January 28, 2021

For Independence Day: Our Greatest Speech, Our Greatest Need

On this U.S. Independence Day 2017, many are lamenting our current national and political situation, noting the ever-hardening divisions that seem to mark our citizenry.

Although in many respects I join this lament, I also try to have some historical perspective and realize that we have lived in far more divided times, including an era when half our nation was at war with the other half. The Civil War was a brutal, devastating conflict, beyond what I think most of us could imagine.

In the context of those dark days, Abraham Lincoln gave what I consider to be the greatest speech in American history: his second inaugural address.

I think it well worth our time to meditate on these words today, to take them to heart, and to ask how we might proceed into our future to mend and heal the divisions that separate us today, “to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

• • •


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.


  1. More Lincoln for our times…

    “As a nation, we began by declaring that ‘all men are created equal.’ We now practically read it ‘all men are created equal, except negroes’. When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read ‘all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics.’ When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty — to Russia, for instance – where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.”

    • Robert F says

      When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read ‘all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics.’

      It is “except Muslims” that the Know-Nothings in control now would like it to read. Very apropos words from Lincoln for our times.

    • Robert F says

      I see Lincoln was not an “America, love it or leave it!” or “My country, right or wrong!” kinda guy. He knew and acknowledged that it would be possible for this country to deteriorate to a point of hypocritical phoniness where it would be preferable to emigrate to a more honest place. America was not eternal and transcendent to him, only its best political values were.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        > America was not eternal and transcendent to him

        Behold the distinction between Politics and Partisanism (aka Patriotism, Nationalism, etc… [and perhaps Theology?]) and why Politics is the superior form

        Politics is conversation, Partisanism is violence.

        • Robert F says

          I read today that 41 states have refused the Administration’s request for private voter information. Long live liberty! Long live politics! Long live the right kind of state’s rights (the kind that secures the privacy of individuals against a federal government’s bid to suppress their basic constitutional rights [in this case, the right to vote])!

          • Adam Tauno Williams says


          • Heather Angus says

            Amen to that, Robert!

            I might also add a cheer in favor of public libraries, yes, libraries. Kurt Vonnegut wrote this in 2005 (I think in reaction to some minister making a public statement by burning the Koran):

            “While on the subject of burning book, I want to congratulate librarians, not famous for their physical strength, their powerful political connections or great wealth, who, all over the country, have staunchly resisted anti-democratic bullies who have tried to remove certain books from their shelves, and destroyed records rather than have to reveal to thought police the names of persons who have checked out those titles.

            “So the America I loved still exists, if not in the White House, the Supreme Court, the Senate, the House of Representatives, or the media. The America I loved still exists at the front desks of our public libraries.”

            I’m proud to know that our little library in our little Southern Ohio town destroys its records of books checked out every four months, making sure the Thought Police don’t decide to swoop with warrants.

            • Burro [Mule] says

              Doesn’t matter, except to the 13% of the country that still reads books.

              If Google tracks your searches, Zuckerberg your likes and follows, and your You Tube preferences are as open to the public eye as a billboard on I-95, there’s enough fodder to keep the Trumpenstasi, if they ever emerge, busy for a long time.

              Oh, wait, we don’t have any Trumpenstasi do we? Journalists don’t go missing in the middle of the night, and people can still air their grievances on public fora. That’s why the country is in such turmoil. I lived in Spain under Franco and Chile under Pinochet. Nice quiet places, both of them, respectful.

              • …for now.

              • Headless Unicorn Guy says

                And remember that smartphone and 24/7/365 Social Media you absolutely cannot do without?

                Every smartphone constantly broadcasts its GPS location in real-time, i.e. is constantly tracking your location. Since GPS info isn’t covered by current wiretap/surveillance laws, cops constantly use this loophole to track down suspects. And Trumpenstasi would have all the resources of the NSA (the agency that already wiretaps every phone or internet interaction for National Security purposes (just as Facebook & Google do for advertising/marketing purposes); just wed the NSA to the fast-growing Department of Homeland Security …

                Some months ago on Coast to Coast AM, they had a Conspiracy Gnostic who sounded like she came from the End Time Prophecy route. She reiterated Social Media Addiction and 24/7/365 smartphone tracking to the Mark of the Beast (natch). What I remember is her saying that she always thought people would have to be overpowered and branded with The Mark, but “now they take it and upload it to MySpace and Facebook!”.

                P.S. “Homeland Security” SOUNDS like a secret police agency. In reality, most of the REAL secret police agencies have either bureaucratic gobbledygook acronym names (like NKVD, KGB, AVO, R Troops, People’s Armed Police, G2, etc) or Mom-and-Apple-Pie Good Guy Guardian names (such as Islamic Republics’ “Guardians of Morality” or “Promoters of Virtue”). Dubya Bush (namer of DHS) was famous for malaprops; maybe this was a deliberate malaprop, giving it an obvious secret police agency name?

              • Headless Unicorn Guy says

                I lived in Spain under Franco and Chile under Pinochet. Nice quiet places, both of them, respectful.

                Don’t Church Ladies like it quiet and Respectful (especially Respectful of the Church Ladies’ Bible and Christianese Respectability)?

