Groundhog Day on Immigration

Vector sketch drawing of a crowd of people, rear view.

Here in Central Texas, a six-hour drive from the southern border, we regret “the problems” as we drink from tall bottles of Longhorn beer or sip Chardonnay from plastic cups to wash down our tacos. Instead of seeking solutions impacting lives North and South, we’re pressed to the Red or Blue political lines that have prevented compromise for decades.

Migrants’ problems seem universal today, as people flee war and political instability in Ukraine, Sudan, Myanmar, and Indonesia, drought brought on by climate change throughout Africa, economic hardship and cartel violence upend homes in Mexico, Columbia, Venezuela, and Central America—essentially all over the world, we ponder the southern border once again.

Someone who lives along the Texas border, a young rancher in Brackettville, Texas, experiences daily intrusions onto his land and forbids his children from playing in the yard. He wants solutions: “We need to make immigration laws much easier and more accessible for the people who generally want to be here for good reasons,” he told the Washington Post. (“Texas uses aggressive tactics to arrest migrants as Title 42 ends,” May 14, 2023).

Title 42 vs. Title 8

On May 11, the Trump-era Title 42 expulsion policy ended. Put in place to enforce against the fear-of-Covid, the policy returned most immigrants seeking asylum to their original country. But now its replacement, Title 8, allows for a pro bono attorney and an initial interview of one’s case by phone. If asylum is denied, migrants are returned home under “expedited removal.” Now prior to reaching the US border, migrants are required to seek asylum in Mexico or another country on the way to the United States to reduce the surge at the border. After being detained more than once, a migrant will be prevented from entering the U.S. for five years. Migrants can apply for asylum via an app (though complaints about the delays in obtaining appointments online).

As the Title 42 restriction lifted, fears were reinforced by anti-immigrant groups saying that this would “acerbate an already raging immigration crisis,” according to the conservative Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). But as of May 14, that human tsunami has not materialized over the weekend, with just 4200 on Sunday. Moreover, El Paso, a key entry point, registered 639 on Saturday, down substantially from May 10, when 2,131 crossed. Nevertheless, Homeland Security expects more migrants in the coming weeks.

On May 11, the GOP-led U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 2, the “Secure the Border Act” 219-213, which would provide the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) with “the manpower, infrastructure, and technology it needs and end incentives to violate our immigration laws.”

The U.S. Senate, under Democratic control, has not taken up H.R. 2 because it fails to provide a path to citizenship for people who pay taxes and have been working in the country for 20 years or more. Nor does it address the plight of the children brought across the border illegally up to 30 years ago (DREAMERS), some of whom are in college or have obtained a green card and have joined the U.S. military.

The last Immigration Reform and Control Act passed Congress on November 6, 1986, nearly 40 years ago during Reagan’s administration, when Democrats controlled both houses. All other attempts with a divided Congress have failed. For example, the 2010 Dream Act proposed by Obama’s term provided they spend two years in college or the military. Unfortunately, it only passed in the House and has failed multiple times in the years since.

The only time Congress seriously attempted to pass bipartisan immigration reform since 1986 came on May 25, 2006. The Republican-led Senate passed the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006 by a substantial vote of 62 to 36. Twenty-three Republicans, including Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the current minority leader, supported the bill sponsored by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Edward Kennedy (D-MA). The statement paired border security desired by the GOP (fencing, radar, aerial surveillance, and added personnel) with a provision offering undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. a way to earn citizenship and would create a guest worker program. President George W. Bush urged passage, and big business and labor unions supported it. Unfortunately, the House never put it on the calendar for a vote, instead backing a bill for border security, the Secure Fence Act, which was signed into law before the 2006 midterms. Immigration has always been a political football.

Why risk the dangerous trip to the U.S.?

Why would someone take such drastic measures to escape their country and leave virtually everything, sometimes even each other, behind? I had a better idea after reading American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins. While it is a novel, much research went into the writing. The reader sees inside the terrors of one woman fleeing north with her son after the cartel killed her journalist husband and murdered ten of their relatives gathered for a birthday barbeque. She survives the initial attack because she hides with her son in the bathroom. She abandons the bookstore she owns, packs food and money from her now-dead grandmother’s House, and in desperation, learns to hop a train going north on the first leg of the trip. The book explains why some people won’t stop trying to enter America until they die or finally do. It’s desperation.

A Centuries’ Old Tug-of-War

But this crisis does not spring from the ground like a new crop of corn or as a story depicted in a novel. Instead, it has been a part of the U.S.-Mexican tug-of-war for decades; some could trace it to the formation of Texas, whose southern border grew out of Mexico—we’ve been trading people for centuries. Just back then, both nations sought out homesteaders to till the land.

In 1837, Mexico passed legislation banning slavery, nearly three decades before Americans started the process. As a result, thousands of American Blacks fled the plantations for freedom in Mexico. However, when their “owners” came across the border to kidnap the enslaved people, Mexicans were not accommodating, according to Alice Baumgartner, PhD., of UCLA. She researched records in northern Mexico from 1819, taking seven years to write South to Freedom: Runaway Slaves to Mexico.

In 1848, at the end of the Mexican-American War, the U.S. received a significant portion of northern Mexico in the Treaty of Hidalgo. It conferred U.S. citizenship on Mexicans who chose to remain on the “undeveloped” land claimed by Native Americans who did not want to give it up. A bit later, in 1830, President Trump’s hero, Andrew Jackson, signed the Indian Removal Act, which confiscated Native American lands in the east and forced their removal west of the Mississippi.  

Don’t think the Border Patrol is some modern invention. Congress passed funding to create it in 1924. But this crisis will not end by purchasing a fleet of Dodge Chargers to paint white and black, hiring new battalions of border agents, or installing 30-foot tall steel rods in the ground for 2000 miles across our southern border. Nor will the threat of imprisonment or a speedy return across the border deter those who attempt to crawl across the 100-degree desert, swim the Rio Grande under darkness, or pay coyotes $6,000+ to smuggle them to America. Would they try this if they could endure the poverty and lawlessness in El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Mexico, Haiti, Honduras, Columbia, or Venezuela? People who fear for their lives from the cartels or can’t feed their families will not automatically stay home, even though they might prefer to be there.

America cannot permit entry to anyone who wants to come into the country. But failure to develop a sensible immigration policy to address our country’s needs is irresponsible and ensures continuing turmoil at the border. Unfortunately, it appears that the political party out of power prefers to see disturbing video streamed from the border as evidence of their opponent’s failure—just waiting to pump the video into the next election’s campaign ads.

We can’t solve the world’s problems or even those of Central America by attempting to close America’s gates or removing the beacon from the Statute of Liberty. We know that selling illegal drugs in America helps fund the cartels in Mexico and Central America, while Americans are dying from the uber-addictive fentanyl (80 to 100 times as potent as morphine) that feeds the crisis. The crisis has many layers in both the U.S. and Mexico—the lucrative drug and people smuggling traffic by coyotes, international trade, (How many people are aware that Mexico is our number one trading partner?) a younger, upward mobile population in Mexico vs. dropping birth-rate and aging population in the U.S. Then there’s the FEAR of some Americans of black and brown people. It’s a complex brew.

Turning our backs on our next-door neighbors without attempting to address the situation has not been the American way. I know Americans have worked to train Mexican law enforcement to deal with the drug war, but we’ve seen the complications as drug lords in both countries gain money and power. American Presidents have worked with Mexico’s leaders to address trade and other vital issues. Our unemployment rate, which is at an all-time low, begs for workers to build U.S. productivity—a win-win for both sides. Immigration is a multi-layered problem that deserves more than smiles and handshakes, or are we condemned to seeing humans thrown up against concertina wire endlessly—an international Groundhog Day.   

Only the Young

Only the Young Can Manage This

A Taylor Swift lyric pulled together my ideas about changing attitudes about winning. * Swift and Joel Little wrote and produced “Only the Young,” inspired by the 2018 U.S. midterm elections, and it is considered to be Swift’s most politically-charged song.

