Only historians are likely to recall Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar, the Mississippi Representative who, in a speech that brought tears to the eyes of many battle-hardened House members, spoke passionately of “the South’s most implacable enemy, the Radical Republican who helped make the Reconstruction Period a black nightmare the South never could forget,” Kennedy wrote in Profiles in Courage.
In words as vital today as they were in 1874, Lamar implored his colleagues, “Shall we not, over the honored remains of… this earnest pleader for the exercise of human tenderness and charity, lay aside the concealments which serve only to perpetuate misunderstandings and distrust, and frankly confess that on both sides we most earnestly desire to be one… in feeling and in heart?
“Would that the spirit of the illustrious dead whom we lament today could speak from the grave to both parties to this deplorable discord in tones which should reach each and every heart throughout this broad territory: ‘My countrymen! Know one another, and you will love one another!’ ”
“Overnight,” Kennedy writes, “it raised Lamar to the first rank in the Congress and in the country; and more importantly it marked a turning point in the relations between North and South.”
Most people remember Republican Communist hunter Joe McCarthy, but few remember Senator Margaret Chase Smith who stood in the Senate chamber and called out McCarthy’s reckless, unsupported accusations.
“I speak as a Republican. I speak as a woman. I speak as a United States Senator. I speak as an American. I don’t want to see the Republican Party ride to political victory on the four horsemen of calumny, fear, ignorance, bigotry and smear.”
We cheered the achievements of Lindbergh, Ford, the Wright Brothers, and thousands more. We applauded the integrity of Chase Smith and others.
In the last several years, however, cheers for America’s achievements and integrity have turned to jeers of distrust and division, and anger for the symbols that have long represented the country’s great, enlightened Republic which has been looked upon as a model of democracy around the world.
We don’t celebrate the nation’s symbol of compromise, courage and spirit – as imperfect as it can be – as much as many belittle and literally tear down.
Where is America’s spirit today? Why has optimism turned to cynicism? Why do we distrust each other, and what will it take to change?
When you are going through the “valley of the shadow,” a minister once said in his weekly homily, “don’t stop and build a house. Move on!”
We are stuck, stuck in our prejudices, stuck in the notion that we’re right and others are wrong, so stuck and divided that we have come to define ourselves as Us v. Them.
What happened to that American spirit that Lindbergh embodied, the integrity exemplified by Margaret Chase Smith, the compromises in Congress, past, and the words of hope and unity of Mississippi Representative Lamar: ‘My countrymen! Know one another, and you will love one another’ ”?
What happened to that spirit of America and how will we get it back?
Returning April 5