When I was 16 . . . I went to a jazz-and-poetry concert in Leeds. I can’t remember now how we swung it. Our boarding school, 13 miles from the city streets, set amongst the wind-swept fields around Wetherby, was of liberal persuasion. But the Head, a muscular Quaker committed to bracing rambles across the moors, preferably in driving horizontal rain, believed jazz to be decadent and sybaritic.
Both Black Friday and the opening day of deer season involve competition for a limited supply of the most desirable trophies, and the successful competitors are almost invariably those who plot out their strategy well in advance and arrive at their location at least an hour before daylight. But I think the comparison ends there.
from Via Negativa.
I had written an A paper, so I got up my nerve to ask Mr. Armstrong in his Wilson Hall office why he had given me an A-minus for the course. My participation in the weekly seminar discussion wasn’t that strong, he responded. This was like 1978.
I stared at the passing pines and a smoldering, almost eternal sunset from the middle seat of our old minivan yesterday on the way north from my parents’. (I had been fighting sleep just an hour out of Tidewater – a short time even by my standards – so Victoria had taken over the driving.) I thought about the story my father had told the evening before, a deflating conversation he had had with an old English professor at Virginia, where he had matriculated on the GI Bill after his honorable discharge. You’re not the student your father was, the professor had told him.
But English was supposed to be my strength, like my grandfather’s, and I loved Faulkner. Two-thirds of the books we had read that spring seminar at Virginia were Faulkner. I thought yesterday about the bright afternoon I had pointed out Faulkner’s use of tobacco in Sartoris to settle us in time and to distinguish among generations of men rising through their accreting heritage. John Sartoris had smoked a pipe; old Bayard, his son, smoked cigars; and young Bayard, his son’s son, smoked cigarettes. Mr. Armstrong, I remember, was impressed. Maybe I never said much more.
You know what gets me? Have, had, and had had. When a fourth generation starts telling the same story, will they say had had had, or will they switch back to had, as we switch between two punctuation marks for quotes in quotes in quotes?
I never go up in my parents’ attic to read my grandfather’s long, typed letters. I imagine they’re like mine: newsy and oddly shutmouth when read in a single sitting. Friable.
My mother saves my letters, too, or some of them, as from a fire. Years ago she had a necklace forged of my grandfather’s gold medallion that he had won in a college essay contest, and she’ll still wear it. I’ll often talk about literature with her on their porch while my father falls complacently silent. He’ll start to doze after a while as I might to a car’s engine.
Pop loves to drive. At 87 he bought his first red convertible, a real cream puff. He demonstrated the top to us yesterday before we said our goodbyes in their driveway. You can see my teenage son’s reflection in the waxed surface, talking on his cell.
I’m mobile in a couple of ways. I shot these pictures from the passenger window as we traveled up I-95 back from my parents’ home in Tidewater. (I wish we had taken U.S. 17 down: we’d have driven over the York River and through a lot of woods to grandmother’s house that way.)
I used my mobile phone. In fact, I processed the pictures on my mobile phone, uploaded them to Flickr from it, and dictated this blog post on it, too. I’ll publish the post from the phone as well.
I was thrilled to learn that I’d be teaching the Gettysburg Address this year! I realized that, before we could give it a rhetorical analysis (AP Lang isn’t a history course), we’d need some historical, philosophical, and metaphorical background. Yay! I gave students a famous section of Calhoun’s Oregon Bill speech in which he rails against Jefferson and the Declaration’s equality clause, Lincoln’s 1859 letter to a meeting of Boston Republicans on the occasion of Jefferson’s birthday ending with his “All hail to Jefferson” paragraph, portions of the King James Bible’s Luke 1 and 2 to account for Lincoln’s “brought forth” phrase and the rest of his birth metaphor, and excerpts from a couple of secondary sources.
