Letter: The American Imperative

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letters to the editorLaguna Beach was privileged to host Dr. Ronald White, a Lincoln and Grant biographer and Presbyterian Minister, for a series of lectures and a sermon on leadership the first weekend in August. Sunday’s sermon was given to a packed Laguna Presbyterian Church and was a remarkable retelling of America’s Sermon on the Mount, Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address. At the end of the sermon, we stood as a congregation and recited the final paragraph of the speech; a call to heal, an imperative, the American Imperative.

The entire speech is a Google search away and worth the five minutes to read what can happen to a people so divided and so believing they are on the right side of God, they are willing to die for it. While short in length, slightly longer than this letter, the address is an anti-triumphant statement of history that neither the North nor the South wanted war, and both were equally responsible for war; as Lincoln said, “And the war came.”

What follows is an unrepentant recitation of the need to end America’s original sin, slavery. A sin that broke every covenant that ties us together as human beings and with which we still struggle to this day. Lincoln makes it clear that he was willing to risk the death of the nation to end the ability of one man to enslave other.

The final 74 words, the final paragraph, are some of the most important in American history. Through this declaration, he provides a road map for healing, an imperative, for all Americans to use in times of division. Lincoln knows that his generation is broken, and that future generations of Americans can be broken too. He also knows that if you vilify your fellow man, healing will never come.

As we rise to voice our opinion on all issues impacting our families, city, nation and the world, I pray that we follow Lincoln and affirm, “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 do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

John Gabbard, Laguna Beach


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  1. Excellent letter, John. Lincoln himself was a metaphor for the brokenness of America at that time in its history. Yet, it was a moment of creative transformation. The British monarchy had institutionalized involuntary servitude into its colonial regime to create comparative advantage by lowering labor costs. The moral monstrosity of humanitarian Hell that created for America was first confronted by the misery and miracles of the war to end monarchy, followed by flawed confederation and finally a more perfect union. That fatefully accommodated the existence of slavery, thereby creating the bonds between states that could not be broken when the bloody time came for fraternal armies to confront and end the legacy of human bondage. The profound irony is that the dreaded 3/5’s clause in Article I of the Constitution led to division of the nation half free and half slave, and the Dred Scott ruling declared the Missouri/Maine Compromise unconstitutional on the grounds that there could not be one law for half the nation and another for the other half. That meant slavery law must be uniform nationally or abolished nationally. So what we now regard as the evil of the 3/5’s clause and the Dred Scot ruling was actually part of the American imperative that led to agonizing mass murder that purged our nation of an evil for which a terrible price that had to be paid. And it fell on Lincoln’s twisted and misshapen shoulders to prosecute death to seek a new life. Everything before Lincoln was prelude and everything since is epilogue. The evil we face today in within our power to defeat because of what Lincoln and a nation intoxicated by a greater evil did to make a rebirth and a new life for a new nation possible. My ancestors on both my parents’ side were abolitionists from the first days of slavery, my great great grandfathers fought for the union and one is buried at Fredericksburg. Their grandfathers fought in the American Revolution. My parents and grandparents were Republicans who never spoke a disparaging word about anyone’s race or religion and supported Martin Luther King’s civil rights movement honored the sacrifice of our forebears. Yet, as before and since the moment when the struggle for freedom was replaced by the struggle for equality, we are still responsible for the duty and discipline imported into our own time that Lincoln also confirmed. For he noted that little if anything of government policy or action is wholly good or wholly evil, so that a constant determination must be made of the prepondernce of good or evil in any proposed course of action. That is as true today as it was in 1861. The work of making our union more perfect never ends. That is why I go to the Lincoln Memorial every time I am in Washington and read the Gettysburg Address out loud. It never fails that others join in, and it never fails that I become unable to speak where he talks about our words not being equal to the acts of those who died in blood soaked soil. That the calculation of good and evil is never done means that the the union will always be imperfect, and healing is ever part of work of making it ever more perfect, which is the essential nature of the human endeavor for justice.

  2. And in our town, the endeavor for justice is no where more besieged than it is in the School Board majority’s attack on diversity and dissent. We have good schools but healing is needed to attain a civic governance process to make our good schools even better, and to teach children who are watching more than we think lessons in democracy and justice as important as what they learn in the classroom.


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