Tuesday, February 5, 2013

"A Question Of Compromise"

In recent times, our government, or at least a powerful faction of it, prodded by their unbending constituents, has eschewed the possibility of compromise in regards to the significant issues of the day.  As a member in good standing in the “Royal Order of Contrarians” (an induction bestowed upon me in the British Commonwealth Dominion of Canada when I was twelve), the following dissertation argues that the efficacy of even the highly respectable practice of compromise must be adjudicated on a case-by-case basis.

THE TIME:  Early 1861

A secret meeting has been arranged at an undisclosed location between a high-ranking representative from the North and a high-ranking representative from the South, in a last-ditch effort to prevent the Civil War.  However, since the location of the meeting was also not disclosed to the participants, resulting in their having no idea where to go, a second secret meeting was arranged (referred to in history as the “First Secret Meeting”, to erase the embarrassment of the original “First Secret Meeting” debacle.)  With the necessary adjustment, an encounter, whose location was disclosed to its participants but to nobody else, was finally held.

As the notes of the meeting were taken down in quill pen and the participants spoke too quickly for the secretary to keep up, the following record survives as the most accurate, though less than complete (as the participants kept talking while the secretary reloaded his feather) accounting of the proceedings.  (There was also a substantial blot in the middle of Page Three, because, when you write very quickly with a feather, there’s a better than average chance of an inky lake at some point in your document.)  


The names of the two participants have been lost to the ages.  Which is probably for the best, since, as – this is not giving anything away – a bloody Civil War did, in fact, take place, it would be regrettable if their descendants were to suffer post facto recriminations for their forebears having failed so miserably in their efforts to stop it.  

What follows is a recently discovered document, offering the “minutes” of this historic encounter.  (As imagined by the author.)

SOUTHERN REPRESENTATIVE:  I trust your journey was not overly arduous.

NORTHERN REPRESENTATIVE:  Nothing out of the ordinary.  Though it appears that my carriage is due for a thorough re-springing.  And you, sir?

S:  No serious difficulties, although our received instructions to this meeting did take us directly into a swamp.  Only later did we realize that the swamp itself was the location for this meeting.

N:  That is no way to talk about our Nation’s Capital.

S:  Perhaps if our delegation’s suggestions had been more seriously considered, our Nation’s Capital might have been situated in a more congenial location further South.

N:  Would you have preferred it in Philadelphia?

S:  Touche, suh.  And therefore, we arrived at a compromise, defined as an agreement both sides can live with but neither side actually likes. 

N:  Precisely.  No mutually acceptable agreement is truly arrived upon until both sides are equally unhappy with it.

S:  And so we conduct our nation’s business in a swamp.

N:  Which is fine, as long as the windows are closed, and we get out of here in the summer.

S:  A compromise.

N:  Just so.

S:  Now, suh, to the business at hand, introduced, propitiously, I would hope, by the discussion of compromise in which we have just recently engaged.  I, suh, have come here to offer a compromise, which I pray will permanently forestall the advent of what appears to be the inevitability of war. 

N:  The North, sir, would like nothing better.  It would be a terrible shame to submit our American brothers to the South to a costly and ignominious defeat.

S:  And, of course, we feel likewise, replacing “Brothers to the South” with “Brothers to the North.”

N:  Hah!

S:  And “Hah!” back at you! 

N:  And “Ha!” again, with increased ferocity!

S:  Kind suh, I believe you’ll agree we are getting nowhere with these dueling “Hahs!”  Let me therefore suggest a moratorium on our rapier-sharp repartee and a return to the undertaking before us – averting a civil war.

N:  A reasonable point.  And one I agree to, overlooking the impetus, fully justified in my opinion, for my original “Hah!”

S:  Be that as it may, we have, as we say in my part of the country, bigger fish to fry.

N:  We say that where I come from too.  However, in the service of our attention to more serious matters, I shall forego my indisputably winning argument as to whose part of the country said it first.

S:  You are very generous, suh, without actually being correct.  Now, suh, getting right to it, a particular sticking point, though it is possibly not as historians will debate for centuries to come the central incitement of the impending unpleasantness, is the longstanding institution in our region of the country known as slavery.

N:  We do not care for it one bit.

S:  And we currently need it, lest our agrarian enterprise falls on irreparably difficult times.  Plus, it’s none of your Northern business.

N:  It is, if we’re one country.

S:  The “one country” issue is what is currently under debate, and if not dealt with congenially, its resolution will most certainly be determined with muskets, cannons, and I believe one of us has developed an underwater torpedo.

N:  I hope it’s us.

S:  And I hope the opposite.  So here I am, offering a last-minute, disaster-precluding proposal.  And I think you’re going to like it.

N:  I’ll be the judge of that.

S:  You support compromise, don’tcha?

N:  Always.

S:  Well then, we’re  home!  Congratulations, suh!  We have just averted the Civil War!

N:  Hold on a minute.

S:  Is there a problem?

N:  I would like to hear the compromise.

S:  Forgive me.  Did you not say you were always disposed to a compromise?

N:  I did.

S:  Well that’s exactly what this is. 

N:  That’s all well and good.  But I’d still like to know what we’re talking about.

S:  All right if you insist, though, in the context of compromise, you may want to revisit your assertion of the claim “Always.” 

N:  Go on.

S:  As you wish.  Suh, I have been authorized – as a gesture of good faith, and in a desire to preserve the Union and prevent the most certain unhappiness that will otherwise occur – to propose a compromise by which the slaveholders of the South will provide their slaves with full and free emancipation…

N:  Why, sir, this is wonderful!

S:  For one day a week.

N:  I’m sorry…what?


S:  You can pick the day.

N:  Are you out of your mind!?!

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