Mid-term elections: Now is the time for unity
Editor’s note: This column first ran before the elections in 2016. It’s message is timeless and worth considering now, a day after the mid-term elections.
Very soon now we will have opportunity to exercise one of the central rights of a citizen of a democratic republic, the right to vote, and in doing so to voice our preferences for persons who will represent us in the governing of our nation, state, county, and local city or town. Going to vote is a central opportunity for us to participate in the self-government which our nation’s founders envisioned. In thinking about this opportunity to have a voice and to participate in the choices leading to selection of our leadership in government, I am moved to quote one of the finer expressions of the ideals of our country, Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address on the Gettysburg Battlefield during the Civil War. I am quoting the George Bancroft text which President Lincoln supplied to the historian following the dedication of the Gettysburg field:
“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
“Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives, that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
“But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate – we can not hallow – this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion - that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” (Source: Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, edited by Roy P. Basler and others.)
President Lincoln expressed some very high principles and ideals for our nation — the preservation and the perfecting of our union as a nation, equal rights for all people, the ideal that the nation, under God, may enhance the experience of freedom in the lives of it’s people, the call and challenge that all citizens should take up the continuing and future task of lifting up and advancing high ideals as a people, and devoting ourselves in the commitment that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
Historically, these principles and ideals have not been owned by any one political party, nor have they been the exclusive possession of any one candidate for office, but could be endorsed by devotees of most of our American political parties. As I recall the years from 1940 through the mid-1950s, the era of what is sometimes called “the great generation,” there was a greater sense of aspiring together as a people to see our political leaders as “our” leaders, not so much as an “us against them” situation. The president, even though he might not be from our favored political party, was generally considered to be “our” president, not the other party’s president. The major parties, back then, were not rigid blocks of conservatives against progressives. Rather, both major parties tended to include a wider range and mix of views, ideologies, and policy preferences. It was possible in those days to build coalitions of Democrats and Republicans in working on such issues as Social Security, for example.
I note several things about President Lincoln. First, he was not antigovernment, he was not anti-politician, and he was not anti-establishment; he was not moved by anger. He was a union man, who believed in the necessity and the value of a good and strong government at the federal level, as well as at other levels. He was not a factionalist seeking to advance the privileges of one group of people over others; he sought a national life that was beneficial to all. He did not present himself as the key to the future of the nation, but lifted up an ideals-motivated, high-principled citizenry as the nation’s strength and inspiration. Even though he was leading a great struggle against the Confederate secessionist cause, he did not give himself to blaming or berating the Confederate forces or their leaders. He seemed to express respect and honor even toward those who had advocated and fought on the other side, even as he continued vigorously to oppose them both politically and on the battlefields of the civil war. He expressed a vision of healing that saw beyond the antagonisms of the day.
Mr. Lincoln said, “It is for us the living… to be dedicated to the unfinished work….”
We are “the People,” who govern our common life by voting. Let’s go vote!
Editor’s note: Jerry Nichols, a native of Pea Ridge and an award-winning columnist, is vice president of Pea Ridge Historical Society. He can be contacted by e-mail at email@example.com, or call 621-1621. This article first ran in October 2016.