When I heard this song and thought about the conflict between key opponents during the 2023 Women’s NCAA Basketball tournament, I thought about the phrase, “You won; I lost.” But today, the phrase seems to have disappeared and become as forgotten as the now-extinct Dutch Elm trees. +

Joyfully, this is my fourth anniversary of the Past Becomes Present Blog. I consider unique events in American History, but sometimes I wonder what has stepped into democracy’s path. In any event, I appreciate each one of my readers. So, if you get a chance, leave me a note telling me what you’re thinking. Thanks for reading.

Athletes and most politicians work hard to achieve success, but along the way, the desire to “get there” can bend their original values and force them to make choices they would scorn just months or weeks before. The negative things we do in eagerness to succeed, what we say and do to our opponents, can take us low. We are so much better than that.

The Big Lie and the negative example it sets for using social media to advance a falsehood has seriously damaged American politics and communication among teens and pre-teens. Social media that scrambled the electorate’s brains with repeated lies and crass messaging has entered the vocabulary of teens taking sides and viciously criticizing opponents or classmates online.

The desire, no screaming need, to play the competition off the field, contend for the championship, grab the ring, get the trophy, and eventually be coveted by a professional team—repeats itself every season in every sport. Players and parents get into it, many all too aware of the notoriety, wealth, and publicity winners achieve.

When was the last time you heard someone admit they were wrong and someone else was correct?

Lincoln wrote, “You won; I lost.” to General Grant after his long-fought victory at Vicksburg. Would Lincoln reconsider today and write something like: “I’m sad; I know I was right. I don’t know why you didn’t follow my instructions, but I’m glad you stuck with it.”

In politics, we have come-to-Jesus moments just when we expect the game to end, like in 2020 when the former President called the Chief of Elections in Georgia to demand he “find” the votes to even the score, but the Georgian refused. It could have ended then; we could have avoided a two-year-plus anxiety that rocks our nation. We could have avoided the horrific scenes inside the halls of Congress on January 6, the Congressional investigations and hearings to determine the causes of the security breach, and the cost of security and court cases around the country.

Can we protect our democracy from a falsehood based on the Big Lie? To date, the system is limping through the process. But in 2024, we must require a winner and a loser. When the voting is over, after the mail-in votes are counted, when the last basket hits the net or the final field goal soars across the uprights, it needs to be final — no one gaming the opponent or spreading lies about the conclusion.

We’re still wrangling over the 2020 election in 2023, and no doubt some die-hards will still be jawboning it in 2024 and beyond. Since 2000 the issue of who won the popularity by the candidate vs. the Electoral College has come up repeatedly. It’s exhausting, though important because determining the winning candidate is essential. We can’t leave the Electoral College question until the next election, but address it now because the population centers are changing and this is not 1778 anymore when these decisions were first made.

The tight races or a difference between the popular and electoral votes are nothing new. In 2000, the Presidential Election could have gone either way. The George H.W. Bust-Al Gore marked the beginning of the popular vote going for the Democrats—Gore’s popular vote count exceeded Bush’s by 500,000 votes. Still, following the Electoral College tally that the Constitution now requires, Bush topped Gore 271 to 266, just one vote above the required 270 to win. The Court ruled for Bush. Gore did not stand on a soapbox and yell at the gods. He reluctantly went along with the decision. In 1960, Kennedy took the Electoral vote 303-219, which was not close, but Kennedy won the popular vote by only 112,827, tight in a national race. Yet Nixon did not ask for a recount. Do these races seem this long ago?

The millions of dollars poured into primary races at all levels so politicians can grab online money trees. Organizations far to their right or left seize supporters’ dollars for political campaigns focusing on cultural issues, not problems in education and child poverty, housing, and transportation. That would take some collective brainpower to jawbone those issues to the ground, eating away at them a bite at a time.

What are those millions used for? First, full-sized travel RVs circulate in six key states (ignoring the others), media companies are paid millions for ad space, and then fake messaging flows online. Finally, social media has led their gullible prime audience to believe almost anything negative about their opponent.)

We “adults,” 40 and above, certainly haven’t solved much, and with Congress cut in two with a knife politically, one questions whether the key issues will be tackled. However, we won’t ignore the problems but welcome the enthusiasm and new thinking of the 40 and under!

“Only the Young’s” lyrics urge listeners to “get out there and participate in democracy,” says Vulture’s entertainment blog writer Joey Haylock. Young people are registering to vote in many parts of the country like never before. We need this to continue to get new people and new ideas coming in. We might not like all of them and more than the under 40s like some of ours, but we’ll have new blood ideas flowing in the political bloodstream. We look to this new energy to help boost solutions to the use and abuse of social media, so it will flow without damaging its users or harming democracy. I’m a blogger! I don’t want the free flow of ideas to stop. I want to develop responsible ways to use it to benefit us all.

Above all, I encourage those under 40 to RUN–in politics, sports, and around the block to keep themselves mentally and physically in shape!

*“Only the Young” is a song recorded by American singer-songwriter Taylor Swift and released on January 31, 2020, through Republic Records, as a promotional single for Miss Americana, a 2020 Netflix documentary on Swift.

+ In the week following the NCAA Championship, lead players for Louisiana State and Iowa recognized the talent of their opponents, helping modify the earlier social media lightening that had dimmed satisfaction with the games, despite tremendous record-setting play.

Leaders Listen

The First Electronic President

No one person holds all wisdom in our complicated, fast-moving world. To succeed, a wise leader needs informed sources, trusted advisors, and judgment to separate the grains of wisdom from foggy reasoning. Facing a myriad of problems daily, President Lincoln was no exception; instead, he established the standard.

Here he is seen in the telegraph office, which may seem a sleepy, solitary source of news compared with today’s worldwide information flowing in full-color pixels across multiple digital screens. Yet the telegraph gave Lincoln almost instantaneous news about what was happening on the Civil War battlefields—his early“internet.” He became the first “electronic president,” curious, forward-looking, and eager to learn and master future technology when he saw his first telegraph key. In 1857 Lincoln rode the legal circuit in Illinois and checked into the Tazewell House Hotel in Pekin, one of the state’s early telegraph offices. While there, Lincoln requested a tutorial from the telegraph operator Charles Tinker.

Then, two years before being elected President, Lincoln gave a series of lectures on “Discoveries and Inventions.” He said: “All creation is a mine, and every man, a miner.” (We’ll take it that he included women here based on his other statements on behalf of women.) He praised technological innovation and its benefits, saying it separated “Young America” from the other “Old Fogey” nations to the advantage of the new republic.

Just five weeks after the fall of Fort Sumner, the American Telegraph Company met on the Long Bridge, then across the Potomac River from the White House to sever the North-South telegraph connection. In hindsight, the North’s lopsided amount of military equipment and greater ability to supply their army across better railroad connections seemed to be critical in the outcome of the Civil War. But perhaps an even greater advantage came from the 1500 miles of telegraph lines quickly installed in the North, which was triple that in the South. Crucial communications between Lincoln and his generals ran across these wires. But, again, the Confederate’s focus on States’ rights and their difficulty obtaining the needed supplies to build and install telegraphic networks hampered their ability to communicate between their leadership and their generals in the field. In comparison, the South’s refusal to establish a robust central authority supporting telegraphic messages led to a communications nightmare.

In Washington, Lincoln demanded the latest information from the battlefields. So, during his first year in office, he learned how to manage the telegraph’s capabilities. Lincoln began to haunt the telegraph office near the White House because he wanted to be the first to know where his generals and troops were and the outcomes of the battles. He wasn’t shy about giving his opinion after reading the West Point curricula, including about the Napoleonic Wars and the American Revolution.

Three months after the Union’s loss at Bull Run, another defeat came at Balls Bluff, across the Potomac River in Virginia. The Confederates drove the bluecoats back over the bluff into the water. Many were shot as they tried to swim to the opposite shore. Colonel Edward Baker, a former Illinois Congressman and Oregon U.S. Senator, died leading his troops at Balls Bluff. He and Lincoln had served in Congress together and were close friends. When Lincoln went to the telegraph office to inquire about dispatches on the battle’s outcome, the telegraph operator denied anything new “in the file.” He’d placed this dispatch under his desk blotter, knowing the news would upset the President.

