Guyatt writes: "Most Americans can probably remember a bit of the [Second Inaugural Address], which Lincoln delivered a few weeks before his death: it's the one in which he talked about God favoring neither the North nor the South completely, and made the jarring claim that the war would be justified by the sin of slavery even if it lasted for 250 years."
This is a startling misunderstanding of Lincoln's words. As engraved at the Lincoln Memorial, which I visited two days ago, the paragraph in question reads: "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'."
The "two hundred and fifty years" did not refer to any future duration of the war, the continuation of which Lincoln saw as God's will. Rather, Lincoln was referring to the length of time that had already passed during which slavery had been practiced in the English colonies which became the United States, during which both wealth, and blood shed by the lash, had accumulated. "The bond-man's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil" began with the first use of kidnapped Africans for labor at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1619.
This is so substantial a misreading of Lincoln's meaning that I would like to know whether it is attributable to Mr. Guyatt or Mr. Gopnik, and whether the author in question, when informed of this, is willing to admit the error.
David B. Jodrey Jr.
Montgomery Village, MD
Jun 22 2009 - 10:13am