Thaddeus Stevens: “In rebuilding, it is necessary to clear away the rotten and defective portions of the old foundations, and to sink deep and found the repaired edifice upon the firm foundation of eternal justice….”

This morning I listened to the debate on impeachment that took place on the floor of the house. The defenders of Donald Trump were arguing that the impeachment of Donald Trump would divide the country and undermine national unity. Mike Pence said essentially the same thing last night when he refused set in motion the process to invoke the 25th Amendment.

As I listened, I pulled David Blight’s Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory off the shelf. The book has a lot to say about calls for “unity” and “healing” in the wake of a tragedy. Here are some pertinent quotes:

p.3: “Americans faced an overwhelming task after the Civil War and emancipation: how to understand the tangled relationship between two profound ideas–healing and justice.”

p.3: “Human reconciliations–when tragically divided people unify again around aspirations, ideas, and the positive bonds of nationalism–are to be cherished. But sometimes reconciliations have terrible costs, both intentional and unseen. The sectional reunion after so horrible a civil war was a political triumph by the late nineteenth century, but it could not have been achieved without the resubjugation of many of those people whom the war had freed from centuries of bondage.

p.53: “In 1866-67, all sides in the epic Reconstruction debates seemed to hear and speak in the tones of requiem. But this requiem was badly out of tune, its harmony discordant.”

p.55: “But in the minds of radical leaders healing could wait. As the House of Representatives was about to vote on the Fourteenth Amendment., [Thaddeus] Stevens declared: ‘in rebuilding, it is necessary to clear away the rotten and defective portions of the old foundations, and to sink deep and found the repaired edifice upon the firm foundation of eternal justice….’ The tragedy of Reconstruction is rooted in this American paradox: the imperative of healing and the imperative of justice could not, ultimately, cohabit the same house.”