In the Kingdom of Ice is a masterful work of nonfiction detailing the tragic voyage of Captain George Washington DeLong and thirty-two adventurous men who attempted to reach the North Pole on the USS Jeannette in 1879. Written by the spellbinding Hampton Sides, its beauty and sorrow make for a powerful historical read.
In the context of our current political climate of name-calling and bitterness, this rather incidental quote leaps from the page:
One night the DeLongs were invited to meet with President Rutherford B. Hayes and the First Lady. Emma thought the President “a quiet, gentle man who did not impress me very much” –a description that more or less mirrors what everyone said about the milquetoast Ohioan. A Civil War hero, wounded five times, he had been elected–some said “appointed”–in one of the most acrimonious presidential elections in American history, losing the popular vote but winning the White House only after Congress awarded the Republican 20 disputed electoral votes. (Because of this, many Democrats refused to consider his presidency legitimate, calling him “Rutherfraud.”)
I did a little reading on the issue and discovered that Republicans were accusing Democrats of suppressing their votes in the South in a failed attempt to prevent the election of Mr. Hayes, who believed in equal treatment without regard to race.
Political ideals argued through name calling and acrimony are nothing new. And since we of the current moment had no stake in the outcome of the contentious election of 1876, the moniker Rutherfraud might allow us to take a step back from the way we’re going about “debating” the issues of today.
We’ve all failed in this regard. But it’s hard to believe that diminishing an opponent with an accusatory slam qualifies as acceptable for anyone serious about following him.
This post is part of a series (see A Lenten Invitation from a Babbling Brook: Focus on Speech and Silence). To receive new installments, you’re invited to “Follow SparrowFare via Email” by placing your email address in the box in the right sidebar (mobile users will find it below). And do share the posts that speak to you. In this contentious time, let’s spread the word about the importance of our words.