|William L. Livesley Company A Sixth Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry|
Three days after the election, we're back in the fight, brother against brother, sister against sister. This morning I read with dismay, this news story about President Obama's, apparently voter-sanctioned approach to taxation and the so-called "fiscal cliff," versus the stance of Republicans, who still point a finger at "entitlement programs" and firmly resist raising taxes on the rich. It's more harping on the same points of disagreement. Both sides have their points and both feel they are right. The president is trying to bring the two sides, and the nation, together to solve problems that no amount of partisan bickering will ever solve. I wish him luck, for all our sakes. Yes, this is democracy in action, but we might hope it could be a more civil democracy.
This situation, especially in conjunction with Veterans' Day, makes me think about another time in this nation's history when divisions between its citizens reached a critical point and became the Civil War. As the great-great-granddaughter of a Civil War veteran, I consider his perspective. I am republishing an updated version of a blog post I wrote in 2008, when Obama was first elected, because I believe it makes points we need to remember. ~
On my desk sits an original copy of a book called The Sauk County Riflemen- Company A 6th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry, over a century old, published in 1909. The cover is still a rich blue and the paper high quality, but fragile. I turn the pages with great care. Without my respectful handling it could someday just fall apart.
My great-great-grandfather, William Lamb Livesley, was one of the original members of Company A, one of the young men who signed up to fight for his country during the recruitment drive in what was still considered "the West" during the Civil War. The 6th Wisconsin was part of what would later be known first as "The Black Hat Bridgade"—because of their black, western style hats—and then as the famous Iron Brigade. He treasured this book, inscribed to him by the officer who wrote it, Philip Cheek. It is drawn from diaries and eyewitness accounts of the daily experiences they both endured. He is mentioned by name, and some of the more harrowing passages are underlined in pencil, by him. I cannot even imagine the pictures those words brought to his mind.
After the recent presidential election, I look at the book and ponder those defining few years in my ancestor’s life, and in the life of our nation, and how it all relates to me living here in Tacoma and writing a blog called Good Life Northwest. I have existed only about half as long as this book, but that’s long enough to have seen a number of elections. What I’ve never before seen is so much division in our country. I wonder what my great-great-grandfather would think about it. I think it would fill him with deep concern.
William Livesley didn't believe in bickering. He believed in hard work and positive action. His can do spirit helped him survived the Civil War, traveled with him to the prairies of Nebraska where he homesteaded in a sod house, and during his travels west to Washington Territory, in a covered wagon. That will to survive kept him going when he walked from Eastern to Western Washington over the Cascade mountain range and fell ill, carving his name and the date into a tree trunk so his body could be identified if he didn't recover. His toughness carried him through pioneer days in Tacoma and on Vashon Island, where he brought his family in 1880 to be counted among the island's first settlers. His legacy is one of eternal optimism. We must call on that kind of spirit now.
Just a minute ago, I read again the Gettysburg Address, picturing my great-great-grandfather reading it back when it was the news of the day. Most of us (I hope) know the first sentence about our nation having been “conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal”. It goes on …“Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.” The differences of opinion in the Untied States today cannot be compared to a civil war, but when I see our citizens so polarized I worry that this country I love, where I can live in peace and write my blog about living a good life might become as fragile as the pages of my book.
The book’s dedication reads “To our comrades, living and dead, this volume is lovingly dedicated.” and in the preface it is described as “a record of the private soldier-the man that placed the 'Stars' on the shoulders of the generals, the men that performed the hard work and suffered the most privation; the man that made it possible to preserve this Nation.” I have the greatest respect for the generations of soldiers who have fought and continued to fight, even in unpopular wars. To all those soldiers and to ALL my fellow Americans, in "red" or "blue" states, I lovingly dedicate this blog post. We are all soldiers in the cause of a brighter future.
No matter how you voted, let us now unite for the sake of our common concerns and goals. Partisan bickering must end. Like the members of Company A 6th Wisconsin, we are in the midst of a time that will define our nation’s history. Let us now, regardless of party affiliations, be grateful we live in a democracy—thanks to the brave soldiers of every generation. Let’s join together to ensure that a government “of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth”. Just like my book, without careful handling it could someday fall apart.
Here is how Cheek ended his book:
"No man liveth to himself alone. Not for themselves, but for their children, for those who may never hear of them in their nameless graves, have they yielded life ... Blessed be their memory forever."
Copyright 2012 Candace J. Brown
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