Last week we spoke of the Miracle of 1801, a moment in time when opposing points of view could have torn our newly founded nation apart. It was a moment when we kept our heads by accepting the fact that differences always arise among free people. Understanding that the vital test of self-rule is how those differences are settled, we chose the high road — hard but peaceful give-and-take. Thus our nation has survived while others failed.
In the election of 1801, Federalists who had run the nation for three terms relinquished power to the Democratic-Republicans opposing them. I have long believed that the peaceful transition of power in that election can be attributed in part to one man, a man with strongly held but moderate beliefs that made him acceptable to men who disagreed with him when he was elected to office.
That man was Thomas Jefferson, our third president.
Why did Jefferson’s opponents see him as someone they could trust with the reins of government? It was in part because of his comments on Shays’ Rebellion, an armed uprising where Revolutionary soldiers who had not been paid by Congress found themselves in debt, felt threatened with the loss of their homes and farms, and took up arms.
When those involved in Shays’ Rebellion were defeated, Jefferson raised his voice in a call for constraint. He felt they were wrong, and yet he spoke with respect and moderation regarding their cause.
“Can history produce an instance of a rebellion so honorably conducted? I say nothing of its motives. They were founded in ignorance, not wickedness. God forbid we should ever be 20 years without such a rebellion. The people cannot be all, and always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions it is a lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty.
“What country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is it’s natural manure.”
Did his view prevail?
Yes. In the end, two men were hanged for causing the death of soldiers, but no other punishments were meted out. In fact, Shays himself, the leader of the rebellion, was pardoned. In a rebellion involving 4,000 people, that is a remarkable result.
I know of another striking example of a man who made a difference. He is, oddly enough, someone I strongly disliked while he held our highest office — President Jimmy Carter. I thought him to be the most inept and ineffective presidents this nation had ever known. I still think so. But what that shows, I have to admit, is that success in this world requires that you be the right person — in the right job. As far as the oval office was concerned, Jimmy Carter was in the deep end of the pool and going down fast, but look what he has done since.
I will quite frankly admit that he has screwed up royally since he left office whenever he tried to deal with hard-line evil men in North Korea, the Middle East, and Iran. But read on, Johnny; maybe you’ll be as amazed I have been.
After Carter left office he found his true place. He founded the Carter Foundation. There, he has done some truly wonderful things. For one thing, he took on a challenge few people would have dared to touch — a horrible human parasite. Known as the Guinea worm, the three feet long worm hatches, lives, and grows to maturity within a human. It then burrows its way out, creating a large, painful, burning, swelling where it emerges, which can take as long as four months. People suffering from this terrible affliction are so weakened they can do nothing.
Carter and his charity group took on the challenge of 20 nations where the worms were endemic, some of them at war with each other. The emerging worms lay hundreds of eggs in pools of water when people enter them to get relief from the terrible pain. Eggs are swallowed when others drink the water — and the cycle continues. Humans are the only vector for the worms, nothing else. There were 3.5 million cases in 1986, but if those afflicted could be educated to stay out of the pools while they were infected, and to refrain them from drinking unfiltered water from the pools, the disease, lacking a host, would die out.
But could that be done? In Nigeria alone there were 660,000 cases in 5,879 separate villages. It seemed impossible. How could all of those people be taught to do what was needed? Carter began work, supplying education, personnel, and materials. By 2010, after 24 years of fighting the horrid affliction, 16 of 20 nations were declared free of the worm and four reported a total of 1,767 cases. In 2011 all that remained was Sudan with 1,028 cases, Chad with 10, Ethiopia with 8. Soon there will be none.
Incredible? Yes. And Carter has taken on six more diseases!
What can one man do? In the right place?
A lot, Johnny. A lot.