Chasing Smallwood — .19. The plot thickens

Chasing Smallwood

[A book with four interlocking themes:

  • how to communicate with the dead;
  • the life of a 19th-century American;
  • the massive task facing us today, and
  • the physical world’s place in the scheme of things.]

.19. The plot thickens (or, What’s really going on here?)

[December 27, 2005. 8:20 a.m.] All right, Joseph—let’s revert to my question the answer to which got interrupted [the night before]. What’s going on here? Where are we going? What is all this in aid of?

[I can always tell when it’s TGU – or, anyway, I can always tell now – because for one thing everything is “we” with them. When I hear “we” I know it isn’t one individual unless he’s doing what I often do. I often say “we” – I do it all the time when I’m talking to myself. “We’ll just do this,” etc. Anyway – as Joseph says a lot – I thought this a short diversion but I begin to see that it is part of what is happening. Rather than just sit down and report what has happened with me in re guidance, or analyze the rules that seem to apply—which is what I thought I was in the process of doing once I conceptualized folding the healing and guidance sections together—instead I’m experiencing new growth in access and understanding, so it will become a more profoundly important book—because after all who cares about someone else’s experiences except insofar as they shed light on the listener’s own potential?

Okay, back to our regularly scheduled programming.

And I have to laugh! I see that what I experienced as me giving an aside about the fact that “I noticed TGU were going to answer the question” is the answer, and I didn’t notice it till I was at the point of posing it again! Well, that brings up a related point, simply that for most of my life—and presumably this applies to other people as well!—I was assuming the speaker was this part of myself when in fact it was, or was largely, another part. Hell, it took years (I think; I’ll have to re-read my journals to see, but I remember it as years) before I realized that “they” are not “they” (rather than I) in any absolute sense.

So, that is one more strand to weave. Recognition of what is you and what is not. I need to compile my experiences and questions and problems and lay them out—it will result in a nice survey, which is what I was proposing to write. As with healing, I have more to offer than sometimes appears. And it seems that now it the time when I am able to do it!

All right, Joseph—and for a while I am going to avoid questions of fact, even the ones that have occurred to me as questions, such as “did he actually call himself Joseph even though his given name was Elijah or something” until I can have a session with Karen.

A friend – Rich – saw an analogy between how we treated the freed slaves and how in this century we treated the Iraqis (with no plan for it, in other words); is that what you’re doing, suggesting analogies?

Your mental processes furnish the analogies, always. That’s what they do. What somebody sets in front of you is one thing. The connections it suggests is a different thing. That is why three people looking at the same thing not only have their different opinions about it among them—they each are in their own world about it in a way. They each think about other things that suggest themselves. So you can see how rich this makes things. You take a thousand men surviving a battle, or even a hard winter, and they will each one of them have been associating it with stuff from their past before that – and not just in that lifetime, either! Everything they are is affected by everything that happens to every part of them. You think that’s simple?

It ain’t that it’s hard to understand how disagreements arise. It is more surprising when any two people see things the same! That’s why if you want to persuade people, you have to do it with pictures. And that was Mr. Lincoln’s specialty.

Now, don’t fight me on this, and you might learn something. State your objections so we get it on the record, so to speak.

Well, I know where you’re going, of course, but I don’t think of Lincoln’s painting pictures like Hitler (“the soldier at his hearth” and all that). I think of Lincoln’s speeches as being masterpieces of logic. You read his Cooper Union speech for instance, and it is just a remorseless piling up of fact on fact, conclusion on conclusion, till at the end you just can’t doubt that he has proved his point. I don’t see him drawing word pictures.

All right, that was a good summary of the objection. And it shows how words mislead. I’m saying Mr. Lincoln drew pictures and you are saying no he did not. That’s pretty black-or-white, ain’t it. But I don’t have to deny his overwhelming strength of logic and I wouldn’t if I had to. There was nobody could equal him in long term conviction – bringing you to it, I mean – because he didn’t do it with tricks or manipulation but with just what you said, a remorseless piling up of fact on fact.

Douglas could persuade you if you already wanted to be persuaded. Mr. Lincoln could show you things you hadn’t thought, and show ‘em to you so you never doubted ‘em thereafter even if you couldn’t remember how he got you there. And this was his genius, you see, and this is why you aren’t yet seeing him (you are as I write this long sentence, but until now you didn’t)..

