Robert Smalls in 1862. (Hagley Museum and Library)
Robert Smalls was born on April 5, 1839, in Beaufort, South Carolina. His mother, a slave named Lydia Polite, gave birth in a small shack tucked behind the comfortable home of her master Henry McKee, who may very well have been Robert’s father.
Lydia taught her son about the true evil of slavery from an early age, taking him to a local jail to see a slave woman whipped mercilessly and to a slave auction to see human beings – children among them – bought and sold like cattle. She had been ripped away from her own family at age 9, and she was determined to prepare her son for a difficult and dangerous future. Robert took her teaching to heart. He remarked later in life, “Although born a slave I always felt that I was a man and ought to be free, and I would be free or die.”
Donald Trump’s decision to declare a “national emergency” in order to fulfill his nativist campaign promise of building a wall between the United States and Mexico is nothing less than an attack on the system of checks and balances at the heart of our constitution.
In honor of Abraham Lincoln’s 210th birthday, here is a fragment he produced on the proper role of government:
Today’s post is a bit different.
I recently re-read J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. While I was reading it, I was particularly struck by a passage in The Two Towers.
The passage of time often allows us to look at the past with a clearer perspective. Sometimes, however, time obscures the truth, as in the case of Ulysses S. Grant. While recent biographers like Ron Chernow, Ronald C. White, and Jean Edward Smith have begun to restore his reputation, far too many people still think of Grant as a drunken military butcher and an incompetent president.
His contemporaries knew better. Indeed, when he died most Americans believed Grant belonged right next to Washington and the martyred Lincoln in the pantheon of our nation’s greatest heroes.
Last week I wrote about Trump’s shameful decision to skip an event honoring American soldiers who died in the First World War.
His excuse was that a trip by helicopter was inadvisable due to rain in the forecast. In truth, he could have easily made the trip by car. Other leaders who were in France for the occasion did just that. But Trump couldn’t be bothered. In and of itself, his conduct was despicable. But when put alongside Abraham Lincoln’s delivery of the Gettysburg Address on November 19, 1863, Trump’s behavior becomes even more horrifying.