Thursday, November 6, 2008

Election Reflection

I recently finished reading the Pulitzer Prize winning book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin. I have read numerous books on the Civil War, and Lincoln, of course, is prominent in each of them. Over the years my interest has been moving from reading about the war itself to reading about Lincoln, for he is a fascinating person. He was a man of great character, and part of that greatness was that his character grew and developed. It was a product of the times yet his character grew to transcend the times. Though self-educated, his knowledge and intellect were surpassed by few in his day. He had a way of communicating with the common person yet is acknowledged as among our most eloquent presidents. In my opinion, Washington is his only rival for the designation greatest president, and I give Lincoln the edge.

When I read about Lincoln, however, I am struck not only with his genius, but also with the ugliness of the times in which he lived. While it is true that our country was founded on both Christian principles and Enlightenment principles (which often conflicted with each other), a cloud hovered over our early history that contradicted both of those pillars. It was neither enlightened nor Christian that slavery was permitted to blight our land and our history, nor was it enlightened or Christian that it took a war to rid us of slavery. That Christian men of Enlightenment thinking could define a black person as only 3/5ths of a person and enshrine that in our Constitution is shameful. Maryland’s own Roger Taney, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, reflecting on the views of race prevalent, not just in America but also in Europe in the days of our country’s founding, wrote in the opinion deciding the Dred Scott case:

It is difficult at this day to realize the state of public opinion in regard to that unfortunate race which prevailed in the civilized and enlightened portions of the world at the time of the Declaration of Independence, and when the Constitution of the United States was framed and adopted; but the public history of every European nation displays it in a manner too plain to be mistaken. They had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations, and so far unfit that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.

Earlier in the century Taney actually emancipated some of his own slaves, gave pensions to slaves too old to work, and wrote that slavery was “a blot on our national character.” Unfortunately, his views did not continue to evolve as did Lincoln’s, but rather his position on slavery hardened.

These are just a few of the examples that can be drawn from history to show that slavery afflicted more than just Africans. Without making light of the actual experience of slaves, we need to recognize that slavery eroded the souls of non-slaves as well. We all needed to be freed. What Lincoln did for the slaves, he did also for the benefit of the slave owner. What Martin Luther King, Jr. did for Blacks, he also did for the rest of the country. We no longer had to put a mental asterisk by the phrase in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal.” We were free to live out that ideal.

The United States of America elected an African-American to be our next president. Regardless of whether you voted for him or not; regardless of whether you think he will be a good president or not; regardless of whether he turns out to be an excellent president, a poor president, or, more likely, somewhere in between; regardless of whether you are Democrat, Republican, Independent, Green, or just disillusioned with the whole political process; all Americans have reason to be proud. Tuesday night both Republican and Democratic pundits recognized the significance of this election, and I hope that each of us do as well.

Historians may look back at this moment as just a blip on race relations in our country, a momentary interruption that didn’t produce any lasting change. I am hopeful, however, that future Americans will look back at this moment and see that it was the time when we finally closed the book on a part of our country’s history that cast a pall on the legitimate good that America has done, and that it was the beginning of a new American history in which we were truly able to live out both the Christian and the Enlightenment sentiments embodied in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America.

© 2008 Larry L. Eubanks


  1. "Its the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled - Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been a collection of Red States and Blue States: we are, and always will be, the United States of America."

    -Barack Obama

  2. JESUS for President and Captain America as the VP. Perfect combination.

    You cant fix stupid

  3. Is that Andy Landers? It's not me!

    Andy O.

  4. Yes, it's Landers being a fool. I should ban him from making comments. He thinks he's the only Andy on the planet, but I don't think it'll do any good to tell him otherwise. He'll just say you are all posers!