Men of their times

Speaking at Osawatomie High School, in Osawatomie, Kansas, Obama said: "Now, it’s a simple theory. And we have to admit, it’s one that speaks to our rugged individualism and our healthy skepticism of too much government. That’s in America’s DNA. And that theory fits well on a bumper sticker. But here’s the problem: It doesn’t work. It has never worked. It didn’t work when it was tried in the decade before the Great Depression. It’s not what led to the incredible postwar booms of the ’50s and ’60s. And it didn’t work when we tried it during the last decade. I mean, understand, it’s not as if we haven’t tried this theory."

Now, if you’re wondering what it is that Obama believes doesn’t work, Terrence P. Jeffrey, writing for CNSNews, succinctly summed up the president’s remedy for the rugged individualism he decries this way: "Americans must look to a more activist government that taxes more, spends more, and regulates more if they want to preserve the middle class." ("Obama: Limited Gov’t That Preserves Free Markets ‘Doesn’t Work. It Has Never Worked’"; Dec. 7, 2011)

Ladies and Gentlemen:  I’d like to tell you a story of a different man and what he did in a different time.
It was in 1860, the Nation was at war and this story begins on a day early in the Civil War when a youth of 20, harried and self-conscious, haunted the corridors of the bustling War Department in Washington.
He had had to run the gauntlet of military red tape even to gain entrance to the sacred confines.  To the busy ordnance officers, he was just another “young man with a gun;” just another crazy inventor come to take up their valuable time with senseless talk of a revolutionary weapon.
Every armory and every capable manufacturer in the North was turning all his efforts to producing more of those fine muzzle-loading percussion rifles.  Yet here was an adolescent talking gibberish about not only a metallic cartridge breechloader, but actually one which would fire repeatedly after being loaded with several cartridges!  How could the war ever be won with all these interruptions of precious routine?
Dispirited, discouraged, ready to quit, Spencer complained bitterly to the one man he found who would listen to him:  a humble doorkeeper at the War Department Building, not an arms “expert,” – just a simple little man who sensed in the manner of the boy something the experts had not taken the time to observe.  That plain American doorman examined the weapon he boy carried.  He watched the dummy cartridges inserted in the tube in the hollow butt, watched the lever of the crude model thrown down to feed a cartridge into the chamber, studied the action as young Spencer brought the lever back to seat the cartridge and seal the breech.
Another forward movement of the trigger-guard lever and the dummy cartridge in the chamber was ejected and a second one fed: a closing movement of the lever and thee breech was sealed again!  Unbelieving the humble man watched the stream of dummies ejected as Christopher Spencer worked the lever.  He thought here was a development which might actually make killing so fast and terrifying that it might shorten the fratricidal war!
“You come back here after I am through for the day and I will take you to a man who will examine your gun.”  Those were the words the doorman spoke as Christopher M. Spencer recalled them in a later day.  Heartened but doubting, the youngster left, alternation between hope and fear as the day dragged on.
Later that day the two made their way to the great White Mansion next door to the grim War Department Building.  The man was confident that the great humble personage in the White House would have the time no Army man could spare; the boy was tense and unbelieving at the prospect of seeing the Commander-in-Chief himself.
Why President Lincoln had such confidence in the simple door tender we do not know.  That he did is evidenced by his actions, for he saw them both in his chambers.  His paid shawl about his shoulders, Abe Lincoln sat gaunt and drawn, attentively watching and listening as the boy demonstrated the action with dummy cartridges.  Slowly he rose.  “It works all right,” Spencer recalled the President saying, “but the proof lies in the shooting.  Let’s go out and shoot it.”
As they walked down the grounds of the White House, Lincoln absently noted that the pocket of his coat was torn.  “This is a nice dress for the Chief Magistrate to appear in public,” he said, as he asked for a pin.  While the tall gray man pinned his torn pocket, young Spencer picked a weathered shingle from the ground and stood it against a nearby tree.
With nervous fingers, he dropped seven cartridges into the hollow in the butt, pushed forward and locked the feeder spring.  Carefully now, he swung the carbine towards the target.  Quickly he thrust the lever down, catching the glint of the copper cartridge case as the spring drone the first cartridge into the chamber when the breech pin left its catch.  Quickly he pulled the lever back, seeing the breech pin thrust the cartridge home as it was cocked forward behind the head of the case.  He thumb cocked the bulky side hammer expertly, aimed fleetingly, fired.  Again he fired.  Again, and again.  The gun functioned perfectly!
The boyish inventor reloaded the weapon and handed it to President Lincoln.  Gravely the great man aimed and fired; levered, cocked the hammer, and again aimed and fired Again.  Together, the two men walked down to inspect the riddled shingle.  Noting that Spencer had made the better pattern, Old Abe grinned slightly and in his solemn drawl said, “When I was your age I could do better”.
This is the way one of the major weapons of the war ended up in action and being used to great advantage, perhaps even changing the outcome of the war to some degree.
We look back at President Lincoln from many varied perspectives these days, there has been much written about him, positive and negative, but there can be no doubt he is among the greatest of all our Presidents, and I believe it is in a great part from the way he grew up, the kind of work he did, the fact that he was in general, pretty much what most anybody would expect or “an American rugged individualist, with a healthy skepticism of government”.
This is what a “Great Man” would do, but it doesn’t look much like today’s swash-buckling “leaders”, does it?
Personally, I think the difference between what this shows says pretty much all there is to say about leadership.
This story was taken in full text from “Small Arms of the World” by Smith and Smith, ninth revision.

Semper Fidelis