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A New Beginning
When first I met Your glance and knew That life had found me- -and Death too . . .
Edgar Lee Masters, "Bring Me a Unicorn," quoted in Anne Morrow's diary, December 28, 1927
December 14, 1927, Valbuena Field, Mexico City
It was nearly noon, and Colonel Lindbergh was late. Thousands of people lined the broad airfield, flooding the valley between the snow-covered mountains with a frenzied rush of sound and color. It was as if all of Mexico had gathered for the spectacle: men in overalls, their serapes pulled tight against the chill morning air, women in brightly colored shawls, and children kicking gaily in the dust. They had trudged the roads before dawn, only to wait for hours in the midday sun. Worn by heat and delay, the crowd loosened and fragmented. Once stiff with expectation, the people settled into a carnival mood, making the soldiers who paced the lines twitch with uncertainty. Anything could happen with a crowd this size; its energy unleashed could easily turn destructive. When Lindbergh had arrived in Paris after his transatlantic flight only seven months earlier, the crowd had surged toward him, mauling his plane in a wild stampede.
United States Ambassador Dwight Morrow waited impatiently. A lot was riding on Lindbergh's safe arrival, and Morrow was not one to take disappointment lightly. At fifty-four, he was an accomplished lawyer and a Wall Street millionaire, but he was new to Mexico, this "cemetery" of political reputations, and he had much to prove.
Standing five feet four inches tall, Dwight Morrow was less than imposing. Dressed like a banker in a three-piece pinstripe suit, in spite of the heat, he posed for the cameras, fumbled with his glasses and smiled nervously at the press. His clothes, as usual, fit poorly; this time they seemed to swallow him whole. His large head, topped by a blue fedora, rested on the edge of a thickly starched collar, and his trousers bagged shapelessly over his shoes. He was a Chaplinesque figure, a parody of a gentleman, like a poor man dressed in a rich man's clothes. His body looked like an uninvited guest, self-indulgently diverting the issues at hand.
The issues at hand were heavy indeed. Mexico and the United States were on the brink of war. The Mexican government, wracked with internecine struggle and hopelessly in debt, had threatened to nationalize American oil companies. The business community was up in arms, and diplomatic relations were at their ebb. President Calvin Coolidge had concluded it meant sending in Morrow or the U.S. Marines.
While Coolidge worried that Morrow's connection to J. P. Morgan would link him to American business interests, he banked on his pristine style and reputation. Morrow could outreason and outquote any lawyer around. He could preach the Bible and bore his listeners with Thucydides, but his true gift lay in the realm of compromise. Resisting the taint of marketplace pragmatism, Morrow decided that his mission was to compose differences, as a conductor might orchestrate a melody or a tune. The plain truth was that he was a master of deals.
Rigorously trained in mathematics by his father, Dwight believed in the morality of logic. James Elmore Morrow, a fundamentalist Presbyterian of Scottish-Irish descent, had taught his precocious second-born son the art and method of systematic thought. Relentlessly, as though it were the very stuff of salvation, he had drilled his boy in mathematics and syllogism, along with the hundred and seven questions of the Presbyterian catechism. Logic, James believed, was intrinsic to ethics-the outward manifestation of God's ordinance, no less binding than prayer and church. It made one deal with realities rather than appearances and put the burden of proof on the inquirer. Dwight dealt with issues, not with men. He could make wrathful negotiators talk as if they were comrades, yet have each side think it was outwitting the other. It was a gift that his partners at J. P. Morgan and Company had deemed priceless.
And this priceless gift had earned him a fortune. When he left Morgan, only two months earlier, after fourteen years as its chief counsel, he was a full partner, earning more than a million dollars a year. Now, his money permitted him the luxury of public service-his dream since he had been a law clerk at the age of twenty-two. Money, he believed, turned dreamers into men of action, allowing them to participate in history. It wasn't that he wanted to be rich; he just didn't want to be poor. His father's inability to earn a good salary was underlined by his mother's obvious disappointment. Although Clara Morrow, a Campbellite fundamentalist Presbyterian, considered it natural to submit to her husband, she made plain that she preferred "bonnets" to books. Wishing to please his mother, Dwight imagined himself a "dragon-slayer," bringing home the spoils of his conquest. It was a fantasy he would often need to replay.
