Monday, January 19, 2009

"Let us strive on to finish the work we are in..."

Tomorrow, Barack Obama will take the oath of office as part of the 56th presidential inauguration. After he concludes the oath, Obama will deliver the most widely anticipated inaugural address at least since Franklin Roosevelt's in 1932. George Washington, although not constitutionally required to do so, began the tradition of inaugural addresses by speaking after taking the first oath of office. Abraham Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address -- delivered near the end of the Civil War -- is generally considered the best:
Fellow Countrymen:
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 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.
Abraham Lincoln, March 4, 1865
Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address is inscribed in its entirety on one wall of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C....

This interactive map to tomorrow's activities, includes the parade route and the locations of events, celebrations, and points of interest. The diversity represented by the events reflects the coalition that catapulted Obama to victory and that represents the best hope for change...

Historian Eric Foner explains how Lincoln's greatness as a politician led to his greatness as president, as well as how the dynamics the anti-slavery movement are relevant today:
The destruction of slavery during the [Civil War] offers an example, as relevant today as in Lincoln's time, of how the combination of an engaged social movement and an enlightened leader can produce progressive social change...

Click a trip over to Mouse Medicine for a great video of musicians from around the world singing a traveling version of "Stand By Me." Unsurprisingly, two of the singers are New Orleansians...

Today's must read is "The Audacity of Hoops," Alexander Wolff's fine Sports Illustrated article about the importance and meaning of basketball to Barack Obama:
Basketball's appeal, Obama told HBO's Bryant Gumbel last year, lies in an "improvisation within a discipline that I find very powerful." With its serial returns to equilibrium -- cut backdoor against an overplay; shoot when the defense sags -- the game represents Obama's intellectual nature come alive...

Speaking of hoops, NBA analyst Charley Rosen gives out his midseason grades. Western Conference snobs (including me) take notice: The teams in your conference are at or below expectations while the East is coming on strong...

Today would have been Martin Luther King's 80th birthday. Here is the peroration of his final speech, given the day before his assassination at age 39:

To see and hear the complete "I have a dream" speech, click here.


Renegade Eye said...

Lincoln was I would say without question, the best president.

The victory of the union, was the second American revolution.

I better not mention Jefferson, or Foxessa will beat me up.

John Hayes said...

Excellent post-- you might be interested in a blog called Obama Foodarama by an old poetry grad school friend of mine-- someone I'm not much in touch with anymore sadly. She's in D.C. for the inauguration, & is blogging from there. Her blog mostly focuses on food safety issues. sorry, I can never figure out the html for links....

Very good post-- great to read Lincoln's inaugural.


Foxessa said...

Did you see Skip Gates and John Stauffer wrote about Lincoln today?

In the NY Times Op-Ed section, here.

Damn, I wish Lincoln hadn't been killed!

I also wish that Obama and the left in general would take to heart the lesson of Lincoln's assassination which the ReThugs have operated by ever since: do not have a VP who the other side likes. If some one more like Lincoln had been the VP likely the assassination wouldn't have happened. I am still trying to parse out what made Lincoln fail so badly in judgment as to pick a southern slave-holding plantation owner as his VP, one who immediately began dismantling Lincoln's plans for integrating the freed slaves into the body politic. So much so did Johnson go back to restoring the South to what it was that he was nearly impeached, and would have been if Samuel Ward, King of the Lobby, hadn't worked endlessly to keep the votes from quite lining up. He got paid very, very, very well to act against the North's and black people's interests in that. It led to his disgrace and going off to Europe to die. But not soon enough.

Love, C.

K. said...

Johnson was a pro-Union Southern Democrat whom the North recognized as the legitimate governor of Tennessee. I suspect that he was too tempting politically to pass up, especially given the times and the fact that the Republican party itself was less than 10 years old.

K. said...

The Gates-Stouffer piece makes a good companion to Foner's article. I had to smile at this line:

"Lincoln’s respect for Douglass — the first, and perhaps only, black man he treated as an intellectual equal — was total."