Then, Lincoln walked into McClellan’s office around the corner, where he saw the dispatch on his desk. Lincoln returned to the operator and asked why he withheld his message. The operator argued that technically he’d been truthful since the information was under his blotter, not “in the file.” Lincoln was not amused.  

A President Acts

Lincoln could not abide a situation that ceded control of electronic information to the military, to the exclusion of the elected government. A few similar incidents resulted in Lincoln sending the Secretary of War Simon Cameron to Russia as an ambassador. In January 1862, Edwin Stanton became the new Secretary of War. When Congress returned that month, it followed Lincoln’s request and enacted legislation allowing the government to take control of the telegraph lines as necessary for military purposes. The line continued to be owned by private companies and carried civilian traffic. Still, Stanton assumed control of military applications under the restructured U.S. Military Telegraph Corps (USMTC), a civilian operation only answerable to the Secretary of War, who worked for the President of the United States. The civilians were independent and immune to the orders of army officers.

Big Ear

The telegraph office moved from General McClellan’s headquarters to the War Department building next to the White House. Lincoln saw that telegraph operator Charles Tinker, his former tutor, be appointed a telegraph clerk there. So now Lincoln had a new hideout in the telegraph office in a room between the telegraph machines and Secretary Stanton’s office. There Lincoln would remain for hours, sometimes overnight. The President would hunch over the telegraph operator as he decoded the dispatch word for word. Sometimes Lincoln would open the operator’s drawer and read all the dispatches received since his last visit. At this point, the President would remark,” Well, boys, I’m down to the raisins.” (He referred to a doctor’s response treating a child with stomach problems—once the results came up to raisins, they’d hit bottom and were moving forward.)

The dispatches allowed Lincoln to eavesdrop on his generals in the field. By the summer of 1864, the future on the battlefield and the Presidential Campaign looked grim. Draft riots threatened havoc in New York, and General Grant worried about depleting his front-line forces to quell the domestic mayhem. In addition, Grant felt the heat from a Confederate Army marching up the Shenandoah Valley towards Washington while his advance to Richmond stalled. Finally, Lincoln saw his re-election prospects disappearing with the morning mist across the Potomac.

Then He Speaks

Lincoln believed a clear victory in battle would cut through all the confusion. So he sent one clear message to Grant: “I have seen your dispatches expressing your unwillingness to break your hold where you are. Neither am I willing. Hold on with a bull-dog grip, and chew and choke, as much as possible.”

Upon reading Lincoln’s dispatch, Grant laughed out loud, reinforced his resolve, and said:” The President has more nerve than any of his advisors.” Knowing what we know of Grant, someone probably polished that sentence for publication! Somehow the weary troops, Grant’s persistence, and Lincoln’s continued support held tight. By March 4, 1865, after many twists and turns, Lincoln stood on the steps of the Capitol to give his Second Inaugural Address. Then, a month later, the President stood on the deck of the River Queen headed up the James River to view the ruins of Richmond, as much the result of the South’s destruction of remaining military supplies to keep them from Yankee hands than active Northern artillery. By April 9, General Lee, his final supply train destroyed before reaching his starving troops, requested a secret meeting to discuss surrender.

We can never know what exactly triggered John Wilkes Booth to take that small derringer pistol to the back of Lincoln’s head that evening at Ford’s Theater. But those who plotted with him later revealed the original plan: to hold the President for ransom. But after Booth heard Lincoln speak from the White House door two days after the Confederate surrender, he changed his mind. Then Lincoln mentioned giving the “elective franchise” (the vote) to “colored men–the very intelligent and those who served our cause as soldiers.” (Lincoln tried to weave a position between those in his party who were uncomfortable with giving the vote to men of color and those who wanted universal suffrage for men.)  Booth became furious and decided the President’s fate: “That is the last speech he will make,” and immediately revised his plan to kill the President instead.

 Within the week of Lincoln’s death, Frederick Douglass gave a eulogy for the President at Cooper Union in New York, the site of one of Lincoln’s speeches, announcing him to Eastern voters: “. . . no man who knew Abraham Lincoln  could hate him; . . . true to his country, and true to the cause of human freedom, taking care of the Constitution and for this reason, he was slain. . . and for this reason he today commands our homage.

“The greatness and grandeur of the American republic never appeared more conspicuously than in connection with the death of Abraham Lincoln: though always great and powerful, we have seemed to need the presence of some great, and widespread calamity, some overwhelming sorrow, to reveal to ourselves and the world, in glorified forms, all the elements of our national strength and greatness.

“While it cannot be affirmed, that our long-torn and distracted country has already reached the desired condition of peace, . . . we have survived the terrible agonies of a fierce and sanguinary rebellion. We have before us a fair prospect of a just and lasting peace, a peace which, if we are wise and just, can never be disturbed or broken by the remains of still insolent and designing slave oligarchy.”

Douglass saw the end of slavery but did not envision the current political division that requires every bit of that wisdom today.

Two Minds: Abe Lincoln & Frederick Douglass

Freedom Must Prevail

Frederick Douglass escaped slavery to become America’s greatest orator and writer, addressing America’s greatest shame. In 1857 Douglass wrote that freedom must triumph because it had “the laws which govern the moral universe” on its side.

Four years before the Civil War, Douglass predicted a collision between the two enemy forces “must come as sure as the laws of God cannot be trampled upon with impunity.” Then he phrased a line that Martin Luther King shadowed: “That jubilee will come. You and I may not live to see it, but . . .God reigns, and slavery must yet fall; unless the devil is more potent than the Almighty; unless sin is stronger than righteousness, slavery must perish.”

Douglass pointed to emancipation in the West Indies in the 1830s, calling it a “bolt from the sky.” He encouraged African Americans to see the earlier emancipation as a “city on a hill,” an interesting oft, repeated phrase, used by President Ronald Reagan in his depiction of America in his second campaign.

In the summer and fall of 1860, Douglass used his journalistic skills to jump back into the political arena in support of Republicans. According to biographer David Blight, Douglass walked the line between endorsing and denouncing the Republicans while strongly opposing Lincoln’s plan to colonize Blacks in Panama.

“The Republican party,” Douglass wrote his British friends, “. . . only negatively antislavery. It is opposed to the political power of slavery, rather than slavery itself.” Yet the Party could “humble the slave power and defeat all plans for giving slavery any further guarantee of permanence.” (Sewell, Ballots for Freedom, 343-65)

Lincoln: Untried but Honest and Well-Balanced

Douglass found Lincoln to be “untried,” but nevertheless “honest” and possessing a “well-balanced head” and “great firmness of will.” He regretted the Republican’s ‘lack of moral abolitionism,’ but would settle for “the slow process of a cautious siege.” (In speeches in Glasgow in 1860.) The only American politician Douglass had regular correspondence with then was Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner, who he admired as the only one with the “daring and nerve to denounce the barbarism of slavery” on the floor of the Senate (Note: A South Carolina Senator nearly caned Sumner to death for his efforts.)

Douglass believed that Lincoln could end slavery throughout the country with a Constitutional Amendment. He’d been arguing the case for nearly a decade (Correctly: The Thirteenth Amendment ended slavery in America, but not until December 1865.)  In the fall of 1860, Douglass persisted writing thirty-two hundred words of editorials and another seven thousand words in a major speech on the West Indian Emancipation anniversary. 

Douglass: Republican Attitude Towards Slavery in 7 Examples

Here is Douglass’s depiction of the Republican coalition’s diverse attitude toward slavery. Notice some similarities in the breakdown of work and wealth in today’s society. His list is like a journalist’s first draft in five parts: 1) An expensive and wasteful ‘system of labor”; 2) An “aristocratic class who despise labor,” which in turn led to a broader “contempt” for all others who “work for an honest living”; 3),  A small Southern oligarchy (might insert Ivy or Stanford educated or just brilliant and out-of-touch) have become corporate “masters of the United States” and the “governing class” of the nation’s institutions; 4) Led some whites with an “aversion to blacks” to deny them all rights and liberties and to exclude them from new territories. (The country has matured so there are fewer “new territories,” but the  attitude towards people of color and immigrants among some political groups as the U.S. experiences a worker shortage with an aging population shows its own bias);  5) The genuine “abolition element” saw slavery as the “most atrocious and revolting crime against nature and nature’s God,” a system of inhumanity to be destroyed out of a “mighty conviction.”  Slavery was to become slowly erased as a form of labor, but the embers have burned and achieving equality among the races has been an eternal trial that has extended far longer than Douglass could have imagined.

