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Dr. Larry Arnn On Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address

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HH: It’s Hugh Hewitt on the last radio hour of the week. It is the Hillsdale Dialogue, this week with Dr. Larry Arnn, president of Hillsdale College as we conclude our series on Abraham Lincoln. Next week, we begin our series on Winston Churchill and Dr. Arnn’s brand new book, Churchill’s Trial, which will be available in bookstores soon. Dr. Arnn, welcome, it’s great to talk to you. You are following today Lindsey Graham, John McCain, Marco Rubio and Ben Carson, so you’ve got to up your game today.

LA: Wow, you mean, what, I thought you were going to say I needed to dumb it down.

HH: No, you’re going to have to up your game a lot, because I just think I got John McCain to open himself to breaking the filibuster over the Iran deal. And both of them called it the Munich of our time. I am curious what you think, as a Churchill scholar, and one of the official biographers, and Hillsdale is the official repository of the Churchill papers, correct?

LA: Yeah, it is, and the official repository of Martin Gilbert’s papers. And so what I think is look at this thing. Isn’t it awesome? The treaty making power resides in the president and the Senate. And treaties can’t be made without the Senate. And they’ve managed to mix things around now so that one-third of the Senators can affirm a treaty instead of it taking two-thirds to affirm it. And that’s just blatant lawlessness all the time. And then the thing is, do you believe these mullahs who are supporting terrorists all over the world, who are running a terrorist regime, and who say that they just want nuclear weapons for peaceful purposes, or nuclear power for peaceful purposes? Do you believe that? And do you think it’s a great idea to end these sanctions? And do you think it’s a great idea to give them a whole lot of American taxpayer money. If you believe one thing about all those things, then this a great deal. But if you don’t believe that, and you know, this morning, and yesterday afternoon, Hillary Clinton was backing off of it some.

HH: You know, I’m not sure if it was Senator Graham or Senator McCain who said it, but one of them said it. At least Hitler lied at Munich. Yesterday, the Ayatollah Khamenei tweeted out that Israel will be destroyed. At least Hitler lied about Munich, and that yesterday, Khamenei tweeted out that they intend to destroy Israel, and that this is actually less excusable than Munich.

LA: There was a great Churchill speech from the 1930s where he talked about how Ramsay MacDonald, briefly a socialist prime minister in the early 30s, had reversed all the great Roman maxims. The old idea was divide and conquer, Churchill says. But now our new ideas, let us unite our enemies. So isn’t that odd, you know, and see, Israel, you know, it’s amazing to me. Isn’t is the simplest thing in the world to know that in the turbulent world, the nations that you would trust the most would be the nations that treat their people well, that respond to the will of their people. And that doesn’t mean you wouldn’t trust other ones sometimes, or you wouldn’t deal with other ones, or that you would always make war, in fact, you should seldom make war on other nations. But if you’re going to trust a country, trust a country that responds to the will of its people and protects their rights. And in the Middle East, you’ve got Israel.

HH: I want to ask you as well about the vote for Corker-Cardin, the bill that’s gone so badly awry for opponents of this deal. It had one opponent in the United States Senate. It passed 98-1 or 99-1. That one opponent was Senator Tom Cotton, who opposed it on the grounds that it was not a Constitutional law, in that it inverted the treaty making power. I know he is a student of yours. I think that vote will stand him well for decades, do you not?

LA: Oh, yeah. He’s a thinking man, and he, that’s exactly right, see? The first outrage, which is they reversed the treaty making power, is hardly commented upon. And so, and this, it’s amazing, the method of our modern lawlessness, because it’s supposed to be hard to make a treaty, right? And that has been reversed so that it’s hard to stop one. And why should it be, one may wonder, why should it be hard to make a treaty? Because they’re binding in important ways, and one person, the executive, you know, because the executive branch is lodged in one person. One person shouldn’t be able to commit the nation that way.

