|A cold windy day on Isaac's old homestead|
As I reflected on a blog for Inaugural Day 2017, I happened upon a poem by Kansas poet, Christopher Todd Anderson titled "On Being Asked for a Political Poem. His poem begins, "My eyes drift across Kansas, its drab winter fields/ and bird-churned skies, its highways like frozen/ gray rivers, its oak trees clutching brown shawls/ of dead unfallen leaves, a rough threadbare comfort." Anderson is an Associate Professor of English at Pittsburg State University in Kansas, and I related immediately to his imagery of my home state. However, the title of the poem suggested a purpose other than images of the Kansas landscape, and as anticipated the tone changed, expressing the rancor of the past political season. The emotions expressed by the poet in the last stanza may reflect what many of us are feeling about the past political season as the Inauguration draws near. "Tomorrow trees will still march through / poems like buckskin priests praising the sun, and gods / will roost on power lines, then glory in flight. But now / every word is on fire, every blackbird and maple leaf is / a red ember. Sing your children to sleep, sing, for worlds / are burning as we stir anger like sour milk into our coffee.
I was drawn to the words spoken by past presidents in Inaugural Day to see how they sought to sooth the rancor of emotions enflamed during political campaigns. On March 4, 1801, Thomas Jefferson began with humility, expressing his gratitude for being entrusted with the office of president, "...declar[ing] a sincere consciousness that the task is above my talents, and that I approach it with those anxious and awful presentiments which the greatness of the charge and the weakness of my powers so justly inspire." Having begun with humility, he continued with respect not only for those of the majority which elected him but also respect for the minority, whose rights he was also charged by the Constitution to protect. "...[T]hat though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression. Let us, then, fellow-citizens, unite with one heart and one mind. Let us restore to social intercourse that harmony and affection without which liberty and even life itself are but dreary things."
The late 1800s, during which Isaac B. Werner was politically active, were rancorous times, when the common man felt that wealth and power were exerting too great an influence on government. On March 4, 1885, Grover Cleveland gave his first Inaugural Address. He, too, began with humility and a reminder that the responsibility of a President to govern for all the people differs from the political necessities of a campaign. Isaac would certainly have read Cleveland's Inaugural Address. "This impressive ceremony adds little to the solemn sense of responsibility with which I contemplate the duty I owe to all the people of the land. ...[T]he best results in the operation of a government wherein every citizen has a share largely depend upon a proper limitation of purely partisan zeal and effort and a correct appreciation of the time when the heat of the partisan should be merged in the patriotism of the citizen." The severity of political hostilities during Cleveland's campaign is apparent through his appeal to set that all aside: "At this hour the animosities of political strife, the bitterness of partisan defeat, and the exultation of partisan triumph should be supplanted by an ungrudging acquiescence in the popular will and a sober, conscientious concern for the general weal." He reminds his audience of the need to "renew the pledge of our devotion to the Constitution," saying that citizens are best served "...if in the halls of national legislation that spirit of amity and mutual concession shall prevail in which the Constitution had its birth." It is worth noting that influence from other nations was also a part of Cleveland's Inaugural Address, for he warned of the importance of "...rejecting any share in foreign broils and ambitions upon other continents and repelling their intrusion here."
And so, on January 20, 2017, Donald Trump will join those past Presidents who have presented to the American people their ideas for governing this nation under our Constitution. May all of us, like the poet Christopher Todd Anderson, calm the "red embers" that have burned our spirits in the past months to let our eyes drift across our respective landscapes, trusting that our politicians will follow Cleveland's advice to 'pledge their devotion to the Constitution' and as Jefferson urged, 'restore to social intercourse that harmony and affection' our liberty requires.' Such wisdom is not confined to Presidents and ordinary citizens but perhaps especially to those elected to represent us in the Federal House and Senate, and in State Houses and Governors' offices across the nation, without regard to party!