Thursday, April 14, 2005

HISTORY: "Now He Belongs to the Ages"

It was Good Friday, 140 years ago. The war had been over for five days, ever since Robert E. Lee surrendered his army to U.S. Grant. Grant, merciless in battle, refused to live up to his nickname of "Unconditional Surrender." Instead of exulting over his defeated enemy, he offered generous terms that allowed the former soldiers and officers a chance to retain their dignity and their hope of getting in a crop in time so they wouldn't starve the next winter.

Nevertheless, the dissension was far from over. Northern fanatics wanted to crush the South. Southern fanatics wanted revenge. And President Lincoln wanted a peaceful night out at the theater.

You know what happened there. He lay wounded and dying for nine hours, then he too surrendered.

In honor of our greatest President, let me quote his own words. The occasion was his second inaugural, March 4,1865.

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. 

. . . 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. . . . 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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