Julia Ward Howe, who penned the Battle Hymn of the Republic—just months after Fort Sumter’s fall—was a writer, poet, abolitionist, social activist and suffragette. To understand Ward Howe, we must understand her contextually, within the turbulent period in which she lived.
Truth goes marching on, she exclaimed, profoundly.
What a fitting backdrop for reflection upon the Civil War’s carnage—and upon the heroic leadership of our 16th President, Abraham Lincoln.
His integrity—the moral power of his person—so evident at Gettysburg—placed Lincoln in the cross-hairs of an assassin. At just 56, martyred with a pistol shot—17 months following his speech at Gettysburg—and just five days following Union victory and Confederate surrender at Appomattox.
With Lincoln, also perished nearly two percent of his countrymen—our countrymen—our forbearers—dead—from defending one side or the other of the conflagration. Today, with more citizens, comparable war would claim six-million souls.
Now—as then—we are becoming…have become…a people divided by exclusion—from the mainstream. Divided by rural against urban, masculine against feminine; white against nonwhite. College educated…or not. Divided by respect—or lack of it—for the dignity of “the other.” Divided by so much else!
Not yet are we so divided, however, as six generations ago. Not yet have we moved beyond the precipice; beyond the point of no return. Not yet are we drawn into a contemporary vortex…as irrevocable—as Fort Sumter’s shelling by Confederate rebels.
From Gettysburg, Lincoln’s words remind us, of this. This nation by which we are nurtured, is conceived and dedicated to principles of liberty, justice and equality. Now, as then, we are testing—even being tested—whether fallen soldiers from sixteen decades ago—even from recent days and months ago—shall remain honored, or shall have fallen in vain. Testing whether our government—of the people, by the people, for the people—shall endure. Testing whether we—the people…shall endure in dignity and respect, one for another.