C.J. Marshall: Significa: Time: The ultimate test
I recently read with interest and amusement an article published by the Associated Press in which The Patriot-News of Harrisburg retracted an editorial that appeared in the paper's predecessor, The Harrisburg Patriot & Union. In the editorial, published 150 years ago, the writer referred to President Lincoln's then-newly presented Gettysburg Address as "silly remarks" that deserved a "veil of oblivion."
According to the article, The Harrisburg Patriot & Union had covered Lincoln's speech in Gettysburg that day back in 1863. However, the paper was a staunchly Democratic publication at the time, which obviously clouded its judgment on the importance and significance of the president's speech.
In the present, The Patriot News now says it regrets the error of not seeing its "momentous importance, timeless eloquence and lasting significance."
Oh well, better late than never, I suppose.
The original editorial that appeared in The Harrisburg Patriot & Union very neatly demonstrates an interesting fact. Namely, that many of us very seldom recognize greatness at first glance - particularly in historical figures and events. In order for greatness to be conferred upon such things, they must first be able to stand the test of time.
When we talk about President Lincoln today, we often get a simplified image of the man and the times he lived in. What's often presented is the United States, being ravaged by the Civil War, in which the North unites behind Lincoln, providing him with total support as it crushes the rebellious South and stamps out the evil of slavery that's been plaguing the nation. However, if you go deeper into the subject, and read many of the publications that appeared in that time period, you'll quickly discover that nothing could be further from the truth.
I first discovered this many years ago when I read a book about the Civil War, which included some of those articles - as well as many of the political cartoons. I was absolutely shocked at what I saw. Lincoln - who today is considered one of the most respected and beloved presidents of this nation - was reviled in print; by many in North. Unfortunately, that book is no longer in my possession, so I can only refer to it here from memory. However, much of the criticisms had to do with how Lincoln was handling the Civil War. When it broke out, many people believed that the war would be a short affair, with the South quickly beaten into subjugation and business returning to normal. When that didn't happen, Lincoln was blamed for "holding back" on the war effort. Also, Lincoln's wife, Mary, was suspected of being a Southern sympathizer and a spy, which didn't help the president's popularity with his constituents.
Things changed dramatically of course after Lincoln's assassination. Time has proved Lincoln's policies correct in his handling of the Civil War, and as a result he is today ranked one of the highest U.S. presidents in this nation's history.
This happens all the time, of course. When someone - particularly a leader - institutes policies and plans, there's always going to be resistance at the time; particularly from those who oppose said person. We all have a tendency to view with suspicion that which is new or untried, and only when time shows such things to be successful will we convey the mantel of greatness on such people.
I can even cite something from my own lifetime. Today, many conservatives refer to Ronald Reagan as one of the cornerstones Republican Party. Having lived through Reagan years, I can appreciate their thoughts, but I can also offer a few challenges to that line of thinking. Anyone here remember the Iran-Contra affair? How about the way Reagan handled the strike involving federal air-traffic controllers? Not some of the president's better moments.
Today, President Barack Obama is drawing flack because Affordable Health Care plan, which forms the cornerstone of his administration. Numerous glitches with the government's website which was suppose to help introduce people to the health care plan; plus a number of other serious problems have caused many of the nay-sayers to jump up and say "See, we told you so." Yet the president could still pull it off if the administration can work the bugs out of the system. If so, then the problems now associated Obamacare will be smoothed over and forgotten, and future historians will have nothing but praise for Obama for his effort in this area.
I know there are some people who will come back with "No way is this going to happen," and cite facts and figures to support their contentions. To that I say, very well. But look me up in about 30 years, when all the dust has settled, and time has had a chance to prove who's right and who's wrong.