Students considered open-ended questions about these documents, and now they’re beginning the co-ment.com exercise I introduced to you in my last post. I’m asking them to “comment on three parts of the Gettysburg Address. Each comment should (1) quote the text it pertains to, including text not contiguous to the text highlighted by the comment, (2) describe a rhetorical device or strategy in the chosen text, (3) describe how that device functions in the chosen text’s context, and (4) describe how Lincoln used that device or strategy to advance one of his address’s purposes.”
I summarized our discussion of the address’s background in the following paragraphs so students could concentrate on Lincoln’s rhetorical devices and strategies.
Lincoln believed the young republic needed what he called in an 1838 speech a “political religion” to help keep order and enhance respect for law. His concept of civil religion expanded thereafter to include reverence for the Founding Fathers and their work so that the ideas they cherished would be passed on to future generations (Jaffa, Crisis 226 – 232).
The Whigs and Democrats sparred for decades over the continuing role of the Declaration of Independence (Guelzo 192). Most Southern Democrats who considered the issue believed that the Constitution entirely superseded the Declaration. Southern theorists wanted the Constitution enforced with no distinction between any ideals it may share with the Declaration, on the one hand, and its political compromises found in its provisions protecting slavery, on the other (Jaffa, New Birth 87 – 88). Abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison, though, wanted to do away with the Constitution because it protected slavery (Guelzo 196 – 197). Lincoln disagreed with both Southern theorists and abolitionists. Instead, he chose to read the Constitution through the lens of the Declaration. He believed that protecting the Constitution offered the best hope of someday extending the Declaration’s ideals (life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness) to more than just white males (197 – 198; Lincoln, Democracy 198; cf. Diggins 23).
Lincoln and most Whigs (and Republicans, who largely replaced the Whigs when that national party disintegrated in the late 1850’s) believed that the people of the United States became a single society at the signing of the Declaration of Independence and that the people formed our federal government with the ratification of the U.S. Constitution. Most secessionists, though, believed that the states, not the people, formed the U.S. Constitution and that the states, therefore, were implicitly free to secede from the resulting union (Jaffa, New Birth 269 – 271). (Secessionists argued that the states ratified the U.S. Constitution; Unionists countered by quoting the famous “We the people” phrase in the Constitution’s preamble and by pointing out that the ratification process was assigned not to the state legislatures but to a specially convoked convention in each state (Smith 451.)
Most Whigs agreed with John Locke and Thomas Jefferson that people have inalienable rights by virtue of their status as human beings (Lincoln, Lincoln-Douglas 63). Democratic theorists, led by John C. Calhoun, believed that no inalienable rights existed because people were first and foremost members of societies and not individuals. According to Calhoun, rights do not attach to individuals but only to members of particular societies or races that have evolved enough to earn and defend them (Jaffa, New Birth 282 – 283, 403 – 471).
Lincoln didn’t see any analogy between the colonists’ position in the Revolutionary War and the South’s in the Civil War. Lincoln found the secession counter-revolutionary (to use today’s language) since its leaders did not recognize what the Founders recognized as natural rights, applicable to all people at all times (277 – 282). Further, Calhoun, who was the South’s most influential political theorist, recognized no right of revolution, as Locke and Jefferson had, since Calhoun believed that no rights attached to individuals qua individuals (414 – 416).
Lincoln believed that the South’s rebellion was a threat to democratic government because it contradicted the principle of majority rule and contained the seeds of anarchy. How did he believe it did so? The immediate cause of the South’s secession was Lincoln’s election. If the losing side of a democratic election could split off from a political entity such as a nation, state, or county, Lincoln reasoned, then elections – the foundation of representative democracy – could always be undermined. Representative democracy would “perish from the earth” (278 – 280; Lincoln, Democracy 206).
