Wednesday, July 28, 2004

"better angels"

I was intrigued by this phrase when I learned that it was a quote from Lincoln's first inaugural address. Here's a bit more context, from Lincoln's First Inaugural Address (Top Treasure): American Treasures of the Library of Congress:
Until the final draft, Lincoln's address had ended with a question for the South: 'Shall it be peace or sword?' In the famous concluding paragraph, Lincoln, following the suggestion of Seward, moderated his tone dramatically and ended on a memorable note of conciliation:

"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, stre[t]ching 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."

This is, in some ways, an odd statement to make, almost more relevant to the end of a war that hadn't yet started when he spoke these words. Maybe it's because our perspective is now post-war that I read these words as almost an exhortation to me to forgive those people strained by passion in the recent past.

I find this hard to do. But as I grow older I understand more the necessity for forgiveness and forgetting, even when it arises out of intellect than out of genuine feeling. Perhaps this is why the convention theme of a United States, so ably articulated by Barak Obama, resonates with me--because I long for a reunion with my people.