Daily Local News (West Chester, PA)
Binding up our wounds amid division
Given the remarks of at least one House member talking about splitting up our union into roughly the North and South regions, it is important to recall the words of President Abraham Lincoln, whose life testified to the importance of our union and the rejection of slavery.
Lincoln’s time, like ours, was divided, but the issue of racism goes back before our republic began. It is our “original sin”, as the Swedish economist Gunner Myrdal wrote in his classic 1944 book, “An American Dilemma.” Myrdal wrote that unless we solved this dilemma, we couldn’t be true to our own democratic principles.
Today we are embroiled in uncivil disputes and angry divisions, some still around issues of racial justice. There seems a great deal of malice, one side not just disagreeing with the other but wishing them harm. And there’s often little charity. Fed by what some would call tribal loyalties, whether to a personality or a cult, respect for differences becomes difficult, especially when it is fed by social media.
Perhaps the societal divisions are inevitable, buried deep in our national psyche and erupting only when times turn tough and when we find ourselves with our backs to the wall, lashing out at anyone we perceive as occupying a view contrary to our own.
In his 1860 Cooper Institute speech in New York, Lincoln urged his own Republican Party “even though provoked, let us do nothing through passion and ill temper.” He argued that his Republican Party should be the one supporting liberty for all, declaring in a 1858 campaign speech that “those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves.” He called us an “undecided experiment,” trying to create a government based on “equal rights and self-government.’ He urged Americans to promote unity, not disunity, uniting around the basic principles of our Constitution. .
On March 4, 1865, only 41 days before his assassination, Lincoln took the oath of office for the second time and spoke about his plans for healing a divided nation. The speech is engraved on the north interior wall of the Lincoln Memorial.
Here are a few of his words that might guide us through our own perilous times:
“On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it — all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place devoted altogether to saving the Union without war insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war — seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish. And the war came.
“One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves not distributed generally over the union but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen perpetuate and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war while the government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it….“Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. 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.
“With malice toward none with charity for all with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right let us strive on to finish the work … to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan — to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”