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Friday, September 24, 2010


Our friend Jack is still on the road, and still writing things that make us think:

Madison called our nation a "compound republic." As we travel, we are beginning to understand what he meant. I remember Jack Newfield calling Bobby Kennedy a compound person, as opposed to a complex person. That description always worked for me. Bobby, my early hero, had parts that were not fully integrated. And that was okay, I still loved him. Madison and his buddy Hamilton had the wisdom to know that differences and tribal behavior are hardwired into our humanity, productive of both good things and bad. So in crafting the Constitution, they accommodated and balanced these differences. They did not try to eliminate or homogenize them. As a tactic in this effort, the Constitution includes a deep bow to state and local sovereignty. State difference and sovereignty are still apparent to the traveler. Each state evokes a slightly different sensation, as a result no doubt of an accretion of local political choices. I earlier mentioned the striking difference between tidy southern Wisconsin and shabby rural Illinois. Today we saw another stark example as we drove from wealthy NY over into poor rural West Virginia. Rural WV is just a different world: roads are bad, farmland untended, cattle absent, trees dying, houses dilapidated. It is a dry grey landscape. West Virginia was separated from VA and welcomed into the Union in 1863 during the Civil War, partly because Lincoln, worried about re-election, wanted to pile up electoral college votes for 1864. Sherman's timely Atlanta victory put Lincoln well over the top in the 1864 election and mooted the importance of WV's vote, but the residue of those political machinations is an eternally poor WV separated from a rich VA, as different as the moon from the sun.

A word about NJ. I have a lot of friends from NJ, so I best be careful. When I was traveling back and forth to college in the early 1960s, the NJ Turnpike was godawful. One needed a gas mask to survive the industrial stink. Pig rendering, oil refining, yuck. That's all gone now, and NJ, the Garden State, is actually that: a lovely garden state. Today the only thing that stinks are the ball clubs. (Did I actually say that?) Actually, the Jets are pretty fair.

Tomorrow, it's on to Harper's Ferry WV, the place where the Civil War started according to some historians. Next day it is on to Appomattox VA, the place where it ended. Bookends.

Comments (1)

When you depart the confluence of the Shenandoah and the Potomac, three places definitely worth visiting in easy range of Appomattox include, obviously Monticello which is outfitted with an incredible range of original gadgets and contraptions used by Jefferson on a plantation preserved in most material respects in its original self-sustaining form, then Williamsburg (there's nothing quite like invigorating the spirit listening to the stirring re-enactment of Patrick Henry's "Give Me Liberty Or Give Me Death Speech" at the Colonial House of Burgesses, sitting exactly where the Washington's, Jefferson's and Madison's once sat)and a little more offbeat is a quick detour through the Petersburg National Battlefield, where one can observe the actual "crater" that resulted muchly from interactions of soldiers from different elements compound republic in the context of the siege that effectively brought on the end of the Civil War. Happy trails!

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