An Impressive History and a Great Adventure
Every Drop of Blood: The Momentous Second Inauguration of Abraham Lincoln—by Edward Achorn (Atlantic Monthly Press, $28). Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address, delivered March 4, 1865, is the finest speech in American history, the only possible exception being his Gettysburg Address. President Lincoln surprised all by not being triumphant over having kept the nation together after a terrible war and by not outlining his postwar policies. No rousing patriotic oration here. Instead, in 700 often harrowing words, Lincoln told the nation that this horrific conflict was God’s punishment for the original sin of slavery and that both North and South were guilty parties: “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.’ ”
Now was the time for mercy and reconciliation, not hate and vengeance. To Lincoln, the Civil War was one of transcendental importance, a momentous test of whether a nation based on the consent of the governed could endure.
Lincoln was not a churchgoer, and more than once during his life he expressed skepticism about religion. He loved reading the King James Bible, not for reasons of faith but because, as Achorn puts it, “To him it was a practical source of enlightenment, a moving, beautifully written, profoundly wise book,