Saturday, February 23, 2013

A Long Arc Toward Justice

by Bill Doughty
Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles was one of the first people to learn about President Lincoln's commitment to free enslaved human beings in the South.  Lincoln confided in Welles and Secretary of State William Seward on July 13, 1862, according to Seward’s diary, that emancipation was part of a military strategy.

Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles, center, at Lincoln's right hand.
Was Lincoln motivated by morality or practicality -- or both?

A new book by John Burt, “Lincoln’s Tragic Pragmatism,” joins over 16,000 titles published to date about the 16th president and explores the question. 

Regarding Lincoln's practical motivation, Burt writes:

“He explained to Welles that emancipation ‘was a military necessity absolutely essential to the salvation of the Union, that we must free the slaves or be ourselves subdued.’ Such an act would, at the least, weaken the power of the Confederacy, since it used its slaves to do such things as dig intrenchments or move supplies, jobs which otherwise would have to be performed by white soldiers. He further noted that the border states would do nothing, left to themselves, and could only be persuaded to free their slaves if the slaves were freed in the Confederacy first.”

Burt’s book was showcased this week on one of America’s best radio shows,  Tom Ashbrook’s On Point, and is available as a podcast. The acclaimed new book examines Lincoln’s philosophy and approach to democracy.  Listen to the discussion here.

Ashbrook opens his podcast with a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”

He quotes a passage from Burt:

“Lincoln provides a model for moral agency in a complex world in which one must make one’s way among various half-understood alternatives, none of which leaves ones hands clean.”

Burt discusses conflicting beliefs and values, the tension between democracy and morality, and the fundamental principles of persuasion.

He tells Ashbrook, “My conscience commands me, but it has to persuade you.  And, indeed, if I don’t persuade you and compel you, then I’m not behaving in a democratic way either.  It may be a high-minded tyranny, but it’s still a tyranny.  I have an obligation to get you to accept defeat on things that matter to you highly.”

The On Point conversation brings out contemporary parallels -- from Martin Luther King’s strategy in the 1960s to current challenges of the ongoing Continuing Resolution and impending Sequestration in 2013.  In considering Lincoln, the lessons in leadership, compromise and warfare -- concessions without “fatal sacrifices” -- are striking.

Another one of the 16,000+ Lincoln titles (used as a backdrop by CNO Adm. Greenert to announce his revamped Professional Reading Program) is Ronald C. White, Jr.’s “The Eloquent President.”  White examines some of the president’s greatest speeches, addresses and public letters between 1861 and 1865, pulling them apart and looking at the poetry, cadences and conviction inside.

Like Burt, White also describes the role of Welles and Seward as Lincoln’s close confidants on the issue of emancipation.

Welles wrote detailed entries in his diary and recounted Lincoln’s growing belief in “Divine Will.” According to Welles, Lincoln saw victory in the Battle of Antietam as an indication that “God had decided this question in favor of the slaves.”

In "The Eloquent President," White writes:

“What was most remarkable, in an atmosphere charged with religious fervor and hyperpatriotism, was Lincoln’s new belief that God’s purposes may not be able to be identified by either side.  What sets him apart, in this musing, from his contemporaries in both North and South was his absence of pretension.”

White puts Lincoln’s passionate and compelling speeches under a magnifying glass, peeling off words and phrases and examining the inspiration, techniques and underlying morality of the president’s rhetoric.

He considers the Annual Message to Congress, delivered Dec. 1, 1862, as  “Lincoln’s finest message to Congress.” In that address, Lincoln calls for a “plain, peaceful, generous, just” way to save the Union.

Lincoln’s conclusion includes the phrase “fiery trial”:

“Fellow-citizens, we can not escape history. We of this Congress and this Administration will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance or insignificance can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass will light us down in honor or dishonor to the latest generation. We say we are for the Union. The world will not forget that we say this. We know how to save the Union. The world knows we do know how to save it. We, even we here, hold the power and bear the responsibility. In giving freedom to the slave we assure freedom to the free--honorable alike in what we give and what we preserve. We shall nobly save or meanly lose the last best hope of earth. Other means may succeed; this could not fail. The way is plain, peaceful, generous, just -- a way which if followed the world will forever applaud and God must forever bless.”

White concludes, “His words transcended the limitations of the event.  He used this occasion not simply to report to Congress but to mobilize public opinion. He offered a powerful appeal to history but also invited Americans to think in the future tense.  Lincoln’s message represented a breadth of conception and height of imagination in his expanding rhetorical arsenal.”

Lincoln balanced the highest ideals of morality with a tough, clear-eyed practical approach to achieve compromise and cooperation.  Using the art of the long view, he kept his commitment to the arc of the moral universe that would lead to justice for future generations.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Abraham Lincoln’s ‘Found Haiku’

by Bill Doughty

Haiku: Insights distilled to three lines of 5, 7 and 5 syllables only.

