Washington in the Season of Lincoln
- Velveeta Cheese is as yummy now as when I was a kid.
- I’m going to win the lottery.
- April, the best and the most hopeful month in Washington D.C., is Abraham Lincoln’s month.
April is definitely in my top-twelve favorite months. Winter is temporarily banished. The nooks and crannies of once-dormant trees burst with flowers. The mosquitos haven’t yet hatched, and the humid horrors of July haven’t yet descended. In this most hopeful month, I always think of Abraham Lincoln, the most hopeful President. Washington D.C.’s modern history began in the Civil War, and the month of April was a big player.
On April 16, 1862, two years after the war started, Lincoln signed the Compensated Emancipation Act. With regard to emancipation, Lincoln was far ahead of his peers and the times. The Act freed thousands of enslaved people in Washington D.C. One hundred fifty-three years later, the City celebrates Emancipation day with a parade and speeches and a day off for City employees. For my part, I imagine how proud Abraham Lincoln would have been to see the day-to-day results of his legacy – a daycare full of children of various races and ethnicities all gathered on a Pennsylvania Avenue sidewalk to see the Emancipation Day marching bands go by. It’s a small thing, but a real thing.
In Lincoln’s time three years later (1865) the Civil war was nearly over, and Lincoln’s ideals had won. He gave his last public speech from a White House balcony on April 11th.
“We meet this evening, not in sorrow, but in gladness of heart. The evacuation of Petersburg and Richmond, and the surrender of the principal insurgent army, give hope of a righteous and speedy peace whose joyous expression can not be restrained.”
Lincoln sought reconciliation with the South and a path forward to reunite the disparate nation. But he was shot a few days later on Friday April 14th. The following day, he died. His death is one of history’s great tragedies. In my own small way, I wonder if the Civil Rights movement might have come 50 years earlier if not for Lincoln’s death. Or perhaps, with four more years to spread his message of hope and forward progress, Lincoln might have helped make it so that the Civil Rights movement might have not been necessary because racial equality would have been a closer goal from the start.
I always cry when Lincoln dies* – whether that historical death occurs in books or movies or presentations given by a phalanx of Civil War speakers. One hundred fifty years later, in Washington D.C., flags fly at half-staff on the anniversary of the day Lincoln died. Long ago, the city went into weeks of mourning broken only by the eventual conviction and death of some of the people who conspired to kill him. By that time, Washington D.C. was in the awful grip of July and revenge. Abraham Lincoln wasn’t like that. He was hopeful, like April.
*These are some of my favorite books about Abraham Lincoln: