Thanksgiving is a good opportunity to silence the silent artillery.
In January of 1838, Abraham Lincoln addressed the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois. His subject was the perpetuation of our political institutions. Recalling America’s founding, Lincoln feared “the scenes of the revolution” had faded. The “silent artillery of time” had done its job. There are however a few ways to undo the damage.
Lincoln’s “silent artillery” was America’s collective amnesia regarding its most formative events. Today, for example, how many recall that, on this date in history – November 19, 1863 – Lincoln delivered his Gettysburg Address at the dedication of the military cemetery ceremony at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania? Might be worth rereading.
It might also be worth watching Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln.” Spielberg is a master storyteller and Daniel Day-Lewis is an actor par excellence. The film focuses on an intense, four-month period of Lincoln’s life at the end of the Civil War in 1865, when the president was trying to pass the 13th amendment to abolish slavery.
You can also undo some of the damage by reading Allen C. Guelzo’s Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America. Guelzo is a professor of history and director of the Civil War Era Studies Program at Gettysburg College. He writes how Lincoln, early in 1865, described the Emancipation Proclamation as “the central act of my administration, and the great event of the 19th century.” Describing slavery as America’s “one retrograde institution,” Lincoln didn’t underestimate the task before him. The proclamation wiped out $3.5 billion of “investment” in slaves, at a time when the entire wealth of the nation amounted to only $16 billion. “In giving freedom to the slave,” he noted in his second State of the Union message, “we assure freedom to the free.”
Finally, you can silence some of the silent artillery of time by reading aloud George Washington’s Proclamation at your Thanksgiving dinner table. Here it is. Happy Thanksgiving.
[New York, 3 October 1789]Go: Washington