Douglass’s first meeting with President Lincoln came after a long wait in the visitor’s line. Subsequently, the two continued to meet until Lincoln’s assassination in 1865, days after the surrender at Appomattox. Douglass’s face-to-face conversations with Lincoln convinced him that Black troops could provide the new recruits the Union needed.

“Let the slaves and free colored people be called into service, and formed into a liberating army, to march to the South and rise the banner of emancipation among the slaves,” he said, according to historian David Herbert Donald. Those opposed said black soldiers would never fight and lay down their weapons to be taken up by the enemy. Others predicted that armed blacks would use the weapons against their masters, beginning a second war at home in the South, as occurred in Santo Domingo.

Secretary of War Stanton, desperate for new recruits with or without Lincoln’s approval, agreed to train free blacks for South Carolina, Louisiana, and Kansas, where troops of any color were welcome. Lincoln’s position softened when Vice President Hamlin’s son volunteered to command colored troops. Lincoln realized a decline among white recruits after the initial word of emancipation.

Douglass had success recruiting black soldiers in New York, Massachusetts, and throughout the North. Word about Tennessee General Bedford Forest’s slaughter of 200 Black Yankees after fighting stopped at Fort Pillow did not help recruitment. Yet he recruited hundreds of men, including his two sons, who joined segregated units led by white officers. The issues of equal pay and rank continued throughout the war, but by fighting boldly in the Union uniform raised the image of all black men.

Congress passed the Confiscation Act of July 1862, authorizing Negro enlistments. Lincoln did not favor the policy for some of the reasons listed earlier. He even overruled General David Hunter in his attempt to recruit a Black regiment in South Carolina before the Confiscation Act. Lincoln said he “would employ all colored men as laborers, but would not promise to make soldiers of them.”

Despite the threats of mistreatment or even death if captured or surrendered in battle, Black men continued to sign up. While Lincoln found critics on every side, their participation in the war made it easier for him to recommend the vote for Black veterans who risked their lives for the Union. Douglass knew it would be difficult to reject giving the vote to men who bled for their country and helped to win the war.

But the Border states reacted hostilely and the Catholic archbishop of Maryland’s responded: “While our brethren are slaughtered in hecatombs (a sacrifice of 100 cattle to the gods by the Greeks), Abraham Lincoln cooly issues his Emancipation Proclamation, letting loose from three to four millions of half civilized Africans to murder their Masters and Mistresses!”  Outrage spread into the Midwest: The Cincinnati Enquirer, a Democratic paper, declared Lincoln “Dictator of America” and said it was “a complete overthrow of the Constitution he swore to protect and defend.”

I shall do nothing in malice. What I do is too vast for malicious dealing.” A. Lincoln

Former U.S. Attorney General and chairman of the 1860 Democratic convention in Baltimore and Charleston complained bitterly of  the “unspeakable calamities which the Republicans and the President have brought upon us” and predicted “the proposed massacre of eight millions of white men women and children in the Southern States in order to turn four millions of black men into vagabonds [and] robbers.”

New Orleans, home to a great number of Lincoln critics, including Thomas J. Durant, who later worked to sabotage Reconstruction efforts, told reacted to the President with violent words : “If the agitation about slavery is not silenced, every man woman and child capable of using the knife or pistol will rush into the fight regardless of life or property. . . and the result will be that the stars and stripes will not wave over this city ninety days longer.”

Lincoln answered them: “This class of men will do nothing for the government, nothing except demanding that the government shall not strike its open enemies, lest they be struck by accident!”  He assured them the fighting would stop “only when the Rebels surrender, and to achieve that end, stern measures must be taken.”

In a letter to his Southern critic, Cuthbert Bullitt, (July 28, 1862), Lincoln put the question to his critic: “Would you give up the contest, leaving any unavailable means unapplied? I am in no boastful mood. I shall not do more than I can, and I shall do all I can to save the government, which is my sworn duty as well as my personal inclination.” He pointed out as he did in the Second Inaugural, “I shall do nothing in malice. What I deal with is too vast for malicious dealing.’   Oh that international leaders could live those words today.

No Struggle, No Progress

Frederick Douglass, as a young man speaking against slavery. So often we see pictures of leaders from their later years, here is Douglass from his prime. public domain art

As I complain about my struggles, I read this phrase from Frederick Douglass’s life and question the value of my own frustrations. Born into slavery between two races on Maryland’s Eastern Shore in 1818, Douglass endured the lashes of his owners, Aaron Anthony, Hugh and Thomas Auld, in his youth. He never knew his father, and his mother, who was hired out to a series of plantations, quickly relinquished his care to his grandmother, Betsy Bailey. When he was six, the boy moved to the Wye Plantation, where he “wept a boy’s bitter tears” to learn his “grand-mammy was gone.” Douglass would later write, “Slavery does away with fathers, as it does away with families.” Given the color of his skin, most believed his father to be white, quite likely one of the plantation owners.

Inspiring the Future

“What man has made; man can unmake.” Frederick Douglass

A self-made man, Douglass learned to use his voice and pen to awaken America to the true nature of slavery, then to support human rights. His name came to light recently when another son of Maryland, Wes Moore, borrowed Frederick Douglass’s Bible and paired it with his grandfather’s Bible, as he became the first Black governor of Maryland (and third in the nation). In 1899, Washington’s AME church had given this Bible to Douglass as he traveled to Haiti to serve as President Benjamin Harrison’s U.S. resident minister and counsel general at age 71.

Governor Moore’s election came not as a “just over the line” victory but as a 63.29% win over his Republican challenger. Moore served in the Army in Afghanistan (43rd Maryland), graduated from Johns Hopkins, and became a Rhodes Scholar. He developed BridgeEDU, a nonprofit, to reinvent the first year for undergraduate students to increase the likelihood of their academic success.

The two men showed a similar mission to use education as a tool. Though centuries apart, each realized how learning could be a building block to a successful future. Unlike Moore, Douglass did not have parents who could teach him to read. So, he sought people who would lead him to knowledge. Once he learned to read himself, he gathered others in groups to spread literacy to them–knowing the power it holds. From that experience and his work recruiting Black men to serve in the Union Army (raised in the South where it was illegal to teach them), Douglass said this:

It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” Frederick Douglass

Young Douglass felt rage in seeing his aunt whipped by the master for sharing her affections with a younger man, instead of him. Douglass had his own welts that he would carry for a lifetime, but being unable to protect her gave him a long-lasting scar that he did not bear on his back. He lived in a “slave society” where the master’s authority over his bondmen defined all social relations, and all economic production depended intimately on the slaves’ brawn, brains, and compliance. Douglass saw slave life go from dawn to dusk, worried about money or hunger, eating, playing, loving, hating, marrying, worshipping God, singing, and dying in a world shaped by slavery. He saw a world that “enforced the right to own him body and soul.”(Ira Berlin, Generations of Captivity: A History of African American Slaves (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003) p. 8-10.

Douglass’s education began with Charles Lawson, an older man who worked at the Dungain & Bailey Shipyard at Fells Point/Baltimore with him and strengthened his faith, leading the teenager to seek greater knowledge. He called Lawson “uncle” and “father” and remembered later, “I could teach him the letter, and he could teach me the spirit.” He learned about Paul, the prisoner prophet, and the stories he carried throughout life. Lawson told the young man that God had “great work” for him and encouraged Douglass that slavery would not be permanent, which gave him hope.

Desperate to learn to write, Douglas snuck into the Auld’s library when they were away. He copied passages from the Webster Spelling Book. The Columbian Orator, the Bible, and the Methodist Hymnal. Words became his reason to live.

He used every opportunity to expand his knowledge. Sent to Baltimore’s shipyards as a teen by an angry master for an escape attempt, Douglass learned the caulking trade and thanked his luck he wasn’t sent to slavery on a Southern plantation. He hated “the right of the robber,” who took his slave’s earnings and gave them to his enslaver. Auld still owned his body and labor but could not possess his mind. He wrote from his heart: “To make a contented enslaved person, you must make a thoughtless one. It is necessary to darken his moral and mental vision and, as far as possible, to annihilate his power of reason.

