Monday, April 14, 2008

Belonged to the Ages

Not quite one hundred and fifty years ago, a president from Illinois put together a team that would work together to preserve the American Union. The amazing political genius of Lincoln is chronicled in Doris Kearns Goodwin's, A Team of Rivals. This is not meant to be a book review, for I have not read the 757 page dictionary sized book.

But a good friend read it and he gave it to my partner who finished it just last night. And in the crisp evening light, she read the last chapter out loud. The style is narrative and friendly. Here is a little excerpt from Chapter One:

On May 18, 1860, the day when the Republican Party would nominate its candidate for president, Abraham Lincoln was up early. As he climbed the stairs to his plainly furnished law office on the west side of the public square in Springfield, Illinois, breakfast was being served at the 130-room Chenery House on Fourth Street. Fresh butter, flour, lard, and eggs were being put out for sale at the City Grocery Store on North Sixth Street. And in the morning newspaper, the proprietors at Smith, Wickersham & Company had announced the arrival of a large spring stock of silks, calicos, ginghams, and linens, along with a new supply of the latest styles of hosiery and gloves.

The Republicans had chosen to meet in Chicago. A new convention hall called the "Wigwam" had been constructed for the occasion. The first ballot was not due to be called until 10 a.m. and Lincoln, although patient by nature, was visibly "nervous, fidgety, and intensely excited." With an outside chance to secure the Republican nomination for the highest office of the land, he was unable to focus on his work."

But this is what I heard last night:

Shortly after dawn, Mary entered the room for the last time. "The death-struggle had begun, Welles recorded. "As she entered the chamber and saw how the beloved features were distorted, she fell fainting to the floor." Restoratives were given, and Mary was assisted back to the sofa in the parlor, never again to see her husband alive.

No sooner had "the town clocks struck seven" one observer recalled, that "the character of the President's breathing changed. It became faint and low. At intervals it altogether ceased, until we thought him dead. And then it would be again resumed" Lincoln's nine-hour struggle had reached its final moments. (clip)

At 7:22, April 15 , 1865, Abraham Lincoln was pronounced dead. Stanton's concise tribute from his deathbed still echoes. Now he belongs to the ages."

Abraham Lincoln was shot one hundred and forty three years ago tonight, and somehow, someone decided that the next day when he died would be a fitting deadline for our income tax.

If you have been to his monument in Washington, you might have noticed the words from his second inaugural etched in the stone to the right. When I first did, I was floored.

"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 bondman’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. "

If only Republicans talked like that now.

And our public discourse

belonged to the ages.

With malice toward none;

with charity for all


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