“My purpose is to be, in my action, just and constitutional; and yet practical, in performing the important duty, with which I am charged, of maintaining the unity, and the free principles of our common country.”
Abraham Lincoln-August 7, 1863 Letter to Horatio Seymour
Over the course of the last several weeks, I have found myself returning to the words of my favorite President, Abraham Lincoln. As a nation we have recently found ourselves as divided and in danger as in any time since the Civil War. And like then, the enemy has been from within. Today, more than ever, we seek the voices that unite us while adhering to our founding document, the Constitution.
Governing is competitive. Intentionally competitive. Paraphrasing Governor Ridge, governing is a contact sport. I believe the Founding Fathers understood that American progress and growth would lead to conflict and they wrote the Constitution to allow for disagreement while assuring a democratic government.
And it worked.
We all watched in horror two weeks ago as the very seat of that democratic government, our US Capitol, was attacked by a mob of insurrectionists set on undoing the most essential act of our democracy – a free and fair election. They failed.
On inauguration day, we watched the victory of our founding document, the presidential inauguration, the taking of the oath of office, and a poignant inaugural address from President Joe Biden.
It’s a new beginning and a moment to be celebrated – regardless of your political views. Our government has been tested and survived. The Constitution and our democracy won.
And now, like for Lincoln, the work of re-unifying the country begins. What will it take?
It starts and ends with the principles expected by the Founding Fathers and promoted by Abraham Lincoln: patriotism, bipartisanship, civility, and respect for the rule of law.
All can be accomplished by an agenda developed jointly by Republicans and Democrats, by President Biden and his Administration, and by the Congress. And there are plenty of issues around which agreement can – and in some cases must – be found.
We still have a raging pandemic. Vaccines need to be distributed. We have an economy in need of assistance. Spending, investments, taxes, and regulation need to be considered. The sharp divisions and inequality felt by Americans of color and women must be acknowledged and addressed. We have global warming changing our world. Sound scientific policy balanced with international cooperation and domestic determination must be focused to give our kids a healthy environment.
And there are many, many others. Issues that need to be addressed. Solutions that must be found. Balance that needs to be restored.
And unity that must be paramount.
We’ve done it before. It wasn’t that long ago that the virtues – the unique American traits – spoken above formed the hard core of our nation. Through strife, division, and war we’ve never given up our unique and shared dream of a bright American future.
We look to our leaders to restore that future and to do it by solving the challenges of 2021 America. We understand disagreement. We expect partisan division, but we must ask that they compromise for the common good. We get politics. We know the importance of partisan campaigns, but we must expect those politics to end after representative democracy takes place, and that governing begins thereafter.
And we ask that it all be guided by striving for unity, not division.
It’s been done before. After the bloody strife of the Civil War, during two world wars, in the aftermath of McCarthyism, in recovering from the battle for long-delayed civil rights for African Americans, America has emerged united. We can, and must, again.
Starting now let’s unite around our American institutions and traditions starting with the Constitution and our three branches of government. Let’s share our opinions, sometimes loudly if necessary, but let’s agree to facts.
Let’s expect division from both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue but let’s also expect compromise and civility between Democrats and Republicans, between the President and Capitol Hill, between governors and state legislatures.
And, finally, let’s hold ourselves accountable. I’ve long believed that our government is a reflection of us. Our leaders mirror us. They are elected by reflecting the values and political priorities of a majority of their constituents.
Lately, those values have been fiercely expressed and those priorities sharply contrasted. We have a responsibility to unity as well. Let’s stop the demonization of motives. Let’s act with a sense of citizen nobility. Let’s find ways to come together for the good of community, commonwealth, and country.
Throughout our nearly 11 year history, Ridge Policy Group, a top government affairs firm, and our founding partner, Tom Ridge, have tried to exemplify these principles in our work with clients, while advocating to the White House and Governor’s offices, and in our everyday lives.
I admire Lincoln both for his clarity of vision and power of his words . He possessed a unique ability to look back in our history for inspiration for our future – even in the midst of a terrible civil war. It’s his words then today, at a very difficult time in our modern history, that give me – and hopefully you – hope.
“May our children and our children’s children to a thousand generations, continue to enjoy the benefits conferred upon us by a united country, and have cause yet to rejoice under those glorious institutions bequeathed us by Washington and his compeers.”
Abraham Lincoln-October 4, 1862 Speech at Frederick, Maryland
This post was written by Mark Campbell a Partner of Ridge Policy Group, a top lobbying firm in Washington, DC, and Pennsylvania. Mark is a successful Pennsylvania lobbyist and has worked in government for nearly forty years.