Robert L. Wichterman
Robert L. Wichterman writes from Lancaster, PA.
It has become evident as we consider the last two presidential contests that a profound cultural and political fault line has opened between these Red and Blue states. The majority of voters in the Red states hold conservative, traditional Judeo-Christian values, while those in the Blue states have a more secular and liberal philosophy.
Only time will tell how much this split will affect our nation. But compared to the chasm Abraham Lincoln encountered after he won the November, 1860, presidential election, our differences of opinion are probably minor.
The situation facing President Lincoln even before his March, 1861, inauguration, was that an entire portion of the country was reacting to his victory by voiding the Constitution, and withdrawing from the Union. Moreover, these states had an economic and social structure that could only survive with the support from the rest of the country and their acquiescence of its slave system.
Mr. Lincoln had hoped that slavery would gradually die; however, led by South Carolina, that prospect disappeared, and a rival government was formed.
The conflict that ensued, as President Lincoln fought for the life of our nation, was terrible. It is ironic that in order to preserve our free country, we had to wage war against other Americans. We also "learned to kill efficiently," as one of my history professors commented. In fact, during World War II, about 440,000 Americans were killed; about 640,000 died in the Civil War.
In addition, Mr. Lincoln did whatever he deemed necessary to win, as did all previous and subsequent wartime presidents. For instance, in spite of a Supreme Court ruling against him, he suspended the writ of habeas corpus, and imprisoned southern sympathizers without a trial. (In 1942, President Roosevelt interned many Japanese-Americans for the duration of the war, and President Bush has confined suspected Islamic terrorists in the U. S. Naval base at Guantanamo Bay.)
As an addendum, F. D. R. had to deal with a serious foreign policy difference of opinion in the early days of World War II, especially after France surrendered, and Great Britain was "on the ropes." The isolationists had looked at the political predicament brought about by the 1919 Versailles Treaty, and decided that we should never again involve ourselves in Europe's self-inflicted disputes. The Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, reunited us. And another successful Islamic strike on U.S. soil, a la 9/11, would have the same effect.
In the midst of waging a total war against the Confederacy, Mr. Lincoln recognized that the cause of the Union had to be decided by the electorate. Thus in 1864, there was a full, hard fought campaign, with the war as the central issue. The Democrats nominated Gen. George McClellan, who promised to stop the war, but preserve the Union. The Democratic Party, though, had been captured by the anti-war faction known as the Copperheads. Their platform was not only to end the war, but to also allow the South to go its own way. Fortunately they lost.
Sixty years apart, both Franklin D. Roosevelt and George W. Bush faced the voters during a war, and both were, as was Mr. Lincoln, successful.
Finally, as we fret over "The Great Divide" between the values voters in the Red states and the liberal secularists in the Blue states, we should remember Abraham Lincoln's conviction that free institutions and the rule of law, will hold America together.
He also observed, cogently, that:
All the armies of the world could not, by force, take a drink from the Ohio River. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author.
In other words, we, like Rome, will fall from within.
In order to protect America from itself, Mr. Lincoln recommended:
Let reverence for the laws, be breathed by every American mother, to the lisping babe, that prattles on her lap--let it be taught in schools, in seminaries, and in colleges; let it be written in Primers, spelling books, and in Almanacs;--let it be preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in courts of justice. And, in short, let it become the political religion of the nation; and let the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the grave and the gay, of all sexes and tongues, and colors and conditions, sacrifice unceasingly upon its altars. --From the January 27, 1838 Lyceum Address
"In our own time the whole of Greece has been subject to a low birth rate and a general decrease of the population, owing to which cities have become deserted and the land has ceased to yield fruit, although there have neither been continuous wars nor epidemics. . . . For as men had fallen into such a state of pretentiousness, avarice, and indolence that they did not wish to marry, or if they married to rear the children born to them, or at most as a rule but one or two of them, so as to leave these in affluence and bring them up to waste their substance, the evil rapidly and insensibly grew." -Polybius