In his second Inaugural Address, President Abraham Lincoln delivered one of the finest speeches in American political history.
With a bloody civil war nearly at its end with a Union victory, this address needed to reassure the American people. This war not only ended slavery, but also prevented the country from splitting apart. Building and maintaining the peace might have proved as difficult as the war itself.
President Lincoln’s presidential legacy cannot be separated from the Civil War, which virtually started with the commencement of the War and ended only days before his assassination.
As I write these words on Election Day, I know this is the most important election I can remember in my lifetime. We are a nation that has been torn apart in the past four years. Though it is a popular narrative to blame all of our divisiveness on the election of Donald Trump as president, I think this is too facile an explanation.
This process can be traced back decades before to various events which created cracks in our national unity.
The first I recall was the arrest and beating of Rodney King. I still recall my shock at watching this event and flinching with nearly every blow these officers struck on King. Naively, I believed these officers would be brought to justice. When the initial criminal trial did not result in verdicts against these officers, I experienced a sense of bewilderment. The speed at which LA raged into riots surprised me as well.
Within a couple of years, another trial captured our national attention. One of my childhood sports heroes, O.J. Simpson, went on trial for a double murder. Not only did the country seem divided on the guilt or innocence of Simpson but even more so during the trial. When the jury declared him innocent, once again the nation exploded in outrage.
What these events illustrated to me was how the United States still had not fully come to terms with slavery and its often-tortured racial history. As I mentioned earlier, President Lincoln faced a herculean task to bring the country out of this war and to ensure the future of the unity of America.
In his Second Inaugural Address, Lincoln counseled, 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."
Americans feel heavily invested in the outcome of the 2020 election. While most of the attention is focused on the presidential race, which party controls the House of Representatives and Senate is equally important. Unfortunately, politics has further divided the nation.
The fact we still have significant disagreements regarding the status of Civil War monuments and military bases prove to me we still have much reckoning to do.
Like most of you, I have my preferences for how I would like to see the election play out and I have not been shy from expressing them here, on social media and in my private life. Nevertheless, I know it is possible by the time you read this column; the election results might still be unknown.
What I do know is that regardless of the results, we must follow the advice and sentiment of President Lincoln as we work to rebuild our nation.
Nicolas Toledo Shump is a longtime educator and writer in northeast Kansas. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.