Down in D.C.

The Vietnam War Memorial in Washington D.C. (photo by Brian Hollander)

I wasn’t sure I wanted to go to Washington D.C. and do the tourist thing for a couple of days early in October. I am angry at the government, feel as if those in power are taking actions that are harmful to the general public, to you and me, in favor of those replete with wealth. These feelings were exacerbated by the white marble opulence of the Capitol, where we toured, the sense of absolute removal from the reality of streets, of urban and rural life, of the America out there, out here, where families struggle, where the toe hold that we painstakingly obtained on health care is threatened, where proposed tax laws will rob from us to give to the rich, where money spread around keeps sensible gun laws from being enacted despite widespread support of the public…and on and on…

Sure, we saw some wonderful stuff, the Newseum, various branches of the Smithsonian…

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But it wasn’t until Lincoln that I felt good to be there. That giant statue of him sitting, majestically watching America go by…

And inscribed on the wall to his left was his second Inaugural Address, all 698 words. It was a somber Lincoln in early 1865. The country was ripped apart by the Civil War.

“Both parties deprecated war, but 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 said, speaking of the time of his first Inaugural, four years earlier.

Defenders of the Confederacy and its symbols might want to look at what Lincoln then said.

“One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war…”

and

“…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…”

Lincoln finished with the quote that most people remember rather than the above…

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.”

Old Abe. Honest Abe. We’re still working on it, Abe.

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