Reflections: Set aside animosity, try civility
I attended a denominational event in Richmond several years ago and took an extra day for sightseeing, including the Confederate White House Jefferson Davis used after he moved from Montgomery. We saw the executive office where President Lincoln sat in triumph on April 4, 1865 after the rebel evacuation, and five days before Gen. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia.
And the guide showed us the second-floor window from which 5-year-old Joseph Davis fell to his death in 1864. Presidents Lincoln and Davis exchanged condolence letters reflecting on Joseph’s death and 11-year-old Willie Lincoln’s death in 1862 - a little bit of civility in the midst of bloody conflict.
The guide also mentioned that President Jimmy Carter restored Davis’s citizenship in 1978. I hadn’t known this and did some research for an article in a hobby newsletter.
The Carter Presidential Library confirmed it was a congressional initiative - not a presidential initiative - but Carter signed the bill as soon as it was delivered to the Oval Office.
Sen. Trent Lott was the main instigator of the citizenship initiative. A member of the U.S. House of Representatives in the 70s, Lott represented Mississippi’s 5th Congressional District including Davis’s retirement home in Biloxi. The resolution restored Davis’s citizenship effective on Christmas, 1868.
An impetus to this act was the restoration of citizenship to Gen. Robert E. Lee.
Lee applied for reinstatement in 1865. He died in 1870 and his request gathered dust in a Washington archive before being rediscovered 100 years later. Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia introduced a resolution to restore Lee’s citizenship, and President Ford signed it into law in 1975.
Carter noted Davis’s record of service in his remarks at the signing ceremony: “[Davis] served the United States long and honorably as a soldier, member of the U.S. House and Senate and secretary of war.”
“Our nation needs to clear away the guilts and enmities and recriminations of the past, to finally set at rest the divisions that threatened to destroy our nation and to discredit the principles on which it was founded,” Carter said. “Our people need to turn their attention to the important tasks that still lie before us in establishing those principles for all people.”
Two U.S. presidents, one Republican and one Democrat, one from Michigan and one from Georgia, in effect issued pardons to the two primary leaders of the Confederate government. Their acts of civility bespoke hope that we be one nation under God.
Our republic, currently torn by division, can learn from these two presidents.
We should set aside animosity and seek a little bit of civility.
The Apostle Paul wrote, “Insomuch as possible, live at peace with all men” (Romans 12: 18).
Reflections is a weekly devotional column written by Michael J. Brooks, pastor of the Siluria Baptist Church in Alabaster, Alabama. The church's website is siluriabaptist.com