WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 20, 2021
Lincoln, discussing both sides: This morning, we stumbled upon C-Span 3 as it re-aired the tape from February 2020 in which Harold Holzer discussed Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural address.
At one point, Holzer says this was "the powerhouse moment" in Lincoln's address, "the moment that Frederick Douglass would admire most:"
Yet if God wills that [the war] 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, still it must be said:
"The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."
According to Holzer, Frederick Douglass "believed that was the greatest line he ever heard in an American speech." Holzer describes Douglass praising Lincoln for that passage at a White House reception later that day.
Almost everything in that address strikes us as other-worldly. We first read the text of the address on the wall of the Lincoln Memorial, on a day-long field trip to Washington sites with a group of Baltimore fifth-grade kids in the mid-1970s.
We well remember the shock we felt when we read what Lincoln had said. We were amazed to think that any person had ever said any such thing in public.
Luckily, we have a photograph of ourselves with [NAME WITHHELD], then a mere fifth grader, as we posed before the Gettysburg Address on the opposite wall of the memorial. (We dug it out this morning.)
Lincoln had been sent here from Mars, we remember thinking that day after we'd read the text of the second inaugural address. For the full text, click here.
We humans! In truth, we don't really know where we are or what we're doing there. Occasionally, one of the "great souls" may show up and make unusual statements.
President Lincoln was describing the size of the nation's offense. In the wider context of the address, he was explicitly saying this:
Our side did this too.
Later, he said he knew that, as a general rule, people don't like such assessments.
Anthropologists keep telling us that we humans aren't wired to see things that way. We were happy to stumble on the C-Span tape on this extremely new morning.