By Sarah Schroeder
“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.” -Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address
This weekend I spent a lot of time reflecting on my favorite president: Abraham Lincoln. I had the opportunity to visit the two main sites in D.C. dedicated to Abe: the Lincoln Memorial (this time at night) and Ford’s Theatre. Lincoln is consistently revered as one of the top presidents for leading the United States during the Civil War, and ultimately abolishing slavery and uniting the nation.
Considering my love and admiration for Lincoln, I had high expectations for the Lincoln Memorial, but I didn’t expect to be so moved by it. The sheer size of the monument is astounding and certainly is appropriate to honor Lincoln. The very spot where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his infamous “I Have a Dream” speech is engraved in front of where Lincoln sits. Being able to stand in that same spot and look across the reflecting pool at the Washington Monument is indescribable. The monument represents some of the greatest moments in American history, that were spurred by injustice and divide.
Possibly my favorite aspect of the structure are the words engraved into each side. On Lincoln’s left is the Gettysburg Address and on the right is his second inaugural address. Before visiting D.C., I don’t believe I have ever read the inaugural speech in full. The speech was given at a time when the Civil War was coming to an end. During the speech, Lincoln speaks of the divide in the country due to the interest of slavery.
Lincoln’s words are direct towards the south, calling the injustice the south committed to slaves as the cause of the war, but are unifying in regards to religion and both sides ignorance regarding the war four years earlier. Neither side anticipated a gruesome, lengthy war, but that was the reality. Lincoln’s words need to not be a victory speech for the Union, instead a unifying promise towards continuing reconstruction.
Lincoln’s discourse is intentionally forthright regarding the South’s involvement in slavery and the beginning of the Civil War, but not accusatory, because of the desire for a united nation. Lincoln’s inauguration fell just a few months before the end of the war, during a time of deep frustration and divide in our nation.
Reading his inaugural address, I cannot imagine a modern day president giving a speech comparable to Lincoln’s. Perhaps it is reliant on the situation at hand, but Lincoln’s words are incredibly moving, while maintaining brevity and timelessness. Words are important, and political discourse relies on the ability for those involved to understand and accept the other side, while working to achieve one’s own goals. Lincoln’s words will be remembered and cherished forever because of their civility and call to action during an incredibly difficult time period in American history.
While our current situation is not anywhere near as bad of a crisis or as treacherous and bloody, we are living in a time of deep polarization. Trump’s inauguration marks a critical time when our country will find out just what the President-elect’s administration will bring. Lincoln knew that a country divided needed more than flowery speeches from its leader, it needed action and understanding and direction.
Lincoln’s inaugural address was historic and memorable, and Trump will give his own address at his inauguration this coming Friday. Will Trump be able to give his divided nation a message of action, understanding, and direction?