“He must know no Higher Law than his master’s will. . . if there be one crevice through which a single drop can fall, it will certainly rust off the slave’s chains,” he expressed his thoughts on the psychology of enslaved person and master.

Auld took all his $9 earnings but twenty-five cents the Saturday before Douglass fled. Anna Murray, his future wife, sold a featherbed, and together they raised enough for actual train fare, not on the underground. What Douglass learned about ships and the sea helped him escape. He got “free papers” to use at checkpoints from a retired black sailor and taught himself “to talk sailor like an old salt.” Douglass gathered “an authentic sailor’s red shirt and tarpaulin hat and black cravat, tied carelessly and loosely about the neck.” He could speak the language of the sea and believed himself ready to “Talk sailor like an old salt.”

Douglass’s Flight from Slavery: Maryland to Massachusetts

On September 3, 1838, Fred went to work early and met Anna a few blocks from the City Dock on the way to the Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad train station. A friend brought his baggage to the Negro car just as the train started moving. The next hurdle he faced would be convincing the conductor that he—the young mulatto Fred Bailey—could be Stanley, darker-skinned, retired Stanley. Mission accomplished. Then a German blacksmith from the shipyards recognized him but “had no heart to betray me.” (Life and Times, 198-99)

At Wilmington, Delaware, he walked off the train and across town to the wharf and a steamboat to take him down the Delaware River to Philadelphia, where he touched free soil for the first time. He waited for the first Black man to ask for directions to the New York’s Willow Street train station. Then Fred took the night train up the side of New Jersey to the Hudson River landing at Hoboken. Around sunrise, he caught a ferry across the Hudson to the Chambers Street dock.

It took reflection, but he remembered the joy of being a “FREEMAN. Walking amid the hurrying throng and gazing upon the dazzling wonders of Broadway” (which already could thrill in 1838) “with free earth under my feet.” But, while he already had embraced a role, finding just the correct word to express himself, his joy stumped him. He felt sensations “were too intense and too rapid for words.”

“I felt as one might when escaped from a den of lions,” he wrote. “Anguish and grief, like darkness and rain, may be described, but joy and gladness, like the rainbow of promise, defy alike the pen and pencil.” But he could no longer trust the people around him—any white man could be a potential kidnapper seeking to benefit from a master’s reward. At first, he slept among the barrels at the wharf. Then a black sailor sent him to the home of David Ruggles, a Black abolitionist, newspaper editor, and grocer who lived four or five blocks from the dock. He led the New York Vigilance Committee, aiding fugitive slaves throughout New York City.

Ruggles edited Mirror of Liberty, the first black-owned and operated magazine, and maintained a public reading room with antislavery books and newspapers. Ruggles opened Fred to the dangerous work of abolitionism. His host suggested he change his name to Frederick Johnson, which lasted until he landed in Massachusetts, to get further away from Auld’s slave catchers. There he took the name “Douglass.”

Ruggles mailed Frederick’s letter to a friend in the Baltimore debating society, who contacted Anna, who could not read, and sent her North September 10 for the 24-hour trip parallel to Frederick’s. In her trunk, she carried a “plum-colored silk dress” that she wore in the Ruggles’ small parlor for their marriage three days later. Rev. James W. C. Pennington, who had escaped Maryland a decade earlier, presided.

Douglass planned to continue to Canada, but Ruggles suggested New Bedford, Massachusetts, as a whaling port, where he could find work as a caulker and a welcoming fugitive slave and free black community. So, they left New York aboard the steamer John W. Richmond. (Life and Times, 205-6.)

Little Zion, AME, First Pulpit

 At barely 30, Douglass gave his first official oration from the African Methodist Episcopal Zion pulpit in New Bedford, Massachusetts. After that, he became a sexton, steward, local preacher, and the Sunday school superintendent at the small church of fugitive slaves and free blacks. He later referred to the church as “Little Zion” and remembered it as “among the happiest days of my life.” A year later, Anna gave birth to their third child while they lived in two rented rooms.

Douglass made quite a sensation in the 19th century. Very few whites had seen a talented mixed-race man like Douglass who could both speak and write skillfully. Of course, being an intellectual “oddity” came with cursing and a blessing—the curse of being treated as some freak or not trusted and the blessing that his work to become a self-made man began to bear fruit. But it did not come automatically.

Abolitionists William Garrison came to New Bedford in 1839 to speak, just as his newspaper began to reach Douglass. A year later, Ellis Gray Loring and other white abolitionists “found” Douglass and were eager to have him as a lecturer. “This stunning young fugitive who escaped two years ago was a light mulatto, well, well-formed, of open countenance & speaks very good English.” Loring noted, “Fred is poor, and a laborer, but his speaking skills could produce great effect.” (Within a few years, Douglass left Maryland for a speaking tour of England without papers. The East Coast abolitionists would purchase his freedom from the Aulds by his return. Since he’d gained a following in England, it would be impossible for Douglass to remain a fugitive slave without papers.)

After hearing Douglass speak in 1841, William C. Coffin, a local bookseller and member of a prominent antislavery family invited him to join a large delegation of the Massachusetts Antislavery Society for a “grand convention” on the island of Nantucket. They asked Douglass to speak to a prominent group of white abolitionists, including Garrison. On this rare occasion, Anna accompanied Douglass. The next morning at the conference, Douglass relaxed, which allowed his natural intelligence and wit to shine through. An attendee wrote: “Flinty hearts were pierced, and cold ones melted by his eloquence. Our best pleaders for the slave held their breath for fear of interrupting him.” (Frederick Douglass, “Living a New Life,” 27).

Douglass: “Putting His Whole Heart into the Cause”

William Garrison, the editor of The Liberator and well-established spokesperson for antislavery, wrote: “I shall never forget his first speech at the convention—the extraordinary emotion it excited in my mind—the powerful impression it created upon a crowded auditory. . . I think I never hated slavery so intensely as at that moment.”

Douglass believed he found “one in intellect richly endowed – in natural eloquence a prodigy—in soul manifestly ‘created by a little lower than the angels.” Within a week of the conference, Douglass had a new vocation—giving witness to the evils of slavery, attacking racial prejudice, and proslavery in the churches of Massachusetts and New Hampshire for three months, “putting his whole heart in the holy cause.” He would turn his life to the “power of the word” for the next five decades. But, of course, in 1841 and many years hence, he subjected himself to hatred, resistance, and violence, taking risks every time he ventured into proslavery America. And just five years after his Sabbath school sermons.

Douglass garnered hope and learned that antislavery forces should make no compromise with slavery in any form—in church, legislature, or the public square—and should work to destroy the institution, root, and branch in their lifetimes.

David N. Johnson expressed his amazement upon hearing Douglass speak in Boston– like a theatrical event: “His voice rivaled Daniel Webster (the orator of the day) in its rightness, depth, and sonorousness of its cadences.” Johnson noted that “listeners never forgot his burning words, and his rich play of humor left a greater impression.”

Douglass published his first book at 27, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an enslaved American, written by Himself in 1845. Throughout his life, he would publish two others: his masterpiece, My Bondage and My Freedom (1855), and The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1881, revised in 1892, three years before he died.)

His commitment to justice and freedom lives on today among those still working to protect democracy and extend educational opportunity to all Americans, like Maryland Governor Wes Moore

Yet to come: Douglass’s lifelong role as a defender of human rights– freedom from slavery, the 14th Amendment (1868); the Black male vote – the 15th Amendment (1870); and the vote for women, the 19th Amendment (1920 when ratified by ¾ of the states, after his death).

Main source and recommended read: David W. Blight’s Frederick Douglass, Prophet of Freedom (New York: Simon and Schuster Paperbacks, 2018, pp 764.)

What Issue Delayed House Speaker?

US Capitol Building at sunset with American flags is the home of the United States Congress in Washington D.C, USA. iStock

What was the issuebehind the Speaker ballots?

