Every year I pick a book to read that I put off earlier in life due to length or that I had considered otherwise intimidating. Last year I read War and Peace. The previous year I started Les Misérables – interrupted by my 2019 medical adventure; I’ll have to come back to that one.
For 2021, I’ve decided to start reading Shelby Foote’s Civil War: A Narrative: Volumes 1-3 (all of the approximately 3,000 pages).
For anyone familiar with Ken Burns’ Civil War on PBS, Shelby Foote, with his Mississippi drawl and extensive knowledge of the war, sounded as if he had been present at most of the anecdotes he related through the series.
He brings the same sensibility to his written work. Having just begun Volume 1, I came across a message from Lincoln to Congress on July 4th, 1861 that seems as relevant today as it did then.
For those who don’t remember the particulars, Lincoln had been elected President on November 6th, 1860. The secession of Southern states began on December 20th, 1860 with South Carolina; within two months most of the rest of what became the Confederacy followed – Virginia was the last to secede in May 1861. Lincoln’s inauguration was March 4th, 1861 (inauguration day moved to January 20th in 1937).
Here was his message:
“Our popular government has been called an experiment. Two points in it our people have already demonstrated, the successful establishing and the successful administering of it. One still remains – its successful maintenance attempt to overthrow it. It is now for them to demonstrate to the world that those who can fairly carry an election can also suppress a rebellion, that ballots are the rightful and peaceful successor of bullets, and when ballots have fairly and constitutionally decided, there can be no successful appeal except to ballots at succeeding elections.”
As we read and hear that Trump is agitating for demonstrations – and who knows what else – in one week to disrupt or prevent Congress from validating the election results, it is upon us all to understand and prevent what would result from this sedition: an end this experiment in popular government.