HH: But I also point out to people, and I have not reread the Federalist Papers about the treaty making power, yet, it is a one house treaty specifically consigned so as to keep it, the treaties free of the partisanship that might rage in the House, and subject to the calming effect of the Senate. So it was very deliberate how they set it up. They did not want the House involved in this. They wanted the Senate involved in this.

LA: Yeah, and they thought, they thought that in general, they had the idea that the Senate would provide continuity, but of course, the Senate was elected differently than the House, and they have longer terms as well. And so, and this continuity would be particularly valuable when dealing with international relations, because they, you know, to be a judge of the complications of foreign affairs, of the deceitfulness of tyrants, of the proclivities of your friends, requires experience. And they talk like that in the Federalists, and so yeah, it was supposed to be hard to make a treaty, but of course, not as hard as passing an ordinary law, because that takes two houses.

HH: So at the end of the day, we are left with a deal where $100 billion dollars is going to flow, and it was never really debated. What’s that say? And I asked Graham and McCain about this. Is politics collapsing in this country, because you know, the free for all on the Republican side, you have a collapsing frontrunner on the Democratic side, a reluctant 74 year old vice president, and a 75 year old socialist. Where have we come to?

LA: Well, you know, lawlessness, we’re in a dangerous place. There’s no doubt about that. That God for it, the danger is relatively, the acute form of the danger is relatively new, this ignoring of the law on a mass scale, it’s pretty new. And so there’s a chance, and here’s what I think will actually happen. I believe this. I think that this is going to wake us up, and we’re going to understand that we have to return to the rule of law. And we have to understand that this government that we have cannot be trusted to take care of our every need, because it will take care of us in ways that deprive us of our lives. And so we’ve got to make a turn here, and we’ve got to do it pretty soon.

HH: Now the debate on Wednesday night, there will be a viewing party at Hillsdale that my Salem network will be cutting back and forth to the youngsters who are up at the Hillsdale College commenting on this debate. What’s the interest level among undergraduates for an election that’s still, you know, six months away from the second Super Tuesday, which really matters, and I think Michigan votes on March 15th, I’m not sure. What’s the interest level?

LA: Well, the first, we just started, of course, and so you have to, let me set the scene. Hillsdale College is happier than Disneyland right now. We’re all back, the weather is good, the freshmen are young, we can make fun of them, and nobody’s had the rite of final, yet. So it’s, you know, it’s just a pleasure garden right now. But I did notice in the college paper, the first edition came out yesterday, I did notice that there’s lots of talk of the election, and next week, it’ll be big news, because the students are participating, right?

HH: Yes.

LA: And in general, there’s the sense around the campus, and among most people, that the nation is in some kind of a crisis, and we’ve got to learn so that we can understand it. That’s sort of…

HH: Interesting.

LA: …a fair description of the students’ mental weather.

HH: I had my undergraduates at Colorado Christian University for three weeks, and I’m making them read Churchill’s History of the English-Speaking People, and they’re about halfway through volume three, and their first paper is how Churchill changed my life. You know, nobody knows any of this stuff anymore. It used to be sort of eighth grade rote, but they didn’t know about the personal role of Charles I, they didn’t know about why the Puritans went over into the Netherlands first and ended up coming, and they did not know why their numbers swelled from 300 to 14,000. Churchill’s magnificent for freshmen, don’t you think?

LA: Oh, yeah, and that’s a great book for freshmen to read, too. And you know, it’s an interesting irony that Churchill, that’s one of Churchill’s last books, and he actually won the Nobel Prize with particular reference to that book, although I don’t think it’s his best. But when Churchill was in school, he didn’t, there’s actually, he makes a record in an autobiography called My Early Life, that his father upbraids him for not understanding just something you just mentioned about the personal rule and the grand remonstrance and those things connected to Charles I. When Churchill was a kid, he didn’t learn those things. He learned them later.

