I hope you are enjoying summer and some respite from the cares of coronavirus and the national uproar for social justice after the death of George Floyd last month in Minneapolis.
It’s been quite a few weeks, to say the least.
As someone who can vividly recall the madness of 1968, I am struck by how little things seem to change in our nation. Issues bubble to forefront and fade over time, only to reappear later in our history.
I recently watched the History Channel’s three part documentary about the life of Ulysses S. Grant. It was very well done, in my opinion. Since much of his life involved the Civil War and Reconstruction, racial equality and justice and the government’s role were common themes.
I have learned more about history as an adult than I ever did in school. It’s not the fault of my teachers, the subjects are so immense, even for our relatively young nation, there’s no way they can be covered in a semester or a year.
That’s one of the reasons I enjoy reading and watching these types of programs. In addition to dramatizations of events in Grant’s life, military experts and historians offer their opinions to carry the narrative of the story.
At the conclusion of the six hours we learn Grant, who was compared to George Washington in stature after his death over a century ago, faded from history as the narrative of the Civil War was recast. The “Lost Cause” was a movement that romanticized the cause of Confederacy as just and about state’s rights and not slavery. Grant was cast as the butcher in this version of thinking and Robert E. Lee as the tragic hero.
I’m smart enough to know history is written by the victors and there are two sides to every story. That’s why learning about Grant’s childhood as the son of abolitionists who married a daughter of a slave owner and how the dual forces formed his thinking and actions was a revelation to me.
Grant was a failure many times in many things in his life but excelled in the military and in leading men. He was the logical person to succeed Andrew Johnson as president to do his best with Reconstruction.
I found this passage from his first inaugural address in 1869 timeless, in the worst possible way:
“The country having just emerged from a great rebellion, many questions will come before it for settlement in the next four years which preceding Administrations have never had to deal with. In meeting these it is desirable that they should be approached calmly, without prejudice, hate, or sectional pride, remembering that the greatest good to the greatest number is the object to be attained.
“This requires security of person, property, and free religious and political opinion in every part of our common country, without regard to local prejudice. All laws to secure these ends will receive my best efforts for their enforcement.
“I ask patient forbearance one toward another throughout the land, and a determined effort on the part of every citizen to do his share toward cementing a happy union..”
Great words 151 years ago. I just wish we didn’t need to heed them in the 21st century.
But the great thing is we can learn this lesson now, if we have the will to do so.
As always, I welcome your comments. You can reach me by email at email@example.com, telephone 715-268-8101 or write me at P.O. Box 424, Amery, WI, 54001.
Thanks for reading I’ll keep in touch. Feel free to do the same.