Look at the possibilities—the economy, immigration, the War in Ukraine—yield not one single issue to unite behind Kevin McCarthy’s bid. When last the decision of a leader in the House dragged on for days—1855 and 1859—one point burned across the landscape, slavery. With few exceptions, the choice blazed “yes” in the South and “no” in the North before the Civil War. Neither side wanted a leader in the House who did not share their views. But then, slavery or the defeat of slavery would be debated. But in 2023 it’s to feed the personal agendas of those 20 Members seeking to raise money for their own political campaigns and for right-wing causes, but mainly to grasp TV time on CSPAN and FOX.

In 1855, it took 133 ballots to elect Nathaniel Banks (R-Massachusetts) of the American Party as Speaker. The decision stretched from December 2, 1855, to February 3, 1856, when he bested William Aiken D-SC just 103 to 100. The contest began with 21 candidates for Speaker but winnowed to three final candidates, who were called upon to state their views on the recent legislation on slavery expansion in the West. Rep. Banks had ties to anti-slavery New York Times Editor Horace Greeley. In one of many fights on and off the House floor that year, Albert Rust (D-Arkansas) tried to disqualify Banks, punching him with his fist. Then later, Rep. Banks found Rep. Banks and Greeley downtown and hit Banks with his cane.

Now the U.S. House vote for Speaker came down to 213 FOR, not slavery or any defining policy, but in support of giving the POWER of the gavel to Kevin McCarthy v. 213 AGAINST McCarthy and FOR Hakeem Jeffries, who consistently pulled his Party members, but could not reach the 218 required to win the gavel. In the end, past the midnight hour Friday, McCarthy swayed a few votes his way, then persuaded six to vote “present,” reducing the number needed to stop the impasse. (Heaven help us if he promised more than giving the far right the ability to remove him if five of the 20 far-right Members do not fancy his leadership, requiring another ring-around-the-rosy.) Finally, at 1:30 am Saturday, McCarthy snatched the gavel and waved it above his head, nearly like an ax. Let the games begin.

I wondered who won the gavel in 1859-1860 after that Congressional battle. William Pennington won the election for Speaker on Feb. 1, 1860, after 63 ballots. He had been governor of New Jersey from 1837-43. His father served in the Revolutionary Army and as and had served as N.J. governor after the war (1813-15). Later Madison appointed William to a federal judgeship. Amid that balloting for Speaker, there were nine physical fights of the floor of the House and one street fight involving Members of Congress.

ASIDE: To show every era has its voting challenges, twenty-three years before William served as Speaker, he was involved in the “Broad Seal War” in New Jersey. Two contingents of candidates (Democrats and Whigs) in a closely contested race came before him as governor. Each held commissions bearing the seal of New Jersey on the opening day of the 26th Congress in 1839, requesting to be seated. Pennington seated the Whigs (his Party) and refused to sit 5 of the 6 Democrats. Finally, after they proved the county clerks in Cumberland and Middlesex counties suppressed returns in certain townships, the Democrats were seated on February 28, 1840. These members gave the Democrats the majority in the House.

Members avoided violence in 2023, but late on Friday when on the 14th ballot Matt Gaetz (R-FL), leader of the “Never Kevin” extreme right-wing contingent, voted Present,” tensions mounted. At first, GOP members thought that would be enough to seal the deal. Instead, Congressional fisticuffs threatened Friday night when Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL) moved fists drawn towards Rep. Gaetz only to be restrained by a fellow Southern Member, averting a battle, not wanting to solve frustrations with violence. Later it was learned that Rep. Rogers had been rumored to be the next Chairman of the Armed Services Committee. Will his undisciplined action on Friday night deter other Members from confirming him to this leadership position?

Promises to grasp the gavel in 2023?

Offerings to the Publicity-Thirsty Gang of 15 foretells of rocky times ahead. Could it be called blackmail? We will have two years to determine how this quid-pro-quo operates.

Offerings were made to those who changed their vote from “Never Kevin” to “Present,” making it possible for McCarthy to acquire the Speaker’s gavel. Here are some of the suggested concessions:

  1. If just one Member disagrees with the Speaker, a roll call of the House could be called to determine whether he stays or goes (referred to as having a pistol pointed at the Speaker’s head).
  2. More of the 15 Disaffected could serve on the all-important Rules Committee that sets what bills would be placed on the calendar, when, and what amendments are allowed.
  3. Allow a House vote on term limits.
  4. Possibly also setting the 2022 spending limit for 2024, requiring federal budget cuts and a $75 billion cut in the federal military budget.

It remains to be seen how much of this wish list will be delivered, difficult voting on the Rules of the House and the 2023-2024 legislative agenda. In the Spring, America’s debt ceiling is expected to be reached. A similar legislative fight took place in 2011 when the nation also experienced divided government between the House and the White House. Will the U.S. maintain its financial reputation around the globe? Will media on GOP and DEM sides be able to adequately explain the real impact failing to pay America’s debts have on the average American? In 2011, the nation’s credit rating declined. What will happen in 2023?

Freeman, Joanne B. “It’s Tempting to Laugh at McCarthy’s Struggles, but History Shows That This Type of Chaos is Not a Joke.”  New York Times, Jan. 7, 2023.

Rolling on the River. . . to a Bridge

How Lincoln and Modern Technology Changed History

When the Effie Afton (not pictured) ran into the Rock Island Railroad Bridge stone pier in 1856, exploding in flames and destroying a section of the bridge, it led to the transcontinental railroad. Today people and goods move across the country from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean because of this court case argued in a Chicago courtroom in 1857. Abraham Lincoln, who had a vision of swifter, cheaper travel and a nation united east and west, joined this legal team before he ran for President.

The case: The Effie Afton highlighted the economic interests of steamboats vs. the railroads and competitors along the Mississippi River. Technically: Hurd et al (steamboat investors) v. The Railroad Bridge Company. The steamboat owners filed suit to recover damages against the Railroad Bridge Company, which retained Lincoln and a panel of lawyers to defend themselves against the steamboat company.

The incident: A high wind whipped across the water as the Effie Afton paddled the upper Mississippi the night before the collision. Calmer morning winds encouraged Affie’s captain to get a fresh start. He zoomed backward from the dock into the steamboat John Wilson butkept going, even engaging in a race to the bridge with the slower J.B. Carson. Effie won the race, but about halfway under the drawbridge, the boat began to sway, then plowed into a supporting pillar for the Rock Island Bridge on May 5, 1856. Just open for two weeks, the Rock Island Bridge was the first railroad bridge to span the Mississippi River.

The impact could be felt from Effie’s bow to stern. Emergency bells blared, and the hissing sound of escaping steam filled the air. Two hundred people were on board, including fifty crew, plus livestock, machinery, farm implements, and groceries weighing more than 350 tons. Desperate passengers braved the cold water to swim to nearby ships, and some even reached out to grab sections of the bridge now jutting down from the suspension. Some cattle swam to shore, but others drowned or burned on board. Every person survived as other steamboats fished them out of the water. Firefighters extinguished smaller fires erupting from space heaters on the deck or cooking stoves in 50 staterooms, but then the timbers of the bridge caught fire. Eventually, the remains of the ship and the fallen bridge span floated down the river until they rested on a Rock Island sandbar.

Steamboat Heyday & History’s Influence

Steamboat traffic in the 1850s became the lifeblood of cities along the river, like St. Louis and New Orleans, bringing food, shelter, and people starting a new life. But the boats could not guarantee when any boat would reach port because of surprise sandbars and snags that could delay a trip for days until a strong wave helped ease the ship back on its way. If you glance at a map of the U.S., you will see the Mississippi and its tributaries follow a winding route, not a straight line, south to New Orleans. The Big Muddy weaves lazily through 3,000 miles of soggy land, taking a trip a bird could fly directly in 675 miles, according to Mark Twain in Life on the Mississippi (2).

Ironically the relative of a future President, great-uncle of Teddy Roosevelt, Nicholas Roosevelt, financially helped build the first steamboat in America with Robert Fulton and Robert R. Livingston in 1810-11 when Abe Lincoln was just two. In October 1811, Roosevelt made the first steamboat trip from Pittsburg to New Orleans aboard the New Orleans with his wife, Lydia Latrobe. Her father, Benjamin Latrobe, served as the second architect of the U.S. Capitol, creating his reputation.

