Commentary: Talk of secession is misguided

"My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that."

— Abraham Lincoln, 1862

Earlier this month, in conjunction with the Fort Worth Public Library's celebration of Abraham Lincoln's 200th birthday, I moderated a discussion of Doris Kearns Goodwin's Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.

It is a fascinating, enlightening and painful read. But the author's concentration on Lincoln's steadfast desire to save the union and the descriptions of some Civil War battles also imbue deeper thoughts of patriotism and reflections of what this nation might have been had Lincoln not been president at the time or if there had never been a war.

During our discussion at the library, surrounded by an exhibit celebrating Lincoln, one woman made a passionate statement about current events that stayed with me — a statement I thought more about as I read recent accounts of more secessionist movements taking hold around the country.

She said she was offended by the reference of Texas Gov. Rick Perry about people in the state so upset with the federal government that he understood why they may want to secede.

Even if it were a joke, she said, it was appalling considering all the sacrifices made to keep this union — this "one nation under God" — intact.

I totally agreed and have become more incensed as I hear about those in a dozen states or more who are proclaiming states' rights and signing petitions calling for their states to secede.

In reading Goodwin's book, I was moved as the telegraphed reports came into the War Department and to the president of the thousands killed in a given battle. The casualties on both sides, in a war with brother against brother and father against son, were horrendous.

More than 600,000 died in battle or later from wounds and disease they received during the war.

It is hard for me to comprehend that there are people in this country who seriously believe that the United States is in such dire straits that their home states would be better off to go it alone as independent republics.

And yet I know they exist. They are misguided and blinded by an immovable boulder of fear, mistrust and bigotry that has become part of our national political landscape. But, by God, they do exist.

For those like our governor who would dare joke about secession, let me say loud and clear that this is no laughing matter.

I repeat: 600,000 dead.

The president himself was gunned down because he dared put his love for union above regional factionalism, refusing to succumb to the idea that either side (the North or South) would be better off as separate nations.

In Lincoln’'s letter to the New York Tribune's Horace Greeley outlining his position on slavery vs. preservation of the Union, he said:

"I shall do less whenever I shall believe what I am doing hurts the cause, and I shall do more whenever I shall believe doing more will help the cause. I shall try to correct errors when shown to be errors, and I shall adopt new views so fast as they shall appear to be true views."

We know now that even as he drafted those words, Lincoln had decided that all slaves should be freed and he already had written the Emancipation Proclamation.

As the war came to a close and it was fairly obvious that the union would be saved, Lincoln was thinking of reconstruction of the South. He resisted the cries from some Northerners who wanted to put the Southern military and political leaders on trial.

Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, and Gen. Robert E. Lee were not to be punished or humiliated in any way. Again, it was in the best interest of re-uniting the country.

The price to unify this nation under one flag was awfully high. So has been the cost in human sacrifice to keep it free and strong.

For those who still insist that their states ought to secede from the union, I highly recommend Goodwin's book. For those of you in Tarrant County, I also suggest you go by the Central Branch of the Fort Worth Public Library and view the exhibit, "Abraham Lincoln: A Man of His Time, a Man for All Times." It runs through Oct. 4.

Related stories from Idaho Statesman