Echoes of 1861

A Fragile Freedom that Is Vulnerable from Within

Credit: Peter Kuper, PoliticalCartoons.com
Peter Kuper, PoliticalCartoons.com

Nuclear annihilation a palpable danger as I grew up, I understood our democracy faced threats from without, a proverbial “gunshot wound to the head.” Yet, as I gained greater appreciation of nuance and the spectrum of reality’s palate, I understood our freedoms to be fragile and vulnerable from within.

As of late, a notion coalesced, borne by observations, of exsanguination from a “thousand cuts,” our democracy, thus, drained of vitality — a collective stupor advancing from inattention or indifference — crossing the unseen threshold to expiration. How many wounds necessary? Or where, strategically? And how many already suffered?

My concerns or Adam Goodheart’s writing style attract me to a reading of 1861: The Civil War Awakening. I know not which. Regardless, struck by uncanny parallels in our current discourse and unsettled atmosphere, with that which preceded our Civil War as so well presented by him, I feel compelled to make public comment.

Though the institution of slavery officially vanished from our laws as a result of that bloody conflict, racism and intolerance did not, and over the years reared their ugly heads, stronger these last few years, cloaked in different forms and disguised in different words.

I share an excerpt of these impassioned words from Frederick Douglass (Douglass’ Monthly, June 1861):

“And yet we read the face of the sky, and may discern the signs of the times. We know that clouds and darkness, and the sounds of distant thunder mean rain. So, too, may we observe the fleecy drapery of the moral sky, and draw conclusions as to what may come upon us. There is a general feeling amongst us, that the control of events has been taken out of our hands, that we have fallen into the mighty current of eternal principles — invisible forces, which are shaping and fashioning events as they wish, using us only as instruments to work out their own results in our National destiny.”

We have sailed into treacherous waters, though I know not if our ship yet moves towards safety. I fear a prolonged effort required before we reach tranquil harbor and in the meantime avoid a repeat our bloodied history, reminded of our current COVID pandemic which echoes that of the 1918 Spanish flu.

And so, I recommend you read 1861, though moreover, urge you heed a call to our “better angels.” Veer away from hostility toward your fellow American, instead steel yourself and remain resolute to counter forces of oppression and cruelty, though through reconciliation and the application of accountability, all the while with steadfast resolution to defend our democracy. Each citizen, in turn, acting our smallest part, rising with conviction to affect the steerage of our democracy’s collective destiny for the better.

Arise, oh just and compassionate American! Dedicate yourself to vigilant defense of our constitutional democracy and justice for all.

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