Monday, November 28, 2005

Kentucky President

It is not a trick question: what three presidents had their roots in Kentucky? Some people can think of Abraham Lincoln and a few can think of Zachary Taylor. But few can name the third--Jefferson Davis. Taylor was actually born near Montebello, VA. But he made his home near Louisville, not far from where I lived as a boy.

President Lincoln and President Davis were born within a few months and a hundred miles of each other. Davis was born June 3, 1808 and Lincoln was born Feb. 12 1809. But Davis was certainly born to wealthier parents and to a family whose members fought both in the War of 1812 and the Revolutionary War.

However, it was Lincoln who articulated the view of many Americans of his day. He said in his Gettysburg Address, "that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom--and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

A new birth of freedom in a land governed by its own people, that lives forever, under God. What concepts! These ideas are not acceptable to many people in 2005, but they were not all that unusual on November 19, 1863.

Yes, newspaper editors who wanted an hour's worth of bombastic and flowery oratory made fun of Lincoln's short and poignant address, but not of his ideas.

America was different one hundred and forty-two years ago. It was still a time of patriotic fervor, when people sensed they were part of a huge experiment in government. This was America where there was plenty land, and where people were freer than they had ever been at any time in history. This was America where people from "the old country" changed their names to appear more "American" and less old world. This was America where religious revivals swept the frontier whose outcome were hospitals, orphanages, and old folks' homes. It was in this environment that Taylor, Lincoln and Davis were raised.

Today, some people are convinced that America is too big, too pushy, too successful and too eager to spread freedom to other nations. They represent European thought; they seem to be ashamed of their own country. These people have always been among us. They were loyal to the throne of England during the Revolutionary War. They lost then, but have always looked for an opportunity to strike back. For some reason they sense an opportunity to succeed today when they could not succeed in past years. This opportunity seems to spring from a perceived weakness or vulnerability in the American social system. But if they win, they have no plan except to look and act more like a moribund Europe.

Perhaps America needs another Kentucky president. But with a wider view than that of Jefferson Davis.

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