The Clara Barton Museum Blog

The More Things Change

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I went to the Senate accomplished nothing as usual. 
–Clara Barton in her diary, Monday, January 30, 1865

With the Shutdown still bogging down Congress with little hope in sight, I am amused today reading an earlier diary entry from Miss Barton which echoes, I believe today’s sentiments regarding our Government in Washington…

Thursday, April 14, 1864

This was one of the most down-spirited days that ever came to me.  All the world appeared selfish and treacherous.  I can get no hold on a good noble sentiment anywhere.  I have scanned over and over the whole moral horizon and it is all dark, the night clouds seem to have shut down, so stagnant, so dead, so selfish, so calculating.  Is there no right?  Are there no consequences attending wrong?  How shall the world move on in all this weight of dead, morbid meanness?  Shall lies prevail forevermore?  Look at the state of things, both civil and military, that curse our Government.  The pompous air with which little dishonest pimps lord it over their betters.  Contractors ruining the Nation, and oppressing the poor, and no one rebukes them.  See a monkey-faced official, not twenty rods from me, oppressing and degrading poor women who come up to his stall to feed their children, that he may steal with better grace and show to the Government how much his economy saves it each month.  Poor blind Government never feels inside his pockets, pouching with ill-gotten gain, heavy with sin.  His whole department know it, but it might not be quite wise for them to speak — they will tell it freely enough, but will not, dare not affirm it –COWARDS!  Congress knows it, but no one can see that it will make votes for him at home by meddling with it, so it is winked at.  The Cabinet know it, but people that live in glass houses must not throw stones.  So it rests, and the women live lighter and sink lower, God help them.  And next an imbitious dishonest General lays a political plot to be executed with human life.  He is to create a Senator, some memberships, a Governor, commissions, and all the various offices of a state, and the grateful recipients are to repay the favor by gaining for him his confirmation as Major-General.  So the poor rank and file are marched out to do the job, a leader is selected known to be brave and rashness if need be, and given the command in the dark, that he  may never be able to claim any portion of the glory — so that he cannot say I did it.  Doomed and he knows it, he is sent on, remonstrates, comes back and explains, if left alone with the responsibility on his shoulders, forces divided, animals starving, men suffering, enemy massing in front, and still there he is.  Suddenly he is attacked, defeated as he expected he must be, and the world is shocked by the tales of his rashness and procedure contrary to orders.  He cannot speak; he is a subordinate officer and must remain silent; the thousands with him know it, but they must not speak; Congress does not know it, and refuses to be informed; and the doomed one is condemned and the guilty one asks for his reward, and the admiring world claims it for him.  He has had a battle andonly lost two thousand men and gained nothing.  Surely, this deserved something.  And still the world moves on.  No wonder it looks dark, though, to those who do not wear the tinsel.  And so my day has been weary with these thoughts, and my heart heavy and I cannot raise it — I doubt the justice of almost all I see.

    Evening.  At eight Mr. [Senator Henry] Wilson called.  I asked him if the investigation was closed.  He replied yes, and that General Seymour would leave the Department in disgrace.  This was too much for my fretted soul, and I poured out the vials of my indignation in no stinted measure.  I told him the facts, and what I thought of a Committee that was too imbecile to listen to the truth when it was presented to them; that they had made themselves a laughing-stock for even the privates in the service by their stupendous inactivity and gullibility; that they were all a set of dupes, not to say knaves, for I knew Gray of New York had been on using all his blarney with them that was possible to wipe over them.  When I had freed my mind, and it was some time, he looked amazed and called for a written statement.  He left.  I was anxious to possess myself of the most reliable facts in existence and decide to go to New York and see Colonel Hall and Dr. Marsh again; make my toilet ready, write some letters, and at three o’clock retired.

I can only imagine Senator Wilson’s amazement, and I’m even more amazed that he suffered Miss Barton’s rants as well as he did and even came back for more. 
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