This past week, the House of Representatives commemorated the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s death. References were made to the hundreds of books that have been written about this man and the lessons we can learn from his life. One lesson that is particularly important for our society and especially Illinois today comes from his death and how to handle differences of opinion.
John Wilkes Booth was no deranged gunman who shot the president for fame or some random act of violence. Booth was a successful renowned actor who came from a prominent family of actors. When it came to real-life situations and expressing his political beliefs, however, he didn’t know how to act.
Booth supported the southern way of life and strongly disagreed with the changes that President Lincoln found necessary during the Civil War. Not only did he oppose the emancipation of the slaves, Booth also disagreed with the expansion of powers by the federal government, implementation of an income tax, use of a military draft, and the occasional suspension of citizens’ legal rights.
The actor could have opposed Lincoln’s policies by voicing his opinions, enlisting as a soldier for the Confederacy or helping campaign for one of the other presidential candidates in the 1864 election. Unfortunately, many times dissent and frustration with policies are demonstrated through destructive actions such as rioting, looting and, yes, even killings.
The final lesson from Lincoln’s life for us today is that being silent, sitting on the sidelines or even violence against the president didn’t change the outcome of the war or any of the policies that Booth detested.
In the coming weeks, as we in Illinois face tough policy decisions—not unlike the ones Lincoln made—to save our state from financial ruin and provide for those most in need and preserve individual freedoms, let us take lessons from Lincoln’s presidency. Involve everyone, even the opposition, in the decisions. Listen to the people as they express their views in public meetings, letters and peaceful demonstrations. Seek what is moral, fair and right for all citizens. Avoid violence that tears us apart. Lincoln is still an excellent teacher after more than 150 years.
Bob Pritchard, State Representative