Robin Smith, former Chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party and congressional candidate.File Photo/Chattanooga Times Free Press
It was November 6th — Election Day — and the country was a politically divided mess and facing a momentous presidential election.
Instead of recession, however, the primary issue on this Nov. 6 was secession. It was the election of 1860.
Two years earlier, Abraham Lincoln lost a U.S. Senate race against the Illinois Democratic incumbent, Stephen A. Douglas. That Senate campaign, highlighted by their now-famous Lincoln-Douglas debates, hoisted the dispute over the expansion of slavery onto the nation's center stage.
Douglas viewed the issue of slavery as one of economics, left for each state and territory to deliberate and legislate. In contrast, Lincoln viewed slavery as a moral wrong that no government should permit in light of its opposition to the Declaration of Independence that "all men are created equal."
The 1858 debates captivated audiences -- attendance of the Senate debates swelled to more than 15,000. The narrative contrasting the Democratic and Republican Party organizations was cast for an audience that far exceeded the boundaries of Illinois. Ultimately, the debates served as the foundation for the 1860 presidential election -- a rematch of Douglas and Lincoln.
History records the presidency of Abraham Lincoln as one marked with turmoil, war and division, but also of devotion to one nation, unity and the end of a blemish on America -- slavery.
Nov. 6, 2012, marks a similar pivotal election that reflects a nation divided: "The left and the right," "the makers and the takers," "the deficit hawks and the big government doves," on and on.
One hundred and fifty-two years later, the political discourse strays from the economy and focuses on Big Bird; eludes facts on the Benghazi terrorist attack while screeching about free birth control; argues for "new revenues" or taxes while cancerous government spending exceeds $1 trillion in debt annually.
Will America embrace a government-driven economy that does things that would be criminal if committed by an individual -- plunder the belongings of one to give them to another?
Will America cast ballots to acknowledge our nation's Declaration to be "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights" or will voters demand to stay the course of a government whose policies award rights and attempt to establish a collective equality with no tolerance of excellence?
Will the election of 2012 see voters continue to seek personalities who poll as "likeable" at the cost of leadership proposing principled solutions?
In his famous "House Divided" speech, in which he noted the choice before the nation in the 19th century, Lincoln proclaimed: "A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved; I do not expect the house to fall; but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction, or its advocates will push it forward till it shall become alike lawful in all the states ..."
America will repeat this path to "become all one thing, or all the other." We will either have a government of a free people or a government providing free things to people.
Please vote this Nov. 6.
Robin Smith, a consultant at Rivers Edge Alliance, is a wife and mother living in Hixson. She served as chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party from 2007 to 2009.