Lincoln couldn't have met many people of any color who were his intellectual equal, so Douglass must have been a welcome visitor. The cabinet member he respected the most was Gideon Welles; none of his generals was remotely in Lincoln's class save Grant, and his intellect was nowhere near as developed as Lincoln's. Great general, though.

I actually think/hope that had Lincoln been allowed a glimpse ahead to 1/21/09, he would have been more curious than anything else. Above all, his was a facile, flexible mind that likely would not have had much difficulty grasping that the Civil War had wrought unimaginable change between 1865 and 2009. For all we know, he might have wondered why an African-American had not been elected sooner.

Incidentally, the article alludes to Lincoln's "Southern" parents as a drag on his thoughts on race. Southern they were, but I believe they were also anti-slavery. This didn't preclude them from viewing black people as social inferiors, but it must have influenced Lincoln's view that slavery was an abomination.

John Hayes said...

Interesting comment about Lincoln's view of Frederick Douglass. I do think-- as it appears you do--that it's problematic to assume parental views on race necessarily mold their children's views in a particular way-- particularly that negative views by the parents are also mimicked in the offspring. Tho I suppose it's specious in a way to compare a 19th & 20th century situation, I do know that my attitudes differ from my folks-- they were both born in the nineteen teens, & their views reflected that. For what it's worth, my mom did vote for Obama, & I suspect my dad would have too were he still living.

Very thought-provoking post.

Sylvia K said...

It is indeed a great post and thank you for Lincoln's inaugural address, good to read it again and to listen to King's speech. I hope we've learned something over the years, most of the time I have serious doubts, but for now, I'm hopeful that we really will move forward. I am so ready for that new day!!

Foxessa said...

Poor white laboring people were of mixed feelings about slavery. They disliked slavery because it undercut their own value on the job market -- slaves did a lot of the work that normally a paid proletariet would do, for no pay. However, freed slaves would also flood the job market with labor that could be got for under-value. So, a dilemma and a paradox.

It's not an accident that it was with the dismanteling of Jim Crow laws that the doors to immigration were thrown open again. The pool of really cheap labor had to be replenished.

As for Lincoln, if he'd lived, what he'd have thought of an Obama -- Lincoln never stopped growing and changing all his life, and through his presidency too. There's no reason that he wouldn't have been able to admit and admire a black man into the ranks of power -- and indeed, if he hadn't been assassinated, if his plans had been implemented, this well could have happened far sooner.

What puzzled me in this opinion piece, is that he saw Mrs. Keckley every day just about after he took office. Evidently Gates & S. ranked her as staff / servant.

Also by all accounts Mrs. Lincoln was pretty open re race. She was an ardent abolitionist before she met Lincoln. She'd been raised with slaves on a plantation and she loathed slavery with every bit of her being. She had a fair amount of influence on Lincoln during their time together.

Love, c.

Closet Camouflage said...

Let us never forget that the African, Jewish, and Irish - Americans have always been the best at humor. I believe it has to do with oppression, and I for one think it's a beautiful, liberal reaction to being thought of as lesser than. I hope we don't become the power hungry, humorless morons we've replaced. To think it's not possible with our kind is to think to highly of our collective selves, and begin the whole process over.

Let's try to stop the process of nastiness. Hold it in.

Extremism makes ugly possible.

K. said...

" I hope we don't become the power hungry, humorless morons we've replaced. "

I hope so, too. Thanks for dropping by; hope to see you again.

Foxessa said...

Ren -- I'd call the first the War of Independence. The Civil War was the actual revolution.

Jefferson wrote the Declaration, more by default, than by design. Lovely rhetoric, none of which he implemented in his own opulent way of life.

In this post-Freudian era one will speculate whether that rigid, relentless measurement of his every day and the occupations that filled the chron niches without flexibility was a reaction to holding in all the lies, hypocrisies and contradictions of his life.

Love, C.

mouse (aka kimy) said...

so tragic that mlk has been dead for more years than he was alive and he would have only been 80 - with folks in there 80s and quite a few friends up there too, eighty doesn't seem old anymore.