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Archive for March 4th, 2008

March 4th was Inauguration Day in the U.S. until 1933 when the Twentieth Amendment relocated it to January. 

As luck would have it, yesterday I finished reading Douglas Wilson’s prize-winning Lincoln’s Sword: The Presidency and the Power of Words. It’s a magnificent book that shows Lincoln’s grasp of words and writing and how he used them to convey big ideas to the general public. With his eloquence and metaphors disguised as “plain talk,” he solidified support for his policies and also won over a few opponents. Nowhere is this more apparent than in his Second Inaugural Address

The speech, pictured above, was delivered on March 4, 1865 – just days before the Civil War ended.  The Union’s victory was assured, so everyone gathered to hear a speech that would, at the very least, congratulate the North on its victory and reaffirm the belief that God was indeed on their side.  But Lincoln, who was nothing if not unpredictable, instead suggested that the North was complicit in this judgment from above.

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.

And instead of gloating that his restoration of the country – without slavery – had been successful, he looked ahead to reconciliation and being united again.

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.

It’s no wonder that he expected it to “wear as well as – perhaps better than – anything I have produced.” 

Recommended reading: Lincoln’s Greatest Speech?

UPDATE: (3/5) A more rigorous discussion of the speech is found at The Edge of the American West.  A fight even breaks out in the comments!

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