Originally from Japan and traditionally nature based, haiku are poems that can bring out subtle but deep insights in a few words.  Sometimes, haiku can be found in other people’s words.  The ‘found haiku’ on this page come from the published works of President Abraham Lincoln.  These are his words:

with other pillars
hewn from the solid quarry
of sober reason
(Speech before the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois, Jan. 27, 1837)

his ruling passion --
a love of liberty and
right, unselfishly
(Eulogy of Henry Clay, July 16, 1852)

steadily as man’s
march to the grave, we have been
giving up the old
(Speech at Peoria, Illinois on Kansas-Nebraska Act, Oct. 16, 1854)

We live in the midst
of alarms, anxiety
beclouds the future
(Speech before the first Republican State Convention of Illinois, May 29, 1856)

In my opinion...
a house divided against
itself cannot stand
(Speech before the first Republican State Convention of Illinois, June 17, 1858)

that if a man says
he knows a thing, then he must
show how he knows it
(Speech at first Lincoln-Douglas debate, Aug. 21, 1858)

Let us have faith that
right makes might; and in that faith
...dare to do our duty
(Speech at New Haven, Connecticut, March 6, 1860)

touched, as surely
they will be, by the better
angels of our nature
(First Inaugural Address, Mar. 4, 1861)

Let us proceed in
the great task which events have
devolved upon us
(First Annual Message to Congress, Dec. 3, 1861)

Slavery is the
root of the rebellion...
it’s sine qua non
(Reply to a committee from Chicago religious denominations, Sept. 13, 1862)

The subject is on
my mind, by day and night, more
than any other
(Reply to a committee from Chicago religious denominations, Sept. 13, 1862)

Sorrow comes to all
and to the young it comes with
bittered agony
(Letter to Fanny McCullough, Dec. 23, 1862)

Peace does not appear
so distant as it did. I
hope it will come soon
(Letter to James C. Conkling, Aug. 26, 1863)

with malice toward none,
with charity for all, with
firmness in the right
(Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1865)

We shall sooner have
the fowl by hatching the egg
than by smashing it
(“On Reconstruction,” his last public address, April 11, 1865)

President Lincoln, 1864
Lincoln was a master of prose whose writing feels like poetry.  His Gettysburg Address and his inaugural addresses are some of the finest examples of writing in American History.  As we reflect on the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, Navy Reads will continue to periodically feature works by and about our 16th President. As we end wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, deal with perils of a continuing resolution and sequestration, and even contemplate asteroids and meteors in 2013, Lincoln’s words offer inspiration, perspective and hope.

The haiku in this Navy Reads post were "found" by Bill Doughty from works published in “The Essential Abraham Lincoln,” from the Library of Freedom, published by Gramercy Books, distributed by Outlet Book Company, Inc., a Random House company. The works are from Lincoln’s original papers, collected in The Complete Works of Abraham Lincoln (twelve volumes, 1905), edited by John G. Nicolay and John Hay, and prepared with the cooperation of Robert Todd Lincoln, the president’s son.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

For Navy Leaders, Readers - ‘On Writing Well’

Review by Bill Doughty

Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and the phrase “All men are created equal,” reportedly said this about writing: “The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.”

William Zinsser would agree.

Zinsser’s “On Writing Well” shows how to achieve good nonfiction writing by removing clutter and striving for unity. “Unity is the anchor of good writing,” he said.

Also, good writing comes from clarity, simplicity, brevity and humanity, according to Zinsser, who provides plenty of examples by writers and thinkers -- Lewis Thomas, H. L. Mencken, James Baldwin, Diane Ackerman, Woody Allen and many others.

JFK's PT-109 essay, June 17, 1944
Excerpts by these writers show that principles like brevity and simplicity don’t have to result in colorless prose.   New Yorker magazine is brought up continually as a good source for great writing -- prose and poetry, nonfiction and storytelling.  Zinsser, himself, has written for New Yorker throughout his career.

In "On Writing Well" Zinsser writes about the art of choosing the right nouns, verbs and images to communicate effectively.

“This is a book about decisions -- the countless successive decisions that go into every act of writing,” he writes.  That includes choosing how to organize the sentences, paragraphs and entire piece to achieve that all-important unity.

“All your clear and pleasing sentences will fall apart if you don’t keep remembering that writing is linear and sequential, that logic is the glue that holds it together, that tension must be maintained from one sentence to the next and from one paragraph to the next and from one section to the next...”

Salt caravan in Timbuktu.  (file photo)
In a chapter called “A Writer’s Decisions,” Zinsser dissects his own long travel article, “The News from Timbuktu.” He takes the reader to Mali, Africa to witness a rare salt caravan from across the Sahara, where nervous camels walk in undulating unison carrying huge slabs of salt “like dirty white marble.”  Throughout the chapter, the author explains why he chose images, themes and even particular words.

Writing with brevity doesn’t negate eloquence.  Like Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln believed in choosing words that conveyed deep meaning.

Zinsser briefly examines Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address (the speech at the conclusion of the Spielberg movie, “Lincoln,” starring Daniel Day-Lewis).

Lincoln gave his address March 4, 1865 near the end of the Civil War as slavery was being abolished.  His address concludes with words of transcendence: “With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations.”

Lincoln reads with son Tad. (Photo from National Archives)
Zinsser says the speech “affects me more than any other American document” because “Lincoln tapped some of Western man’s oldest teachings about slavery, clemency and judgment.”

“On Writing Well” is recommended for anyone who writes.  That includes every Navy leader.  I first heard about this book as a recommendation by Navy’s Chief of Information, Rear Adm. John Kirby, who shared his list of essential 15 books last year.  Kirby’s list was picked up and posted on by Tom Ricks, author of “The Gamble” and “The Generals.”

Kirby’s diverse list includes works by Ernie Pyle, Mark Twain and John F. Kennedy.  It also features books about Lincoln, North Pacific history, and a collection of poems by Kipling, Emerson and others.  Kirby’s list starts with Zinsser’s “definitive book” and includes Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Stride Toward Freedom,” reviewed last month on Navy Reads.

King, Lincoln and Jefferson loved books.  They were great readers, thinkers and writers.  They could create works with clarity, cadence, humanity, etc.  And they had something to say about unity -- in and through their writing.

Posted on NFL Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 3, 2013.