A Lincoln Portrait

Something said in a senate committee meeting the other day led a reporter covering the meeting to think of Abraham Lincoln for some reason. More specifically, the thoughts jumped to some of Lincoln’s words used in an inspirational piece of symphonic music.

Please pardon us for a personal beginning to this observation.

This correspondent was born in a town where Abraham Lincoln and his family lived briefly when they moved from Indiana to Illinois.  He grew up in a couple of nearby small towns that were part of the judicial circuit that Lincoln rode as a young lawyer.  One of the towns still has the courthouse where he argued some of his cases, although the town is no longer a county seat.

A child growing up in Illinois when I did could not escape Lincoln’s shadow.  Not until I crossed the Mississippi River to attend the University of Missouri were my eyes opened to the excitement of the western frontier despite family roots in Kansas that date to a time when Indians were still raiding settlers’ cabins.

In a little more than a month, this Illinois native, this inheritor of the legacy of Lincoln, will join the Jefferson City Symphony Orchestra in its performance of Aaron Copland’s “Lincoln Portrait.”   The performance will be on April 21 in the auditorium at Lincoln University. There have been a great many thrilling moments in this not-yet-long-enough life.  To be part of this emotional and uplifting composition will rank high among them.

Jefferson City is fortunate to have a talented and dedicated volunteer symphony that gives many area people opportunities to continue their musical careers well past high school and college bands.  The organization also includes several highly-talented high school musicians  whose participation in a symphony at such a young age should be pretty impressive on college resumes.

All of this is prelude to the observation that is the basis for this entry.

Almost forty years of covering the Missouri House and the Missouri Senate make part of the narration of “Lincoln Portrait” convincingly contemporary.  It is the narrative segments drawn by Copland from Lincoln’s annual message to Congress delivered on December 1, 1862.

I do not know why that part of the narration came to mind recently when Senator Ryan Silvey, in a Senate committee meeting, questioned another senator about his position on a bill, describing the situation as “political philosophy meets practical reality.”

Lincoln told Congress, “The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present.  The occasion is piled high with difficulty and we must rise with the occasion.  As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew.  We must disenthrall ourselves and then we will save our country.”

The situations with which our lawmakers must deal today are certainly nothing compared to the situation Lincoln and the nation were facing when he spoke to Congress more than 150 years ago.  But there is much in that brief segment that might be helpful to today’s lawmakers at the state and federal levels who are struggling with the major issues of our times, for all of them are challenged to think beyond “the dogmas of the quiet past” so that they might be open to new thinking and actions that serve all.

We have seen many times in our legislature those moments when our lawmakers become consumed by their perceived importance and the importance they are told is attached to their work and become bound by dogma, either their own or that dogma that has been part of their upbringing and their contemporary lives.

“We must disenthrall ourselves,” says Lincoln through the narrator of “Lincoln Portrait.”

We found ourself observing that committee meeting the other day and wondering if the resolution of the “political philosophy/practical reality” conundrum that so frequently collide  in our legislative halls is found in the words Copland used in his symphonic portrait of Lincoln.  Sometimes, we have noticed through the years, it is only when political combatants become less enthralled by their own importance and the seeming critical nature of an issue that they are free to think anew and to act anew.

Reporters never know what mental road they’ll wind up going down when they cover an event where political philosophy and practical reality collide.

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