WASHINGTON, D.C. – Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton (R) spoke on the senate floor earlier Wednesday on the 150th anniversary of former U.S. President Abraham Lincoln’s death.
“Today, we honor the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s death. We all know the tragic story: on the evening of April 14, 1865, the four-year anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War and just days after its end at Appomattox, President Lincoln was shot while attending the theater. The next morning his last labored breathing ceased.
His fanatically unreconciled assassin was enraged by Lincoln’s achievements: his saving of the Union; his emancipation of the slaves; his forecast that the freed slaves would soon be voting; his rededication of the nation to the Declaration, and to the Constitution in which it is embodied. Lincoln lived for these things, and also he died for them.
Days earlier Lincoln’s assassin, in attendance at the Second Inaugural, had ignored the re-elected president’s eloquent plea “to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds,” doing so “with malice toward none, with charity for all.”
A year and a half earlier, dedicating the cemetery at Gettysburg, Lincoln had said that “history would little note nor long remember” what he said. Here he was wrong, or at least falsely modest, for the Gettysburg Address is among the most beautiful and memorable speeches in history. He called upon us to “be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us”: “that government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth.”
His words call upon us still to take “increased devotion” from those at Gettysburg and every war since who gave “the last full measure of devotion.” Soon he would be among those honored dead, the final and most poignant casualty in the same war, and his death is another reason for us to renew our devotion to our great country.
We should think, then, about Lincoln’s message, which is like the message of the nation. On the question of equality, Lincoln was as precise as a mathematician and as lyrical as a poet.
Of slavery: “As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy. Whatever differs from this, to the extent of the difference, is no democracy.”
Of equality and the Declaration: “I think the authors of that notable instrument intended to include all men, but they did not intend to declare all men equal in all respects. They did not mean to say all were equal in color, size, intellect, moral developments, or social capacity. They defined with tolerable distinctness, in what respects they did consider all men created equal—equal in ‘certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’ This they said, and this they meant.”
Now put these propositions together. We are unequal in most respects, but we are equal in our rights. We own ourselves, and no one else may own us. We own the government, and the government does not own us. We are entitled to live our lives with the talents that God gave us. Any form of government that interferes with these rights is wrong.
But in the world today are rogue nations that are growing in strength and violate these principles. They constitute a menace to our freedom and to civilization itself.
At home, our government grows ever greater in its size, in its reach, in its expense. The law is flouted increasingly by high authority. And our people say with increasing intensity that they mistrust and even fear their government. It may be for the people, but is less and less of and by the people.
On this 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s death, let us be here reminded and dedicated to that cause for which Lincoln gave the last full measure of devotion. And let us dedicate ourselves, in Lincoln’s words, “to finish the work we are in,” so that we “may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”