          • Rick Ro. says

            –> “I read today that 41 states have refused the Administration’s request for private voter information. Long live liberty!”

            Yes! It’s like I said a couple of days ago, people should be careful what they cheer for. Do Trump supporters realize that things forcibly put in place by Trump can then be used when a president they don’t like comes into power!? (Obama supporters should realize this, too, that the things Obama kinda forced into place are now in Trump’s control.)

            There is a reason presidential power is limited! Keep it that way!!

      • Well said.

    • Bill Gates; concerned about the immigrant flow into Europe.


      • Robert F says

        Ah, Bill Gates said it; that settles it!

        Here, Europe (and America too!), is the blow back for your (our) age of unbridled, exploitative colonialism, wherein you (we) enriched (y)our homelands and (y)ourselves at the expense of far-flung places and peoples. He who lives by the sword shall die by it.

  2. The last paragraph says it all…

    Thx for posting this today.

  3. Burro [Mule] says

    I miss the culture of shared Christianity that gave Lincoln’s language resonance. Godspeak like that is anathema today,even here. If either candidate had spoken like honest Abe during the campaign, approximately 30% of the country, in unison with our media outlets, would have howled like an Orc taking an athelas enema.

    You know a majority Hindu country would have left the Africans in bondage to pay off their karmic debts, and I don’t know if a majority Muslim country would have done much more.

    PS – We have never cared for Russia very much, have we? Tsar, Commissar, or blatnoy, they’ve always been our go-to black hats.

    • Robert F says

      I suspect that Russia has always reflected a part of us that we are ambivalent about: superstitious, anti-rational, Europe minus the Enlightenment except in metastasized forms, seen most clearly in the insane materialist metaphysics worked out in Soviet dialectical materialism. There’s a lot of that in us, and we alternately embrace and despise it.

    • Robert F says

      Russia is a place of uncontrolled extremes. We have many of the same extremes, but there is more of middle here. That has much to do with having an unprecedentedly large and influential middle-class. As that middle-class disappears, which it is doing right now, we should be alarmed.

      • Robert F says

        At the same time, it seems to me the robust size and influence of our middle-class occurred only because of colonial and post-colonial exploitation of the resources of far-flung places and people. If the virtue of America depends on its middle-class, then it is ultimately a dependency on a growing, diffuse affluence rather than on shared values. If that affluence disappears, or significantly diminishes, we are likely to see a diminution of the democratic values and moderation that have grown alongside it.

    • A cukture of shared Christianity is overrated, and is NO defence against national sins.

      Just ask the Natives.

      • Culture…

      • Burro [Mule] says

        One with NO Christianity, or a decadent and toothless form of it, is somehow preferable?

        Lincoln’s time was no Golden Age of Evangelical piety, but if they do such things when the tree is green, what shall they do when it is dry? We have a Cold Civil War going on right now. I pray it doesn’t turn hot, because the rhetoric I hear is not Lincoln’s Biblically informed reconciliationism, but something more akin to Robespierre oe De Maistre.

        • Robert F says

          The way you prefer Christianity seems to be that it should reconstitute all the sins of national, ethnocentric, insular, inward-looking ancient Israel. Ironically, that is already in effect what the Church has done these last two thousand years; I don’t see how it would come to a different place (meaning our current situation) by following the same path that led there.

          • Burro [Mule] says

            And it seems to me that you prefer is a atomized society with no shared values other than a grudging acceptance of due process, enforced by the raw power of the state.

            Let the sinews of the State relax and we’ll see how well we get along.

            • Robert F says

              The raw power of the State? You mean things like the attempt by the State to collect personal, private voting data in order to suppress votes in the future? That kind of exercise of power? Or does that have something to do with the missing shared values you’re talking about?

              • Burro [Mule] says

                Yes, exactly this kind of exercise of power, brought about by our inability to agree on just who should be allowed to vote, and whether they should have to establish this right with documentary requirements. It seems to me that the guiding philosophy of the Democrats is “everyone who has a right to vote should have access to the polls”, whereas the Republicans seem to be saying “nobody should vote who has no right to”. These are not mutually exclusive goals.

                This shouldn’t be a brain-bender, but since the State is now the fountain of all benevolence [and the courts the touchstone of epistemology] we get this kind of behavior.

                • Robert F says

                  This kind of exercise in power has been brought about by having a man at the center of it all, wielding federal powers, who fraudulently claims, without any evidence except the kind fabricated in the mind of someone like Alex Jones, that widespread voter fraud has occurred, because he is obsessed with falsely justifying his claim of a popular mandate for his presidency. Not even the operatives of his own political party throughout the fifty state agree with him. There are no principles involved in this, just a false allegation and a dangerous exercise of federal power based on it.

                • Robert F says

                  I will give you this: all presidents, Democratic and Republican alike, of the last decades have dangerously expanded the prerogatives of executive power and influence, in the name of their different political objectives, and in so dong have made tyranny of the left or right more and more likely. The current occupant has the personality traits that make him a likely candidate for being the first president to realize that threat of tyranny; only his own incompetence stands in the way of him moving significantly toward it.

