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Lincoln’s Second Inaugural

12 October 2009

It seemed appropriate, in light of comments on previous posts, to provide our dear readers – both of them – with a transcript of Lincoln’s second inaugural address.  On an occasion that might have justified even the most modest, messianic pretensions, instead we find our collective gaze fixed on the right hand of Providence and the mystery of His will.  Enjoy.

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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 by 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.

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Peggy Noonan sometimes drives a conservative crazy, but she can always be counted on for a thoughtful column.  Here, strangely enough, she casts the most recent Illinoisian president as the “anti-Lincoln:”

Which gets us to the commander in chief, who directs the secretary of defense, who runs the Pentagon. The president, as almost all have noted—and for once, almost all are correct—has not distinguished himself in this matter. Afghanistan is a necessary war or not, we’ll see. He famously talked to Gen. McChrystal only once in the latter’s first 70 days in Afghanistan. He is meeting with advisers, considering options. Would that he’d begun earlier.

At the moment he seems a sort of anti-Lincoln. President Lincoln was early on damaged by Gen. George McClellan’s leaking to his friends in the press, but Lincoln every day was focused on one thing, the war, and took no offense. He knew what was urgent. For Mr. Obama, many things are urgent. But when many things are urgent, nothing really is urgent.

Mr. Obama reportedly began intensive meetings on the future of Afghanistan in the past few weeks. Lincoln used to go to McClellan’s house down the street from the White House and wait in the parlor for a chance at deliberations. One night when McClellan wasn’t in the mood, he came home from a party and sent a servant to say the general was too tired. Lincoln, being Lincoln, laughed, and left. He’d take anything from someone who might win. And when he concluded McClellan couldn’t win, he removed him, with no malice and complete coldness.

One senses Afghanistan has been waiting in the president’s parlor. Now that’s he’s focused, and deliberating, why not include the public?

The question of a presidential legacy takes on the shades of a chicken/egg debate:  which comes first, the legacy or the substance of achievement?  At this piont, it would appear that the current president is bent on fulfilling the legacy of his own imaginative fancy rather than the legacy of an unwelcome duty.  It’s not quite a year since we elected him, and he’s already bored and irritated with his most solemn duty, that most inconvenient duty, that of sending our boys and girls into battle, and then giving the generals the guidance they must have to prosecute our policy objectives.

In days gone by, the media darlings on the left disingenuously clamored for an “exit strategy.”  In the present case, how about even an “engagement strategy,” at the very least?

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This is not what I meant by “engagement.”  Pardon me while I go and vomit.

qb

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