Against the Grain: Six Men Who Shaped America

Against the Grain: Six Men Who Shaped America

Against the Grain: Six Men Who Shaped America

Against the Grain: Six Men Who Shaped America

Excerpt

In history books we read tales of men and women who spoke for ideas well in advance of their acceptance by the public; sometimes such heresy exacted heavy tolls — sacrifice of reputation, abandonment of personal goals, and loss of office or fortune. John Adams incurred the wrath of neighbors and risked the life of his pregnant wife Abigail as well as his own career when in 1770 he chose to defend in court British soldiers who had fired upon American revolutionaries in Boston. Abraham Lincoln would not yield to popular sentiment while speaking against slavery in southern Illinois during those epochal debates of 1858, nor would his opponent Stephen Douglas endorse the proviso for admitting Kansas as the fifteenth slave state under the Lecompton agreement even though he knew his heresy would most likely destroy his chances for the presidency. In another critical era, Eugene Debs was sent to a federal prison for defending freedom of speech amid the hysteria of World War I. Other individuals may be less known, but in speaking their consciences they left indelible marks on the pages of history.

Walter Lippmann, premier journalist of the mid-twentieth century, once wrote, “The final test of a leader is that he leaves behind him in other men the conviction and will to carry on.” It follows, therefore, that a true leader must not always voice opinions dominant at his time, but, borrowing a metaphor from Daniel Webster, “must push his own skiff to shore.”

Courage has many faces, and it appears in records of nearly every human society. Who can deny the courage of those pilgrims who put belongings and hope into a tiny vessel named the Mayflower and dared venture out into a vast and violent ocean? And then came pioneers armed only with grim determination who trekked into lands rife with perils of weather and fierce human defenders of traditional hunting grounds. Soldiers wearing Union blue or Confederate gray fell at Antietam, Chancellorsville, or Gettysburg . . .

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