        • Yep. At least there is a clear demarcation between God and Caesar, which is the most pressing need for our time.

          • Burro [Mule] says


            The most pressing need for our time is to expand the rapidly disappearing common ground.

            We’re in no danger of either the Republic of Gilead or the Peoples Republic of America.

            I would be the first to admit I have no clue how to do that.

            • Robert F says

              How does your idea differ significantly from the Republic of Gilead?

              • Burro [Mule] says

                What is my idea?

                National divorce may be preferable to a hot civil war. Maybe the Republic of Gilead could come out of that. As far as the two nations inhabiting the same real estate in the foreseeable future, other than a mass capitulation of one side to the way of thinking of the other, what do you suggest?

                How would you pitch anything to this guy and this guy that they could both agree on?

                I’m open to suggestions.

                PS – I had to stop watching The Handmaid’s Tale because of my growing sympathy for the Gileadites. Without a certain number of live births, you can kiss everything goodbye. It seemed like a rational, if extreme, response to demographic collapse.

                What we’ll likely get, though, is Children of Men. The book, not the movie. Not a bang, but a 4am libertine whimper.

                • Robert F says

                  Survival is not the highest good. C.S. Lewis, who might as easily have called himself a mule as a dinosaur, said as much in a number of places in his corpus, as have many others. But you know that. Survival would not be worth paying the price of living in and supporting the Republic of Gilead. Just my opinion.

                • I was going to avoid this thread altogether, but Mule’s sympathy for the Gilead people = sympathy for their state-sanctioned chattel slavery (but only women), state-sanctioned torture and repeated rape (the latter applying only to women), the kidnapping of children whose psrents are deemed unfit to live in the “holy” Republic of G. – and, in the book, the mass deportation of all PoC (called “children of Ham” by the Gileadites) to places where they wrre more than likely the victims of both slavery and mass murder.

                  I find it pretty unbelievable that you would claim to cloak what appears to be misogyny in”sympathy” for Gilead’s declining birth rate. We aren’t told about other nations in the book, but they are presumably coping without resorting to the enslavement and repeated rape of fertile women.

                  • To add to this, in the show Serena Joy is one of the chief architects of this system. Not coincidentally, neither she or any other women are permitted to possess reading material of any kind. Girl children don’t attend school.

    • In many ways, a “culture of shared Christianity” is what helped to land us into the hot mess we are in. Civil religion, “America as the Chosen Nation”, assumptions of evangelical rights to cultural hegemony, blindness to national faults and sins…

      A little less “culture of shared Christianity” may be just what the Great Physician has prescribed.

      • Burro [Mule] says

        You want less Christianity and more reason? Hie thee to the more sinister precincts of Democratic Underground. They’re just bursting with good-will for folks like me.

        • I want less “churchianity”, less confusion of Christ and Caesar, less moral authoritarianism. If a more “pagan” culture and a “marginalized” church is the result, all the better. We need more “love our enemies” and less trying to impose our morality on them. That IS the NT model of things after all…

        • And as it stands right now, I see more concern for human rights, for reason, and for political integrity among the “pagans” than I do among Christians.

    • I miss the culture of shared Christianity that gave Lincoln’s language resonance. Godspeak like that is anathema today,even here.

      The deistic founders of our country had equally eloquent language. I’d agree with you that it was more of a shared culture for them, and for Lincoln, but not that it was Christian in any meaningful way beyond civil religion or a syncretistic blending of Christianity with American pride and nationalism. And look where that has ultimately led us. No, you cannot serve both God and mammon and expect it to create anything truly Christian, try as you will.

      You know a majority Hindu country would have left the Africans in bondage to pay off their karmic debts, and I don’t know if a majority Muslim country would have done much more.

      An unprovable assertion. Such nations might have ended up equally divided on the issue of slavery. You can’t know. And it’s not as though our “Christian” nation didn’t struggle mightily over the issue. Victory by the North wasn’t a sure thing. Far from it.

      And we live with the aftermath of that today. Even at the center of a most Christian subculture, the Souther Baptists, who barely and only after considerable machinations and wranglings, managed to issue a watered down condemnation of the alt right.

      This country has many good things, but also a long and messy history of sin, including that done under a banner or veneer of Christianity.

      There are no national boundaries in the kingdon of God.

      • Robert F says

        There are no national boundaries in the kingdon of God.

        Amen and amen.

      • Ancient India didn’t really have slavery. It was a system that got imported when they were conquered by Muslim(and later British) rulers

        • Burro [Mule] says

          They didn’t need them. They had Dalits

          • Robert F says

            Uh, Witten is saying that the caste system that came down to the modern world, particularly with its slave class of “untouchables”, is the result of the colonial influence of Muslim and British conquerors, and not indigenous to ancient India or Hinduism. If that is true, it means that two monotheistic cultures are responsible for the development of the Dalit caste, India’s form of slavery.

            • The Dalits are not held in chattel slavery, though. I realize that’s a fine distinction, but it’s important here.

    • WHAT “shared Christianity” would that be, exactly?

      The kind that gave its blessing to chattel slavery and turned a blind eye to the rape of enslaved women?

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