12 February 2009

Ten Score Years Ago...

Here's a tip of my striped hat to our two bicentennial men: Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin, born on what some might deem for that reason one of the most auspicious days in human history. Darwin's contributions ought to be indisputable, but so long as people insist on living according to myths, the debate will go on. Lincoln is also despised by a remnant of fanatics, but he ought to be a role model for the rest of us. Let it be remembered that, as a Representative, Lincoln supported the troops during the Mexican War while challenging President Polk's pretext for war, daring the commander-in-chief to prove who had fired the first shot in that conflict. That example should be remembered perpetually. Lincoln also leaves another lesson that requires some study. He said that as he would not be a slave, so he would not be a master. Before and since, too many Americans have thought that, if they would not be slaves, they must be masters. They don't mean the kind of masters Lincoln meant, but neither do they mean the type of slavery Lincoln feared. But some of them curse Lincoln anyway, because they feel that, if they can't be masters, they are slaves. Lincoln's legacy is always at odds with those who put the rights of property before the rights of people. It was most blatant in his own time, when the right to own people as property was in dispute. But the conflict continues to this day, whenever property becomes privilege and politicians make government the protector of privilege rather than the servant of the people. Then you hear people confusing privilege with freedom, and equality with slavery. Lincoln heard the same thing, and he said, "A house divided against itself cannot stand." He was talking about states and slavery, of course, but does that end the lesson? Or was slavery only a symptom of privilege, and state lines only one kind of dividing line? Read Lincoln and figure it out for yourselves, just as you would if you were reading Darwin. Happy birthday to both.

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