Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Inspired by Spielberg's film, Lincoln

There is one photograph of Lincoln’s second inaugural address.  It had rained for weeks, but crowds jostled to witness him speak.  Crowds pressed those on the edge of the balcony so they leaned halfway over the railings.  On the graded ground beneath the marble steps, the crowd strains visibly toward the point above, where the president stood, his body the one thing blurred, as if the world had stopped turning, but he was passing through.
He spoke briefly, a single handwritten sheet.
“Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. ‘Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.’ 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 bondsman'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.”
He folded the sheet roughly, like a note of no further interest.  He lowered his head and turned from the crowd to walk back to the White House.
Recently, three more photographs have been found—mislabeled in the National Archive.  Soldiers with bayonets lined the path through which Lincoln passed.  If you look close, on the left behind a flag, you may see the woman in a ragged dress who pressed through and plucked his sleeve.  He turned and paused to let her speak.  We can only imagine her words:
“When the war’s won, your battle will be lost,” she whispered.  “In the theater of war, there is no third wall.  You cannot draw a line of fire.”
Lincoln leaned closer, as if her face reminded her of a mourner in recent dream.
“The last act will be played with a curtain for a winding sheet, but your enemies shall be hung with the curtain wrapped around their heads.”
“Don’t listen to such nonsense,” an aid said.  Lincoln was too inclined to predict his own assassination.  He’d joked on the walk over, “Is it time for me to walk to my scaffold?”  He felt that, having drawn the great nation through this nightmare, could he wake unscathed?  Would he lie in peace if he had not paid, as so many did, with his own blood?