Reporting on President Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address, the London Spectator wrote:
"We cannot read it without a renewed conviction that it is the noblest political document known to history, and should have for the nation and the statesmen he left behind him something of a sacred and almost prophetic character."
And it has been cast in stone, if not the hearts of all Americans.
I remember reading it for the first time on a visit to Washington, D.C. If you haven't been there, it's on the interior right hand wall of the Lincoln Memorial as you're facing Mr. Lincoln. Most tourists are over at the left hand wall reading the Gettysburg Address.
I'm not scoffing. That's what I read first, because I'd heard of it. I don't remember the Second Inaugural Address being taught in school. It certainly isn't as famous, and I felt overwhelmed reading it for the first time there with the giant statue of the great man behind me. I had to swallow hard, in a way I rarely do, when I reached this point in the speech:
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."
Much later, when I lived in D.C. for a couple of years, I'd take visiting friends and family on tour of all the monuments, but that place is the only one I'd return to for myself.
It is impossible not to see in Mr. Lincoln's reflection on America's original sin, a parallel in the great moral injustice of our day - and that has been well and thoroughly commented upon by others.
Catholic News Service today reports on a pastoral letter by Bishop W. Francis Malooly of Wilmington. It is a reflection on Lincoln's life and virtues on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of his birth - today. It is a beautiful reflection, but also a (very clever) prayer, ending:
In our own day we too need statesmen who see widely and clearly. Although the needs of our nation are many, more than anything else we need statesmen who recognize and respect all human beings without exception. I will pray that our new administration in Washington, all members of Congress (in a special way those who represent us from the State of Delaware and the Eastern Shore of Maryland), the Justices of the Supreme Court and all citizens in this diocese and beyond, have the breadth of vision to come to see that all human beings from conception until natural death are precious in the eyes of God and deserve the protection of our laws. I will pray that we all act “with malice toward none; with charity for all.”
So, I'll join my prayer to Bishop Malooly's today - and while I'm not sure it's kosher - ask for the intercession of Mr. Lincoln.
(Bishop Malooly's entire pastoral begins on page 3 of this massive pdf. Note to Church personell everywhere - Stop hiding your light under pdfs.)