An Im­pres­sive His­tory and a Great Ad­ven­ture

Forbes - - FACT & COMMENT -

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,

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