While some saw him as a man of ruthless ambition, each career move, in fact, caused him anguish. He saw himself as a statesman-a philosopher king-removed from the rabble of the political arena. He served God by serving the community, certain that his good works would place him among the elect. Yet he felt guilty about his money, as if he were a renegade academic seduced by the pleasures of commerce and status. He was a reluctant Horatio Alger hero who would have rather been an Abraham Lincoln.
Perched high on the flag-draped grandstand above the field, scanning the horizon for Lindbergh's plane, Morrow's tiny figure beside the robust presence of Mexican President Plutarco Calles was a reminder of the chasm between the two men. The twelfth president in the seventeen years since the revolution, Calles was a clever politician, a Machiavellian leader cloaking his aims in the rhetoric of nationalism and peace. His enemies called him an "iron man," no less a despot than the man he had ousted. But in these weeks preceding the election, he had gone too far, murdering his competitors and their supporters to clear the way for his nationalist party. For all his bravado, revolution seemed imminent; he could no longer rely on the loyalty of the army.
Dark-eyed and grim behind his close-cropped mustache, President Calles looked nervously at his watch. He had been up all night, calling his staff for news of Lindbergh's flight. The bloody events of the last few weeks had imbued everything, even this midweek master stroke of public relations, with bitter irony. Charles Lindbergh's arrival would be a humbling reminder of Calles's dependence on American money. If he were to survive, he would need the good will of the American government and some old-fashioned Yankee theater.
Suddenly, the sky roared. Five escort planes, zooming in formation, dazzled the crowd like a jolt of electricity. People jumped to their feet, pointing and shouting at the approaching aircraft.
Morrow was relieved. The flight, after all, had been his idea. With no air routes or radios to guide a pilot, even the best could go down. There were fears that Lindbergh had cracked up; that his motor had failed him in one of the rocky districts where no plane could land safely. Morrow had tried to dissuade Lindbergh from making a nonstop flight from Washington, but Lindbergh had been adamant. If his flight connected the nations' capitals, it would have greater political significance, Lindbergh said, especially by drawing the attention of Congress.
Morrow, who had met Lindbergh at the White House a few months earlier, quickly learned that he was no backwoods farm boy. Born to a line of skillful politicians, Lindbergh understood Washington, understood Congress, and understood the power and whim of public opinion. His paternal grandfather, Ola Münsson, had been one of the few landholding peasants in Sweden to serve in the Riksdag. Although his was a voice of social reform, Münsson blatantly abused his position. As an officer of a Malmø bank with connections to government officials, he was accused of bribery and embezzlement. In 1859, to escape imprisonment, Münsson changed his name to August Lindbergh, left his wife and seven children, and fled to America with his nineteen-year-old mistress, Louisa Carline, and their illegitimate son, Charles, to begin a new life in central Minnesota.
Bypassing the fertile prairies of the Swedish colonies, the Lindberghs bought a hundred and sixty acres of woodlands and pasture in Melrose, Minnesota, a new community of German immigrants. While August tilled the land to grow oats and wheat, and set up a blacksmith shop a mile outside town, his peasant-girl wife tended her baby and worked in the fields. Lonely and despairing of their future, Louisa, in her rosebud bonnets, milked the cows and pined for home, family, and Sweden. With time, the farm prospered, and their handwrought sod hut was transformed into the biggest frame house in the county. Still an outspoken agent of reform, Lindbergh was appointed postmaster and village secretary and, later, clerk of school districts and justice of the peace. When the four children born to him and Louisa were grown, he married her secretly in the town church and put the scandals of Sweden behind him. But, as if in mourning for something forever lost, Louisa wore a black dress beneath her kitchen apron all her life.
August, however, had few regrets. Unlike the unforgiving God of James Morrow, August Lindbergh's God demanded no penance. According to Lindbergh's Lutheran-based theology, sin was inherent in the human condition, and faith in Christ justified salvation. The individual served God through the institutions of the community, but divine will superseded its structures and its laws. Some men were called upon to wear the "mask of God"; sometimes this meant breaking the rules.
Independence and self-reliance were August Lindbergh's defining principles, and he handed them down as gospel to his son, Charles August. When C.A. was six years old, Lindbergh gave him a gun, permitting him the run of the surrounding woods to shoot game and duck for the family table. But if C.A. learned to love the freedom of the wilderness and the open sky, he also witnessed the vicissitudes of farming. Crop failures, falling prices, and the unregulated growth of railroads nearly disenfranchised the small Midwest farmer. In 1883, determined not to bend to an elitist government controlled by the "Eastern money," C. A. Lindbergh enrolled in the law school of the University of Michigan.