HH: Well, they are learning them later, and now they’re obliged. But it’s a remarkable, because it’s all based on religious intolerance as well, and the background is Kim Davis and the ruling of the Supreme Court. And I’m teaching them why the 1st Amendment is the way it is. But Dr. Larry Arnn, our charge today is Abraham Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural Address. When we come back after the break, I’ll ask you to read it, and then we’ll talk about it as we conclude our series on Lincoln. As we approach a presidential debate, the last seven weeks that I have had with Dr. Arnn in this hour have been devoted to the seven Lincoln-Douglas debates, all 21 hours of them. Those seven hours are available at And everything Hillsdale does is available at Stay tuned, America.

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HH: I asked your loyal assistant, Kyle, to have available for you a copy of it. I thought you might read it, Dr. Arnn.

LA: Okay. It’s very beautiful, and my reading of it may not, will of course, not be up to standard, but I’m happy to read it. This, by the way, if you face the statue of Lincoln in his chair at the Lincoln Memorial, this text that I’m about to read is up on the right hand side engraved in marble, and it’s very beautiful, and that is the place to go and read it. This was given on March 4th, 1865. There had not been for eight presidents a second inaugural, and so it’s kind of unusual for there to be one. There hadn’t been on in a long time. “Fellow countrymen, 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,” which is, by the way, a think that Lincoln has only been very recently been able to say. “With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured.” Isn’t that a great way to talk, by the way?

HH: Yes, cautious.

LA: There’s no bragging going on here.

HH: Just cautious.

LA: “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, “ and remember, all means North and South, which is, one thing to notice as we go through this is how remarkably evenhanded it is. “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,” which, by the way, from Lincoln becomes a very important phrase down through American history.

HH: Yup.

LA: Peculiar institution or peculiar and powerful interests. “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.” That’s a reference to the Emancipation Proclamation. “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.” Now if you’ll permit me, Hugh, I’m going to pause for just a minute, and I’m going to read a few lines from something that Lincoln wrote to himself in September, 1862.

HH: Please.

LA: He says, this is called, this is famous, this is called Lincoln’s Meditation On the Divine Will. And what’s interesting to put this here is that Lincoln asks himself a question, and this is what I’m going to read. “The will of God prevails,” he wrote. “In great contests, each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be, wrong. God cannot be for and against the same thing at the same time.” The law of contradiction applies even to God. “In the present Civil War, it is quite possible that God’s purpose is something different from the purpose of either party.” Now understand, this is two years earlier.

HH: Right.

LA: They’re just getting this to an ask. He says, “And yet, the human instrumentalities working just as they do, are of the best adaptation to affect His purpose. I am almost ready to say that this is probably true that God wills this contest, and wills that it shall not end, yet.” So what that proves, with this, this is written on a scrap of paper at his desk, and his secretary, Hay, discovers it and causes it to be published after Lincoln’s assassination. And what this proves is, the bit that I’m reading right now, Lincoln had been thinking deeply about this for years.

HH: The bit that begins, “Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other.”

LA: “It may seem strange,” he continues, “that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces.” Now that, that sentence, is the most sharp criticism he makes of the Confederacy.

HH: Repeat it again, since we’re not going to get the entire address in, in this segment. Repeat that again.

LA: “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.”

HH: So it’s a perfect condemnation of the argument of the South.

LA: That’s right. And that, what I just read, is followed not by a period, but a semicolon, which means that the sentence continues, “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.”: So back in 1862, this thing he writes in the meditation on the, “I am almost ready to say that God wills this to continue.” Here, he says he’s decided that that is what is happening. So 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,” this is His with a capital H, capital He, “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?”

HH: Hold it right there, Dr. Larry Arnn. We’ll return to the conclusion of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address delivered 150 years and three months ago, and perhaps inadequately celebrated on the sesquicentennial of its delivery. Dr. Larry Arnn of Hillsdale College is my guest. It’s the Hillsdale Dialogue.

— – – – –

HH: We have come to the closing lines of that amazing speech from 150 years and three months ago where rhetoric really soars. And the backdrop of it is 600,000 dead Americans of both North and South, and carnage that Drew Gilpin Faust, the president of Harvard, has titled in her book on it, A Republic Of Sorrow. And this is how he sums it up.

