For the Preservation of The Union

Published: May 20, 2024

By Jim Lichtman
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Shoulder surgery prevents me from working for awhile. (The surgeon said this would not happen.) In any event, I will return as soon as I am able.

She’s called the Statue of Freedom, not to be confused with the Statue of Liberty which rests on Liberty Island in New York’s Bay.

She stands 19 feet, 6 inches tall and weighs 15,000 pounds. She wears a helmet composed of an eagle’s head and feathers. Her right-hand rests on a sheathed sword as she holds a shield and laurel wreath in her left hand for victory. Her face reflects an open yet steady moral resolve to battle “against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”

She has endured two World Wars, a Great Depression, the Korean War, Vietnam, the Civil Rights March, the Women’s March, and more.

Designed by Thomas Gibson Crawford, her message is “Freedom Triumphant in War and Peace.” Her construction began at a time of growing division with the Fugitive Slave Act, and she was completed in 1863, in the midst of the Civil War.

Crawford originally called her Armed Liberty. And it might be appropriate to return to that title given the times we are currently living through. But Armed Liberty is not only unique because of what she represents but also because of where she stands—atop Washington’s Capitol dome.

Below her feet, she has overseen Memorial Day Concerts, Fourth of July celebrations and presidential inaugurations. She also witnessed the January 6 attack against American democracy.

Under her feet, she sees a continuing bitterness in many of the country’s leaders that has led to an unfathomable division. Distrust and cynicism have overwhelmed Americans’ strength and courage.

In 1955, President Kennedy wrote, “A nation which has forgotten the quality of courage—which in the past has been brought to public life—is not as likely to insist upon or reward that quality in its chosen leaders today—and in fact have forgotten.”

Those words could’ve been written yesterday.

Courage has always proven to be the one indispensable and admired quality of character that has carried us through every crisis since the Revolution.

On March 7, 1850, from his seat in the Senate, Daniel Webster courageously set aside political considerations for principle when he said, “Mr. President, I wish to speak today, not as a Massachusetts man, nor as a Northern man, but as an American and a Member of the Senate of the United States. I speak today for the preservation of the Union.”

Mississippi Senator, Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar II—named for the Roman warrior and statesman—pleaded for civility and comradery from his Senate colleagues. “Shall we not . . . lay aside the concealments which serve only to perpetuate misunderstandings and mistrust, and frankly confess that on both sides we most earnestly desire to be one . . .  in feeling and in heart? My countrymen! know one another, and you will love one another!”

Today, all want a voice. All want change, but those voices and those changes cannot be evaluated without mutual respect, and service to a greater good.

Some believed protest was the only answer. None of us expected that it would lead to a crisis of conscience where we would set aside America’s character for hatred and violence.

The founding fathers argued for months but it never devolved into violence. In a teachable moment, Thomas Jefferson told his colleagues that we must “unite with one heart and one mind [and] restore to social intercourse that harmony and affection without which liberty, and even life itself, are but dreary things.”

Ultimately, they found their strength behind one word: indivisible.

The Statue of Freedom faces east, toward a rising sun which symbolizes a new day where we have an opportunity to summon the will to put aside retribution and embrace reconciliation.

Comments

  1. Missed your insight. How we got to this very dangerous place is difficult to know, but somehow I think it evolved slowly over the past 40+ years – losing that American value “the greater good”:

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