Posted by: reformedmusings | March 4, 2015

Perhaps the greatest political speech in history

Today marks the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural Address. In typical Lincoln style, it was short, to the point, and incredibly discerning about the national situation. At this point, the Civil War had been going for four incredibly bloody years. In the end, the official count would be 620,000 killed (~2% of the population), 476,000 wounded, and 400,000 missing or captured – over 1.5 million casualties. It was the costliest war in human terms for the United States.

The consequences of the war devastated communities and families, as they often fought together. According to civilwar.org:

The 26th North Carolina, hailing from seven counties in the western part of the state, suffered 714 casualties out of 800 men during the Battle of Gettysburg.  The 24th Michigan squared off against the 26th North Carolina at Gettysburg and lost 362 out of 496 men.  Nearly the entire student body of Ole Miss–135 out 139–enlisted in Company A of the 11th Mississippi.  Company A, also known as the “University Greys” suffered 100% casualties in Pickett’s Charge.  Eighteen members of the Christian family of Christianburg, Virginia were killed during the war.  It is estimated that one in three Southern households lost at least one family member.

One in thirteen surviving Civil War soldiers returned home missing one or more limbs.  Pre-war jobs on farms or in factories became impossible or nearly so.  This led to a rise in awareness of veterans’ needs as well as increased responsibility and social power for women.  For many, however, there was no solution.  Tens of thousands of families slipped into destitution.

In that light, Lincoln’s immortal words in his 2nd Inaugural Address seem beyond wise:

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 inaugeral [sic] 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 dissole [sic] 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 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 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 bond-man’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.

Oh, that our nation would find such a leader today! Instead, we get socialist community organizers and race baiters. God’s judgements are indeed true and righteous altogether.


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