“May we never forget our fallen comrades. Freedom isn’t free.”
– Sgt. Major Bill Paxton
Happy Friday! I figured it’s not a bad idea to remind everyone of what day of the week it is! We are headed into a holiday weekend, Memorial Day. Often considered the start of the summer season for many of us, let’s not forget that the freedom we enjoy is because brave men and women of our country risked their lives to ensure that we enjoy a robust and healthy Democracy. It is a truly special day to remember those who have paid the ultimate price for our freedom.
Every so often, when the timing is right, I reread Lincoln on Leadership by Donald Phillips. It’s a great reminder for me about how to conduct myself during difficult times. If you’re a fan of history and leadership, I highly recommend this book. I have always been fascinated with Lincoln’s writing ability and the power of his rhetoric. His command of language and vision was a truly remarkable combination. I am reminded of a speech he gave when he was 28 years old given before the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois. The title of the speech was “The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions”. It’s an unbelievably compelling speech as the nation was struggling with differing perspectives of freedom, particularly centered around slavery and attempts to tear down the rule of law and political institutions to protect slavery. There are many parallels to our current circumstance, and I would encourage everyone to read the speech in its totality however, I’ve pulled some excerpts for your consideration and contemplation.
Excerpts from the Lyceum Speech:
Lincoln warns us that we the people will need to protect our democracy…
“Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant to step the ocean and crush us at a blow? Never! All the armies of Europe, Asia, and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest, with a Bonaparte for a commander, could not by force take a drink from the Ohio or make a track on the Blue Ridge in a trial of a thousand years. At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer. If it ever reach us it must spring up amongst us; it cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen we must live through all time or die by suicide.”
The importance of the rule of law…
“I hope I am over wary; but if I am not, there is, even now, something of ill-omen, amongst us. I mean the increasing disregard for law which pervades the country; the growing disposition to substitute the wild and furious passions, in lieu of the sober judgment of Courts; and the worse than savage mobs, for the executive ministers of justice. This disposition is awfully fearful in any community; and that it now exists in ours, though grating to our feelings to admit, it would be a violation of truth, and an insult to our intelligence, to deny.”
Our obligation to our Nation…
“I know the American People are much attached to their Government; –I know they would suffer much for its sake; –I know they would endure evils long and patiently, before they would ever think of exchanging it for another. Yet, notwithstanding all this, if the laws be continually despised and disregarded, if their rights to be secure in their persons and property, are held by no better tenure than the caprice of a mob, the alienation of their affections from the Government is the natural consequence; and to that, sooner or later, it must come.
Here then, is one point at which danger may be expected.
The question recurs, “how shall we fortify against it?” The answer is simple. Let every American, every lover of liberty, every well wisher to his posterity, swear by the blood of the Revolution, never to violate in the least particular, the laws of the country; and never to tolerate their violation by others. As the patriots of seventy-six did to the support of the Declaration of Independence, so to the support of the Constitution and Laws, let every American pledge his life, his property, and his sacred honor;–let every man remember that to violate the law, is to trample on the blood of his father, and to tear the character of his own, and his children’s liberty.
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.
While ever a state of feeling, such as this, shall universally, or even, very generally prevail throughout the nation, vain will be every effort, and fruitless every attempt, to subvert our national freedom.”
We need to be cautious of tyrants from within…
“It is to deny what the history of the world tells us is true, to suppose that men of ambition and talents will not continue to spring up amongst us. And when they do, they will as naturally seek the gratification of their ruling passion as others have done before them. The question then is, can that gratification be found in supporting and maintaining an edifice that has been erected by others? Most certainly it cannot.
Many great and good men, sufficiently qualified for any task they should undertake, may ever be found whose ambition would aspire to nothing beyond a seat in Congress, a gubernatorial or a presidential chair; but such belong not to the family of the lion or the tribe of the eagle. What! think you these places would satisfy an Alexander, a Caesar, or a Napoleon? Never!
Towering genius disdains a beaten path. It seeks regions hitherto unexplored. It sees no distinction in adding story to story upon the monuments of fame erected to the memory of others. It denies that it is glory enough to serve under any chief. It scorns to tread in the footsteps of any predecessor, however illustrious.
It thirsts and burns for distinction; and if possible, it will have it, whether at the expense of emancipating slaves or enslaving freemen. Is it unreasonable, then, to expect that some man possessed of the loftiest genius, coupled with ambition sufficient to push it to its utmost stretch, will at some time spring up among us?
And when such a one does, it will require the people to be united with each other, attached to the government and laws, and generally intelligent, to successfully frustrate his designs. Distinction will be his paramount object, and although he would as willingly, perhaps more so, acquire it by doing good as harm, yet, that opportunity being past, and nothing left to be done in the way of building up, he would set boldly to the task of pulling down.”
We must be grounded in reason and reverence for the law…
“I do not mean to say that the scenes of the Revolution are now or ever will be entirely forgotten, but that, like everything else, they must fade upon the memory of the world, and grow more and more dim by the lapse of time…
They were pillars of the temple of liberty; and now that they have crumbled away that temple must fall unless we, their descendants, supply their places with other pillars, hewn from the solid quarry of sober reason. Passion has helped us, but can do so no more. It will in future be our enemy. Reason — cold, calculating, unimpassioned reason — must furnish all the materials for our future support and defense. Let those materials be molded into general intelligence, sound morality, and, in particular, a reverence for the Constitution and laws; and that we improved to the last, that we remained free to the last, that we revered his name to the last, that during his long sleep we permitted no hostile foot to pass over or desecrate his resting-place, shall be that which to learn the last trump shall awaken our Washington.
Upon these let the proud fabric of freedom rest, as the rock of its basis; and as truly as has been said of the only greater institution, “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
As I said, read the whole speech when you have a chance. But just in case you don’t, the final sentence in the second to last paragraph, that references “trump shall awaken our Washington,” this is about awaking and memorializing the spirit of George Washington. It is not in any way a reference to our current president or political discourse.
Our freedom is hard-won. It is because of the great men and women who proceeded us, we stand on their shoulders as citizens of the nation. On Memorial Day, take a moment to remember that the freedoms we enjoy are precious and we cannot take them for granted. Each of us has an obligation to actively and fully participate in our Democracy, protecting the rule of law and guard the institutions of our great nation.
Let’s go be great!