Mr. Lincoln would start with a proposition that sounded simple and flat as old beer. Then he would start piling fact on fact, as you say, and entirely without bells or flourishes and ornament. Flat, steady, one small step at a time. Dull. Undeniable. And that is the way he would lead you – not trying for emotional effects along the way; avoiding those effects, until at the end when you got there you were in a frame of mind that said there wasn’t any other straight way to see it. And you felt like you reasoned it out with him. You had been taken there by your own steps, it felt like, and you couldn’t not see it – not when he was at his best – unless you either started from a position too far away, so you never hooked up with that he was building, or you were listening only intending to get ammunition to shoot against it. And even that, Mr. Lincoln didn’t mind. He encouraged it, in fact, because then when you began shooting at his argument you were shooting at the people he had already convinced!

You see it? Mr. Lincoln was a prairie lawyer. He had spent his life in politics and in law. They both involved the same thing – persuading simple people to see complicated things and see ‘em his way.

What is taught to you without tricks, you remember and you trust. What is just arm-waving and logic-chopping and emotional appeal, you may be persuaded for a while – but then when something else comes in to contradict it, you don’t have the same staying power. And if it happens that the facts support what you persuaded ’em about –in other words if things happened just about the way you said they had to, why, you’d be a fool not to listen to somebody who’d done the work of thinking it out for you. You couldn’t repeat the logic you had heard, and you couldn’t say any more why you knew what you did, but it didn’t matter. You was changed. Now ain’t that painting pictures?

You were thinking I meant painting scenes that tug on the heart-strings like Uncle Tom’s Cabin. No, that kind of picture makes clear to people where they stand on something. It don’t tell ’em what to do, and it don’t tell ’em who to trust to know what to do. Mr. Lincoln’s pictures were pictures of the situation. We were here, says he, and then this happened, and it meant this; and that happened, and it did this to things; and then this happened and the result was so—and now here we are, and if we ain’t careful (he’d ’a’ said “keerful.” I can hear him still) we’re going to wind up here and then what will we do? You see? For people who didn’t know what the meaning of things was, it was irresistible! They left different than they came. I knew I did, the only time I had the honor and pleasure of hearing him, back in ’58. I went into that meeting not expecting anything special but having just a vague hope that maybe this tall sucker could hit a few licks at the little giant, but like I saw, not hoping for too much – because we hated the power that little man had over crowds, and we hated what he’d done with it, but we feared him, too.

Now, go look for your book that has the excepts from the Lincoln-Douglas debates, I want to show you something. And by the way, it ought to occur to you that this is the way to do research – get a guide, and then use the power-tools that are other men’s research.

[I don’t seem to have the book I thought I had, or can’t find it now. Somewhere I have read at least some of the Lincoln-Douglas debates. While looking I kept hearing “Alton” so I guess that’s where Joseph Smallwood heard Mr. Lincoln. I didn’t know where Alton was – thought it was probably up near Davenport and Smallwood just slipped across the river, but it is down across from St. Louis. Still on the river, more or less, though. I should look more – maybe the computer could give me the Alton speech.]

I find that the Alton debate was the seventh and last, and is considered to be either the decisive debate or a reprise of the sixth. A crowd of 6,000 heard the debate that was – as I’d sensed – held out of doors. This was Oct. 15, 1858.

(10:30 a.m.) All right, now. So you re-read the Lincoln half of the debate and you marked a couple of passages, with me looking over your shoulder, so to speak. Not everybody’s going to be interested in Mr. Lincoln—not those who think his spirit is dead and the past is dead—but patch in those two pieces, and show ’em where to find more, and some will follow and some won’t. The two pieces will show his power of exposition. And all the typing that will go along with entering this will get you ready for more. You ain’t ready right now, though you don’t know it.

[Excerpt from Mr. Lincoln’s speech at Alton, which was a reply to Douglas, who preceded him, and followed him with a rebuttal.]

And if there be among you any body who supposes that he, as a Democrat can consider himself “as much opposed to slavery as anybody,” I would like to reason with him. You never treat it as a wrong. What other thing that you consider as a wrong, do you deal with as you deal with that? Perhaps you say it is wrong, but your leader never does, and you quarrel with any body who says it is wrong. Although you pretend to say so yourself you can find no fit place to deal with it as a wrong. You must not say any thing about it in the free States, because it is not here. You must not say any thing about it in the slave States, because it is there. You must not say any thing about it in the pulpit, because that is religion and has nothing to do with it. You must not say any thing about it in politics, because that will disturb the security of “my place.” There is no place to talk about it as being a wrong, although you say yourself it is a wrong. But finally you will screw yourself up to the belief that if the people of the slave States should adopt a system of gradual emancipation on the slavery question, you would be in favor of it. You would be in favor of it. You say that is getting it in the right place, and you would be glad to see it succeed. But you are deceiving yourself. You all know that Frank Blair and Gratz Brown, down there in St. Louis, undertook to introduce that system in Missouri. They fought as valiantly as they could for the system of gradual emancipation which you pretend you would be glad to see succeed. Now I will bring you to the test. After a hard fight they were beaten, and when the news came over here you threw up your hats and hurraed for Democracy.

