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Abe Lincoln’s House June 16, 2020

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“But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them: ‘Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand.’”

The Gospel According to Matthew 12:25 (NKJV)

 

“If we could first know where we are, and whither we are tending, we could better judge what to do, and how to do it.

We are now far into the fifth year, since a policy was initiated, with the avowed object, and confident promise, of putting an end to slavery agitation. Under the operation of that policy, that agitation has not only, not ceased, but has constantly augmented. In my opinion, it will not cease, until a crisis shall have been reached, and passed –

‘A house divided against itself cannot stand.’ I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved – I do not expect the house to fall – but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other.”

“Have we no tendency to the latter condition?”

 

– from “A House Divided” speech by Abraham Lincoln, Springfield, Illinois (June 16, 1858)

 

Ask any historian, biographer, or movie maker (not to mention some serious Civil War re-enactors) and they can easily identify a handful of defining moments in the life of President Abraham Lincoln. These moments that highlight the evolution of Lincoln’s life as a public figure also outline the shape of the United States – then and now. I say “then and now,” because when you read or listen to the words of Abraham Lincoln you find they still resonate and hold true. It doesn’t matter if you consider his “House Divided” Speech (in Springfield, Illinois, today in 1858), which launched his unsuccessful bid to unseat the Democratic Senator Stephen A. Douglas; his Union Cooper Speech (in New York City, February 27, 1860), which solidified his nomination as the Republican Presidential candidate – and some say contributed to him winning the race; the very short, yet incredibly memorable and poignant  Gettysburg Address (on the battlefield in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, November 19, 1863); or his Second Inaugural Address (in Washington, D. C., March 4, 1865). Pick one, it doesn’t matter which one, and you will find that his words regarding the issue of slavery in the United States and its territories are still relevant. You need not even change the words. Although, one must note that he was referencing Biblical text and “current events,” the details of which did not always need elaboration in the 1860’s, but which may be unfamiliar to some modern-folks.

“At length a squabble springs up between the President and the author of the Nebraska bill, on the mere question of fact, whether the Lecompton constitution was or was not, in any just sense, made by the people of Kansas; and in that quarrel the latter [Senator Douglas] declares that all he wants is a fair vote for the people, and that he cares not whether slavery be voted down or voted up.”

 

– from “A House Divided” speech by Abraham Lincoln, Springfield, Illinois (June 16, 1858)

Just as I am astounded when I feel the relevance of 19th century speeches and essays written by Ralph Waldo Emerson, I am flabbergasted by the similarities in Lincoln’s America and our modern day America – specifically as it relates to what divides us. The difference, however, is that what I feel whenever I look at Emerson’s work is awe and fascination. What I feel when I look at Lincoln’s work, today, is sick to my stomach.… Because, for all intents and purposes, Lincoln is talking about me…and most of my family.

“The several points of the Dred Scott decision, in connection with Senator Douglas’ “care not” policy, constitute the piece of machinery, in its present state of advancement. The working points of that machinery are: Firstly, that no negro slave, imported as such from Africa, and no descendant of such slave can ever be a citizen of any State, in the sense of that term as used in the Constitution of the United States. This point is made in order to deprive the negro, in every possible event, of the benefit of that provision of the United States Constitution, which declares that – ‘The citizens of each State shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States.’

Secondly, that ‘subject to the Constitution of the United States,’ neither Congress nor a Territorial Legislature can exclude slavery from any United States Territory. This point is made in order that individual men may fill up the territories with slaves, without danger of losing them as property, and thus enhance the chances of permanency to the institution through all the future.

Thirdly, that whether the holding a negro in actual slavery in a free State, makes him free, as against the holder, the United States courts will not decide, but will leave to be decided by the courts of any slave State the negro may be forced into by the master.”

 

– from “A House Divided” speech by Abraham Lincoln, Springfield, Illinois (June 16, 1858)

 

As I post this, I have not decided exactly how I will approach today’s class. Part of me feels that I cannot approach it in the same abstract, philosophical and symbolic way I have approached previous classes on Lincoln’s Cooper Union Speech or the Gettysburg address. Part of me feels we all need more than a historical reminder. Part of me feels we need to activate something powerful.

