Steve Patterson: Where is L. Q. C. LAMAR when we need him?

April 20th, 2020     Guest Authors

Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion”     –Edmund Burke, Irish statesman

I don’t like cowards. I abhor cowardly, weak leadership! I have no patience for those political leaders who stand timidly on the sidelines, avoid controversy at all cost, and allow popular opinion, no matter how ill informed, to run amuck and do a lasting disservice to the people they have pledged themselves to serve. Sadly, feeble sissies are in majority leadership positions in our beloved country and in our great state! That’s right – I said it – they are sissies! We could put a paper sack on our head, say Boo, and scare most of them nearly to death! Some of them are capable of leadership, but are scared to death someone might see them if they dared to attempt it! Yep, just poor, pathetic sissies that can’t imagine standing on their own two feet!

Legislative leadership in the United States Senate and the Mississippi Legislature is a “get along-go along” bunch of sissies, and both President Trump and Governor Reeves know it. And they take full advantage of that undisputed fact.

Daily I hear folks in positions of political power, especially Republicans of good will, privately express their disgust at both the president’s and the governor’s shenanigans! I bet you do, too? Nevertheless, they remain publicly silent in fear of President Trump and Governor Reeves’ petty vindictiveness and a backlash from their mindless cult-like followings. Sissies, sissies everywhere and not a courageous leader in the bunch!

Former Pennsylvania Republican congressman and chair of the House Ethics committee, Charlie Dent, recently said, “Republicans continue to support President Trump because our base forces us to,“ but he added,“ There’s no question, having spoken to many of my colleagues privately, they are absolutely disgusted and exhausted by the president’s behavior.“ And one Tennessee Republican told me recently, “We all know Trump is crazy, but what are we supposed to do? He carried my district overwhelmingly!”

Likewise, in Mississippi, good solid conservative Republicans are often quick to privately criticize Governor Reeves, but are too timid to offer public correction. One recently told me “the boy is way in over his head and thinks he knows everything, but he’s our guy, we are stuck with him.”

We have all grown accustomed to being cynical about politicians. Our cynicism is often warranted by leaders who put party above country and, even more alarmingly, their own selfish political interest above those they represent. Cowards who are scared to speak up and do the right thing are on every corner these days! They are not interested in progress for the people; they are only interested in maintaining power!
It has not always been this way. Courage was once the hallmark of true leadership and was actually rewarded by the public. Sissies were once rare!

In 1956 a young Massachusetts senator, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, wrote a Pulitzer Prize winning book titled Profiles in Courage. The book detailed the courageous acts of eight United States senators who defied their political party and popular sentiment in their home states to do what they deemed to be morally correct and in the best interest of the people they served. Each of these statesmen suffered loss of popularity at home as a result of their actions, but history has judged them all most favorably!

The book focuses, primarily, on the extraordinary and courageous efforts of mid-nineteenth century antebellum leaders’ attempts to avoid the inevitable War Between the States.

Among those the future president memorialized was Mississippi Senator Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar. Senator Lamar represented Mississippi in both houses of the Congress, and later served as Secretary of the Interior and as an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court. Senator Lamar is one of only two people in American history to have served in both houses of Congress, in the cabinet of a president and on the Supreme Court. (The other was South Carolina’s James Byrnes in the 20th century.)

L. Q. C. Lamar in his day was a national figure with celebrity appeal and is considered by historians to have been among the greatest orators of the 19th century.

Vanderbilt University historian, Dr. Frank Owsley, declared Lamar “one of the few truly great men of American history” and said “had he not been a Southerner he would have probably been president.”

It must be remembered that Lamar authored Mississippi’s ordinance of secession from the union and sincerely believed in the “states rights“ contained in the Constitution. He was an intellectual heir of John C. Calhoun, John Tyler, Alexander Stephens and Jefferson Davis., and, some would argue, the constitutional views expressed by the founding fathers, especially Thomas Jefferson. In those turbulent days leading up to the War Between the States, Lamar was a fierce defender of slavery and “the Southern way of Life.” By 1860 he had earned a reputation, in the words of Henry Adams, as “the worst of the Southern fire-eaters.”

“My countrymen! Know one another, and you will love one another!”

–L. Q. C. Lamar

Nonetheless, once the war ended and the South’s fate was sealed, Lamar enthusiastically embraced Robert E. Lee’s admonition that Southern leadership should “share the fate of their respective states” and work for a more perfect union.

No state suffered more from carpetbag rule than Lamar’s beloved Mississippi. Vast areas of Mississippi lay in ruins. Lamar’s home region in North Mississippi was especially hard hit. Crime was rampant. Taxes increased fourteen fold in order to support the extravagances of the corrupt crony reconstruction government. Both the black and the white citizenry suffered in dire poverty. Chaos ruled and hardships were mighty. The Reconstruction period was, indeed, Mississippi’s darkest days!

As the state passed through these tormented times, Lamar came to understand that the only hope for the South lay not in the pursuit of its ancient quarrels with its brothers in the North, but in the promotion of conciliation. The restitution of traditional federal – state relations was essential to relieve the suffering and end the torment.

Lamar was a visionary leader who understood that the South had to convince the rest of the nation that it no longer wished to be defiant. As he said at the time, we must make the North comprehend that we no longer want to be “the agitator and agitated pendulum of American politics.”

Kennedy chose Senator Lamar as a “profile In courage,“ in part, for his tireless efforts to mend the divide between the North and the South during the Reconstruction period and in recognition of his unwavering stances to do the right thing, regardless of political consequences.
Perhaps the primary reason for L. Q. C. Lamar’s inclusion in Kennedy’s history was the eulogy Lamar delivered in 1874 for the “radical Republican,“ Senator Charles Sumner, of Massachusetts.

Senator Sumner was the most ardent voice in the Senate for harsh treatment of the Southern states during reconstruction. He fought vigorously for the equality of the recently freed slaves and argued for their full inclusion in the political system and for guarantees of their constitutional rights. He was the most despised man in Congress by most Southerners. Senator Sumner was viewed as the Devil incarnate by most Mississippians at the time of his death.

On an earlier occasion in 1856, South Carolina congressman Preston Brooks beat Sumner nearly to death with his cane on the Senate floor after Senator Sumner had delivered one of his passionate anti-slavery speeches.

Folks in the Southern states approved of the assault and idolized Congressman Brooks. Southern members of Congress had the remains of Brooks’ Cane smelted into rings and wore them as symbols of unity in opposition to the policies Senator Sumner advocated. Citizens all over the South mailed new canes to congressman Brooks in support of his physical attack. Such were the extreme passions of the day!

Historians universally recount and praise the courage Lamar displayed in eulogizing the despised Senator Sumner. Lamar understood the passions of the people had to be muted.  He realized it was his duty to bring reason into the discourse. Such was his duty as a leader! LQC Lamer was no sissy!

Journalists of that day reported “the US House of Representatives was packed when L. Q. C. Lamar, a war veteran from Mississippi and one of the so called rabid “fire-eaters” spoke about the need for unity between North and South in the name of the departed Charles Sumner.”

Furthermore, it was reported,that “grown men were reduced to tears by Lamar’s speech.”

Lamar closed his speech with a simple plea. “My countrymen! Know one another, and you will love one another!”

According to John F Kennedy, few speeches in American history have had such an immediate impact. L. Q. C. Lamar immediately became one of the most respected men in America. Historians agree his speech marked a turning point in North-South relations. Of course it was not well received by his constituents back home in Mississippi.

Then in 1877 Lamar’s courage and talent for compromise once again took center stage, when he played a pivotal role in the controversial presidential election of 1876. The Democrat, Samuel Tilden, lost to Republican Rutherford B. Hayes despite having more popular votes and seemingly more electoral votes. Mississippi had, of course, voted overwhelmingly for the Democrat Tilden. To resolve the disputed election results Congressman Lamar, who would soon become Senator Lamar, helped set up a nonpartisan election commission, which ultimately chose Hayes as President.

Mississippians were outraged that Lamar supported the commission’s conclusions. In the public’s eyes the election had been stolen from the Democrat Tilden and Lamar was part of the corrupt deal! Lamar faced a storm of angry opposition at home, because Mississippians believed a Hayes Presidency would lead to four more years of harsh Republican reconstruction policies.

In reality, Lamar, along with other Southerners, had extracted concessions from Hayes and it was during the Hayes Presidency that the so called reconstruction of the South finally ended.

North MS news LQC Lamar house

L. Q. C. Lamar house as is stands today on 14th Street in Oxford, MS.

Perhaps Senator Lamar’s boldest show of courage came in 1878 when he defied the instructions of the Mississippi Legislature and voted against “free silver.” The “free silver” movement advocated the unlimited coinage of silver. A policy of free silver, while inflationary by its very nature, would be of great benefit to Mississippi farmers by raising the price of their crops and helping struggling debtors pay their debts. In other words, free silver was cheap, easy money that would solve the South’s financial problems caused by the war and reconstruction. The policy of free silver was universally popular across the South, especially in economically depressed Mississippi.