[A little later]:

That is the real issue. That is the issue that will continue in this country when these poor tongues of Judge Douglas and myself shall be silent. It is the eternal struggle between these two principles–right and wrong–throughout the world. They are the two principles that have stood face to face from the beginning of time; and will ever continue to struggle. The one is the common right of humanity and the other the divine right of kings. It is the same principle in whatever shape it develops itself. It is the same spirit that says, “You work and toil and earn bread, and I’ll eat it.” No matter in what shape it comes, whether from the mouth of a king who seeks to bestride the people of his own nation and live by the fruit of their labor, or from one race of men as an apology for enslaving another race, it is the same tyrannical principle. I was glad to express my gratitude at Quincy, and I re-express it here to Judge Douglas–that he looks to no end of the institution of slavery. That will help the people to see where the struggle really is. It will hereafter place with us all men who really do wish the wrong may have an end. And whenever we can get rid of the fog which obscures the real question–when we can get Judge Douglas and his friends to avow a policy looking to its perpetuation–we can get out from among that class of men and bring them to the side of those who treat it as a wrong. Then there will soon be an end of it, and that end will be its “ultimate extinction.” Whenever the issue can be distinctly made, and all extraneous matter thrown out so that men can fairly see the real difference between the parties, this controversy will soon be settled, and it will be done peaceably too. There will be no war, no violence. It will be placed again where the wisest and best men of the world placed it.

[2 p.m.] I still don’t know where we’re going with this.

You can’t go someplace new and still know where you’re going ahead of time. you can have an idea in your head, but that doesn’t mean the trip is going to look like your idea.

Now that is enough about Mr. Lincoln for a while. I saw him that evening, sandwiched between Douglas and when I heard Douglas speak I was a bit downhearted, for he seemed to have the crowd – though maybe that was just the usual loud-mouths giving that impression, cheering and applauding and calling out. And his arguments sounded plausible enough, and while he was still talking, he had you. But then he had to sit down, and old Abe Lincoln stood up and started slow and just skinned him. And when he stood there looking at Douglas, asking him a question he couldn’t have answered even if it had been his time to answer, the effect was just tremendous.

[What Lincoln said, in part, that Joseph said created such a tremendous impression:

And when Judge Douglas asks me why we cannot let it remain part slave and part free, as the fathers of the Government made it, he asks a question based upon an assumption which is itself a falsehood; and I turn upon him and ask him the question, when the policy that the fathers of the Government had adopted in relation to this element among us was the best policy in the world–the only wise policy–the only policy that we can ever safely continue upon–that will ever give us peace unless this dangerous element masters us all and becomes a national institution–I turn upon him and ask him why he could not let it alone. [Great and prolonged cheering.]

Et cetera.]

And then when Douglas got up to give his reply to Mr. Lincoln’s reply, it was pitiful. At least, I thought so. They were both pretty good at poking fun at each other, but when Douglas used his first minutes to talk about Lincoln’s opposing the Mexican War! – well it showed the difference between ’em. I never read of Lincoln wasting shot and shell on side-points. He’d hammer away, but it wasn’t never at a side-issue. And the other thing between ’em was this. If you were really on the fence, if you weren’t a committed Republican, if you weren’t a die-hard Democrat, and if you came there not quite knowing how to think about things, more chances were you came out of there remembering Lincoln’s arguments than Douglas’. And when you read it in the papers, it was Lincoln’s that stuck with you, because his didn’t depend on cheap effects or momentary emotions. He knew how to let you persuade yourself, by following along and saying yes or no as he built his case. The trouble for Douglas, you see, is that he made it too big, too fast, and so he never had to learn how to persuade a jury of farmers about a patent infringement case.

Well, I did say that was enough about Abraham Lincoln. But there can’t ever be enough, and certainly there can’t be too much. He is still the key in your time, if you can find it.

Now. You have had ten days of this. Time for you to do the other part of your preparation – go through making notes. You can come back to me when the time is right. You will know, and I ain’t going any where.

One thought on “Chasing Smallwood — .19. The plot thickens

  1. Lincoln’s words are so moving! They are an appeal to intelligence based in one’s own experience and understanding of it. In one sense, he shows the Civil War was a re-fighting of the Revolutionary War. To make his point, it’s as if he says, “Come with me, while I move from here to there. See for yourself.” And you can’t help but see. Smallwood is so good himself, to show it to us.

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