Friday, August 27, 2010

Lincoln at Cooper Union

In early 1860, Abraham Lincoln was a little known regional politician from Springfield, Illinois. The Republican Party was new, and had failed running national hero John C. Frémont for president in 1856. Abraham Lincoln chances of ascending to the presidency under the Republican banner were slight. All that changed in New York City on February 27, 1860. That afternoon, Lincoln had his photograph taken by Mathew Brady, and in the evening, he gave a historic speech at the Cooper Union. Lincoln often said that Brady’s photograph and his Cooper Union address propelled him to the presidency.

Below is a highly abridged version of Lincoln’s speech.

“We hear that you will not abide the election of a Republican president! In that event, you say you will destroy the Union; and then, you say, the great crime of having destroyed it will be upon us!

“That is cool. A highwayman holds a pistol to my ear, and mutters through his teeth, ‘Stand and deliver, or I shall kill you and then you will be a murderer!’

“What the robber demands of me—my money—is my own; and I have a clear right to keep it; but my vote is also my own; and the threat of death to me to extort my money and the threat to destroy the Union to extort my vote can scarcely be distinguished.”

“What will convince slaveholders that we do not threaten their property? This and this only: cease to call slavery wrong and join them in calling it right. Silence alone will not be tolerated—we must place ourselves avowedly with them. We must suppress all declarations that slavery is wrong, whether made in politics, in presses, in pulpits, or in private. We must arrest and return their fugitive slaves with greedy pleasure. The whole atmosphere must be disinfected from all taint of opposition to slavery before they will cease to believe that all their troubles proceed from us.

“All they ask, we can grant, if we think slavery right. All we ask, they can grant if they think it wrong.

“Right and wrong is the precise fact upon which depends the whole controversy.

“Thinking it wrong, as we do, can we yield? Can we cast our votes with their view and against our own? In view of our moral, social, and political responsibilities, can we do this?”

The hall burst with repeated shouts of “No! No!”

“Let us not grope for some middle ground between right and wrong. Let us not search in vain for a policy of don’t care on a question about which we do care. Nor let us be frightened by threats of destruction to the government.”

Prolonged applause kept Lincoln silent for several minutes before delivering his final sentence.

“Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it!”

When Lincoln stepped back from the podium after this dramatic conclusion, the Cooper Union Great Hall exploded with noise and motion. Everybody stood. The staid New York audience cheered, clapped, and stomped their feet. Many waved handkerchiefs and hats.

If you want to see how a principled politician gained national repute with honor and integrity, I recommend Lincoln at Cooper Union by Harold Holzer.  You might also enjoy the Lincoln historical theme I used in my contemporary thriller, The Shut Mouth Society.


Friday, August 20, 2010

Create Interesting Villains

The key to a good story is a good antagonist. The bad guy or bad gal makes the hero heroic. The character of a protagonist can be confining, but villains are wide open. In The Shopkeeper, Bill Sprague was an assassin that killed from a distance. In this excerpt, the hero encounters him for the first time.

McAllen was the one to speak up. “Did you see that man on the hotel porch, reading a newspaper?”
“Yes.” As instructed, I had kept alert when we walked from Jansen’s office to the hotel. The only person I spotted lingering had been reading a newspaper on the porch. He looked innocent enough, and the activity was certainly not unusual for a hotel guest.
“That was Bill Sprague.”
“What?” I hesitated, but after thinking about it, I was sure I had not seen another man. “That was Sprague? Are you sure? The man I saw looked like a bookkeeper.”
Sharp said, “That’s him, all right.”
Captain McAllen nodded and then added, “Rumor has it he once made his living totting up columns of numbers but changed professions when he discovered he had a natural knack for marksmanship. He brings a bookkeeper’s methodical manner to long-range shooting.”
I looked toward the door, but he had not followed us into the hotel. “Must take more than marksmanship. I can’t image a man making his living by killing strangers for money.”
“I heard a story about him,” McAllen said. “Don’t know if it’s true, but sounds ’bout right. Supposedly, Sprague once competed in a long-range shooting contest. Won it hands-down. But each time before he shot, he consulted this little notebook filled with numbers in tidy columns. The book contained his meticulous measurements for different ranges, wind conditions, and even different temperatures. This was years ago, when he supposedly still wore a green eyeshade to work. Not long after that contest, he put his talent out for hire. Now, I’m told, he carries those measurements in his head and uses his notebook to keep track of his money.” McAllen took a swig of beer. “Yep, I’d say he’s an odd duck.”


Monday, August 2, 2010

“In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Ben Franklin

Objecting to increased taxation is an American tradition.
Excerpt From Tempest at Dawn
The owner of the Indian Queen appeared instantly. Bowing respectfully, he asked, “Gentlemen, is there anything else you desire … another ale, tea and cakes, a plate of cheese? We have excellent cognacs.”
“No, no,” Morris said. “We’re ready to retire. Thank you for your hospitality.”
The innkeeper never looked at Morris; instead he aimed a witless grin at Washington. “My pleasure. The general’s always welcome at the Indian Queen.”
All evening, Madison had found the Innkeeper’s solicitous behavior irritating. Now he was amused by his inadvertent slight toward the rest of the party. Washington often elicited bumbling adulation.
“Thank you,” Washington said, with a regal nod of the head. “We’ll be in Philadelphia for a spell, so we’ll visit your fine establishment again.”
“Yes, the Federal Convention. A noble endeavor. My best wishes.”
“And what might those wishes be?” Washington asked.
“My wishes? Oh my. Yes, well, I suppose I … uh … yes … I, uh, wish you gentlemen great success.”
When the innkeeper recalled the incident for friends, relatives, and customers, his answer would undoubtedly be eloquent and coherent. He would tell everyone that the great General George Washington had asked for his advice and he had responded with sage counsel.
Washington betrayed nothing. Looking genuinely interested, he said, “Success comes in many guises. Do you support a strong federal government?”
Now, the innkeeper looked nervous. “Dear General, with deepest respect, I don’t think so. I, uh … well, I work hard: all day and well into the night. Please excuse me¾sir, I don’t mean to be impertinent¾but taxes already lighten my purse. A larger government will surely demand more money. I see no benefit.”
Washington looked like he was mulling over a new concept. “Taxes are a congenital disease of government.”
“Philadelphia seems unaffected by these ills. People prosper, trade flourishes, and our vigorous commerce supports many public works. In time, the rest of the country will follow our lead.” Then, with a little stronger voice, the innkeeper added, “Most of our problems emanate from politicians. They already meddle too much.”
Madison found the man’s newfound tongue intriguing. Obviously his purse held greater import than the risk of offending the great hero of the Revolution.