Railroads’ American Entry

America’s railroads grew from a horse-drawn tramway used to carry granite from Quincy, Massachusetts, four miles to Milton to construct the Bunker Hill Monument in 1826, the origin of the Granite Railway. It took thirty years before the rail industry grew to build the Rock Island Bridge over the Mississippi. Just twelve years later, with Lincoln’s assistance in the White House, two trains met at Promontory Point, Utah,on May 10, 1869, opening the transcontinental railroad to passenger and freight traffic from coast-to-coast.

When he was in the Illinois legislature, Lincoln voted to straighten and deepen river channels, build roads, and build bridges over creeks and rivers. In addition, he supported state financing of a nearly one-hundred-mile-long Illinois and Michigan Canal linking the Chicago River (near Lake Michigan) with the Illinois River, which flowed into the Mississippi. A twelve-year project (1836-48), the canal pushed Chicago to become the Midwest’s principal commercial (and agricultural and cattle) center. (Zobrist, “Steamboat Men versus Railroad Men,” 160.)

Lincoln and the Effie Afton

As a prairie lawyer, Lincoln strolled into the Chicago courtroom in the Effie Afton case and proceeded to etch his role in history. Abraham Lincoln, then 48, had hundreds of civil and criminal cases under his belt (eventually totaling 3,200 cases over 25 years). Twenty years earlier, he began to ride Illinois’ Eighth Judicial Circuit on horseback, his proving ground. From spring into summer, he endured the glaring heat and swirling dust on horseback, then returned to do it again each fall.

In his free moments traveling the Circuit, Lincoln read Euclid’s Geometry to study the logic he found there. He put it to use in the courtroom. Once Billy Herndon, his law partner, questioned Lincoln about why he took the jury so far back in the history of the law in a particular case in the Illinois Supreme Court. (Lewis v. Lewis, 48 U.S.[7Howard] 776 (1849) Lincoln’s response: “I dare not trust this case on presumptions that this court knows everything. I argue the case on the presumption that the court did not know anything.” Herndon noted that Lincoln “won the case by the history he was so careful to state fully.”

Lincoln prepared well for jury trials, particularly those before the Illinois Supreme Court. He removed other cases from his calendar to spend a week or two in the library studying both sides.Lincoln would argue the appeals of more than two hundred cases that other lawyers had lost at the trial court level.

In Effie Afton, Abraham Lincoln served on the legal team for the Chicago and Rock Island Railroad Company and the Mississippi and Missouri Railroads, running on either side of the Big Muddy. Lincoln began his speech in his characteristic way by telling the jury that “he did not propose to assail anybody, that he expected to grow earnest as he proceeded but not ill-natured.”When Lincoln spoke of the depth of the river channel under the bridge, following him took attention and some skill. He conveyed detailed information; his voice gave assurance and facts. While his voice was “shrill, squeaking, piping,” as he continued to speak, it “became harmonious, melodious, musical, if you please; his form dilated, swelled out, and he rose a splendid form, erect, straight and dignified.” (Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life 1:320)

Lincoln honed his analytical and debating skills in this case, further building his reputation. He had learned how to communicate effectively with juries, to speak to them in words that would convince them that justice should prevail. During this trial, Francis Saltonstall, a stock and bond broker, recalled Lincoln “seemed to have committed all the facts and figures to memory, and often corrected evidence so effectively as to cause a ripple of mirth in the audience.”  Then Lincoln applied what he learned about appealing to members of the jury to voters in his political life. However, he won his first election to the Illinois State Legislature in 1834, more than two decades earlier.

He didn’t need to stay working in out-back Illinois. After Lincoln won several important cases, a prominent Chicago attorney named Grant Goodrich invited him to join his law practice, but Lincoln said “no,” explaining directly that he “would rather go around the Circuit . . . than sit down & die in Chicago.” (Herndon’s Informant’s: Letters, Interviews, and Statements about Abraham Lincoln, p. 349)

When Lincoln spoke of the depth of the river channel under the bridge, following him took attention and some skill. He conveyed detailed information; his voice gave assurance and facts. While his voice was “shrill, squeaking, piping,” as he continued to speak, it “became harmonious, melodious, musical, if you please, with a face somewhat allow; his form dilated, swelled out, and he rose a splendid form, erect, straight and dignified.” (Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life 1:320)

In this case, he honed his analytical and debating skills, further building his reputation. In addition, he had learned how to communicate effectively with juries, to speak to them in words that would convince them that justice should prevail. Then Lincoln applied what he learned to gather Illinois voters to his political life. He advanced from his earlier victory as an Illinois State Legislator in 1834. During the trial, Francis Saltonstall, a stock and bond broker, recalled Lincoln “seemed to have committed all the facts and figures to memory, and often corrected evidence so effectively as to cause a ripple of mirth in the audience.”  

He didn’t need to stay working in out-back Illinois. After Lincoln won several important cases, a prominent Chicago attorney named Grant Goodrich invited him to join his law practice, but Lincoln said “no,” explaining directly that he “would rather go around the Circuit . . . than sit down & die in Chicago.” (Herndon’s Informant’s: Letters, Interviews, and Statements about Abraham Lincoln, p. 349)

Lincoln would argue the appeals of more than two hundred cases that other lawyers had argued at the trial court level. When preparing for a case before the Illinois Supreme Court, he would quit his other work for a week or two in the court’s library or his office. When he stood to argue an appeal before the Illinois Supreme Court, the opposing lawyer never had an opportunity to make a point Lincoln had not already investigated.

Lincoln on the River:

As a youth, Lincoln learned to navigate the Mississippi River. In 1827, when he was 18, he operated a private flatboat ferry on Little Pigeon Creek, charging twenty cents daily. Eventually, regular ferry operators became angry and arrested him for operating a ferry without a license. He defended himself before a justice of the peace. Lincoln argued that Kentucky law (he lived close to the border between the two states) did not forbid non-licensed ferry boats from conveying passengers to steamboats in the middle of the river. Later Lincoln said this experience helped him develop an interest in the law.

Far from being against water transportation, Lincoln appreciated what steamboats could do to widen the horizons of his fellow Midwesterners. So he built a simple flatboat sailing down the Mississippi to New Orleans. While there, Lincoln saw many black people, including women and children, in chains, being bought and sold in the market, many to work on plantations growing cotton. That experience awakened him to the perils of slavery and stayed with him throughout his political career.

This case fell within Lincoln’s philosophy –the American System–(and the 1830 Whig Party philosophy of Henry Clay). The Whigs called for tariffs to protect and promote American manufacturing and create a home market for American products, a national bank to provide a sound and uniform currency, and federal support for roads, canals, and river improvements.” (Holt, Rise, and Fall of American Whig Party, speech by Henry Clay, March 30, 1830)

History’s Verdict of the Effie Afton

Abraham Lincoln cemented his legal reputation based on this victory. Then after a series of debates with Stephen Douglas, Lincoln overcame better-known candidates to be the Republican nominee and mounted a successful campaign for President in 1860. (Although candidates did not travel around the country in those days, but had surrogates who spoke for them.) But, unfortunately, the jurors could not reach a legally binding verdict—the jury was hung—since they could not reach a unanimous decision. Financial results show the steamboat companies’ fears of the rail industry were realistic. Still, technological change brought faster, less expensive, more reliable transportation that made all the difference, sinking the steamboat trade.  

  • Despite the Effie Afton litigation cost, the railroad spanning the Mississippi made money the year after the decision.
  • 1866 – Railroad bridges were funded and built at Quincy, Ill; Burlington, Iowa; Hannibal, MO; Prairie du Chien, WI; Keokuk, Iowa; Winona, MN; Dubuque, Iowa, and St. Louis and Kansas City, MO
  • 1879 –  More than 85 percent of farm products were shipped from states along the Mississippi by rail and 15 percent by the river.
  • By 1890, the entire rail business out of St. Louis was twelve times the river traffic; by 1906, it was one hundred times.

