|Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn)|
Senator Alexander reminded me of the finer qualities of great statesman. He was like Douglas in 1861 pledging his support for Lincoln to maintain the Union. This prompts me to ask, "What does saving the Union mean?" The answer, so beautifully rendered by Senator Alexander, is that preserving the Union meant protecting "this freedom to vote for our leaders and the restraint to respect the results." Indeed preserving the Union distinguished the United States from other nations in "the peaceful transition of power."
Today we praise the American tradition of transferring or reaffirming immense power as we inaugurate the President of the United States.
We do this in a peaceful, orderly way. There is no mob, no coup, no insurrection. This is a moment when millions stop and watch. A moment most of us always will remember. A moment that is the most conspicuous and enduring symbol of our democracy. How remarkable that this has survived for so long in such a complex country with so much power at stake—this freedom to vote for our leaders and the restraint to respect the results.
Last year, a tour guide at Mt. Vernon told me that our first president, George Washington, posed this question: "What is most important of this grand experiment, the United States?"Today we celebrate, because this is the 57th inauguration of the American president. And then Washington gave this answer: "Not the election of the first president, but the election of its second president. The peaceful transition of power is what will separate this country from every other country in the world."
If the seceding states had grasped this grand idea of accepting Lincoln's election and shown restraint and respect for the results, we might have avoided the devastation that the Civil War wrought upon this country. Perhaps, we needed the sacrifice of 750,000 Americans to maintain Washington's vision of American leadership.