James A. Garfield National Historic Site | Underground RR Freedom Network
Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area | Circle X Ranch
California National Historic Trail | Echo Information Center, UT
Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail | Echo Information Center, UT
Pony Express National Historic Trail | Echo Information Center, UT
Highlighting this month’s stamps are a set of five new stamps for the U.S. Civil Rights Trail partnership program. The U.S. Civil Rights Trail, which was just launched in 2017, actually has nothing to do with the National Historic Trails that so frequently feature in these regular passport cancellation update blog posts. A National Historic Trail can only be designated by Congress, and must reflect a route whose significance arises from actually being used in history. The U.S. Civil Rights Trail, however, is instead a branding mechanism to encourage both Americans and international tourists to explore the historic legacy of the 20th Century struggle for African-American civil rights in this country.
This program actually originated in an effort by the Obama Administration to identify additional American sites for recognition as World Heritage Sites by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO.) Despite the vast natural, historic, and cultural heritage of the United States, this country currently only has 23 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. That total is tied for just 10th most in the world with Iran, and behind such countries as Italy (#1 with 54 sites), Spain (47 sites), and Mexico (34 sites.) The idea of the US Civil Rights Trail is to connect together all of the significant sites associated with the civil rights movement, that might ultimately become suitable for nomination to be recognized as a World Heritage Site. UNESCO encourages such “serial nominations” that include multiple related and thematically connected locations together as a single “site,” so the concept of the US Civil Rights Trail could well boost the United States’ chances of being so recognized.
Currently, the US Civil Rights Trail actually includes nearly 100 different places in 14 primary destination cities, as well as in dozens of secondary destination cities. Some of the 14 primary destination cities need little introduction to anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the history of the civil rights movement, including Atlanta, Birmingham, Memphis, and Washington. Others included in the 14 primary destination cities may be less familiar. Farmville, Virginia was the site of a school desegregation case that was ultimately rolled into the more famous Brown v. Board of Education case from Topeka, Kansas. Sumner, Mississippi is part of the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area and was the site of the infamous murder of Emmitt Till (January 2017 Parkasaurus). Greensboro, North Carolina was the site of the first sit-in at a Woolworth’s lunch counter.
This month’s batch of new cancellations for the US Civil Rights Trail covers the fully-operational National Park Service sites in the National Park Service’s Southeast Region. The Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park in Atlanta, Georgia preserves both the home where the famed civil rights activist grew up and the Church where he first began to preach, and also has a fantastic visitor center. In an innovative approach, the visitor center includes a number of kiosks where you can actually hear the words of Martin Luther King from records of his speeches, and you can wander in and out of them as you browse the exhibits.
Eventually, National Park Service sites that are included in the US Civil Rights Trail, but are located outside the Southeast Region may eventually also request cancellations for the US Civil Rights Trail. As of this writing, that list would include:
Brown v Board of Education National Historic Site in Topeka, Kansas;
Gateway Arch National Park in St. Louis, Missouri (site of the courthouse where the original trial that became the landmark Supreme Court case Dred Scott v Sanford was argued);
the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC (site of Marian Anderson’s famous concert after she was denied access to Constitution Hall, and of course, of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech (Parkasaurus | March 2015);
Among the other stamps this month is a new cancellation for the Alaska Public Lands Information Center in Anchorage, Alaska which provides information on all sorts of public lands in south-central Alaska. This location had already been a cancellation location for the Iditarod National Historic Trail and for Lake Clark National Park & Preserve. Now it gets a cancellation of its own.
The Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area was established in 1978 in suburban Los Angeles as part of the movement to establish urban National Recreation Areas. Like many newer national parks, this area is largely run in partnerships with the state of California, local governments, universities, and private land holders. In fact, the National Park Service actually only controls just a bit more than 23,000 of this park’s nearly 157,000 acres, which is just 15% of the total land. The Circle X Ranch is among those federally-managed parcels of land. The Ranch was formerly a Boy Scout Camp, but now serves as the only National Park Service-managed campground within the park.
