My wife and I recently visited Springfield, Illinois as we meandered down old Route 66 on vacation. We visited a lot of the Lincoln spots in Springfield- the Lincoln museum, the Lincoln Library, his old residence, and his burial memorial site. We were moved by these visits. Abraham Lincoln was a study in moral leadership, statesmanship, courage, and a forgiving spirit.
Indeed, I have always been touched by his second inaugural address, delivered just weeks before he was assassinated. In that marvel of a speech, Lincoln stated that the nation needed to begin “binding the wounds” that four years of Civil War had wrought on the nation.
“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.”
Lincoln’s rhetoric here was a classic example of moral leadership. This speech was delivered on March 21, 1865, nineteen days before the surrender at Appomattox Court House which effectively ended the Civil War. The nation was still at war, in the most bitter confrontation this country has experienced. People on both sides were NOT in a mood of reconciliation and forgiveness. Lincoln’s bold proclamation may have even shortened his life since one of the attendees of that speech was John Wilkes Booth. This may have solidified for Booth that Lincoln must die for his belief about binding wounds and finding a way to move ahead with “charity, not malice”.
I was saddened again in visiting this great man’s grave, wondering how things may have been different had he lived to oversee a reconstruction that looked very different than what later happened under Andrew Johnson.
I also pondered the power of moral leadership and how it helps to shape a national psyche.