LA: He, and where we are in reading it so far is that Lincoln has begun to picture this as the war is a fulfillment of a purpose of God, and that is to make up for the wrong of slavery, and that we, North and South, are paying. So there’s justice in this, and we’re both paying, and that means that the themes of this thing are providential justice and unity of the nation. So he says the sentence, “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 done to those by whom the offense cam. 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 judgements of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.” That’s from the most beautiful of the Psalms, Psalm 19. “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.”

HH: And what was the reaction to this at the time, contemporaneous?

LA: So the newspapers record silence continuing. And Allen Guelzo, a great Lincoln historian who I have been quoting a lot through this, he says that he attributes that to they’re being struck by the solemnity and elevation of it. It’s one of the most interesting speeches ever written, in my opinion, because it’s like the way Rembrandt did his big paintings. There are often sketches of scenes in those paintings from earlier, and what they prove is he was thinking about it for a long time. And so there’s genius there, but there’s also enormous application. And because of this meditation on the divine will, and the way it is, becomes an affirmation. The questions in the meditation become an affirmation in this speech. And Lincoln thinks how can we restore the nation? And the answer is we both have paid the price, and still it must be said that the ways of the Lord are righteous altogether. So that is what’s, to my mind, magnificent about it. And I think the speech has an echo in the way, in the surrender ceremony at Appomattox, which happened a few days after this, because the very great Joshua Chamberlain, from Maine, was chosen to accept the Southern surrender. By now, he’s a major general.

HH: And recipient of the Medal of Honor, and soon to be president of Bowdoin, yeah.

LA: Yeah. And he says, he accepts the sword of the Southern officer, and the Southern officer says, and he says to him, now you can go home to your homes and your families, your homes and your farms. And the man replies, sir, we have no farms. You have burned them. And then Chamberlain says, you know, I knew somebody was going to get hurt when we came down here. And then North and South, everybody burst into riotous laughter. (laughing)

HH: I’ll be right back. One more segment about Lincoln’s divine understanding of the war when we return. It is the Hillsdale Dialogue with Dr. Larry Arnn on this, the Friday before the big debate. There will be a special debate party featuring Hillsdale College students as well on this and other radio stations. Stay tuned for that on Wednesday night. Stay with us.

— – — — –

HH: Dr. Arnn, a couple of points. Earlier this week, a young, talented reporter from the Guardian, Nicky Woolf, who reminds me something of Hitchens, spent a couple of days with me, and he’s a Lincolnphile, and he sent me a poem that Doris Kearns Goodwin attributes to Lincoln on the death of Ann Rutledge, which is almost suicidal and talks about hell. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with it.

LA: Yeah.

HH: And it reminded me of the conversation I had with your teacher, Harry Jaffa, who was ambivalent about Lincoln’s understanding of the divine. And so I always thought that the proclamation of a national day of penance might be put down to politics, but both this poem and this Second Inaugural cannot be ambivalent about the divine, right?

LA: Yeah, and I doubt if Professor Jaffa, well, I’m confident that Professor Jaffa was not ambivalent about Lincoln’s opinions of the divine. First of all, think what Lincoln is doing. How can this horror have come upon us? Lincoln’s whole idea in the Lincoln-Douglas debates is he was trying to contrive the minimum policy that would keep the Union free and together. That is to say, anything that doesn’t involve the acceptance of slavery is a good. Any amount of time it takes to get round to getting rid of it, he would put up with nearly anything, of course, at great cost to the slaves in order to preserve the Union and the agitation it constituted to for freedom, and the protection for freedom that is supplied to so many, and ultimately, all, he thought. So he’s wondering in 1862, how can this happen, because it’s just raging, and it’s completely out of control, and it’s getting bigger still, and it did get much bigger, by 1865, than it had been in 1862.

HH: Oh, as a matter of casualty count and scale and carnage?

