Archive for Monday, February 28, 2011

Lincoln inaugural had lasting impact

February 28, 2011


Seven states had left the Union. Fort Sumter needed to be resupplied. Washington was in upheaval, sharpshooters were deployed to the roofs of buildings, a light-artillery battalion was installed on Capitol Hill. It was in this atmosphere, 150 years ago this week, that Abraham Lincoln took the oath of office.

In more than two centuries of turning points — George Washington’s victory at Yorktown, Woodrow Wilson’s decision to enter a great European war, Franklin Roosevelt’s unveiling of the New Deal, the attacks of 1941 and 2001 — this may have been America’s greatest, most dangerous, most portentous. At stake on March 4, 1861, was more than the survival of the nation. At stake were the values that created the nation.

In the hands of history was a man with little formal education, no conventional religion, no executive experience, only two years’ time in the House of Representatives, a distracting and difficult family situation — but with a deep understanding of the land, a natural mastery of language, an intuitive insight into human nature and an unfailing comprehension of the consequences of his thoughts and deeds.

He knew the country and he knew his mind. He loved the Union, deplored slavery, and before his first term was over would determine that the survival of the one required the obliteration of the other. A man who had not done much with his first 52 years would accomplish two great things in his last four years. He would save the United States and, by ending slavery, he would make it worth saving.

This was a moment like no other in our history. Handing the presidency over to Lincoln was Pennsylvania’s only chief executive, poor James Buchanan, one of America’s great secretaries of state and perhaps its worst president, a man who had done little to forestall war and less to understand the great forces of his time. “He frequently examines the Constitution, and the more he looks at it the less he finds in it,” the Times of London wrote, adding: “The war which he could not make he now finds that he has no power to prevent.”

Joining the new president in his administration was William H. Seward, who, as a showy public figure and relentless attention-seeker, was Lincoln’s opposite in character but, fortunately for the nation, was Lincoln’s equal in intelligence. And while it is tempting — indeed, it would be Seward’s fondest wish — to say that together they created one of the most significant inaugural addresses in history, the remarks that Lincoln uttered against the greatest metaphorical backdrop in America’s pageant (the scaffolding on the Capitol, symbolic of the unfinished nature of the country) were pure Lincoln.

Lincoln had left Springfield, Ill., three weeks earlier with a draft of his speech, the product, wrote Douglas L. Wilson, an expert on Lincoln, of “considerable drafting and revision.” The story of how Seward worked over Lincoln’s draft and provided what Seward’s son called “suggestions for a closing paragraph” is well known, but what is remarkable is how the president-elect salvaged words Seward abandoned and reshaped them into a statement all his own — one that now is all our own. The final paragraph of the final version reads this way:

“I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

The paragraph that preceded that coda for the ages is instructive. Lincoln opened it by underlining what he would disprove — the very American notion that the will of the people is more important than the will of a national leader. “In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow countrymen, and not in mine,” he said, “is the momentous issue of civil war.”

There was, of course, a kernel of truth in that, as Hosni Mubarak could testify. But, perhaps even more so than Franklin Roosevelt, Lincoln would reshape the presidency into what FDR called it — pre-eminently a place of moral leadership.

To his countrymen, Lincoln’s address represented an end to his great post-election silence. Only days before his inauguration, Frederick Douglass wrote, hopefully, of Lincoln’s “stately silence during these last tumultuous and stormy three months, his stern refusal thus far to commit himself to any of the much-advocated schemes of compromise, his refusal to have concessions extorted from him under the terror instituted by thievish conspirators and traitors.”

We know what Lincoln’s remarks mean to us now. They were the first indication that the new president, characterized as a baboon, castigated as a backwoods babbler more suited to the splitting of rails than the adjudication of hard political problems, was more than presidential. He was — to choose a word at odds with our traditions and applicable to only one other president, George Washington — regal.

“Beyond the immediate hearers was the vast unseen audience that would read the address in cold print,” wrote Carl Sandburg in his lyrical if not exactly historical biography of Lincoln. “Never before in New York had such crowds waited at newspaper offices and jammed and scrambled for the first sheets wet from the press. In its week of delivery, it was the most widely read and closely scrutinized utterance that had ever come from an American president.”

