Words That Men Live By
Pres. Abraham Lincoln (1865)
WASHINGTON, D. C., March 4, 1865 - A peace without malice and reconstruction of the Union in a spirit of charity were sketched in the second Inaugural Address here by which Abraham Lincoln marked his return to the trials of his high office.
The tired President exhibited neither exuberance nor triumph in his simple message delivered in the Hall of the House of Representatives, on the Capitol Hill where the new dome, ordered for this structure before the war began in 1861, still lies rusting in its crates. Instead, his attitude was more that of homely prayer, as he concluded his brief talk with words that may be already marked for the ages: "With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us finish the work we are in, to I bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the bat- tle' and for his widow and for his orphans, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and a lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."
No victory hymn was this, although the President might well have sung one, both in personal political triumph and at the sight of the imminent end of the battles for which he perforce carries the responsibility. His election last November was an overwhelming, triumph, despite the glamorous appeal; of his rival, General McClellan, and he carried with him on his ticket Andrew Johnson, into the Vice Presdency, despite the fact that politically few men could have been a heavier deadweight. But it was the military situation that counted most - the victories that were sparked with the great triumph at Gettysburg two years ago. Since the election, events have moved at great speed, following the pattern set when the President called General U.S.Grant to the supreme command a year ago this month. Since then Atlanta has fallen to General W. T. Sherman, and Phil Sheridan has ridden Jubal Early to earth in the Shenandoah. Thomas mopped up Hood at Nashville, while Sherman went on to take Savannah. As of now, the gallant General Robert E. Lee holds Richmond, but his lines of communication with Petersburg are thin.
In sum, the end is in sight. Hence the power and the force of the President's words at this moment, a combination of determination to press on to victory, and an almost tearful appeal to the leaders of the Confederacy to realize the hopelessness of a cause that has already consumed scores of thousands of lives and billions of the nation's wealth.
The President's words follow:
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 first. Then a statement, somewhat in detail, of a course to be pursued seemed very 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 avoid 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 with war-seeking to dissolve the Union and divide the 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 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 when, 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 prayer 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 offences, for it must needs be that offences come, but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh. If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offences 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 offence came, shall we discern there 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, that 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 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 for his orphans, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and a lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.
~ Postlogue ~
On April 14, 1865, while Lincoln sat in a box in a Washington theater, an assassin's bullet, fired by John Wilkes Booth, shattered the entire structure of reconstruction after the war then ended, by obliterating the only man who could build upon the blueprints he already had outlined.
With Lincoln's removal from office, and the accession of Andrew Johnson, the avengers among the Northern block (perhaps somewhat justified by the fears and divisions aroused by Lincoln's murder) gained the upper hand. Sectional animosities flamed as high or higher for a period than they had been before the War Between the States.
A generation would be marred by them.
As for Lincoln, the manner of his passing might as well have been an act of sanctification. Great though he was, his reputation was enhanced by his martyrdom to the ever-rising plateau from which even today it is difficult to draw into perspective his virtues and his faults, his greatnesses and his weaknesses.
However, the country - growing into a new and industrialized force - could not linger long over either old quarrels or the memories of dead leaders.
It was plunging now into new problems, new challenges, and new voices I of leadership, while there germinated in Europe - in the as yet little known minds of such men as Marx and Engels - a new political philosophy - which would increase and spread - who knows for how long - or far reaching?Printable version