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Wednesday, January 19, 2005

An Example to Remember, and Emulate

James Robinson give an appropriate answer to the "sour grapes" contingent of the Democratic Party:

But the most significant wartime re-inauguration in our history was Abraham Lincoln's in March 1865. The country was then in the closing days of the Civil War. The conflict had begun shortly after Lincoln took office; in 1861, he had entered Washington under armed guard. Four terrible years later 600,000 Americans were dead, and countless numbers wounded, maimed, or gone missing. Lincoln's second inaugural address was brief, but memorable, and spoke movingly of the cause for which so many had paid the ultimate price. Fifty thousand visitors came to Washington, and by one report "Pennsylvania Avenue, for once, rivaled Broadway in its busiest days." The mud was deep but spirits high. The length of the street was decorated with flags and banners. A grand reception was held that night at the White House. Which was thronged with visitors. There was a two-hour wait to enter, Lincoln doggedly, if distractedly, shaking hands with all.

The signature social event of the inauguration was the Grand Ball, held on March 6. The elaborately engraved tickets cost $10 (over $100 in inflation-adjusted dollars), and over 10,000 people attended. The event was held in the large marbled hall of the Patent Office, which had been used as a hospital for the wounded after the battles of Antietam and Fredericksburg. Walt Whitman, who served as a nurse in Washington during the war, looked in on the preparations for the ball and was struck by the sense of irony. "To-night, beautiful women, perfumes, the violins' sweetness, the polka and the waltz," he wrote, "then the amputation, the blue face, the groan, the glassy eye of the dying, the clotted rag, the odor of wounds and blood.... Think not of such grim things, gloved ladies, as you bow to your partners and the figures of the dance this night are loudly called, or you may drop on the floor that has known what this one knew, but two short winters since." The scene that night was a magnificent pageant, a celebration of life in a town accustomed to the pains of conflict. Emblems, flags, and banners decorated the walls. A brass band played light music in the foyer, while a string ensemble was on the floor for dancing. Five hundred dancers crowded the floor. Soldiers and sailors in uniform were prominent, both the old and distinguished and the young and dashing. Young women glided along in long dresses of satin, velvet, silk and lace. Politicians and their wives hobnobbed with representatives of foreign governments. Supper was on sideboards, a sumptuous menu of roast beef, veal, chicken, turkey, quail, pheasant, oysters, salads, fruits, cakes, creams, and confections of all types.

The presidential party arrived around 10:30 P.M., and stayed until after 1:00 in the morning. President Lincoln, dressed in a plain black suit, looked weary but pleased with the proceedings; his wife Mary was vibrant in a white satin dress and pearls. After midnight the crush on the dance floor cleared, and those who actually came to "thread the mazes of the dance" were given free reign. The festivities lasted until dawn. Then as now, some were concerned with the appearance of excess. However, as one observer wrote, "the great, warm heart of the nation has little sympathy with that neuralgic nerve which forbids the expression of exuberant feeling at this most auspicious moment."

The Grand Ball of 1865 was a celebration of freedom; and in a chamber that had known suffering and death, it was a statement of life and hope. In time of war, it is vitally important to remember and recognize that for which our troops are fighting. The inauguration of the president is a symbolic rebirth, a renewal of the system of government established by the Constitution and sustained by the faith and fidelity of generations of Americans. To celebrate this event is to rejoice in that freedom, and affirm the sacrifices made by those who at this moment are fighting to defend it.

Lincoln's 2nd Inaugural Address ranks as one of the great documents of American history. Here it is, in its entirety. Enjoy.

At this second appearing to take the oath of the Presidential office there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first. Then a statement somewhat in detail of a course to be pursued seemed fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration of four years, during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention and engrosses the energies of the nation, little that is new could be presented. The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself, and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured.
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, urgent 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. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? 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 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, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."

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 we are in, 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.

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