The Echo Canyon Information Center is a highway rest area accessible from westbound Interstate 80 in eastern Utah. It formerly had stamps for the California, Mormon Pioneer, and Pony Express National Historic Trails from 2011 until the center temporarily closed in 2016. Now that the center has reopened, it has a new set of Passport cancellations.
Finally, there are are six stamps that have been removed from the list this month.
El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro National Historic Trail | El Camino Real Int’l Heritage Ctr, NM
Trail of Tears National Historic Trail | Junaluska Memorial & Museum, NC
California National Historic Trail | Salt Lake City, UT
Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail | Salt Lake City, UT
Oregon National Historic Trail | Salt Lake City, UT
Pony Express National Historic Trail | Salt Lake City, UT
The El Camino Real Heritage Center in central New Mexico and the Intermountain Region Trails Office are both temporarily closed for rennovations. The Memorial and Museum to Cherokee Chief Junaluska, who fought with Andrew Jackson at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, in Robbinsville, North Carolina was damaged several years ago during severe storms and has been closed indefinitely.
Just one week before leaving office, on January 12, 2017, President Barack Obama proclaimed three new National Monuments under the Antiquities Act, and added those monuments to the National Park System. Two of those National Monuments, Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument and Freedom Riders National Monument, both in central Alabama, will preserve locations associated with the Civil Rights Movement of the mid-1960’s.
Prior to these designations, there were already a handful of National Park Service Units dedicated to the story of the modern Civil Rights Movement in the post-World War II era. Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site in Topeka, Kansas preserves the story of the pivotal 1954 Supreme Court case that led to nationwide desegregation of the schools. Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site in Arkansas preserves the story of the contentious desegregation effort at that school three years later in 1957.
Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site in Atlanta, Georgia preserves the home where the civil rights leader lived from his birth in 1929 until 1941, as well as the Ebenezer Baptist Church where he would jointly serve as pastor with his father into the 1950’s and 60’s. There is also the relatively new Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial in Washington, DC. In addition, the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC interprets the story of several civil rights moments from history, including the 1963 March for Jobs and Freedom and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legendary “I Have a Dream” speech.
Most notable of the National Park Service sites from this time period, however, is one place that that doesn’t actually count among the 417 units of the National Park System, the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail in Alabama. Despite having two Visitor Centers and being staffed by uniformed National Park Service Rangers, National Historic Trails are not given full national park status. Nonetheless, visitors to the Trail can follow the route of the famous Voting Rights March of March 1965, which were led in part by Martin Luther King, Jr.
National Park Service map of the new Freedom Riders National Monument in and around Anniston, Alabama.The two new sites fill in more of the civil rights timeline between the two school desegregation sites from the 1950’s, and the Voting Rights March in 1965. Freedom Riders National Monument preserves two sites associated with a particular 1961 effort by activists to exercise their right to desegregated facilities in intercity bus service, and the violent effort by desegregation opponents to oppose them. The plan for this “Freedom Ride” was to send a mixed-race group of civil rights activists to ride together on two intercity buses from Washington, DC to New Orleans, Louisiana. The route for that trip would take the riders through much of the Deep South where they knew that tactics of intimidation, sometimes violent intimidation, were used to prevent racial minorities from making use of desegregated facilities.
The first bus was a Greyhound Bus, and when that bus pulled into the town of Anniston in eastern Alabama it was attached by a violent mob that slashed the bus’ tires and broke its windows with rocks. The old Greyhound bus station in Anniston is now one of the two sites that comprise this new national monument.
Eventually, police officers arrived, and they provided an escort for the bus to leave the station – along with an “escort” of protesters from the mob. Two cars from the rioters pulled in front of the bus and slowed down in order to slow the bus’s progress. The bus made it six miles west down Highway 202 towards Birmingham before the slashed tires finally gave out. The bus driver pulled to the side of the road, and the mob descended again, throwing fire bombs into the broken windows of the bus. The Freedom Riders struggled to escape from the burning bus, even as the mob acted to try and prevent them from escaping. Eventually they did break free, and were given some treatment at the Anniston hospital before civil rights leaders from Birmingham were able to arrange their transfer to the Birmingham hospital. A site of nearly 6 acres where the bus burning took place is now the other site comprising this National Monument.
Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument includes a four-and-a-half block area in downtown Birmingham. The only site within the Monument boundaries that will be Federally-owned is the former A. G. Gaston Motel. The Gaston Motel was itself owned by an African-American businessman, and was the best hotel in Birmingham at which the African-American civil rights activists could find accommodations. In the spring of 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr., and other leaders from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference arrived in Birmingham to plan a series of marches and sit-ins to protest segregation in the city.
On April 6, 1963, the first attempt to march on Birmingham City Hall began at the Galston Motel, but ended with the protestors being arrested within three blocks. The next day, a march began at the nearby St. Paul United Methodist Church, but was stopped after just one block in Kelly Ingram Park. Both of those sites are located within the authorized boundaries for the new National Monument.
A few days later, the City of Birmingham obtained an injunction against King and other civil rights leaders prohibiting future marches. Nonetheless, April 12th dawned as Good Friday that year, and the leaders went ahead with a planned march anyways – an act for which they were promptly arrested. It was after this arrest that King wrote his seminal essay, Letter from Birmingham Jail, laying out the philosophical and moral justification for his campaign of nonviolent protest against segregation.
It was in this letter that King wrote the memorable words “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny, whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” These words are now inscribed on the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Particularly striking to me, however, is another passage of the Letter in which King addresses his justification for defiantly breaking laws, and thus have led him to the circumstances of writing from within a Birmingham Jail. He starts by reflecting on the Brown v. Board of Education decision, and then invoking principles of moral philosophy and theology.
Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may want to ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all”
For Dr. King, the laws of segregation are unjust because they, quote, “degrade human personality.” The laws of Alabama, and King presumably has in mind here particularly the laws governing protest and assembly, are also unjust because they are not equally applied to the majority and the minority alike, but instead are only applied to the minority. Moreover, King argues that all of these laws were also unjust because they were only enacted as a result of so many blacks having been denied the right to vote. As King writes in his letter, “who can say that the legislature of Alabama, which set up the state’s segregation laws, was democratically elected?”
Having laid out his case for the fundamental injustice of the laws of Alabama, King then turns his attention to one of the great philosophical questions: “what is the role of a just man in an unjust world?” Here King lays out his radical justification for his program of non-violent protest, and for working within the American system rather than to overthrow it. He writes:
In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law, as would the rabid segregationist. That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.
King loved the law, and so he willingly accepted the penalty. This was despite the fact that his fourth child, daughter Bernice, had been born just two weeks earlier. King would ultimately spend nine days in jail, finally being released on April 20th.
After King’s release from prison, the civil rights campaign in Birmingham would continue to escalate. A key turning point was the decision of organizers to use children in the protests to reinvigorate the campaign and advance the goal of drawing national attention to the injustice in Birmingham. Beginning May 2nd, thousands of high school and even elementary students began leaving school to participate in marches. A great many of them would be peacefully arrested. In other cases, the city of Birmingham authorities would escalate the situation by using police dogs and extremely powerful fire hoses to disrupt the marches. By May 5th, some of the African-American crowds that had gathered in Kelly Ingram Park themselves began to turn violent, responding to police violence by throwing rocks and other debris – despite the efforts of civil rights leaders to maintain non-violence. As the crisis continued to escalate, normal business in downtown Birmingham ground to a halt. By May 8, business leaders began calling for desegregation, and by May 10 a political deal was reached to end the crisis, release most of the protesters from jail, and to repeal Birmingham’s segregation ordinances.