The scholarly Senator Lamar studied the issue, listened carefully to the exhaustive debates and concluded that free silver would indeed provide a measure of temporary short term relief for Mississippians. However, in the longer view it was bad economic policy. Therefore, he courageously cast a ‘no’ vote. The speech he made on the floor of the Senate before casting that vote was his maiden speech as a United States Senator and is a work of absolute literary beauty! He spoke eloquently about how difficult it was to go against the wishes of his constituents. He spoke of following a higher calling and following his conscience and sticking with the principles that had guided him his entire life.

Back home in Mississippi, the reaction was vicious. Mississippians felt betrayed. Even his old friend Jefferson Davis publicly condemned Senator Lamar’s vote.

Folks in Mississippi had tolerated Lamar’s “courage” long enough. Their view was that on three separate occasions the senator had betrayed them and their interest. His eulogy of Charles Sumner, his role in the controversial election of President Hayes in 1876, and his strong decisive stance against free silver had doomed him in the minds of most Mississippians. Almost all political observers at the time agreed L. Q. C. Lamar’s political career was over.

Lamar refused to believe that Mississippians could not be convinced of the wisdom of his controversial stands. He scurried back home and embarked on a whirlwind speaking tour of the state. Speaking to thousands of people in small hamlets all around the state, sometimes for two or three hours, he won back the affections of the people and soon became the most popular public figure in the state. His speaking tour persuaded Mississippians that he did what he thought was right and, given the chance, he would do it all again!

L. Q. C. Lamar’s political career was far from over. In 1885 President Grover Cleveland appointed him Secretary of the Interior. Only two years later, Cleveland nominated Lamar to the Supreme Court. L. Q. C. Lamar was confirmed by the United States Senate in 1888, at the age of 63, making him the first ex-Confederate to serve on the nation’s highest tribunal. He served on the court until his death in 1893.

Lamar was a courageous visionary leader. He was the only southerner in Congress to support a public pension for a broke and ailing Ulysses S. Grant. Furthermore, the courageous Lamar encouraged the South, and indeed the entire nation, to accept the new social realities by taking the extraordinary step of publicly encouraging the President to appoint the first black member of the cabinet — almost a century before President Lyndon Johnson finally did it in 1966.

Lamar was a bold, thoughtful leader. After the bloody war he became a fierce defender of black voting rights. In 1890 he opposed James Z. George’s successful advocacy of a new Mississippi constitution, which was expressly designed to disenfranchise blacks. It was ultimately used as the model for “black codes“ and “Jim Crow“ laws throughout the South. (An absolutely brilliant master’s thesis was written in 1973 on this subject at the university of Mississippi by a fella named Steve Patterson – excuse me – my tongue is in my cheek.)

Of special significance today, is how Lamar responded to the yellow fever epidemic of his day. Senator Lamar sponsored bills and employed his eloquence to assign responsibility for Public Health to the Federal Government, instead of various state health agencies. His proposals eventually led to today’s United States Health service. Lamar understood that, in times of epidemics and, God forbid, pandemics, only the federal government is equipped and should be prepared to protect its citizens!! I wish Lamar were around to explain this to President Trump and the sissies around him!

The final paragraph of John F Kennedy’s chapter on L. Q. C. Lamar is most illuminating. Today’s political leadership would be well served to read and heed the young senator’s advice: “The liberty of this country and its great interests will never be secure if its public men become mere menials to do the biddings of their constituents instead of being representatives in the true sense of the word, looking to the lasting prosperity and future interest of the whole country.”

Courage has always had great value. It’s a precious commodity. In these perilous times it’s needed more than ever. One day our political leaders will be judged by what they said and did not say, the stands they took and did not take!

The times are calling. The time to make tough choices is at hand. To those who grumble in private, kowtow to leaders they know are inept history asks, where is your courage? Who broke your moral compass?

Where is L. Q. C. Lamar when we need him?

Who will stand up and be our next L. Q. C. Lamar?

Sissies need not apply!!!

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NEMiss.NEWS is a locally owned and operated online news magazine containing news, information, opinion, etc. of interest to residents of Northeast Mississippi. NEMiss.NEWS was founded in 2014 and is a division of Shivimage, LLC, and began publishing in early 2015. read more>>

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