The night President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in Ford’s Theater, he wore a new coat with a quote by Columnist Daniel Webster stitched inside, “One Country, One Destiny.”
Most have thought since then that Lincoln’s efforts to keep us united had largely healed a divided nation.
Until Jan. 6, that union held firmly.
Dashed were the familiar hallmarks of a healthy society: peaceful assembly and protest, leaders who place the good of “one nation” over comforting the already-comfortable.
We watched as our temple to liberty was trampled, defiled on live television. Many of us had not under stood the level of anger and hatred some of our fellow citizens have felt toward one another and our fundamental tenets of a free and democratic nation. Now, we know.
We believed the enemies of America were found only outside our borders – those nations that seek our col lapse, those who disbelieve or tire of American exceptionalism, and who view our democracy as a failed experiment. Abraham Lincoln said, “If destruction be our lot, we ourselves must be its author and finisher.”
We failed to realize that the greatest danger was right here, inside our walls.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose commitment to peace we celebrate Monday, said, “Hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already void of stars.” He warned us that hatred of those who hate us robs us of our ability to love. He died trying to end segregation, militarism and poverty while advancing civil rights through nonviolent actions, including civil disobedience.
King challenged the great injustices of the day by peaceful means – through respectful dialogue and resistance – but never violence.
The violent insurrection on, around and inside our U.S. Capitol was an act of domes tic terrorism, not a patriotic act or foreign invasion. Threats to hang the vice president, to “find” the senators and congressmen hiding that day, to murder policemen and reverse a fair election have made us look to the world more like a banana republic than a healthy democracy.
Those who seek peace in a violent world know our better angels have little choice but to follow Dr. King’s words as we continue the fight for decency, equity and tolerance. He said, “Darkness can not drive out darkness; only light can do that.” Each of us must begin – or renew – a
commitment to nonviolence while holding responsible these whose lies planted or fed this growing malignancy.
Lincoln believed, despite four years of civil war, that Americans must unite as one people for democracy to succeed. Now, as then, we can not allow fear and violence to divide us. We elect leaders to protect us and safe guard our Constitution and to keep secure our citizens, our nation, “One Nation, One Destiny.” Let that destiny be peace and grant us the courage – of a Lincoln or a King – to stand with our fellow citizens to defend it now.
Kevin Kelly is director of the Dayton Peace Museum. Guest columns are submitted or requested fact-based opinion pieces, typically 300-450 words.