In very late 1862, Abraham Lincoln became obsessed with freeing the slaves. It had always been an ambition of his, of course, but he had largely set that issue aside in order to better focus his attention on saving the union through military action and what we in modern political society would call coalition building. Lincoln was willing to put off full emancipation, at least early on in his presidency, in the name of a less violent resolution to the conflict between North and South.
By December of 1862, though, that patience with the process was gone. The war was not going well; the south had an edge, if anything, and certainly no reason to concede anything to Lincoln or the Union on the issue of slavery.
In those days, the State of the Union Address was rarely a spectacle, and it certainly did not happen on a schedule as it does today. Presidents sent semi-regular remarks to Congress whenever they had an especially strong hankering for some new initiative. Lincoln sent such a set of remarks to Congress on Dec. 1:
“The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present,” Lincoln wrote in his closing paragraphs. “The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise–with the occasion.”
One month later, he signed the Emancipation Proclamation, and although from a strict Constitutional law perspective it held little enforceable authority, that gesture set the tone of the war on its ear. The North drew encouragement from Lincoln’s leadership and from the apparent momentum they had created for freedom.
One hundred and fifty years later, in the Land of Lincoln, the Chicago Cubs are as adrift as was the Union that December. For Chicago GM Jim Hendry, another offseason marked by stopgap measures, incoherent acquisitions and overextension of resources has given way to another season of flitting from one hole in the dam to another, trying in vain to plug them all at once. This year, the critical burst came when the team lost Randy Wells and Andrew Cashner to arm injuries before the sixth game of the season.
Just as Lincoln did, Hendry has three constituencies to serve at once:
- New owners Tom, Peter, Laura and Todd Ricketts, who have promised accountability and a winning team in short order. They are to Hendry as the generals of Lincoln’s army were in those days: Lincoln’s lack of tactical savvy and his impatience with immorality made him as unpopular with his own military as Hendry (a great guy but a poor negotiator) is with his investment-minded bosses.
- The on-field unit, including Mike Quade and the Cubs roster itself. The parallel here is to the troops in Lincoln’s time, where morale was very low late in 1862 and the feeling of stagnation extended beyond the battlefield.
- Cubs fans, an increasingly impatient mass who have flocked to Wrigley Field with much less than their usual persistence thus far this season. This is the crucial comparison: Hendry needs to act swiftly and decisively in order not to lose a large mass of followers who until very recently had shown singular exuberance for the cause. Lincoln was in a similar position.