It Belongs in a Museum

Indiana Jones believed in the sanctity of historical artifacts. As a historian, there is nothing more sacred in the annals of history than than a primary document. History is made up of them. From laws to handwritten notes, journals, and diaries and now emails, presidential daily briefings (pdb), history writes about the past from the view of the present. In our quest as historians, we are always searching for the latest in documents.

On my way to teach about the 1920s Republican administrations (Harding and Coolidge) today, I was listening to the news on the radio. I heard that Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address is up for sale.

At the Corcoran Gallery of Art, a hand-written draft of a speech by Abraham Lincoln is on temporary display before it’s auctioned off. Although it’s not as famous as the Gettysburg Address, historians say it marks an important moment in U.S. History….

The manuscript will be offered for sale at Christie’s New York on February 12th. Coover says the presale price is estimated somewhere between $3-4 million. But at auction, of course, the price could go much higher. Coover says there has been some institutional interest from different museums.

I was shocked to hear this. What person in their right mind would sell this? What person would not give it to a museum? I guess Abe will be doing his part to help the economy if it does go for $3-4 million dollars. However, this artifact of history belongs in either the Library of Congress, the National Archives, or at the very least, the Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield. Imagine if the Declaration of Independence was not available for the public to see? This is a document that belongs to the people.

Now as presidential speeches go, the address is one of brevity and eloquence that looks at the long road of rebuilding the “wounds” of the nation after the Civil War. Most presidents in the modern era would not think to speak for only a few minutes. But for Lincoln, he could pack a powerful punch in just a few words. A master storyteller himself, Lincoln always got right to the point. His view of public speaking is refreshing compared to today’s modern drawn television affairs. Imagine how nice it would be to turn on the TV to see a President speak for five minutes!

But for Lincoln, the time is not what makes his speeches so efficient. Take a look…

At this second appearing to take the oath of the presidential office, there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first. Then a statement, somewhat in detail, of a course to be pursued, seemed fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration of four years, during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention, and engrosses the enerergies of the nation, little that is new could be presented. The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself; and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured.

On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago, all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil-war. All dreaded it — all sought to avert it. While the inaugeral address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war — seeking to dissolve the Union, and divide effects, by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war; but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive; and the other would accept war rather than let it perish. And the war came.

One eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the Southern half part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was, somehow, the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union, even by war; while the government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war, the magnitude, or the duration, which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with, or even before, the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces; but let us judge not that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!” If we shall suppose that American Slavery is one of those offences which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South, this terrible war, as the woe due to those by whom the offence came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a Living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope — fervently do we pray — that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said f[our] three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether”

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 achieve and cherish a lasting peace among ourselves and with the world. to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with the world. all nations.

It is a masterpiece of America, and it should remain in the public domain. It tells us of what could have been. We were robbed of four more years of one greatest leaders, if not the greatest, the world has ever know. For that reason alone, it belongs in a museum.


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