I recently traveled to Washington, DC for meetings and to stand for the integrity of our electoral system as a citizen and at the behest of my neighbors here in Western Wisconsin.
On the now notorious January 6, I decided to walk down the mall to the Capitol and wait for the people to march there. The crowd was peaceful, many families with small children, elderly people, and others from all walks of life were mingling. The mood was festive.
When we arrived at the Capitol, several hundreds of people were on the grounds waving flags. There were multiple families with small children walking on the lawn.
Two of my friends, both combat veterans, and I stood on the parapet that lines the perimeter of the grounds and watched what should have been an expression of free speech devolve into one of the most tragic incidents in the history of our nation.
When it became clear that a protest had become a mob, I left the area as to remain there could be construed as tacitly approving this unlawful conduct. At no time did Ienter the grounds, let alone the building.
I was so disturbed that I went back to my hotel room and sat in shock watching the images unfold on television. The following day, I felt compelled to visit the Lincoln Memorial. This towering memorial is a somber reminder of the darkest days of our history and the type of statesmen we again require if we are to remain the nation I have dedicated my life to preserving.
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Abraham Lincoln’s presidency was bookended by two of the most powerful inaugural speeches ever penned by a president. Their power was derived from both their eloquence and the circumstances when they were delivered.
By March 4, 1861, seven states had seceded from the Union and the Republic was spinning into oblivion. Foreseeing the future devastation that this would lead to, Lincoln took a measured tone.
He chose to be the quiet voice in the storm, to not further inflame the passions of his fellow citizens.
The final paragraph of this address follows:
“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, stretching from every battlefield 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.”
Tragically, we know that these words were not heeded and the single most devastating conflict in American history ensued. If only everyday citizens and his fellow politicians had listened, the content of the second address would certainly been notably different.
After four years of bloody conflict, that would eventually see over 600,000 Americans killed by Americans, Lincoln intuitively understood that even if the Union was victorious, unless someone made the first step to reconciliation that even if the Union won the military conflict, that there would never truly be peace in America.
The last paragraph of his second inaugural address follows:
“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.”
If Abraham Lincoln could deliver these words in 1864, words not of condemnation but comfort in furtherance of the higher good, then we as American citizens must listen to them in 2021 or we will suffer the consequences.
And, unless we have statesmen who will put aside political differences in this time of crisis, we will hurl ourselves into the abyss that I have seen in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Africa.
I never want to see this happen in our great nation.
Derrick Van Orden is former Republican congressional candidate for Wisconsin’s third district.
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