As the crisis came to an end, a bomb blast would heavily damage the Galston Motel on the night of May 11, only a few hours after King himself had left. King would then go on to lead the March for Jobs and Freedom in Washington in August of that year. His efforts would lead to passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 in July of that year, and he would receive the Nobel Peace Prize for his advocacy of non-violent protest in October of 1964.
Writing about the World War II Memorial has gotten me to thinking about what makes a national memorial a national park. According to the National Park Service, there are 30 national memorials in the U.S. National Park System. However, as with so many things in counting national parks it isn’t quite as simple as that. Under Federal Law, only Congress has the exclusive right to designate a national memorial. This means that there is no provision like an Antiquities Act for designating national memorials the way that there is for the President to designate national monuments. Moreover, similar to national monuments, not all national memorials have been assiged to the National Park Service for inclusion in the U.S. National Park System – in fact with there being 64 national memorials that I have been able to identify, the National Park Service is only directly responsible for around half of them.
NPS National Memorials in Washington, DC
Let’s take a closer look at national memorials by starting with the 12 national memorials listed by the National Park Service that are in or around the nation’s capital in Washington, D.C.:
There are also two more memorials in the above category that are planned for future construction. The Eisenhower Memorial(*) has recently received final design approval, and is hoping to complete construction in the next few years. The Adams Memorial(*), a tribute to the remarkable family that produced the second and sixth Presidents of the United States, is still in the design and fundraising stages.
So overall, this first set of memorials are dedicated either to “great Americans” – primarily former Presidents of the United States, or else to those who served, and in many cases, gave their lives, in one of the major wars of the 20th Century.
However, there is still the small matter of those asterisks above. What becomes a little tricky here is that five of these twelve memorials (as well as the two under development) have actually not been specifically designated as national memorials by Congress – as national memorial is a rather specific legal honor and title that can only be conferred by Congress. However, each of those memorials is of a sufficent size and distinction that the National Park Service has determined that each of them should count separately as individual national parks in the National Park System. As such, in listing all of the different units in the National Park System, the National Park Service goes ahead and lists all of the above as national memorials.
Given that recognition, its hard to be pedantic about the the specific legal distinctions. Take for example, the case of the World War II Memorial. The fundraising drivde by the American Battle Monuments Commission to build this memorial was explicitly called the National World War II Memorial Cammpaign. The non-profit partners of the memorial calls themselves “Friends of the National World War II Memorial.” Regardless of the technical legal status, almost all Americans, including, I would imagine, almost all Members of Congress, consider it to be the National World War II Memorial. So in the interests of simplicity and clarity, I’m going to conside each of the above memorials to also be a national memorial, if for no other reason than by popular acclamation and by the de facto designation as such by the National Park Service.
So those twelve constitue the first entries on the list of national memorials. Let’s look at a few more:
In addition to these twelve, seven other national memorials in the greater Washington, DC area are included as part of other, larger units of the U.S. National Park System:
the National Law Enforcement Officer’s Memorial is also part of Pennsylvania Avenue National Historic Site in downtown Washington, DC – but it is one of only two of these sseven sites without its own Passport stamp;
This second group is a bit more of a mixed bag than the first group. The Memorial to the 56 Signers of the Declaration of Independence is straight-forward enough, and in keeping with the theme from the first group of honoring the “Founding Fathers” of the Nation. The Nation’s desire to honor the Preisdent who saved the Union is evident by there being two designations relating to Abraham Lincoln, in addition, of course, to the Lincoln Memorial itself in the first group. Four others are dedicated to specific groups of people who served, or more accurately, to specific types of service. The mixed-nature of this list is perhaps most-highlighted by the absence of the Air Force Memorial from this list, which has apparently not been formally designated a national memorial, and resides on Department of Defense land at the Pentagon, and so is outside the National Park System as well. With neither official recognition by Congress as a national memorial, nor listing by the National Park Service as a national memorial, there just was no way to include it on the list. Even though, with all due respect to the service of the many U.S. Navy Seabees over the years, it seems inconsistent to have the Seabees Memorial on this list, but not the Air Force Memorial.
