Mid-term elec­tions: Now is the time for unity

The Times (Northeast Benton County) - - OPINION - JERRY NI­CHOLS Colum­nist

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 joe369@cen­tu­ry­tel.net, or call 621-1621. This ar­ti­cle first ran in Oc­to­ber 2016.

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