Doing lunch: Burke and Rick and me
I was still recovering from the loss of my dear friend Michael Schwartz, a leading pro-lifer, and realizing anew that there are not an infinite number of tomorrows when I ran into an old friend on the Metro. I had known Rick Valentine twenty years ago. What I remembered most about this pro-life lawyer was the fact that he was related to President Lincoln’s Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton. This time, we decided: “Let’s do lunch.”
Since I last saw Rick, I’ve read more about the man Lincoln called “Mars.” Edwin McMasters Stanton was a most successful corporate lawyer. In fact, he led the legal team that won the McCormick Reaper patent infringement case in the 1850s. Illinois attorney A. Lincoln had been engaged by Stanton’s firm to do some research for the case. When the awkward Lincoln showed up in Cincinnati for the trial, however, Stanton no longer needed him. The powerful Pittsburgh lawyer rudely told one of his subordinates to keep that “giraffe” out of the courtroom. At the elegant hotel dinner where Stanton and his associates celebrated victory in the multi-million dollar settlement, Lincoln was not even invited to join the table. Lincoln dined by himself.
Still, it was the Democrat Stanton who joined the Buchanan administration in its waning days. He and Sec. of War Joseph Holt of Kentucky provided the needed pluck and focus to keep the whole Union from going to smash in the face of state secessions. Stanton’s brittle manner, keen intelligence, and fearlessness were just what were needed in the invertebrate Buchanan administration.
I liked the fact that Rick knew all this history and could rebut the media distortions of today. Robert Redford’s movie, “The Conspirator,” tries to show us Mary Surratt as a victim of an injustice in the trial of the surviving members of John Wilkes Booth’s assassination team. Liberal Redford lets moviegoers know that Stanton is a bad fellow. How?
Ann Hornaday wrote in the Washington Post, “From the bags put over the heads of Surratt and her fellow detainees to the Rumsfeld-esque wire-rim glasses Kline wears as Stanton, Redford’s point is clear: Regardless of her guilt or innocence, Surratt was the victim of a grievous injustice that violated the most cherished ideals of the country she was accused of trying to destroy.”
Rumsfeld-esque? Well, at least Redford didn’t call in “spectral evidence” from the Salem Witch Trials to indict Stanton. Maybe the Washington Post “Style” writer would have preferred it had the widow Surratt been given the Jane Fonda treatment. Rick and I did not go around the corner from my office to the Chinese takeout where Mrs. Surratt kept her boarding house/assassins’ den. James Swanson’s book, Manhunt, and others have shown convincingly that Mary Surratt was fully guilty and justly sentenced.
We swapped stories of other ancestors, too. It now seems that Rick’s great-great grandfather, Private Henry Leadbeater, may have been a guard at the Union prison camp where my great-great uncle, Capt. Jonas Lipps, was held captive in the Civil War. Uncle Jonas was in every major battle of the Army of Northern Virginia and served in the famed Stonewall Brigade. Reading the diary of that devout young Christian in the rebel army, one cannot help loving him. And that adds to the pain of that brothers’ war.
Rick served on a U.S. senator’s staff and was able to get some trial transcripts of lesser Nazi war criminals. His dad, William Robert Valentine, had served after World War II as a military policeman (MP) at the trials. The young Indiana basketball player had to guard the convicted mass murderers and escort them to the gallows. Daily, Cpl. Valentine was handcuffed to a Nazi general for his exercise period. A grim duty, to be sure. But the lanky MP was never allowed to enter the courtroom. By showing him those transcripts half a century later, Rick was able to give his father a sense of finality and reassurance that his service and their punishment were right and just.
When I first met Rick, I gave little thought to my own ancestors. Now, Rick has taught me to care about them – just as we both care deeply about our grandchildren. Rick told me the story of his father’s last days. Rick’s own grandson came more than two weeks early. This newborn was to be named William Robert Valentine III, for his father and great grandfather. Rick called his dad to let him know his namesake great-grandson had just been born. The old soldier, no longer able to speak, raised his arms to say: I hear!
Rick and I both teared up at that story. The great Edmund Burke was right. He knew that all of human society is a compact between the living, the dead, and the yet unborn. And, the just-born, too. Learning more about our ancestors, honoring our mothers and fathers, cherishing their memories, is a good way to equip ourselves to fight for the unborn.
The other side has that hideous strength. They are the party of style and the Style section.
They are the Party of Now. But we are the Party of Forever.
Robert Morrison is senior fellow for policy studies at the Family Research Council.