A Better Angel
On March 4, 1861, Abraham Lincoln stood on the eastern steps of the U.S. Capitol and delivered his First Inaugural Address. After his election in November, seven Southern states, intent on preserving slavery, seceded from the Union. Lincoln’s plea from the Capitol steps was that cooler, more rational heads would prevail and America would not be torn apart by Civil War.
At the end of his speech, Lincoln hoped to convince all Americans, but particularly those who wished to secede, to consider the consequences of rash and unseemly choices. He appealed to the “better angels of our nature.” Lincoln believed, as we do, that there lies within each of us a better angel. A better angel is a metaphor for the human capacity for goodness, reason, and integrity that often gets suppressed in the course of the many conflicts life brings. Our better angels get quashed by our selfish desires.
In today’s America, we seem to have lost our way when it comes to decency, good will, and fair play. We love to disparage anyone who holds opposing ideas. We enjoy inflicting pain on others. We like the fight. Common sense had taken a back seat to some pretty wild thinking. Behaviors that ought to be ridiculed are encouraged. The time has come for serious people to rekindle the flame of good character that has been doused by the water of animosity, bitterness, and self-interest.
The writers at A Better Angel do not claim to be perfect, but if only perfect people were allowed to promote integrity, our better angels would never have a voice. Our hope is to foster not the kind of character we possess, which leaves much to be desired, but the kind of character we ought to have.