Considering yet more recent rhetoric from Republican insurrectionists about the "national divorce" between themselves and Democrats, there continue to be serious and valuable lessons in America's Civil War history. The divisions we face in 2023 have roots going back to the antebellum period, and are core issues we have not yet faced, solved, and accepted. The war was a use of force to end the confederacy; the states which tried to break away from the USA fought and were DEFEATED. The confederates and their descendants still have not renounced their white supremacist ideology. Nor do they truly believe that all persons are created equal, deserve equal protection of the law, and are entitled to equal voting rights.
On September 12, 2012, Historian David W. Blight delivered a most clear and sharp lecture about America's reluctance to face the ghastliness of the Civil War in connection to why the war happened and what it did to the United States. Blight was speaking to people of Case Western Reserve University. He talks of national memory. As a nation, we don't remember in a cold and precise manner. Rather, we know we have a past and keep a memory of it which is acceptable - things loved and hated, in an acceptable context.
Blight argues the Civil War encompassed three revolitions:
The three revolutions encompassed by the Civil war were to solve issues left open from the founding of the USA. The founders lacked the courage and will to resolve the question of slavery, what could or could not be property, and who was and was not a citizen. There is a price to pay for fecklessness; for America, it was the Civil War. Recent estimates place the death toll around 750,000 people. The cost of fecklessness always goes up with time - never down.
For Lincoln's second inauguration, he speaks of the war and its origins, citing the confederate states' willingness to fight a war to destroy America in order to maintain slavery. Conversely, the Union would fight a war to retain the USA.
Lincoln called out the folly of thinking before the war - a hope that the conflict would be small (in other words, "cheap, bloodless, and inexpensive"). People terribly underestimated how bloody the war was to be. No, a true commitment requires a willingness to risk everything to achieve the objective. Americans hoped for a painless and cheap outcome from issues which require a willingness to sacrifice everything in a most personal way. Painful sacrifice is the reality for all things which matter.
Lincoln calls out that both sides prayed to God, the same god, for victory against the other, for an opposite goal than their adversary. There is no room in that for compromise or mitigation. One must achieve victory and the other must be defeated.
Lincoln was forward looking, considering a future reintegration of the rebel states back into the Union. He didn't like harsh, adversarial language, preferring to use the word "contest" instead of "war." He wanted to minimize the hate and consider the people of the South as fellow Americans. The future unified country would care for the wounded soldiers, widows, and orphans of the confederacy as it would care for those in the North who were similarly harmed.
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 offenses for it must needs be that offenses come but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses 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 offense 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 bondsman'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 lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.