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Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Second Lesson of US History (Part Two)

(Note:  This is the second and concluding segment in a two part series under the title "Etched in Stone," in which readers may continue to enjoy the legacy of Abraham Lincoln, the Great Emancipator.  The first segment left readers off inside the Lincoln Memorial, Washington, DC.)

May it "seem strange that any men should dare ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces?"  But who are we to judge?

Following the Union victory at Gettysburg, PA and in far away Vicksburg, MS, Lincoln’s commanding Generals, U.S. Grant and William T. Sherman, would prosecute a harsh, unforgiving "total war."  This was designed to demonstrate to the Confederacy the resolve of the North to preserve the Union intact by defeating the South decisively in battle on its own turf.  Lincoln would insist through Grant on simple terms of "unconditional surrender" and submission to the sovereignty of the federal government.

Sherman’s subsequent telegraph of the fall of Atlanta, which would later inspire Margaret Mitchell’s epoch novel, Gone With the Wind, electrified the North.  Largely as a result, Lincoln won an unlikely victory in his 1864 re-election to a second presidential term.

Back inside the Lincoln Memorial I notice there are more words etched in stone on the north wall to Abraham Lincoln’s left as he is seated.  I am confident that nothing can match the Gettysburg Address.  But I may well be wrong again.  On the occasion of his March 1865 Second Inaugural Address, looking toward the war's end, Lincoln’s prolific words again rang out.  While the whole speech is etched in stone on the inner wall, these particular words seem most poignant:

Both parties deprecated war; but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive; and others would accept war rather than let it perish.  And the war came.

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 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 will be not judged. (emphasis mine)

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 a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.

Note the italicized language:  Let us Judge not that we will not be judged.  Lincoln was, of course, commenting on the peculiar institution of Southern slavery.  But he stopped well short of passing judgment.  It is important enough to be considered the second lesson of US History, authority for which Lincoln footnoted to the Holy Bible.  In that particular passage Jesus Christ had spoken thus:

"Judge not, that you be not judged.
for with what judgment you
judge, you will be judged; and with the
same measure you use, it will be mea-
sured back to you.

“And why do you look at the speck in
your brother’s eye, but do not consider
the plank in your own eye?

“Or how you can say to your brother,
‘Let me remove the speck out of your
eye’; and look, a plank is in your own

“Hypocrite!  First remove the plank
from your own eye, and then you will see
clearly to remove the speck out of your
brother’s eye.
“Therefore, whatever you want men
to do to you, do also to them, for this is
the Law of the Prophets. 1  

Words to live by, for sure, an important lesson of US history.  Etched in stone.

-Michael D’Angelo

1.  See Matthew 7:1

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