LA: Oh, yeah. The worst year by far was 1864. And you know, in 1863, the war was really decided, probably, because within 20 days, Gettysburg and then Vicksburg happened.

HH: Right.

LA: And I think 15 days, and Gettysburg was the bloodiest battle of the war, Antietam the second bloodiest. And that meant that Lee’s attempt, the second attempt by Lee to invade Northern territory, split the North, was repelled.

HH: While Grant was splitting the South.

LA: And he took very big casualties. That’s right. And then the Mississippi was opened, right, and that’s the great thoroughfare into the heart of America. That’s what Russia’s Cuba strategy was all about. Russia, you know, had, you know, and China is interested in the Panama Canal, right, because the Gulf and the Mississippi is the way, the Gulf of Mexico and the Mississippi is the way into the middle of America. And so now it’s opened, right? And Lee was beaten, really, except it’s just an inconvenient thing that he was a genius. And so he extracted a terrible cost in 1864, and especially from Grant fighting in the difficult valleys around the Shenandoah Valley. And so the Union casualties were huge in 1864, and there was a chance that they might have lost the war. Lincoln wasn’t so far of losing the election of 1864. And probably the single man who most redeemed that was William Tecumseh Sherman, because he took Atlanta, and then he began his march east toward, eventually, well, Savannah and Fort Sumter, Charleston. And that turned things around, right? And that happened right before the election.

HH: Now I have to ask you before we run out of time, because we talked about Sherman last week, the son of Ohio who brought the war to a conclusion, really, but I was at the Newseum on Sunday, and on the, I think the 5th floor, there is an exhibit of the press reports of the assassination of Lincoln, and the woe, I mean, the strangled cry that was collective and prolonged that went up, and there are books about this. Do you think the Second Inaugural has something to do with that, because he’d just spoken about the most divine of causes for the war and conclusion of it being just, and then he’s shot down?

LA: Yeah, well, you can say that the Second Inaugural is the culmination of his life. I think Lincoln’s life was devoted to peace and freedom and law. And so he says these things, right, including the ultimate law, the divine justice that all must conform to, finally, and so yeah, so, but of course, the speech wouldn’t mean what it means. It would just be a very beautiful thing, except for the situation in which it was given. And Lincoln’s life is like Churchill’s life. Reluctantly, he was put in the situation where defeat seemed extremely likely. And everything went very badly for a long time. Lincoln’s presidency was a very unhappy thing. And he did what Churchill did. Terrible defeats, unimaginable defeats would come, and then he would double down. And then at the end, right, really in principle in 1863, which means you know, the war started in 1861, so you’re halfway through it, and in principle, they probably won. But the worst slaughter is later. And so it’s really only at the end of 1864, and into 1865 that victories are accumulating rapidly. And that, you know, at that moment, Lincoln states the meaning of the war. And so it’s not just the beauty of the words, but both the beauty and the understanding of the beauty of the words were bought with a price. And the price was very heavy.

HH: Now I have to ask you a quick question. We have a minute left. On one of the two occasions that George W. Bush had talk radio hosts into the Oval Office, he pointed to Lincoln’s portrait over the door, and he said I always have 41 in my heart, but 16 in my head, talking, I think, about this approach to war, which is you just have to double down.

LA: Yeah, well, Lincoln, and see, it’s, in my opinion, my reading of both Lincoln and Churchill, is that they didn’t want to do that. And it would be wrong to want to do that. Either you think war is the prime purpose of man, or you think peace is. And if you think peace is, then you’ve got to try to avoid war. And you’ve got to try to look for ways to win them that’s not disastrous. And you know, one of Churchill’s tragedies, like Lincoln’s, is they weren’t able to find those ways.

HH: We will return to Churchill next week as we begin our series on Dr. Arnn’s new book, Churchill’s Trial: Winston Churchill And The Salvation Of Free Government, when the Hillsdale Dialogues continue. Dr. Larry Arnn, thank you, enjoy the debate party at Hillsdale College on Wednesday night.

End of interview.


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