American presidents have delivered 56 inaugural addresses and only five are quoted today. One is from Jefferson, one from Franklin Roosevelt, one from John F. Kennedy. Two are from Lincoln. His remarks a century and a half ago are mystic chords of memory, delivered at the most frightful juncture in our history.

— David Shribman is executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.


Daniel Dicks 6 years ago

I've seen people hauled off to Osawattomie for saying things like that. Brother who you jiving with that cosmic debri?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years ago

Your twisting of history does absolutely nothing to make a case for your desired utopia.

Lincoln was very much an opponent of slavery. You're right that he didn't see the way to easily end that institution as long as the South wanted its continuation, and remained in the Union.

The Emancipation Proclamation was done under his authority as Commander-in-Chief, and it pertained only to those states in open rebellion-- it was a measure of warfare.

After the war, the 13th Amendment made it permanent, and extended abolition to all states.

OK, let's hear some more of your pitiful distortions of history.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years ago

"Lincoln was an opponent of slavery the way Obama is an opponent of the Patriot Act."

That's not clear. I believe both of them saw the political difficulties involved in challenging the status quo. Lincoln clearly opposed slavery. About that there is really no doubt among those who aren't looking to make baseless political points. With Obama, the jury is still out as to whether he's changed his mind about the Patriot Act, or whether he was merely being pragmatic about his ability to get rid of it. Or perhaps he does now see as a useful tool, now that it's his to use. Regardless, it has nothing to do with Lincoln or slavery.

"Lincoln said in his inaugural address as proof,"

Proof of what? That he saw the political impossibility of doing away with it if the South stayed within the Union and resisted? If so, then I can agree with you.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years ago

BTW, I agree that a case can be made that Lincoln was guilty, at the very least, of allowing war crimes to be committed under his watch.

But the weight of the contradiction that was slavery to the whole spirit of the American republic is what caused the war, not Lincoln.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years ago

Certainly a large part of what led to the Civil War was an economic conflict between the aristocrats of the North and those of the South, each of whom saw institution of slavery very differently, and that extended, especially in the North, down to the working and peasant classes.

But no comparison between the Civil War with the Iraq War can be even remotely rationally made.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years ago

"What would you need to know before this concept seemed rational to you?"

Oh, I don't. A few actual facts, maybe, rather than your extreme oversimplification of what was a a very complicated convergence of social conditions and events. (And the fact the the South was not just on the US border, it was actually part of the country, while Iraq was thousands of miles away, and presented zero threat to the US.)

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years ago

The one fact that you want to omit is that there can be no war without war criminals, unless you want to apply an extremely narrow definition to that term.

And it was only during the Civil War when the first attempts were made at defining what is "legal" during wartime.

But in reviewing what's out there on the web, I understand where you are coming from.

You and your lewrockwell brethren can't too openly embrace the "states' rights" libertarianism of the slave masters who ran the Confederacy (and engaged in quite a few of their own war crimes,) but you can make criticism of Abraham Lincoln into a surrogate means of celebrating the Confederacy.

cato_the_elder 6 years ago

Liberty_One, while I agree that a healthy dose of libertarianism can be good for us all, I would also venture a guess that you've been reading Thomas DiLorenzo and taking what he says as gospel. Just remember that when he says that there are two sides to a story, there's also another side to his.

cato_the_elder 6 years ago

As I said, I suspect you're drunk on DiLorenzo's Kool-Aid.

If you haven't been reading DiLorenzo, then say so.

Perhaps you'll grow out of it when you get older.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years ago

You mean you like fabricate facts as necessary, and ignore others when inconvenient.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years ago

I'm not defending Lincoln. He was in a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't situation. Those opposing him in the Confederacy were proto-Nazis, pure and simple. Was there a feedback loop of atrocities during the Civil War? Certainly. Were what we would now consider war crimes committed on both sides? Certainly.

But it was a collision that really couldn't have been avoided-- one that was set in motion with the writing of a constitution that fully enshrined chattel slavery, which was considerably more horrendous, murderous and criminal than anything Lincoln might have been responsible for.