But just a few decades after the court’s ruling, these economic events gave the victory to travel by rail that now operates across the country. Of course, as history continues, rail passenger travel focuses more on efficient regional trips on both coasts. Now less bulky freight travels by air for swifter service. Instead, large trucks carry products to final destinations, generally for shorter distances, though some 18-wheel trucks haul bulky equipment and agricultural products.

All transportation services compete for drivers and currently rail freight engineers are negotiating higher salaries and sick leave after working through the Pandemic without upgrades. Transportation that moves America will continue to evolve as advances in electric batteries create opportunities for less polluting vehicles. However, the electricity that runs the modern vehicles still relies in part on coal as an energy source. New inventions and advances in energy sources will bring new challenges, just as in the 19th century.  


McGinty, Brian. Lincoln’s Greatest Case: The River, the Bridge, and the Making of America (New York: Liveright Publishing Corp., a division of W.W. Norton & Company, 2015)

Is This the Founders’ Free Speech?

Online messages hoping to increase eyeballs from the right or left have flooded the net since 2015. Now with Elon Musk’s purchase of the massive mega horn Twitter, could we see the floodgates open for neo-Nazi, fake news, racist, anti-seminist, and pornographic content?

Musk’s emails at the time of his up-and-down indecision about whether to pay $44 billion to acquire Twitter tried to assure conservatives it would be a platform for “free speech.” Yet, a week after the purchase, Musk said he would not immediately lift the ban on those dropped from Twitter until after a review. This comment gave some security to those concerned about where his statement challenging “political correctness” might lead.

Musk tried to reassure the public that his Twitter would not be a “free-for-all hellscape,” then he proceeded to play follow-the-leader with other conservatives spreading fake news last weekend. Now the quick “trim” of half of Twitter’s workforce makes no allowance for Twitter’s fast response to expected hits testing the protective nets for “free speech” allowed on the network (if any remain). Concerning evidence has come already with a 500 percent increase in the use of the “n” word on Twitter, according to Princeton’s Network Contagion Research Institute. 

For political or financial reasons, Musk could have painted himself in a deep corner for a company that has not made a profit for eight of the past ten years. (Was his inclination to buy Twitter based on more than money?) In purchasing a company valued at $25 billion, Musk needs quick moneymakers. (He took out a $13 billion loan to complete the sale.) That brings us to Musk’s idea of charging Twitter users $8 a month for the privilege. Yet a poll of Twitter users indicates 50 percent would not be willing to pay, even with a promise of fewer ads. While the former Twitter owners planned to reduce costs by cutting the staff by 25 percent, Musk sent pink slips (via personal email) to as many as 50 percent (or more) of the company’s employees on Friday.

Another money maker being considered is allowing porn to run on the channel Twitter. This change for Twitter might need serious consideration since corporations pay the bills by running their ads alongside Twitter so that individual users can twitter along for free. Several large corporations, including General Motors (albeit a competitor to Musk’s Tesla), Oreo (Mondelez International Inc.), VW/Audi, Pfizer, and L’Oreal cosmetics, have paused advertising on Twitter until their future course stabilizes.

Major media companies IPG and Havas Media, both multinational ad firms, are advising their clients to pause ad spending on Twitter. In addition, Musk will meet by video with clients of Publicist Groupe (Anheuser-Busch In-Bev SA and Samsung Electronics), and WPP LLC (the largest multinational ad company with Coca-Cola, Google, and the home products under Unilever’s umbrella).

Americans will not directly access these corporate discussions with the Twitter owner. Still, we can make our voices heard by emailing our support to Twitter and the companies standing up for a Twitter we would not be afraid to share.

In the meantime, could false statements burn holes into America’s “free speech” blanket? Since the Republic’s beginning, few limits have been placed on Americans’ “free speech.” This freedom of speech comes under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution as part of the Bill of Rights passed in 1791.

A lot has happened in America over the past 230-plus years. Words mattered then too, but discourse came through the spoken word, not broadcasts. For example, the musical, “Hamilton,” reveals a time when the personal offense could lead to violence to “solve” disagreements through duels. Aaron Burr, offended by something Alexander Hamilton said at dinner, challenged him to a duel. Burr killed Hamilton, then fled to become a hunted man. Today an insult is spread to 100 million people in the blink of an eye or demeans an entire race by racist comments that disgrace a nation. Is this where we are going? Is this the free speech America’s Founders enshrined in 1791?

As part of my education as a journalist and while studying for a master’s in mass communications, I took several Constitutional Law courses covering the constitutional rights of “free speech” and the First Amendment. Of course, this is no substitute for law school, but it stimulated an interest in the subject.

Mental Health Checklist:

A life, any life, is a series of connections. Sometimes these links are broken. Unfortunately, sometimes there is no hand to reach out to or help when we need it most.

A life, any life, is a series of connections. Sometimes these links are broken. Unfortunately, sometimes there is no hand to reach out to or help when we need it most.

Selena Gomez launches mental health website

Selema Gomez, the singer and actress, now 30, experienced her mental and physical health crisis in the past decade. Her ability to address these issues encouraged her to reach out to help others. Today is World Mental Health Day, October 10, when medical teams and individuals worldwide seek to raise awareness, educate, advocate for mental health support, and remove the stigma associated with the disease.

Today Goma introduced the trailer for “My Mind & Me,” to be released on Apple TV Plus on November 4. She has also launched the “Wondermind” computer platform (, a mental health fitness site, to help people address various issues, including loneliness–an essential way to learn more about mental health.

Today, October 10, is World Mental Health Day. The need for help can be simple or overwhelming when we become depressed because the mental fog has depleted our view of the world of depression or other mental illnesses. This can result in a lasting depression that requires medical attention.

Since the Pandemic, the need for mental health services has increased. While legislation in the U.S. supports insurance and funding to place mental health on equal footing with physical health, budgets and services have not kept pace. As a result, parents seeking treatment for their children and teens are forced to pay “out-of-network” costs to find services for their children. Others unable to pay for these services have been forced to go without treatment, possibly causing safety issues in their communities.

In the last decade, Gomez has been diagnosed with lupus, a brain disease that impacts the joints and organs of the body, and bipolar illness, which includes bouts of depression and mania. Both are under control now, and she wants to reach out to help others learn about mental health and remove the stigma attached to these diseases.

Take this step to learn more. Check out the mental health fitness site. We must make mental health and well-being a global priority—NOW.

Celebration: That Long Winding Road

The three-mile hike through the woods to Windsor Castle featured the “beefeaters” (castle guards) and Naval marines walking near the modern black hearse carrying Queen Elizabeth’s body.

Once in death, friend and foe alike ponder one’s life. At 96, the Queen’s history offers much to consider. By this decade, her subjects had come to see her as the nation’s mum, if not a national grandmother, whose calm, leadership skills were much more than the extension of her hand to in-coming Prime Ministers.

Countries wanting to renounce their allegiance to Britain now that the Queen has passed on will deal with younger royals moving beyond the Elizabethan period of British history.

But those who disdain women of a certain age do so at their peril. The British appreciate the talents of mature women, maybe given the long reign of Queen Elizabeth. This woman also exhibited a sense of humor. She enjoyed playing her part in a spoof, pretending to parachuse from a plane with another British favorite, Daniel Craig.

In his 007 roles, Craig led a chase with another well-known British actor, Dame Judith Dench, who passed through much of Bond history as the leader of MI6, the British Secret Intelligence Service. Pardon my comparison bringing together the Queen with another celebrated Brit, Dame Agatha Christy, who sold more mystery books, short stories, and plays (one billion copies) than anyone except Shakespeare. He began publication three centuries before Christy wrote a word. Nevertheless, her Belgium Detective Poirot still draws an audience to the small screen or the bookstore. Now fifty years after Christy’s death, her creation, Miss Jane Marple, continues to detect the guilty evil doers in homicides in quaint English villages.

Unlike Christy’s fictional characters, the Queen’s final ceremony reminds us that sooner or later, we will all take that final journey to be placed under a headstone or in an urn. Unlikely we will have bagpipes or Beefeaters along, but life is a winding road; rough or smooth will be up to each of us.

What Queen Elizabeth brought to the British during her 70 years on the throne are two attributes in short supply in 2022–continuity and stability. For that, her countrymen and women offer their gratitude.