Famous Last Words

This morning, before going off on a trip to Mae Rim (note to self: the dollar isn’t holding its value very well against the baht, and Monday is a bad morning to buy bread), I was working on my lecture notes for Speech class for this week. Because I have civil war on the brain (both by my own life experience and the situation on the ground here in Southeast Asia), and because I just might be the biggest Abraham Lincoln fan in the area where I am, I thought it would be useful to help teach conclusions by providing my students with the conclusions (or perorations) of three of Lincolns most famous and important speeches. I chose the Cooper Union Speech (because I really love it–it demolishes with factual evidence the claims that hostile legislation against slavery was unconstitutional by showing the evidence of the congressional votes and bills signed into law by the signers of the constitution themselves) as well as the first and second inaugural addresses.

Let us examine these conclusions, as they are both rhetorically fascinating as well as relevant to the times in which we live. First, let us examine the closing of the Cooper Union Speech:

“Wrong as we think slavery is, we can yet afford to let it alone where it is, because that much is due to the necessity arising from its actual presence in the nation; but can we, while our votes will prevent it, allow it to spread into the National Territories, and to overrun us here in these Free States? If our sense of duty forbids this, then let us stand by our duty, fearlessly and effectively. Let us be diverted by none of those sophistical contrivances wherewith we are so industriously plied and belabored – contrivances such as groping for some middle ground between the right and the wrong, vain as the search for a man who should be neither a living man nor a dead man – such as a policy of “don’t care” on a question about which all true men do care – such as Union appeals beseeching true Union men to yield to Disunionists, reversing the divine rule, and calling, not the sinners, but the righteous to repentance – such as invocations to Washington, imploring men to unsay what Washington said, and undo what Washington did.

Neither let us be slandered from our duty by false accusations against us, nor frightened from it by menaces of destruction to the Government nor of dungeons to ourselves. LET US HAVE FAITH THAT RIGHT MAKES MIGHT, AND IN THAT FAITH, LET US, TO THE END, DARE TO DO OUR DUTY AS WE UNDERSTAND IT.”

So, here we have a rousing and closing speech–the last paragraph of which is a masterpiece of sound political rhetoric that expresses my own ferocious devotion to right and to infusing the right with such might as I possess, rather than assuming that might makes right. The difference between Abraham Lincoln’s closing and the bullying of Burma’s military against its own minority people is astounding. Indeed, Abraham Lincoln’s whole speech is hostile to the authoritarian tendencies of our times and our debased culture (much like the antebellum Southern culture) calling the righteous to repentance because they could not bear to hear their sins condemned by anyone. Just as it was in the days of Abraham Lincoln with slave owners refusing to admit that their form of slavery was ungodly–that it violated biblical law, which set definite limitations on slave owning in time limits as well as the behavior limits of masters (who had to free slaves they deformed by biblical law, consider their slaves as brethren, equals, and who could not sell slaves they had treated as concubines, all laws which the Bible commands that were broken repeatedly by southern slave owners), so it is today with abortionists and the lobbies of deviancy.

Let us now turn to Lincoln’s first inaugural:

“In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The government will not assail you. You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath registered in Heaven to destroy the government, while I shall have the most solemn one to “preserve, protect, and defend it.”

I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearth-stone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

When I think of the current state of the Thai nation and its fragile unity, this peroration comes to mind (then again, I am a partisan of Lincoln). If, say, Yingluck’s Pheu Thai Party were to win the election in two weeks, as seems likely, she could easily give a similar message to this in both rhetoric and meaning, and the mood would be similar. Why should neighbors and brethren be enemies? The government, whichever party wins, will not oppress its military establishment, nor harm the monarchy, so why is there a feeling that a victory by one party over the other would require the military to take drastic action against its own citizens and its own people, to pour blood in the street through a military uprising?

Abraham Lincoln was answering a similar question–for he too was voted into the presidency by a constitutional majority, with no vote rigging, and yet he was denounced as illegitimate by his opponents who could not bear to lose their spoils and their status as an illegitimately ruling minority. Not every nation has an Abraham Lincoln moment, where the voice of the people corresponds with the voice of God, as it did in placing the 16th American President in office. Let nations and their leaders act wisely in situations where truth threatens the power and influence of the high and mighty. Thailand may very well be in such a crisis right now–may it hope that it has an Abraham Lincoln among its leadership, who is capable of warning the nation of danger and of steeling its reserve to fight against the evil that it has come time to deal with in a realm.

Finally, let us also note the closing of the second inaugural:

” 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.”

Here we see no gloating, no posing, as would be common for lesser men and women who have engaged in great struggles. Rather, there is the concern to help heal the nation’s wounds, and the wound of its citizens who spent four years shooting at each other. When a nation is recovering from a civil war, the best and most lasting recovery is when that nation binds up its sounds and seeks to achieve a just and lasting peace within itself and with the entire world. For we ought not to be a war-mongering people but we ought to desire peace so much as it depends on us. If we will accept war rather than suffer humiliation or tyranny (and I would accept war rather than accept such a government over me), then let us first desire a just peace rather than seek war so that we may unjustly rule over others, as was sought last year by ungodly and wicked religious leaders in my church, and as was sought by the wicked and ungodly Southerners in the 1850’s and early 1860’s, and appears to be sought now by wicked and ungodly military leaders all over Southeast Asia. May God have mercy on us all. For as Psalm 120:7 says: “For I am for peace; but when I speak, they are for war.”

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American Civil War, American History, Church of God, History, Musings and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Famous Last Words

  1. Cathy Martin says:

    That is when you know what is in their hearts. Psalm 120:7 is quite revealing; the war mongering is more about the posturing, politics and personalities (“…when I speak they are for war”) than it is about humbling the self and seeking God’s way.

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