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Lincoln didn’t live to see Reconstruction falter, but he would have understood. About a month before he was assassinated, in his strange and beautiful Second Inaugural Address, Lincoln proclaimed bluntly that the sufferings of the Civil War were God’s punishment on America — “North and South” — for its 250-year-old sin of slavery.
In what is, perhaps understandably, not one of Lincoln’s most fondly remembered passages (though it was impressively dramatized at the close of last year’s “Lincoln”) the weary president said that “this mighty scourge of war” would be a righteous divine judgment on America even “if God wills that it continue … until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword.”
Lincoln then closed with what is a well-loved passage, urging the nation to make peace “with malice toward none; with charity for all …”
It didn’t turn out exactly that way. And yet, in a sense, perhaps Americans have embraced down to this day Lincoln’s final understanding of the Civil War — as a shared national calamity, without which the journey toward a broader definition of justice could not even begin.
D.J. Tice is at Doug.Tice@startribune.com.
The Opinion section is produced by the Editorial Department to foster discussion about key issues. The Editorial Board represents the institutional voice of the Star Tribune and operates independently of the newsroom.