A Sacred Effort

I try to visit the Lincoln memorial down on the National Mall once a month. While I don’t always have the time – every time I’m there I at least make an effort to go and read the text of one of my favorite Lincoln speeches engraved on the north side of the inner chamber of the memorial: the Second Inaugural.



In just a few days, President Barack Obama will be sworn in for his second term – using bibles from Martin Luther King, Jr. and Abraham Lincoln.

Of course, prior to the 1933 passage of the Twentieth Amendment, inaugurations took place in early March, but still on the occasion of the Second Inauguration of our nation’s first African American president – it feels right to reflect on President Lincoln’s words. If it’s been a while since you’ve read it I recommend checking it out here.

Lincoln himself was purportedly concerned that the speech didn’t have the desired effect. In a letter to Seward friend Lincoln political advisor Thurlow Weed – Lincoln wrote of his speech:

“Everyone likes a compliment. Thank you for yours on my little notification speech and on the recent  Inaugeral Address. I expect the latter to wear as well as – perhaps better than – any thing I have produced; but I believe it is not immediately popular.”

From what we can tell though, Lincoln may not have been the best judge of his own popularity in this instance. The fantastic anecdote of a conversation between Lincoln and Frederick Douglass portray’s this most clearly:

“As I approached him, he reached out his hand, gave me a cordial shake, and said: ‘Douglass, I saw you in the crowd today listening to my inaugural address. There is no man’s opinion that I value more than yours; what do you think of it?’ I said ‘Mr. Lincoln, I cannot stop here to talk with you, as there are thousands waiting to shake you by the hand’; he said again: ‘What did you think of it?, I said ‘Mr.Lincoln, it was a sacred effort,’ and then I walked off.” (More on this quote here.)

A sacred effort. Of course with all of the religious overtones and references to God’s role the sacred is easily explicable. For me however, it is the effort of that speech that stirs me. The effort to objectively distinguish the moral truths and ambiguities of the Civil War. The effort to shape a narrative from within the waning moments of the conflict – these are the things that make this speech special for me.

I want to hear from you in the comments:  what are your thoughts and reflections on Lincoln’s Second Inaugural?


I Do Not Want to Appear As If I Hesitated

Sometimes it’s hard to believe how in so many ways we are still so close to the Civil War. So yesterday, when I read historian Eric Foner’s op-ed in the New York Times on the importance of the the Emancipation Proclamation I found myself for the first time in a long time struck by that easily definable and so proximate value of “one hundred and fifty years.”



While we have certainly made a lot of changes in the past 150 years – and we’ve seen a lot of progress – that number lingers in my head as something that still seems so close and I find myself asking — how is it that the Emancipation Proclamation is only 150 years old?

Foner aptly assesses that the Proclamation – which functioned primarily as a military order declaring all enslaved persons in Confederate territory to be free – was “the crucial turning point in this story.”  While for many the importance of the proclamation was overshadowed by the ratification of the 13th amendment – we are still rightly taught the value of the Proclamation as the first decisive move towards shifting this war to more than just a battle between the states.

In case it’s been a while since you read it, below I’ve copied and pasted the text of the Proclamation — as we continue on our endeavor to remember the sesquicentennial, I urge everyone to reflect on what it is that these turning points have actually meant for our nation.

The Emancipation Proclamation – January 1, 1863

By the President of the United States of America:

A Proclamation.

Whereas, on the twenty-second day of September, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-two, a proclamation was issued by the President of the United States, containing, among other things, the following, to wit:

“That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.

“That the Executive will, on the first day of January aforesaid, by proclamation, designate the States and parts of States, if any, in which the people thereof, respectively, shall then be in rebellion against the United States; and the fact that any State, or the people thereof, shall on that day be, in good faith, represented in the Congress of the United States by members chosen thereto at elections wherein a majority of the qualified voters of such State shall have participated, shall, in the absence of strong countervailing testimony, be deemed conclusive evidence that such State, and the people thereof, are not then in rebellion against the United States.”

Now, therefore I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, by virtue of the power in me vested as Commander-in-Chief, of the Army and Navy of the United States in time of actual armed rebellion against the authority and government of the United States, and as a fit and necessary war measure for suppressing said rebellion, do, on this first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and in accordance with my purpose so to do publicly proclaimed for the full period of one hundred days, from the day first above mentioned, order and designate as the States and parts of States wherein the people thereof respectively, are this day in rebellion against the United States, the following, to wit:

Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, (except the Parishes of St. Bernard, Plaquemines, Jefferson, St. John, St. Charles, St. James Ascension, Assumption, Terrebonne, Lafourche, St. Mary, St. Martin, and Orleans, including the City of New Orleans) Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia, (except the forty-eight counties designated as West Virginia, and also the counties of Berkley, Accomac, Northampton, Elizabeth City, York, Princess Ann, and Norfolk, including the cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth[)], and which excepted parts, are for the present, left precisely as if this proclamation were not issued.

And by virtue of the power, and for the purpose aforesaid, I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States, and parts of States, are, and henceforward shall be free; and that the Executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons.

And I hereby enjoin upon the people so declared to be free to abstain from all violence, unless in necessary self-defence; and I recommend to them that, in all cases when allowed, they labor faithfully for reasonable wages.

And I further declare and make known, that such persons of suitable condition, will be received into the armed service of the United States to garrison forts, positions, stations, and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts in said service.

And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution, upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God.

In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty three, and of the Independence of the United States of America the eighty-seventh.

By the President: ABRAHAM LINCOLN
WILLIAM H. SEWARD, Secretary of State.


11 Tweets to Gettysburg

It would only take 11 tweets to tweet out the whole Gettysburg address.

And so with that in mind in only makes sense to take a minute to review the speech (and it really only takes that long to review the Gettysburg Address) on this it’s 149th anniversary. Always fun to keep in mind that Lincoln himself did not initially believe would be such a hit – were those words the first document instance of a #humblebrag or what? 😉

Check out the video above, linked to the C-SPAN video library and posted earlier today by the great folks over at C-SPAN’s American History TV — and listen to those words.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Wok N’ Roll & Lincoln’s Demise

As my stomach is starting to grumble in anticipation of my soon-to-be-eaten dinner, I figured it wouldn’t be a bad time to talk about one of my favorite spots in D.C. – Wok N’ Roll Restaurant.

Yes, ladies and gents, it’s true, it is possible to combine my love of Abraham Lincoln, puns and pan-Asian cuisine into one brilliant location.

Granted – the Lincoln connection is a grim one – and any mention of Mary Surratt & Lincoln is sure to bring one thick into the weeds of some of the more difficult elements of Lincoln’s legacy (assassination and suspension of habeas corpus to name a few) – but still a fascinating piece of Lincoln and D.C. history.