Yesterday in 1865 was a bad day as a terrorist and traitor shot our President. The next day in 1865, the nation went from celebrating the end of the Civil War to deep mourning. It was Good Friday when Mr. Lincoln died and Holy Saturday left the enslaved wondering if Easter would ever come.
It was over one hundred years away.
Reconstruction without Lincoln failed. Over the course of the War Lincoln had learned and would have kept on learning. Frederick Douglass had it right: Lincoln was no saint in life, but he listened. Read Lincoln’s First Inaugural and his Second: the first was a fine political document, the second is one the most profound reflections on God, history, and war ever written by an American or any political figure.
And yet as Lincoln had said the Lord works in mysterious ways and what Wilkes Booth meant for evil, God turned to good. The assassination of Lincoln led to the 14th and 15th amendments to the Constitution that went beyond banning slavery, as Lincoln’s 13th amendment, did, but promised equal rights for the freed. People of African descent became, truly, African-American with the Reconstruction Amendments.
Perversely the descendants of the traitors, men like Thomas Dixon, hijacked the memory of Lincoln and the War. Frederick Douglass, the prophet of freedom, had to watch this happening as much that had been won was lost.We built statues honoring our enemies and let Grant’s tomb molder.
The younger Lincoln, the man with bad views on race, was the hero of the Southern historians who seized control of our history books, the older, wiser president was cut out of history. Douglass had it right in his funeral oration, Lincoln was a deeply flawed, Douglass did not whitewash Lincoln’s faults, but Douglass knew that Lincoln, a very great man on his way to becoming greater still, was the man of his time that the times needed. Sadly by the time Douglass delivered his analysis nobody was listening to the prophets, yet Douglass saw the truth:
Fellow-citizens, the fourteenth day of April, 1865, of which this is the eleventh anniversary, is now and will ever remain a memorable day in the annals of this Republic. It was on the evening of this day, while a fierce and sanguinary rebellion was in the last stages of its desolating power; while its armies were broken and scattered before the invincible armies of Grant and Sherman; while a great nation, torn and rent by war, was already beginning to raise to the skies loud anthems of joy at the dawn of peace, it was startled, amazed, and overwhelmed by the crowning crime of slavery — the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. It was a new crime, a pure act of malice. No purpose of the rebellion was to be served by it. It was the simple gratification of a hell-black spirit of revenge. But it has done good after all. It has filled the country with a deeper abhorrence of slavery and a deeper love for the great liberator.
Had Abraham Lincoln died from any of the numerous ills to which flesh is heir; had he reached that good old age of which his vigorous constitution and his temperate habits gave promise; had he been permitted to see the end of his great work; had the solemn curtain of death come down but gradually — we should still have been smitten with a heavy grief, and treasured his name lovingly. But dying as he did die, by the red hand of violence, killed, assassinated, taken off without warning, not because of personal hate — for no man who knew Abraham Lincoln could hate him — but because of his fidelity to union and liberty, he is doubly dear to us, and his memory will be precious forever.
Just so: the Lord does work in mysterious ways.
Lincoln endured, his speeches graven in stone and memorized by school children. They could lie about him, whitewash him or turn him to devil, but Mr. Lincoln said:
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 a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.