August 12, 2011

The Literature Corner for August 13, 2011: The Bixby Letter

The Literature Corner for August 13, 2011: The Bixby Letter

Continuing with the theme established in The Literature Corner for last week, I present another of the essential letters of America. As I wrote last week, there are some writings, some documents that should be well known by every American, yet are too often ignored in favor of "celebrating diversity" and multi-cultural consciousness raising. The result, all too often, is Americans graduating from high school and even college with no idea of the depth and meaning of our foundational documents, and of the stature and character of those who wrote them. Substituted instead are the self-referential writings of people of far, far less importance and import than the author of the simple letter that is today's offering.

The Bixby Letter was written by Abraham Lincoln in 1864, and wide-spread interest in it was rekindled by its reading in the movie Saving Private Ryan. The original is lost, but in 2008, a Texas museum found what may be an authentic government copy of the letter. Go here for a story on that document and for history on the original.

In these simple, heartfelt lines, written in a time when correspondence was handwritten, providing ample time for reflection, it is both touching in its genuine sympathy and thrilling in what it reveals about its author. It is impossible to read this letter without understanding that you are reading the thoughts, hopes, and sorrows of a truly great man, one of the indispensable men that seems to appear in America's darkest hours, when they are needed most.

If you've never read the letter, now you have the chance to be sure that your children read it, and understand the immeasurable sacrifices made by so many for the idea of America. There are times when a speech or letter is simply perfect for the occasion. It is not possible to do better. This is such a letter. God grant that we may again find such a leader.

Executive Mansion
Washington, Nov. 21, 1864.

To Mrs. Bixby, Boston, Mass.

Dear Madam,

I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle. I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the republic they died to save. I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.

Yours, very sincerely and respectfully,

A Lincoln.

Posted by MikeM at August 12, 2011 08:17 PM

What a man, what a leader. . .

Posted by: NavyOne at August 12, 2011 10:02 PM

I'm sorry she lost all 5 sons, but that war should never have been and all Lincoln did was begin the wholesale shredding of the Constitution.

Secession, as Jefferson pointed out, is indeed an option.

Read Charles Adams' _The Course of Human Events_ for a better perspective on Lincoln.

Posted by: capt45 at August 13, 2011 10:58 AM

Of course, since Jefferson was not involved with the drafting of the Constitution his opinion on the matter is just that, an opinion. Where as the actual drafters of the Constitution, highly educated and intelligent men all, would have included a succession provision in the document had it been their desire to do so. The very fact that they chose not to includes such a provision shows that their intent was not to create a union where membership was considered temporary.

Had Lincoln not acted as he had, instead of one large nation we would have disintergrated into several smaller nations with constantly shifting friends and foes. In that case, we would have made the political squables of Europe in the late 19th and early to mid 20th centuries pale by comparision and it is entirely possible that this continent would then have had the ravages of the world wars played out here rather than in Eurpoe and Asia.

But hey, maybe some of these Loncoln haters think that the contiuation of slavery would have been worth it.

Posted by: Thresherman at August 13, 2011 08:47 PM

"The Bixby Letter" represents the best of human nature; devotion to a just cause and compassion. Both of those very worthy traits remain today but are seldom seen or celebrated. I am reminded of our young military men and women who are far from home, many living without electricity or running water, and in heat that is unimaginable. As the Bixby men fought for a cause they believed in, so too, do our military today. I am reminded of a young Marine who took a sniper bullet while trying to save an 11 year old boy in Iraq. Compassion. Both devotion and compassion are with us today. Sadly they are often overlooked in our present day political climate.
Thank you for posting this letter. It reminded me that what was true in 1864 is also true today.

Posted by: carol at August 14, 2011 11:12 AM