Saturday, March 5, 2011

Abraham Lincoln and Trash Collectors...

I know it's been a while since I last posted, but there hasn't been a whole lot going on. Well, actually, maybe there has now that I think about it; I just haven't had time to write it all down until now.

First things first, an update on academic stuff. I've been elected into Phi Beta Kappa, which I think is really, really great! I also received a fellowship from both UIC and UW-Madison and my potential advisor from UIC wants to bring me to the Philippines this summer for free! (Well, not for free, I'd be doing archaeology the whole time, which is backbreaking work, but I love it so it's no big deal!) So I think I'll be able to go to both the Philippines AND Cambodia this summer and end up with a heck of a lot of experience by the time I get back (Not to mention some really great stories and photos)! I'm visiting both universities next week during Spring Break, and once that's done I'll make my decision and let you all know where I'm going to end up next year.

So that was the academic update, and now here's the bit about Abraham Lincoln. See, I've been trying to talk about interesting letters and things from the Historical Association, but lately I've just been going through town records and muster rolls, which are interesting, but not interesting enough to write about on here. But last night, the SLCHA did a reading of Lincoln's first inaugural address, and I must say that was certainly interesting enough to write about. First, I was surprised as the amount of things Lincoln said in there that we don't necessarily attribute to him. For example, he said that he was not in favor of eliminating slavery, as that would be unconstitutional. He says "I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so." We always think about Lincoln being anti-slavery, but this statement is very non-anti-slavery. It's not pro-slavery, to be sure, but it isn't staunchly anti-slavery either.

What struck me most about his address was the constant feeling of trying to keep the Union together. The largest theme of the speech wasn't slavery or states rights, it was maintaining the unity of the nation. And I think that is completely understandable for what was going on in the country at the time. Seven states had already seceded from the union before Lincoln gave his address on March 4, 1861. Lincoln's biggest problem wasn't freeing the slaves, it was keeping the country in one piece. He probably felt that slavery was morally wrong, but he had larger things to worry about in that first inaugural address, namely war.

Another thing that struck me was his use of logic to argue in favor of the union. He says that it is illogical to think that the union would fail so long as every party of the union continued to play its role. "It is safe to assert that no government proper ever had a provision in its organic law for its own termination. Continue to execute all the express provisions of our National Constitution, and the Union will endure forever, it being impossible to destroy it except by some action not provided for in the instrument itself...If the United States be not a government proper, but an association of States in the nature of contract merely, can it, as a contract, be peaceably unmade by less than all the parties who made it? One party to a contract may violate it—break it, so to speak—but does it not require all to lawfully rescind it?...It follows from these views that no State upon its own mere motion can lawfully get out of the Union; that resolves and ordinances to that effect are legally void, and that acts of violence within any State or States against the authority of the United States are insurrectionary or revolutionary, according to circumstances." He has a lot more in there, and you should all read it, but that is one of the most sound arguments I have seen for continuing the union of the United States.

It also struck me that Lincoln's words still resonate so much today. I could go into detail here, but that could be a thesis in and of itself, so I'll refrain. I do highly recommend that you all read this speech, even if you've read it already, because I believe it to be one of the best speeches I have ever heard. Here's a link to it, so you don't even have to search for it: I'll leave you to ponder the rest...

I realize that the title of this post might be a bit odd, Abraham Lincoln and trash collectors, but I want to leave Lincoln here for now and continue on to explain the trash collectors portion. You see, when I was cleaning out my car this morning, a group of children (two girls, about six and seven, and a boy, about eight) were walking down the street. The boy and the elder girl were carrying bags with them, and they were chatting about something that I don't quite remember. I had just finished cleaning out my car when they got to the end of my driveway and the elder girl said "wait, stop, there's a car." My car wasn't even on yet, so I told them they could go ahead; they smiled, and crossed the driveway. As I got into my car wondering what they were doing with their bags, the youngest girls said "I found a piece!" She bent down, picked up a piece of plastic wrap that was lying on the sidewalk, and put it into the other girl's bag. As I pulled out of the driveway and headed down the street, I saw them picking up pieces of candy that had fallen on the sidewalk outside the frat house next door.

I must say that I found this to be absolutely adorable, yet also quite pathetic. Not the kids, the kids were just adorable and they're my personal heroes for at least this weekend, but the fact that children are picking up the trash that adults throw on the side of the road is, in a word, pathetic. Pathetic on our part, because yes, I am now a part of the cohort of adults in this world, however young an adult I might be. You know, it's a bit disheartening to think of it that way: that the children of this world are often seen as doing amazing things and reminding adults when to behave and as a kid, you're quite proud of yourself for being among the world's children who do all these great things. But then you grow up and become an adult, and while I certainly don't throw trash on the side of the road, I'm a bit ashamed to now belong to the segment of society that does. And lets face it, needing children to remind us about good behavior is pathetic.

But talking about how pathetic it is without actually doing anything gets us nowhere, so I propose a challenge. I realize that half of you probably won't do this, but you can't say I didn't try. I challenge everyone who reads this to try to find some way to make this world better for the children in it. Go to a local elementary school and clean the trash off of their playground. Donate used books to the local library. Say please and thank you to people you encounter, and smile when someone says hello. Be honest. Take any of these ideas, however many you want, and maintain them for the month of March. Because children shouldn't have to be our role models, we should be theirs. So go and be the person you were when you were a child.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for a very thought provoking post, Heather. I love children and how they teach me something everyday. They love to learn new things and get excited at the wonder of the world. If only we could see through the eyes of a child. They want to believe in everything good and just, so let's show them that this is a good world with wonderful people in it. And yes, Heather, most importantly, let's be good role models for children. They deserve nothing less!