Thursday, February 5, 2009

So this is the little lady who made this big war...

Late in the afternoon of a chilly day in February, a gentlewoman was sitting alone over her wine, in a well-furnished dining parlor (okay so maybe it was really a rather shabby living room with a television blaring), in the town of O----, in Kentucky. She had put down her book and was musing about the recent presidential inauguration. During said inauguration, Barack Obama was ushered in as the 44th president with his hand on the very bible Lincoln had used to take the oath. Abraham Lincoln, the president know for guiding the nation through the Civil War, authoring the Gettysburg Address, dying from an assassin's bullet, and having the first beard in office. And, of course, most importantly, for being responsible for the end of slavery. But was there in fact a book that was originally the cause of the war, which lead to the defeat of the Confederacy and the resulting emancipation of slaves? Perhaps.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin was first published as a serial in a newspaper in 1851, and a year later in book form. The text brought to light the evils of the ‘peculiar institution’ through intriguing story lines. Did its author, Harriet Beecher Stowe, contribute to the outbreak of the Civil War? To some degree she may have. The novel helped, likely more than anything else, to awaken broad American consciousness to the plight of enslaved African Americans. It was striking, dramatic and emotionally appealing. It captured the imagination of the American public in a way boring abolitionist tracts could not.

When the imagination of the public becomes stirred, things begin to change. Obama knows this fact; it is the very thing that got him elected. But, if he seeks to live up to the legacy of that tall bearded president, he must remember to harness that enthusiasm in real policy change. And, he needs to listen to the people who got him elected, just as Lincoln likely listened to the “little lady”, as he reportedly called her, who took up her pen and changed the world.