Indeed, there are many other memorials in the National Park System which are also not on that list, and in some cases, it almost seems to be simply a paperwork oversight that they have not been designated as national memorials, while many similar memorials have been. For more on them, check out Sidebar#1.
NPS National Memorials Outside Washington
Outside of Washington, DC, however, the National Park System includes 18 other national memorials that are also individual national parks. All of these were designated by Congress as a national memorial in their very name, however, so their inclusion on the list is straightforward. The 18 are:
Port Chicago National Memorial – marks the site of a tragic explosion on the American Home Front in the East Bay of San Francisco during the Second World War, in which the victims were largely African-Americans;
Once again, this set of national memorials also appears to be quite the mixed bag, although some themes definitely emerge. Many of the sites are associated with the earliest days of America’s exploration and settlement – although San Diego’s Cabrillo National Monumentis notably absent from this list as it is a national monument rather than a national memorial. Several of the others, such as Thaddeus Kosciuszko and Lincoln Boyhood are on the list because they primarily rely upon reconstructions, rather than actually-preserved historic resources – or in the case of Hamilton Grange, have been moved from their original location. Three others are the site of major tragedies, with significant loss of life. Others, like Mount Rushmore, are truly memorials in the traditional sense.
For some more related facts to national memorials that count as national parks, you can again check out Sidebar #2.
There are also three other memorials that are part of larger national parks outside of the Washington, DC area:
White Cross World War I Memorial is a white cross that was erected in 1934 in California’s Mojave Desert, and is now located on private land within Mojave National Preserve in order to settle an “establishment of religion” claim against the memorial;
U.S.S. Oklahoma Memorial is also in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii and is also part of World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument. (Note: the U.S.S. Utah Memorial is also located in Pearl Harbor, but it does not appear to have been designated a national memorial by Congress. ) The U.S.S. Missouri Memorial, which is the ship that hosted the Japanese surrender at the end of World War II, is also located in Pearl Harbor. Although it is not part of the National Monument, it too has its own Passport stamp.
At the risk of getting too far into the weeds, the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial was previously a stand-alone unit of the National Park System. As such, the National Park Service listed it as a national memorial, for the reasons I described above for the WorldWar II Memorial and others. In 2008, however, President George W. Bush designated it as part of World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, and so the National Park Service now lists it as a national monument, rather than a national memorial. However, since there was clearly no intention to de-designate the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial as a national memorial, I’m going to continue to include it on this list. You can read about four other national parks that arguably could be included on this list, despite not having the word “memorial” in their name in Sidebar #3.
The Rest of the National Memorials
In addition to all of the above, four other national memorials are officially considered to be Affiliated Areas of the National Park System, along with two others that have unofficially had that status. Status as an Affiliated Area makes the site eligible for additional technical assistance on preservation from National Park Service staff, as well as for inclusion in the Passport to Your National Parks program:
In addition, the (5) AIDS Memorial Grove in San Francisco California and the (6) David Berger Memorial (an American-Israeli dual-citizen who was killed as a member of the Israeli Olympic Team at the 1972 Munich Olympics) in suburban Cleveland, Ohio both have been incorrectly listed as Affiliated Areas by some sources in the past. As such, both have previously been part of the Passport Program, but no longer receive official Passport stamps from Eastern National. In any event, both appear to continue to benefit from National Park Service technical assistance from Golden Gate National Recreation Area and Cuyahoga Valley National Park, respectively.
Finally, the following 18 national memorials have no connection with the U.S. National Park System, but round out the complete list of national memorials:
National Civil Defense Monument – also located in Emmitsburg, Maryland;
U.S.S. Indianapolis Memorial – located in its namesake city and commemorates the last ship in the U.S. Navy to sink during the Second World War;
World War Memorial in Guam – marks the site where Japanese sodliers raped and massacared Guamanian civilians at the Fana Caves during the closing days of World War II.
