So it’s natural for me to compare the kind of man he became through the unrelenting anvil of four years of Civil War, with what we are seeing right now.
I cannot help but compare the wise perspective and the leadership decisions which sprang from his tempered, tormented heart, with the narcissistic mentality, slithery morality, and ideological fanaticism of our times.
How far we have fallen!
And how terribly lacking are this generation of national leaders in the qualities most needed at this crossroads in our history.
My one hope is that Lincoln didn’t start out as the Lincoln we came to know.
It’s possible to be broken, reshaped, and transformed in the furnace of leadership.
Losing two of his sons to death, and touring the body-ridden battlefields of the war, changed him.
His calculating cleverness morphed into a patient kindness and transcending goodness in the clinic of agony.
Hard-bitten generals like William T. Sherman and Ulysses S. Grant noticed this change and, after meeting with Lincoln several times in the last phase of the war, held him in awed reverence and absolute trust.
Lincoln won both his re-election and the Civil War, but looked beyond it with goodwill.
He had the rare ability to see both sides, to correct arrogance and over-reach on his own side, and to endure criticism and reproach from ideologues from all sides while staying the course.
Above all, he wanted the South fully reconciled back in the union, wanted kindness and generosity in reconstruction policies to wipe away the bitterness and shame of their defeat.
Vindictiveness and punitiveness had no place in Lincoln’s character.
Rather, it was a kind of quiet, humble, well-humored goodness radiating from him that marked his leadership.
Epitomized in the 2nd Inaugural Address
It comes into plain view in Lincoln’s second inaugural address.
His short statement reflects his empathy and insightfulness and genuine regard for all regions and their needs–even the South.
It also reflects a humble, realistic view of human nature–both sides claimed to be morally right yet both sides were, in fact, guilty of directly committing evils or indirectly profiting from evils.
It also reflects a mature kind of Christianity, which recognizes God has a mind of His own and is no party’s lackey and has, in fact, judged all sides for our shared, communal, generational sins.
Read it slowly and catch a glimpse into a greatness of heart that arose from terrible suffering.
It’s the kind of leader we most desperately need right now yet are least likely to get.
Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address
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, 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. 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 offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!” If we shall suppose that American Slavery is one of those offences 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 offence 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 bond-man’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.