Saturday, 21 January 2017

Presidential Thoughts


This gold medal was struck by New York jeweller Tiffany & Co to mark the successful laying of the transatlantic telegraph cable in 1858

 ‘Not much happens in Budleigh Salterton,’ they say. ‘Saltertonians don’t like change.’  Well, I beg to differ. 

In fact I would go so far as to say that at least two former Budleigh residents have changed the course of world history.  

I learnt about the first shortly after my arrival in the town back in 2008. Admittedly, my source was Wikipedia. Not the most reliable perhaps, but the story of how General John Graves Simcoe had unwittingly saved the life of the USA’s first President, George Washington, during the American War of Independence is so picturesque that it deserves a glorious mention in our town’s annals. 

The second Saltertonian – well, actually he lived in Little Knowle – came to mind not just because Fairlynch Museum is honouring his memory with a bicentennial tribute in its exhibition this year, but because 2017 will for ever be seen as a year of extraordinary change following Donald Trump’s triumph in the US election.  

Perhaps nowhere can the change be better appreciated than in the contrast of tone between the new President’s inauguration speech, and that of the first messages to be exchanged by telegraph between Queen Victoria and US President James Buchanan on 16 August 1858. 

You can read in the next edition of Fairlynch’s magazine The Primrose about the courageous naval officer who retired to live in our area after playing a key role in enabling this new and world-shaping means of communication. 

‘Europe and America are united by telegraphy’, was the first message sent from this side of the Atlantic. ‘Glory to God in the highest; on earth, peace and good will toward men.’ 

At the time, it was not the speediest means of communication: Queen Victoria's message of 98 words took sixteen hours to send. 

But President Buchanan’s inspiring response was worth the wait. The telegraph, he wrote, ‘is a triumph more glorious, because far more useful to mankind, than was ever won by conqueror on the field of battle. May the Atlantic telegraph, under the blessing of Heaven, prove to be a bond of perpetual peace and friendship between the kindred nations, and an instrument destined by Divine Providence to diffuse religion, civilization, liberty, and law throughout the world.’

What a contrast with the message broadcast to the world on 20 January 2017 by the newly elected US President.