Although he hated slavery, Lincoln believed a U.S. president had no authority to harm that institution in the existing slave states (Lincoln, Lincoln-Douglas 63). He ran for president on a Republican platform that did not seek to end slavery but sought to keep slavery out of new American territories (Jaffa, New Birth 216 – 218). Before the Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863, Lincoln believed that the North’s war aim was to preserve the Union with or without the abolition of slavery (Lincoln, Democracy 253 – 254). Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves only in the slave states that had seceded from the Union, and Lincoln signed the proclamation only as an express exercise of his war powers as Commander-in-Chief (Goodwin 459 – 472; cf. Oates 319).
Diggins, John P. On Hallowed Ground: Abraham Lincoln and the Foundations of American History. New Haven: Yale UP, 2000. Print.
Goodwin, Doris Kearns. Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005. Print.
Guelzo, Allen C. Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1999. Print.
Guelzo, Allen C. Lincoln and Douglas: The Debates That Defined America. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2008. Print.
Jaffa, Harry V. A New Birth of Freedom: Abraham Lincoln and the Coming of the Civil War. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2000. Print.
Jaffa, Harry V. Crisis of the House Divided: An Interpretation of the Issues in the Lincoln-Douglas Debates. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1982. Print.
Lincoln, Abraham, Mario Matthew. Cuomo, and Harold Holzer. Lincoln on Democracy: His Own Words, with Essays by America’s Foremost Historians. New York: HarperCollins, 1991. Print.
Lincoln, Abraham, Stephen A. Douglas, and Harold Holzer. The Lincoln-Douglas Debates: The First Complete, Unexpurgated Text. New York: HarperCollins, 1993. Print.
Oates, Stephen B. With Malice toward None: A Life of Abraham Lincoln. New York: HarperPerennial, 1994. Print.
Smith, Jean Edward. John Marshall: Definer of a Nation. New York: H. Holt &, 1996. Print.
Blogging is text oriented, but imagine a site that allows visitors to easily identify and discuss selected portions of posted texts. The comments are visible when other visitors select the text portions commented on. My AP students are using it to analyze rhetorical strategies of short passages, such as the Gettysburg Address and my favorite “I went to the woods” paragraph in the second chapter of Thoreau’s Walden.
Want to try it? I’ve created a Gettysburg Address page just for us. You can see my sample comments by clicking “dedicated” and “Now we are engaged” in the address. Highlight some text and click the comment button to the left of the text to record your own responses to that text. The comments are threaded, too, so discussions can develop around a single word or phrase in the posted text. It’s like Google Docs, but more like blogging meets Google Docs.
(If you’re reading this on my blog’s home page, you may want to click this post’s title to experience a wider version of the field.)
Try mousing over the embed’s buttons — a nice selection. And the co-ment.com people are very friendly. They responded to (and solved) a technical issue I emailed them about within an hour on a weekend.
A friend of mine and I opened another co-ment.com account for an online writers’ group we started. It just feels extra stupid to say, “Nice post. You writing here changed my life. Keep up the good writing!” and the like. You almost have to get specific.
The president of MTV, Stephen K. Friedman, wrote a piece in yesterday’s Post characterizing OWS as essentially a generational phenomenon and easily misunderstood for the same reasons the Millennial generation is misunderstood. The piece reminded me of things I read in William Strauss and Neil Howe’s 1991 book Generations, published when the oldest Millennial was nine years old:
Early in the Crisis era, rising-adult Millennials (especially the first wave) will encounter economic and social hardship. Unlike 13ers, however, they will emerge undaunted — thanks to their patience, confidence, and powerful instinct for community. . . .
The Millennials’ Civic peer personality is not preordained. If the crisis comes too soon or (worse) unfolds badly, the Millennials will mirror the Progressives, a smart but hobbled generation that was later unable to realize the agenda of its Idealist elders. But if the crisis allows the Millennials to coalesce as a genuine Civic type, this generation will show more teamlike spirit and more likemindedness in action than most Americans then alive will recall ever having seen in young people. (420 – 421)
The future is afterthought (pardon the pun) in Generations, but it’s the focus of Strauss and Howe’s The Fourth Turning, published six years later. They elaborate where they see the Millennials around now: