Ed Lemond lives and writes in Moncton, New Brunswick. He owns and operates the Attic Owl Bookshop in Moncton. He is also one of the planners for the Northrup Frye Literary Festival.
Ed writes, in response to “More on Thoreau.”
Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals gives a good accounting of Lincoln’s temporizing strategy. Here’s one example of many. When John Brown was executed on Dec. 2, 1959, Lincoln (in Goodwin’s words) “wisely sought the middle ground between the statements of radical Republicans, like Emerson, who believed that Brown’s execution would ‘make the gallows as glorious as the cross,’ and conservative Republicans, who denounced Brown for his demented, traitorous scheme. He acknowledged that Brown had displayed ‘great courage’ and ‘rare unselfishness.’ Nonetheless, he concluded, ‘that cannot excuse violence, bloodshed, and treason. It could avail him nothing that he might think himself right.’”
Lincoln, ironically, himself walked down the road of violence and bloodshed, thinking himself in the right – as we too think of him. (Adam Gopnik’s discussion of ‘the problem of liberal violence’ in his book Angels and Ages is very interesting in this regard.) Lincoln said or wrote, I believe, something to the effect that if he could end the war and save the union with slavery still in place, he’d take the deal. The difference between Lincoln and Rowan Williams is that Lincoln knew, even while temporizing and compromising, that slavery was an evil doomed to extinction. And, even with all his temporizing, he had moments, we know, when his words attained the level of kerygmatic intensity, spiritual proclamation. And he had his great moment, when he stopped temporizing and issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Now we have a new, young President in Obama, with the same sort of instinct to look for the middle ground. Is it too much to hope that he will follow a similar path, when it comes to action to ensure full equality for gays and lesbians? Or is he in danger, as it sometimes looks, of being all talk and no (or little) action? Depending on what happens with health care, we might know part of the answer.