Hoping to bridge the deep divisions we are currently experiencing, many Americans are looking for what Abraham Lincoln, in his first inaugural address on March 4, 1861, called the “the better angels of our nature.”
They never did appear to him.
Roughly six weeks after Lincoln spoke those words, hoping beyond hope to avert a massive bloodletting, the slavery cult known as the Confederacy bombarded Fort Sumter, South Carolina, setting off the Civil War.
Better angels were pretty scarce for the next four years.
When Lincoln was inaugurated the second time on March 4, 1865, the tone and substance of the speech was quite different from the first. Four years of murderous warfare had disabused him of any possible rapprochement with the slavery cult.
"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 bondman'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 judgements 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."
Considering that Lincoln's words might make some white people uncomfortable and considering that teaching America's racial history in 2022 is denounced by many white Americans as just stirring up trouble, how much longer will it be before Lincoln's second inaugural address, a stark recounting of our racial history, will be banned? Florida and Texas have already passed education laws that Lincoln's words would run afoul of. As he was inclined to do, Lincoln spoke the truth.
Five weeks later on April 9, 1865, the war ended with the surrender of General Lee to General Grant at Appomattox, Virginia. On the evening of April 11, Lincoln gave an impromptu speech from a White House balcony. In it he spoke favorably of the right of suffrage for the "Negro soldiers" who had fought for the Union and for other educated Black men. In the crowd that night was a well known actor of the time, John Wilkes Booth. He turned to his accomplice, David Herold, and said, " that means n----- citizenship. That is the last speech he will ever make." Three nights later, made uncomfortable by Lincoln's words, Booth, the firebrand white supremacist and fallen angel of our nature, would make his way into the president's box at Ford's Theater and put a bullet through Lincoln's head.
Just as the slavery cult once gripped a large section of America, many Americans today are enthralled by the extremist MAGA cult of grievances. In our 3rd Congressional District, MAGA candidate Joe Kent continues to assert that the 2020 election needs to be properly "adjudicated."
That is a blatant lie.
Trump's lawyers lost 62 times in court in 2020. They could never, in any court of law, show any evidence of voter fraud. Joe Kent and the MAGA cult are a mortal danger to our elections, to the rule of law and to our democracy.
"Better angels" are elusive and Lincoln knew that. They still are. In a democracy, the rule of law is a much more tangible peg for humans to hang our hats on.