicksburg and the fateful day he is wounded and captured by Confederate soldiers. What must it feel like to lose an arm in battle?

One day you are whole and the next you are a casualty, a bed filler, a drag on the effort and a prisoner.

Young Whittle is like the many men today, with more humble names maybe, who sit in clean hospital beds making peace with war wounds. No matter the decor, no matter the Impressionist paintings hung on the walls in cheap frames a hospital is  a sad prison. We met a veteran once at a beekeeping seminar and beside him was a serious Labrador Retriever, a therapy dog. The man got very agitated about some opinion expressed about hives and honey. The dog chilled him out. PTSD sucks.

Whittle had no therapy dog because back then Bibles and chaplains were allowed to do their job. Christianity was considered normal. Daniel Whittle was ambivalent about faith. He was also bored so he picked up a copy of the New Testament on his bed stand. For those of you who don’t know it’s the part of the Bible where Jesus sacrifices his life for our sins. It’s the part people don’t really want to believe in because Jesus expects similar sacrifices from us–but we’ll save that for another day.

Each day Whittle flipped through the stories of healing, the stories of doubt and the stories of great conversions. And each day he closed the book deciding he wanted no part of it. Maybe he questioned why he no longer had an arm when other soldiers got off scott free. Maybe he wondered if his new wife would still find him attractive. Maybe he liked to hunt but now would never hold a gun. Who knows.

One night a hospital orderly woke him. “The young one over there is dying and wants a prayer.”

Whittle had seen death before. “So?”

“You’re a Christian aren’t you?” the orderly asked. “I’ve seen you reading the Bible every day.”

Whittle knelt beside the dying young man’s bed with an awkward sigh. He was no Christian, just a sleepy soldier put on the spot. As he knelt there watching the boy before him wrestle with death he took the boy’s hand in his. The boy settled. A sudden sense of needing forgiveness came over Whittle. He was surprised and confused by it, but found himself confessing to being less than the man he should be. A love for the dying boy caused him to pray his first stumbling prayer and caused him later to write this hymn:

 

I know not how this saving faith
To me He did impart,
Nor how believing in His Word
Wrought peace within my heart.

I know not how the Spirit moves,
Convincing us of sin,
Revealing Jesus through the Word,
Creating faith in Him.

I know not what of good or ill
May be reserved for me,
Of weary ways or golden days,
Before His face I see.

I know not when my Lord may come,
At night or noonday fair,
Nor if I walk the vale with Him,
Or meet Him in the air.

And so Daniel Webster Whittle, brevetted a major in the war, went home a changed man. Some men will never open a Bible and that is their choice. The words are often challenging. Actually reading the Bible is a brave thing because a decision must be made when you finish it. Hearsay about this controversial book keeps many people away–they don’t get the full story, sadly.

The PTSD beekeeping soldier got a dog. I wonder if he ever was offered a Bible.

Thanks to all the men and women who sacrifice for their fellow man.

***FEATURED IMAGE CIVIL WAR REVISITED

 

All Men Having Power Ought to be Mistrusted

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Glade by the Sea by Frederick Ballard Williams

“I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.”

“If men were angels, no government would be necessary.”

“If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy.”

“It is a universal truth that the loss of liberty at home is to be charged to the provisions against danger, real or pretended, from abroad.”

“It will be of little avail to the people that the laws are made by men of their own choice if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood.”

“No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”

“The Constitution preserves the advantage of being armed which Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation where the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms.”

James Madison rocks, doesn’t he?

james madison

JAMES MADISON BIOGRAPHY

Poet, Novelist, Diplomat & Friend: Henry van Dyke

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Once upon a time there lived on a Saratoga hillside surrounded by lakes a tragic little family of wealth and privilege. Spencer and Katrina Trask lost every child they ever produced, but gathered countless friends, many of whom were artists and poets drawn to the couple’s generosity and toughness in the face of Job-like losses, year after sad year.

Portrait_of_Henry_van_DykeHenry van Dyke was one such friend who wrote the following inscription for Katrina Trask’s garden sundial dedicated to her four dead children:

“Time is
Too slow for those who Wait,
Too swift for those who Fear,
Too long for those who Grieve,
Too short for those who Rejoice,
But for those who Love,
Time is not.”

“Dr. van Dyke is the kind of a friend to have when one is up against a difficult problem. He will take trouble, days and nights of trouble, if it is for somebody else or for some cause he is interested in.” Helen Keller said of him.

“I’m not an optimist. There’s too much evil in the world and in me. Nor am I a pessimist; there is too much good in the world and in God. So I am just a meliorist, believing that He wills to make the world better, and trying to do my bit to help and wishing that it were more.” Wikipedia

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Fountain on the Trask Estate

There was once a time in America when it was quite fashionable (even among the intellectual elites) to see something good in America. Does this mean there was nothing bad? Surely not, but van Dyke’s poem always tickles my fancy especially when children recite it in schools that still teach that America is a pretty great place to be:

AMERICA FOR ME

‘Tis fine to see the Old World, and travel up and down
Among the famous palaces and cities of renown,
To admire the crumbly castles and the statues of the kings,—
But now I think I’ve had enough of antiquated things.

           So it’s home again, and home again, America for me!
My heart is turning home again, and there I long to be,
In the land of youth and freedom beyond the ocean bars,
Where the air is full of sunlight and the flag is full of stars!

Oh, London is a man’s town, there’s power in the air;
And Paris is a woman’s town, with flowers in her hair;
And it’s sweet to dream in Venice, and it’s great to study Rome;
But when it comes to living there is no place like home.

I like the German fir-woods, in green battalions drilled;
I like the gardens of Versailles with flashing fountains filled;
But, oh, to take your hand, my dear, and ramble for a day
In the friendly western woodland where Nature has her way!

I know that Europe’s wonderful, yet something seems to lack:
The Past is too much with her, and the people looking back.
But the glory of the Present is to make the Future free,—
We love our land for what she is and what she is to be.

           Oh, it’s home again, and home again, America for me!
I want a ship that’s westward bound to plough the rolling sea,
To the bléssed Land of Room Enough beyond the ocean bars,
Where the air is full of sunlight and the flag is full of stars

angel 2
At a junk yard in America