But I know you don't have many original thoughts. Clearly, this is a meme in the hardcore libertarian bloggosphere, where they can't really embrace the Confederacy, but they can attack Lincoln.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years ago

" Lincoln could have let the southern states go."

Interesting hypothesis, but it depends on the assumption that Lincoln was entirely responsible for the war happening, and he wasn't.

And even if he could have prevented the war from happening, it would have merely allowed the equal or greater atrocity of chattel slavery to continue, which would have eventually ended, but almost surely just as violently.

Like I said-- the war was inevitable.

purplekansas 6 years ago

The reason is because the entire Southern economy and social structure was based on slavery, unlike those other places. The South was a very different place from MA, NY, DE for any number of reasons, but especially in the foundational place of slavery in their very hierarchical society.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years ago

Several governors in the North were already building up their militias well before the war started. War sentiment was running quite high on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line. If it were otherwise, Lincoln could not have done what he did. Or are you you saying he was wearing blue tights with a big red S underneath that suit of his?

"Slavery in the British Empire didn't end violently."

Britain most certainly had many other forms of slavery in its colonies even after ending it in Britain, and that ended quite violently in a number of places.

"Russia's version of slavery didn't end violently."

Now that is a ridiculous statement. Ever heard of the Bolshevik revolution? (not that it exactly ended slavery.)

As I've already stated, the slave masters of the South really were proto-Nazis. They depended on their slaves for their livelihood, for their wealth and their identity. They would not, could not, give up their slaves without a fight. That the Civil War happened is ample evidence of that, as they were at least as responsible for starting it as Lincoln was.

Lincoln was a very complicated figure. He did give orders that allowed attacks on civilians, but they were always in the context of "military necessity." And while you and I may consider that criminal, even in today's context it really isn't that different from what is called "collateral damage," which is not always technically considered a war crime.

This country was founded on violence, and that violence continued in both the North and the South, particularly in the South, until it reached a head during the Civil War. Sadly, that violence didn't really end until very recently as a result of the civil rights movement.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years ago

There were millions of serfs in the early 20th century.

But I guess you don't consider them slaves. They were just free actors in a free enterprise utopia, right?

purplekansas 6 years ago

Liberty_One, go read this page.,1

That's why I accused you of racism and of being a neo-Confederate in the other thread. I was going to let it go because I'm too busy to waste time with this, but you just keep spewing lies.

You have not provided any sources to your assertions (that I have seen, and I clearly haven't read everything on the site), but I suspect that the above mentioned or similar writers are where you get your twisted "history."

Maybe you're not aware of the sources of the ideology behind attempts to discredit Lincoln and the Civil War in general, in which case, please read up on the League of the South, etc, and stop trolling here.

purplekansas 6 years ago

Lincoln is not above criticism. He deserves to be criticized for what he did. The history that is taught in our schools is severely inadequate. Replacing it with a neo-Confederate version of events is worse, however.

I didn't say you were a racist because you criticized Lincoln, I accused you of supporting racism and espousing a neo-Confederate ideology because your arguments sound exactly like theirs, and likely come from them.

You still have not provided any sources for your conspiracy theories and outlandish accusations, such as, Lincoln was a white supremacist, Lincoln wanted to deport all slaves, the Civil War was Lincoln's war of choice and he alone is responsible for it, Lincoln only did it because he was a railroad stooge.

purplekansas 6 years ago

You didn't read the page carefully enough. The LvMI is not listed as a hate group. The League of the South is, and justifiably, based on the published words of their own members. The page mentions that DiLorenzo is part of both groups.

I recognize the problems with the way the SPLC classifies groups it disagrees with, and I agree, but all you have to do is read about the League of the South and read their views to understand that they are, in fact, a hate group.

Bob_Keeshan 6 years ago

It's like my mom always told me -- the world needs crazy people, too.

