Flags flew at half mast, schoolchildren recited the “Gettysburg Address” and for a few hours on April 15, America paused to remember that a century and a half ago this country lost its 16th president to an assassin’s bullet.
Now, Americans can finish with the pause and begin to fully honor Lincoln.
The place of beginning is with an embrace of the work of reconstruction that was imagined when Lincoln lived but that is not—even now—complete.
President Obama proclaimed April 15 as a National Day of Remembrance for President Abraham Lincoln, declaring, “Today, we reflect on the extraordinary progress he made possible, and with one voice, we rededicate ourselves to the work of ensuring a Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Obama was right to focus on Lincoln’s great preachmenton behalf of American democracy. It directs our attention toward the mission to which small “d” democrats of all partisanships and ideologies must rededicate ourselves.
One hundred and fifty years after the moment when a still young country saw the end of a Civil War and the assassination of a president, the events of April 1865 continue to shape and challenge the American experience.
With Lincoln’s death, an inept and wrongheaded vice president, Andrew Johnson, succeeded to the presidency. Had it been left to Johnson, who vetoed the Civil Rights Act of 1866, the progress extending from the great sacrifices of the Civil War would have beenimperiled. But the rough outlines for securing the victory were not left to a president. They were enshrined in the US Constitution.
Three amendments to the founding document were enacted during the five-year period from 1865 to 1870. These “Reconstruction Amendments”were transformational statements—even if their promise has yet to be fully recognized or realized.