“Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away.” In celebration of Lincoln’s birthday and Black History Month, the former president’s last and perhaps most effective attempt at uniting the nation after the Civil War, was discussed by nationally recognized author Ronald C. White Jr., at Glendale Community College. White’s book, “Lincoln’s Greatest Speech: The Second Inaugural” was the basis for the lecture.
At noon, the auditorium began to fill up with people. Silence hung in the air as students and faculty alike observed three men walk to the podium.
The audience waited in anticipation for his first words to be spoken. Instead, the silence continued, to be broken only by the booming voice that did not belong to any one person in the auditorium that day. These powerful words belonged to Abraham Lincoln.
Students listened intently; most of them also followed along on their own typed copy of the speech. As the end of the document was reached, the final words “…peace among ourselves and with all nations,” resonated from wall to wall, in the suddenly small auditorium.
Then, as if on cue, the students picked up their jaws from the floor and applauded this performance. The man standing on the podium was GCC’s own Ted Levatter, professor of speech.
Following Levatter’s moving rendition of Lincoln’s speech, was White, the man who found enough inspiration in the “Second Inaugural” to write a book about it.
As White began to speak, he was quick to point out how appropriate it was to deliver this lecture in the midst of Black History Month. He later went on to explain what many of the students and teachers already knew, that Lincoln was assassinated because of his liberal views towards African Americans.
Something that many people did not know was that the conspirators had stalked the President for a long time before they went through with the assassination. This fact becomes evident in the only picture taken of Lincoln during his now infamous March 4, 1865 speech. Assassinator John Wilkes Booth and all the other conspirators were caught in the photo, lurking in the background, some mere feet away from their prey. A little over a month later, Abraham Lincoln was shot and killed.
Ultimately, what sealed Lincoln’s fate, according to Dr. White, were the same beliefs that also made him one of America’s greatest Presidents. In the “Second Inaugural Address,” he condemned the whole nation for the Civil War. He blamed the South and the North as well as on himself. Lincoln showed remorse for the war and for the cause of it. He sought change and he called for peace and equality. Before Lincoln could see his dream come to life, he was assassinated.
Dr. White points out that Lincoln did not expect his Second Inaugural Address to be immediately popular. As Dr. White’s book suggests, Lincoln purposefully did not aim to please with this speech. He did not celebrate a victory but instead mourned the losses of the war and by doing so, displeased even his own supporters. But to the few that understood the logic in Lincoln’s words, the Second Inaugural Address was clearly his brilliance at its best. So vast of an effect the speech caused, that it eventually cost Lincoln his life.
In an interview after his lecture, White suggested that the assassins could not kill the President on March 4, because the event was so heavily guarded. It was not until they heard him speak of granting voting rights to African Americans on April 11, that their rage escalated enough to push them to go through with the plan. White also suggests that murder had been attempted previously, but the bullets fired at Lincoln had missed their target.
In 2002, after writing “Lincoln’s Greatest Speech: The Second Inaugural,” the very book he came to speak to the students at GCC about, Dr. White received a letter like no other he had ever received before in his life. Upon reading it, he decided he would be honored to accept the invitation it extended. Fast-Forward to some days later and White found himself at the White House, having lunch with the President of the United States. This visit was not his last! Between then and now, White has opened two more similar letters signed by President Bush. One of them, an invitation to give the same lecture he gave to Glendale Community College students, to the White House staff.