Happy Birthday Abe

We haven’t celebrated Lincoln’s Birthday for decades, and instead roll up all the presidents in Presidents’ Day. But it’s worth taking the time to pause today and reflect on our nation’s greatest president. His wit is legendary, much of it self-deprecating. When a woman accused him of being two-faced, he replied, “Madam, if I had two faces, do you think I’d be wearing this one?”

Lincoln was an eloquent opponent of slavery, spending the 1850s declaiming against the institution and advocating to end its expansion. He very famously engaged in a series of debates with Senator Stephen A. Douglas in an effort to gain a Senate seat in 1858. He lost the Senate seat, but the debates made him a national figure and contributed mightily to his nomination for president and subsequent victory in 1860.

He was no less eloquent as president. Perhaps his greatest speech was his Second Inaugural Address, given March 4, 1865:

Fellow-Countrymen:

At this second appearing to take the oath of the Presidential office there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first. Then a statement somewhat in detail of a course to be pursued seemed fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration of four years, during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention and engrosses the energies of the nation, little that is new could be presented. The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself, and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured.

On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it, all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war–seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came.

One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

Happy 209th Birthday to our 16th President.

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One comment

  1. Jason Perez · · Reply

    Hey Al, you should do a post on Jeff sessions speech, he nailed it!

    “The thing was brewing from the beginning of the Republic. Though many Southerners try to say otherwise—and I love my people—slavery was the cause of the war. It was not states’ rights or tariffs or agrarian versus industrial economies. Those issues were all solvable and would have been solved. The cloud, the stain of human bondage—the buying and selling of human beings—was the unsolvable problem and was omnipresent from the beginning of the country.

    And the failure, the refusal of the South to come to grips with it—really to actually change this immoral system of enslavement—led to the explosion.

    As to slavery, it had to end. The nation could stand the disgrace no longer. And Lincoln came. And the war came. Lincoln’s moral and legal clarity, like that of Dr. Martin Luther King Junior’s a century later, produced the will, the power, which sustained the war and propelled the nation to union and emancipation. This was a monumental conflict indeed.

    The conflagration was intimate, brutal, and not short.

    It is fair to say Lincoln did not start the war. He inherited it, and through extraordinary determination, eloquence, judgment, and courage, he finished it. His magnificent soldiers fighting other magnificent soldiers fought it out over four years, deciding the fate of the nation. The enslaved people of the South were emancipated and that by military victory. They venerated Father Abraham for it.

    The Union was preserved—the unwavering vision to which Lincoln was dedicated. The Constitution was preserved.”

    Good job Jeff sessions!

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