Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Thoughts on parts of Lincoln's Second Inaugural speech. OT (off-topic)

At the risk of identifying myself as a "Yankee," and demonstrating that I am a "scatter brain," I must confess that Lincoln is, IMHO, our greatest President and greatest presidential orator. (Notice, I said greatest, not perfect). I occasionally like to turn to other topics than CL&J. I have been re-reading some of his addresses and have begun to focus on some new parts of these. Lincoln's 2nd Inaugural address (Mar. 1864) is one of his greatest. I am always trying to see things the way contemporaries of events saw them. I am not a conventionally religious person, and my interest in the Bible is primarily academic. Back then, most people and Presidents were much more seriously religious than today, and were more into the Old Testament than most of today's Christians. In the Old Testament God's wrath and vengeance are common themes along with horrible plagues, massacres, bloody wars and other tragedies. I see this reflected in the following dark but lyrical segment of that speech. Is Lincoln saying that the Civil War a reflection of God's anger at American for it's slavery?
"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." How do you interpret this? Is this "as ye reap, so shall ye sow?"


  1. Southerners like to blame Lincoln's presidential win for moving the country into Civil War. There may be a element of truth to this, but it didn't necessarily rest with Lincoln so much as it did on two American cultures that coexisted at the time. One saw the wrongness and hypocrisy of slavery per our country's founding principles. This was Lincoln's position. The other America's agrarian economy was built by and depended on slave labor. Lincoln attempted to handle the matter reasonably through compromise. A high bar to clear against such an abhorrent but tolerated and ingrained early American institution at the time. The South wasn't ready to jump on-board just yet. They feared Lincoln's election, however, was evidence they'd soon have the North's abolitionist agenda shoved down their own self-righteous throats. Personally, I believe Lincoln was faced with having to disarm a very fragile bomb. Unfortunately it exploded prematurely.

  2. 44: Thanks for the comment. This is a controversial topic. I often wonder what would have happened if SC forces had not attacked Fort Sumter and other federal facilities. There can't be a war unless someone fires the first shot. What if the Confederate firebrands had held their fire? Would this have become a "sitzkreig" and been settled by some peaceful compromise? Of course, perhaps no compromise was possible even then. It appears the Confederates were expecting a quick military victory and/or that the North and Lincoln would not go to war over slavery and/or that the British would side with the Confederacy. A terrible miscalculation that came at a a terrible cost.