We live in tumultuous times.
As fall progresses in Georgia, the clouds move in, the rain falls, and there is a chill in the wind. It's not a biting cold that cuts through you like you'd expect in arctic locales such as Maryland or Delaware; it's just a hint. Just enough to let you know that summer has abandoned you, taking the last vestiges of green, sunlight, and natural happiness with it.
Then in the midst of the crisp breeze, the world in encompassed in war. The war itself is not new but it seems to have mutated or something. I'm reminded of the lyrics penned and sang by Pink Floyd "The sweet smell of a great sorrow lies over the land. Plumes of smoke rise and merge into the leaden sky."
Dark and dreary enough for you yet?
But that darkness is not the point of this article. This article is about the light. It's about the light that has survived for centuries and will survive this war, regardless of the outcome.
Robert Toombs and Alexander Stephens are regulars on this site. They represent many ideals that we seek to preserve. Thomas Jefferson is no stranger in these parts either. They come to mind now, not because of despair or darkness but because of light.
Stephens and Toombs were about as good of friends and as any two human beings could be expected to be. Each even had his own bedroom in the other's home. But in December of 1860, they found themselves as staunchly opposed to each other politically as possible. What followed amounted to what I personally see as the most awe-striking debate in the history of the state, perhaps the world. Two geniuses, impassioned by their stance, motivated by their love of Georgia, and empowered by quite different yet equal rhetorical abilities, faced off on the floor of the Georgia State Capitol in Milledgeville while the future of Georgia hung in the balance - Toombs thundering in favor of secession and Stephens pleading for cooler heads to prevail.
The Stephens-Toombs debate was indicative of their times. Throughout the 1850s the rhetoric had become more and more divisive nationwide. Each side had begun to refuse to listen to the other. Communication broke down as reason gave way to emotion and the divide grew deeper still until the only possible outcome was the death of over a million people.
The debate left Stephens and Toombs at odds personally. The two friends were not on speaking terms, much like Thomas Jefferson and his good friend John Adams some fifty years previous. Jefferson and Adams also allowed a rift to form over political differences. The only difference in these two cases is that Stephens and Toombs were reunited in a matter of weeks, fighting together for each other as well as Georgia at the Confederate conventions in Montgomery. Jefferson and Adams allowed their separation to linger on until both men were elderly and retired, squandering years that could have been healthy for themselves and the Republic.
What I want this article to communicate is that these are indeed tumultuous times. With the world in so many different crises we are going to be constantly finding ourselves at odds with others, including good friends. But it is important that we continue to separate political beliefs from people. People are not arguments and taking politics personally is only going to make matters worse. Different personalities are going to use reason to arrive at different conclusions, that's just the nature of an imperfect world. We are always going to disagree on something. But our only choices are to communicate, or shoot each other.
True friendship is a light that has shined in dark places for millennia. In war, in genocide, in epidemics, stories of friendship have always emerged. Friendship is one of the most common human needs. It crosses all sorts of boundaries and gets us through tragedy. And if true friendship can survive the horrors of war, certainly it can survive the discomfort of disagreement. Maintaining such a friendship doesn't make you wrong; it makes you wise.
There's enough shooting going on in the world right now. Let's continue to disagree, but let's not quit talking.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire