Whenever the blues set in, I return to those sure endorphin stimulators, like reading the opening paragraph of "A Farewell to Arms" or some other old friend in print and I keep going until I fall asleep.
One of those in the pantheon of magic mind blowers is Lincoln's Second Inaugural address, which I re read last night and saw something in it, I hadn't before.
You can get caught up in the poetry and lyricism so that you miss an important point--Lincoln, who is so direct and the master of clarity and economy, obfuscates unashamedly at crucial points throughout this wonderful oration.
He starts out by recalling his first address, but early on he uses unnecessarily complex sentence structure: "on the occasion corresponding to this four years ago" rather than, "at the first inaugural."
He has already reversed the normal associations of words in phrases, by saying the the course of the war "absorbed the attention" and "engrossed the energies" of the nation, rather than the ordinary "engrossed the attention" and "absorbed the energies." That little trick is simply a way of keeping things fresh, but why the ornate "occasion corresponding to four years ago?"
Then he addresses what has happened between the first and second inaugural addresses.
He marches through the answer to the "what" question most masterfully, and with an authority nobody but Lincoln could muster. What happened to bring on the war? Well, he says, there were these people called slaves who constituted a "peculiar interest" and "all knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war."
Thus, he puts to rest for the ages all the possible revisionist history which might follow, about "The Lost Cause" or "economic forces" causing the war. Like Eisenhower touring the concentration camps at the end of WWII, ordering films and photographs to document what was found there, both leaders knew that in ensuing generations some would try to change the story, and both took care to establish the truth, undeniable, inalienable. What happened cannot be in dispute. The war was, ultimately, about slavery. And this comes from the man who tried to convince himself and his countrymen, at the outset that slavery was not the cause, that Union was the cause.
But it when he gets around to trying to answer the "why" question that he gets particularly un Lincoln, and very obscure.
Basically, what he says is it may be that God may have looked at slavery as so grievous offense against His will that he required that each drop of blood drawn by the lash should be repaid by one drawn by the sword and since this has been going on for 250 years, a lot of blood was going to be required.
But here's the thing, as much or more blood was shed by the agents of ending slavery, i.e. the soldiers of the Union army, as was shed by the defenders of slavery. So how does one explain why the agents of retribution should be so afflicted? The only possible explanation, the only possible inference would be that somehow the North was just as guilty as the South in the institution of slavery.
Lincoln, of course, would never be so impolitic as to suggest the North deserved punishment, but that is what he very clearly is suggesting.
How had the North been guilty? By tolerating slavery, I suppose. And the Northern mills used Southern cotton.
There is also that delicious aside,"It may seem strange that any men should dare ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces,"* by which he is saying it might seem strange that men should ask a just God for help with acquiring wealth and sustenance by enslaving other men. This remark follows his observation that men of the South invoked God to justify their "Cause," and they read the same Bible and prayed to the same God as those in the North. And he says that since both appealed to the same God for help, only one side could be right and only one side could get the answer it was looking for. How the South could possibly expect help from a just God strikes Lincoln as perplexing but then he slides into that humble mode he did so well, "judge not lest we be judged."
So Lincoln, ever so delicately makes the case that the South was simply wrong in asserting there was any moral justification for slavery. What he is doing is to say, well, they've had their answer from God, but we here in the North won't gloat over it.
In this, we hear President Obama, who was not interested in chasing down the nasties who brought us to the brink of economic collapse; he was only interested in getting past it.
Unfortunately, that led to the emergence of a very real nasty.
What the country needs now is a U.S. Grant, who has the moral authority to take us to a better place.
What we've got is anyone's guess.
*This I learned after posting is from Genesis where God expels Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden and tells them they must obtain their bread from the sweat of their own faces. Lincoln read the Bible, unlike me. I did not recognized it, but I was struck by the oddity of the expression.