There is a distinctly military theme, not surprisingly, to many of the memorials on this list. It is amazing, however, to think that Riverside, California, of all places, is tied with New York City for the most national memorials of any place in the country outside of Washington, DC. It is also interesting to note the three memorials on the above list that are dedicated to American civilians outside of public service. Albert Einstein is such a towering figure in the history of science, that a national memorial to him is completely unsurprising. The Bosque Redondo Memorial is in keeping with the list of National Park System national memorials that commemorate tragedies in our Nation’s history – although it is worth noting that this event gets a national memorial, whereas the removal of the Cherokee from the eastern United States gets the Trail of Tears of National Historic Trail commemorating the full route. Finally, the most unusual entry on this list is Robert L. Kohnstamm, whom I’m not sure many readers of this past will have previously been familiar with. For example, he doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry! He apparently played a role in preserving the Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood and in opening Mt. Hood to recreational skiing. A full article about him can be read here.
So, after this exhaustive summary of national memorials here is a summary of the results:
12 national memorials recognized by the National Park Service as stand-alone national parks in Washington, DC;
7 other national memorials in Washington, DC that are managed by the National Park Service;
18 other national memorials that are also stand-alone national parks, outside of Washington, DC;
3 other national memorials located inside the boundaries of national parks outside of Washington, DC;
6 national memorials that are either formally or informally affiliated with the National Park System;
18 national memorials that are located outside the National Park System entirely.
That makes a total of 64 national memorials!
Out of these 64, 26 of them are dedicated to wars, military victories, military service, or public service (I’m including the Astronauts Memorial and Civil Defense Memorial here.)
19 more national memorials are dedicated to U.S. Presidents (incluing four to Abraham Lincoln alone), other U.S. Founding Fathers (I’m including Federal Hall in this group ), or to Robert E. Lee.
Eight more national memorials are dedicated to the exploration and settlement of the United States.
Seven of the national memorials are dedicated to the memory of national tragedies.
Finally, four of the national memorials are dedicated to civilians primarily for civilian accomplishments in the areas of science, conservation, or civil rights.
By no means do any of the above seem to be complete lists. The closest might be the memorials to the Founding Fathers, although if Kosciuszko is on the list of national memorials, then the names of Lafayette, Rochambeau, and von Steuben are conspicuous by their absences. The list of explorers with national memorials, however, seems far too short, and almost random in its selection. While hardly anyone could object to a national memorial to the scientific achievements of Albert Einstein or the Wright Brothers, that area of achievement can only be described as under-recognized. As with many things in the National Park System – there will no doubt be more to come in the future. In the meantime, the list of 64 national memorials provides an interesting starting point for those looking to remember our Nation’s past and history, going even beyond just those sites managed by the National Park Service.
Bonus Fact: Congress has actually passed a resolution calling for the final resting of place of the RMS Titanic to be designated as an international maritime memorial to the men, women, and children who perished aboard her. Of course, the Titanic sank in international waters, so its not at all clear who would have the jurisdiction to carry this out, but it is fun to think about.
The Lincoln Memorial anchors the West end of the National Mall in West Potomac Park of downtown Washington, DC. Inside the Greek-style Temple with Doric columns is, of course, the famous sculpture of Abraham Lincoln carved by famed American sculptor Daniel Chester French. Inside the temple are two of Abraham Lincoln’s speeches, on the north and south walls, respectively. As I like to describe them, one of the speeches is the greatest speech in American History, the other is the Gettysburg Address.
That “greatest speech in American History,” is, of course, Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural Address. Indeed, it is a remarkable testament to Lincoln’s brilliance that he would have not just delivered not one, but two of the speeches in the canon of all-time greats in American History, but that both of them would also be short enough that they could be carved in their entirety into the walls of a Memorial.
All that is definiately fitting because as far as I’m concerned, the list of greatest-speeches in American History would have to have these three speeches, Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural, King’s “I Have a Dream,” and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address as 1, 2, and 3 in some order – and you really can’t go wrong with whatever order you choose. Yes, there are some other notable speeches in American History, such as John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address – “ask not what your country can do for you,” Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1st Inaugural Address – “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” Lou Gehrig’s Farewell – “today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth,” and Ronald Reagan’s Speech at the Brandenburg Gate – “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall”; but in my view these four are all in a second tier below the first three.