The beauty of the internet is that "opinion" is so easy to trumpet as "fact". Makes the crazy people that much more entertaining.

purplekansas 6 years ago

You also said these things: Lincoln was a white supremacist, Lincoln wanted to deport all slaves, the Civil War was Lincoln's war of choice and he alone is responsible for it, Lincoln only did it because he was a railroad stooge.

Are those facts? What are your sources?

purplekansas 6 years ago

Actually, we did learn 50% of those things about Lincoln in "3rd grade," and they were not discussed positively, although he certainly was not referred to as a dictator (possibly because he was elected to office, in a free and fair election?). So I guess we were only half-brainwashed. The warrant to arrest a Supreme Court justice and the deportation of a Congressman are not common knowledge, however, so just go ahead and provide your sources.

I notice that in your list of facts you do not claim that Lincoln was a white supremacist, Lincoln wanted to deport all slaves, the Civil War was Lincoln's war of choice and he alone is responsible for it, Lincoln only did it because he was a railroad stooge.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years ago

"Was Lincoln a white supremacist, did he want to send the slaves outside the US, was he responsible for the civil war, was he a stooge for northern industrial interests?"

The best evidence says that by the end of the war, Lincoln was not a white supremacist. He believed that blacks should have exactly the same opportunities as whites. The reason he considered having blacks colonize Liberia was because he thought that whites here were too racist to ever allow blacks to enjoy all rights or have equal opportunities. And about that, he was quite right, as that didn't really begin to change until a century after his death.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years ago

Yep, he said that. But that was before he was president, and it's fairly clear that by the end of the war, he had a very different view.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years ago

"was he a stooge for northern industrial interests? "

There were certainly conflicts between Northern and Southern economic interests that were important factors leading to the war. But to say he was a "stooge" is pointlessly inflammatory, and really doesn't add anything to the conversation.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years ago

They are utopian. There is no way to get from where we are to the imagined capitalist utopia you want. Folks like the Kochs would never allow it, even if it could work.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years ago

No, you've listed several superficial interpretations of a very complicated period of history.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years ago

My facts are just as factual as yours.

But I don't have a confederate axe to grind.

Bob_Keeshan 6 years ago

Liberty_One (anonymous) says…

Fact: Lincoln issued a warrant to arrest a Supreme Court justice who wrote an opinion calling Lincoln's actions unconstitutional This is not a fact, it is the opinion of a small minority of historical scholars. The vast majority of scholars have reviewed the claims and consider them bogus. Even those scholars who believe the single, unconfirmed source correctly note that no warrant was ever issued.

Not a fact, and worse not even a proper representation of the questionable record. No warrant was issued.

Fact: Lincoln had a congressman deported for making a speech disagreeing with Lincoln's policies Not a fact. Lincoln had Democratic Congressman Clement L. Vallandigham transported to the Confederacy after Vallandigham was sentenced to two years in military prison by a military tribunal. Lincoln did not deport Vallandigham because of making a speech, Vallandigham was a vocal leader of the anti-war Democrats and Lincoln was concerned his imprisonment would make him a martyr.

So you can decide for yourself that Vallandigham was deported by Lincoln for making a speech, but that is an opinion. It is not a fact.

Fact: Lincoln suspended habeas corpus, a power the Constitution only grants to congress. OMG!!! OMG!!! OMG!!! Have you alerted the media?

Fact: Lincoln ordered his generals to target the civilian population of the south, and knew about and implicitly endorsed the Union soldiers raping, looting and burning their way through the southern civilian population. Again, the historical documentation of your first statement is primarily single sourced, in other words the type of reporting you would lambaste this newspaper for. This statement represents an opinion based upon selective documentation, an opinion that is disputed. As such, it is not a fact.

As for your second statement, your line "Implicitly endorsed" says it all. It is a solid opinion, but it is not a fact. Of all of your facts that are actually opinions, it has the most substantial documentation behind it.

Bob_Keeshan 6 years ago

Wow, excellent retort as always. Did you consider using "nannie nannie boo boo?" Perhaps you could hold your breath until you turn blue?

Thanks for proving the point about people insisting their opinions are facts, sometimes quite vociferously.

Bob_Keeshan 6 years ago

Even better, the "I'm rubber and you're glue" reply!

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