Like untold millions, Russell Conwell, author of the famous little book “Acres Of Diamonds” revered Abraham Lincoln, a man he served under as a captain in the 46th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment during the Civil War.
But unlike many, he met the man face to face … twice.
In the book, Conwell wrote about visiting Lincoln at the White House to plead for the life of one of his young soldiers who had been sentenced to death.
“I had been on fields of battle, where the shells did sometimes shriek and the bullets did sometimes hit me,” he wrote. “I never was so afraid when the shells came around us at Antietam as I was when I went into that room that day.”
After assuring him that the soldier, 17, would not be hanged, Lincoln asked Conwell how things were going in the field.
“We sometimes get discouraged,” he admitted.
“It is all right,” said Lincoln. “We are going to win.”
Conwell then stumbled on Lincoln’s soft spot. After learning that the young captain grew up on a farm, he relaxed a bit, threw his leg up on the edge of his chair, and talked about farming. He became, as Conwell wrote, “so everyday, so farm-like.”
“No man ought to wish to be President of the United States,” Lincoln said. “And I will be glad when I get through. Then Tad and I are going out to Springfield, Illinois. I have bought a farm out there and I don’t care if I again earn only twenty-five cents a day. Tad has a mule team, and we are going to plant onions.”
Suddenly, Lincoln took up another roll of paper and said, “Good morning.” Conwell took the hint and left.
Days later, Conwell saw Lincoln again. He was inside a coffin in the East Room.
“When I looked at the upturned face of the murdered President,” he wrote, “I felt then that the man I had seen such a short time before, who, so simple a man, so plain a man, was one of the greatest men that God ever raised up to lead a nation on to ultimate liberty.”
Lincoln, like all us, longed for a life of peace – to buy a farm, corral the mules, and plant onions with Tad.
But it had to wait. Peril came.
On entering office, Lincoln described his task as being “greater than that which rested upon Washington” during the Revolution – a time when soldiers were so starved that they ate their pets and their shoes to survive. Lincoln didn’t seek the peril. It came. Leaders before him failed to make the hard decisions. For decades, they coddled cancerous problems hoping they’d just go away someday. Instead, they all piled up on Lincoln’s shoulders.
Slaveholders, dead set on tearing the country apart, forced Lincoln to choose an excruciating, but nobler, peace. “… it may be necessary to put the foot down firmly,” he said.
And he did.
It would’ve been easier to avoid war, said Teddy Roosevelt in The Strenuous Life (1899). “Moreover, besides saving all the blood and treasure we then lavished, we would have prevented the heartbreak of many women, the dissolution of many homes, and we would have spared the country those months of doom and shame when it seemed as if our armies marched only to defeat.
“We could have avoided all this suffering simply by shrinking from strife,” he wrote.
Today, America is in the greatest peril of all its history. A task rests on us greater than that which rested on Washington and Lincoln combined. We feel it. Good times have produced leaders who shrink from making the hard decisions that tough times demand.
I thought of Lincoln as I watched the 9/11 remembrances on Saturday. In 20 years, this look-back was the strangest of them all. Amid the sights and sounds of name-reading and survivors’ stories, it was impossible to block out the sights and sounds of Biden’s botched Afghanistan pullout – the crowning catastrophe of all of his disasters.
The most infuriating sight, for me, was to see three presidents – Clinton, Obama and Biden – basking in the somber glory of the day. These men, more than anyone, could’ve spared America the shame, disgrace, and peril we now feel. At critical junctures, they chose to coddle the cancer. They still are.
Lt.Col. Robert “Buzz” Patterson, who carried the nuclear codes for Clinton, detailed in Dereliction Of Duty (2003) how Clinton, who was golfing, squandered a “golden opportunity” to kill bin Laden when the military tracked him down, had him in their sites, and awaited his orders. They never came.
“In eight years in office, President Clinton’s military response to the terrorist threats was negligible and did nothing to seriously address the problem,” Patterson wrote, “instead following a de facto course of drift, which allowed the terrorist network to grow in size and strength.”
Obama, in eight years, reduced the “War On Terror” to a “man-caused disaster”; reduced “Islamic” extremism to “extremism”; labeled terrorist Nidal Hassan’s killings at Fort Hood as “workplace violence”; softened the rules of engagement in favor of the enemy; created a vacuum in Iraq for ISIS; and used America’s resources to travel the Muslim world apologizing for America’s supposed historic arrogance.
And Biden? He botched the pullout. Botched the border. Botched policing. Botched race relations. Botched the voting system. Botched the COVID response. And is botching the economy.
If Lincoln asked me today, “How’s it going in the field?” I, like Conwell would admit, “I sometimes get discouraged.” But we can’t afford to be discouraged. In my 20 years as a Marine, I learned that war tends to make its own course as it unfolds. It is a test of wills. Whoever loses the will to win, loses the war.
We did not lose this war. The war is not over. We lost a monumental battle. These maniacs, drunk on the liquor of their victory, will not stop. Biden’s botched pullout created historic vulnerabilities that have made our enemies stronger than they were 20 years ago.
We can’t wish this stuff away. The foreign and domestic perils are happening. We have no choice. This came to us. We cannot allow our children and grandchildren to live in the world these people are aggressively working to create, without us “firing a shot.”
Like Lincoln, we must face the peril – postpone our “onion-planting” – and while in the middle disaster say, “We are going to win.”
As long as we have this mindset, the how will come.