Top honors, for me, however, go to Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural Address – the 150th Anniversary of which is being marked this week. Back in the 19th Century, Presidential Inaugurations were held on March 4th each year (unless it was Sunday), before being moved to the present date of January 20th (unless its a Sunday) in the 1930’s.
Back in 1865, when Lincoln was delivering this speech, the Civil War had raged for nearly four years since the first shots had been fired on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861. What everyone thought would be a short war at the 1st Battle of Manassas had proven to be anything but. By this point, some 700,00 soldiers on both sides lay dead, with many more civilian casualties on top of that. All of this in a Nation that had numbered just 31.5 million in the 1860 Census, including nearly 4 million enslaved African-Americans.
Over the years of warfare, as technology advanced and war-fighting tactics improved, a new kind of total warfare had developed. By the time that Lincoln was delivering his Second Inaugural Address it was clear that the end was imminently near. Indeed, Lee would surrender at Appomattox Courhouse just one month later, on April 9th. At this time, though, General Ulysses S. Grant was entering the 10th month of his siege campaign to surround the Conferederate capital of Richmond, and its adjacent railroad hub of Petersburg. This was an intense trench warfare campaign of the sort that would prefigure the terrible trench warfare of the First World War that would come some 50 years later.
With the Nation having suffered so much, Lincoln chose this occasion to try and make some sense of the sensless carnage which had ravaged the country and to try and give some meaning to all the suffering the Nation had endured. One year into the war, in April 1862, Lincoln famously wrote in a letter to New York City newpaperman Horace Greeley “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it.” Now, nearly three years later, Lincoln uses this occasion to articulate that a war which had been begun to save the Union, was now definitively also about the higher purpose of ending the institution of slavery. And although there is not really any evidence that Lincoln was himself a religious man, he finds in allusions to Biblical texts that would have been well known by his audience, some semblance ofan answer as to why this war had lasted so long and caused so much suffering.
Lincoln then ends the speech with his famous closing lines, “with malice towards none, and charity towards all,” articulating a vision for how the Nation should be reunited, and directly rebuking those in the North who wanted to inflict punitive retribution on the South. In a way, this is Lincoln articulating his own dream, a dream that would ultimately not be realized. His Vice President that day was Andrew Johnson, unusually, a Democrat (Lincoln was, of course, a Republican), and a Southerner, from Tennessee. With the election of 1864 being conducted during wartime, and with half the country in open rebellion, Lincoln had sought to run on a “national unity” ticket. As such, he had dropped his Vice President from his first term, the Republican Hannibal Hamlin from Maine, and replaced him with Andrew Johnson, who had been a Senator from Tennessee, and whom Lincoln had apointed as military governor of Tennessee when the Union Army had largely recaptured the State.
Unfortunately, Abraham Lincoln’s dream would largely die with him after being shot at Ford’s Theatre. Less than two months after Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural Address, Andrew Johnson would find himself President of the United States. As the ultimate outsider, however, a Southern Democrat who had largely been elected by Northern Republicans, he would quickly find himself largely unable to execute Lincoln’s vision for Reconstruction. In that sense, Lincoln’s unfulfilled dream prefigures the more profound unfilfilled dream of a country where “all men are created equal,” and a country where his “four little children… will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character” that would be echoed some 98 years later on August 28, 1963.
Indeed, those connections still echo today. As I write this post on March 7th, earlier today the National Park Service held a commemorative program marking the 150th Anniversary (plus two days) of Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural Address, on the same day that so many people gathered in Selma, Alabama to mark the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights March to Montgomery back in 1965.
So with all that being said, here are the words of Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural Address, some 150 years later:
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 energies 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 inaugural 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 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 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 do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.