Saturday, June 16, 2007

June 16, 1775 & 1858: Washington and Lincoln Speak

On June 16, 1775, George Washington accepted the Continental Congress' appointment as the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, the armed force that was, depending whose side you were on, either to lead the colonies in a struggle for freedom or in rebellion against King George and the mother country. There was no doubt where Washington stood. He said to the Congress (as recorded in the journals of the Second Continental Congress):

"Mr. President,

"Tho' I am truly sensible of the high Honour done me, in this Appointment, yet I feel great distress, from a consciousness that my abilities and military experience may not be equal to the extensive and important Trust: However, as the Congress desire it, I will enter upon the momentous duty, and exert every power I possess in their service, and for support of the glorious cause. I beg they will accept my most cordial thanks for this distinguished testimony of their approbation.

"But, lest some unlucky event should happen, unfavourable to my reputation, I beg it may be remembered, by every Gentleman in the room, that I, this day, declare with the utmost sincerity, I do not think myself equal to the Command I am honored with.

"As to pay, Sir, I beg leave to assure the Congress, that, as no pecuniary consideration could have tempted me to have accepted this arduous employment, at the expence of my domestic ease and happiness, I do not wish to make any proffit from it. I will keep an exact Account of my expences. Those, I doubt not, they will discharge, and that is all I desire."

Four score and three years later, in Springfield, Illinois, Abraham Lincoln made his "House Divided" speech. He was speaking to his party, who that day had nominated him to run for the US Senate. His opponent in that contest was Sen. Stephen Douglas, who was re-elected by the Illinois General Assembly, which had a narrow Democratic majority after the election of 1858.

"Mr. President and Gentlemen of the Convention.

"If we could first know where we are, and whither we are tending, we could then 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..."

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