Let's be thankful for reasonableness

This year, I am particularly thankful for reasonableness.

A political season has just ended, a season enveloped with fear and anxiety, and the lack of reasonable debate that often brings. To me, this group blog has stayed a pretty steady course -- I've always read more light than heat in the words others contribute here. Different places on the web -- not so much.

But these are anxious times; anxiety and reasonableness rarely function together. Still, there are signs of hope that a political class facing stubborn problems will rise above itself: Speaker-to-be John Boehner has struck a mostly steady chord since the election; yesterday in Kokomo, Indiana, President Obama shelved the rhetoric of the mid-term campaign and returned to a style closer to 2008.

Thanksgiving Day seems like a good time to exhale, and adjust perspective. I just finished reading a remarkable Civil War book, Bloody Crimes , in which historian James Swanson weaves two stories: the death pageant that followed Abraham Lincoln's assassination, and the simultaneous hunt for Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

The book lunges you into the national tragedy of Lincoln's murder, and the anger that followed. But in this story, it's not Lincoln's death, but Davis' life, that enthralls: an incredible tale of rise, fall, and redemption. For years after the war, Davis became the South's strongest symbol -- into his seventies and eighties, he travelled to the major cities of the old Confederacy, speaking out boldly about the "Lost Cause" of Southern independence. Federal officials let him speak, but were afraid that Davis was fanning the embers that could reignite conflict.

Then, in March of 1888 -- sensing perhaps that he didn't have much time left -- Davis spoke to a group of young men in Mississippi, one of hi last public appearances. He made an appeal to, off all things, reasonableness. Davis called on the new generation of the South to set its sights beyond the old Confederate dream.

"The past is dead," he told them, "let it bury its dead, its hopes and its aspiration; before you lies the future -- a future full of golden promise; a future full of expanding national glory, before which all the world will stand amazed. Let me beseech you to lay aside all rancor, all bitter sectional feeling, and the make you places in the ranks of those who will bring about a consummation devoutly to be wished -- a reunited country."

Davis was right -- the world would stand amazed at America in the century to follow. The nation rebounded from wounds worse than any we may feel today -- in fits and starts, group by group, over the course of perhaps too many decades, the country recovered.

It will recover again, of course. As Davis showed in 1888, reason will lead the way.


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