"Lincoln's second inaugural was held on March 4, 1865, on the east side of the Capitol," I wrote in "The Essential American." "The dome that had been half complete with a crane sticking out of the top at the time of the first inaugural was finished. The Union Army had been victorious in recent battles, and the outcome was all but determined. Slaves had been freed, and the Capitol was surrounded by the biggest crowd to date, with half of them reported as 'persons of color.'
"The morning was overcast with light rain. After Lincoln was introduced and welcomed with thunderous applause, the clouds broke and the sun came out as he began to speak."
In the 701 words of his second inaugural, Lincoln refers to God, prayer or the Bible 15 times. While his first inaugural laid out the ramifications of secession, his second was a plea for moving past the conflict into reconciliation.
He used repetition and poetry. He expressed hope, but made no predictions.
He reminded his audience that, in an attempt to avoid war four years earlier, "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."
He illustrated the heart-wrenching reality of families, friends and communities split and torn by the war. "Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God," Lincoln said. Both sides believed they were in the right, "and each invokes His aid against the other."
He concluded with a plea for reconciliation, "with malice toward none; with charity for all." And he asked that we work together as a nation to make peace and heal one another.
As we give thanks this week, I am thankful for our great leaders.
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