In his first inaugural address, given on March 4, 1861, the day he was was first sworn into office as President of the United States, President Abraham Lincoln appealed to the secessionists to hold the nation together. He used the word “Union” twenty times, and sent a clear message that he would not allow the Union to be peaceably dissolved. “We cannot separate.”
I was raised by parents who revered Abraham Lincoln. We talked of him often and in the third grade I began to read stories about him, and things he had written and said. It was if he were a living mentor and guide.
I memorized the first inaugural address in the fifth grade. Most of it has been lost to my memory, so I go back frequently to read it. The passage that helps to keep me at my usual upbeat best is its conclusion:
I am loth 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 hearthstone, 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.
Lincoln’s speech did not stave off war. But the wisdom in its giving is that, come what may, the language of optimism – that together we will rise to our best – is far better that that of pessimism. This attitude guides me in my personal and professional endeavours and is, I hope, how I will be remembered. It is how I remember my parents.
Early on June 30 I was driving from Cheyenne, Wyoming toward Laramie. I pulled off at a rest area situated some 8600 feet in elevation – the highest point on Interstate 80. There stands a monument some 30 feet high consisting of a chiselled stone column topped by an enormous bust of President Lincoln.
I stood next to my hero for long minutes and breathed the warming morning air. These were moments of wonderful serenity and gratitude, similar to how I feel pulling into the dock after a good morning row, or when I my good family and friends are around me, or when I reflect on the good fortune in my life.
I thought, sure, there are bad things in life, but, see: the magnificence!
2 thoughts on “The Better Angels of Our Nature”
That place is treasured in my memory—Lincoln and the Lincoln Highway, which was the first transcontinental highway, opened in 1913 as you know. Woody sang in Hard Traveling:
I’ve been walking that Lincoln Highway, I thought you knowed,
I’ve been hittin’ that 66, way down the road
Heavy load and a worried mind, lookin’ for a woman that’s hard to find,
I’ve been hittin’ some hard travelin’, lord
I was there for the ribbon ceremony.