That feeling of wanting to activate something powerful was part of the inspiration for yesterday’s blog and Common Ground Meditation Center class. I focused on the siddhis or “powers” described in the yoga and sāmkhya philosophies – and, in particular those six abilities or powers which are “unique to humans.” The first three (related to intuition, communication, and analysis (with comprehension) lead to the final three. The final three (related to the elimination of three-fold sorrow, the cultivation of friendship, and the power of generosity) can be considered heart practices, just as wisdom and the brahmavihārās (or divine abodes of loving-kindness, compassion, equanimity, and sympathetic joy) are heart practices in Buddhism. Notice that there is a definitive overlap between wisdom, friendship, compassion, and generosity. The other thing that strikes me is how Lincoln’s words dovetail with the commentary of Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD, (specifically as it relates to generosity): “This joy is the architecture of human civilization, characterized by self-sacrifice and selflessness.”

“We shall lie down pleasantly dreaming that the people of Missouri are on the verge of making their State free; and we shall awake to the reality, instead, that the Supreme Court has made Illinois a slave State.

To meet and overthrow the power of that dynasty, is the work now before all those who would prevent that consummation. That is what we have to do. But how can we best do it?

There are those who denounce us openly to their own friends, and yet whisper us softly, that Senator Douglas is the aptest instrument there is, with which to effect that object. They do not tell us, nor has he told us, that he wishes any such object to be effected. They wish us to infer all, from the facts, that he now has a little quarrel with the present head of the dynasty; and that he has regularly voted with us, on a single point, upon which, he and we, have never differed.

They remind us that he is a great man, and that the largest of us are very small ones. Let this be granted. But ‘a living dog is better than a dead lion.’ Judge Douglas, if not a dead lion for this work, is at least a caged and toothless one. How can he oppose the advance of slavery? He don’t care anything about it. His avowed mission is impressing the “public heart” to care nothing about it.”

– from “A House Divided” speech by Abraham Lincoln, Springfield, Illinois (June 16, 1858)

However you look at it, the reality is that “our house” is divided [still…once again, you pick]. We are divided around the same issues of race, state rights versus civil rights, and federal sovereignty. And, we can’t go back. Going back just takes us to another form of divided.

We can talk all day about how we move forward, but we must move forward – and that requires moving out of the sympathetic nervous response of fight-flight-freeze/collapse. We can argue/debate the merits of starting something over from scratch and building from the ground up or just redecorating, but either way we have the same tainted building blocks and scorched earth. If we are to make something out the ruins, if we are to rise out of our own ashes, we must do so with the awareness that we are the same human beings that got it “wrong” the first time. Moving forward as a house divided, we are faced with the same problems and pitfalls as our ancestors. Those problems and pitfalls require us to figure out a way to come together and move forward together or, conversely, we repeat the mistakes of our ancestors.

Don’t get me wrong, things may look different. The new normal, however, can too easily settle into a different verse of the same song. Ask yourself if you want your children, grandchildren, or great grandchildren to be dealing with the “instant replay” of these same issues 50, 60, 100, 200, or 400  years from now. If you’re younger than me, do you want to be dealing with these same issues 50 or 60 years from now? ‘Cause, I’m going to be frank, we’ve been here before. This may feel new and different to some, but to others of us….

“Senator Douglas holds, we know, that a man may rightfully be wiser today than he was yesterday – that he may rightfully change when he finds himself wrong. But, can we for that reason, run ahead, and infer that he will make any particular change, of which he, himself, has given no intimation? Can we safely base our action upon any such vague inference?

Now, as ever, I wish to not misrepresent Judge Doulgas’ position, question his motives, or do aught that can be personally offensive to him. Whenever, if ever, he and we can come together on principle so that our great cause may have assistance from his great ability, I hope to have interposed no adventitious obstacle. But clearly, he is not now with us – he does not pretend to be – he does not promise to ever be.

Our cause, then, must be intrusted to, and conducted by its own undoubted friends – those whose hands are free, whose hearts are in the work – who do care for the result.”

 

– from “A House Divided” speech by Abraham Lincoln, Springfield, Illinois (June 16, 1858)

 

Please join me today (Tuesday, June 16th) at 12 Noon or 7:15 PM for a virtual yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (Links will be available on Zoom and I have updated this page.)

 

A House Divided” (audio with text) by Abraham Lincoln

 

 

### “We shall not fail – if we stand firm, we shall not fail. Wise counsels may accelerate or mistakes delay it, but sooner or later the victory is sure to come.” AL ###

Comments»

1. Eileen O'Toole - June 16, 2020

No instant replay. 👊🏻💜

ajoyfulpractice - June 16, 2020

👊🏾💜


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