The Second Inaugural

Second Inaugural Address.

Delivered at Washington, D. C. March 4, 1865.

Fellow-countrymen: At this second appearing to take the oath of the presidential office, there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first. Then a statement, somewhat in detail, of a course to be pursued, seemed fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration of four years, during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention and engrosses the energies of the nation, little that is new could be presented. The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself; and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured.

On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago, all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it—all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address ​was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war—seeking to dissolve the Union, and divide effects, by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war; but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive; and the other would accept war rather than let it perish. And the war came.

One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the Southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was, somehow, the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union, even by war; while the government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it.

Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with, or even before, the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes his aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces; but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered—that of neither has been answered fully.

The Almighty has his own purposes. “Woe ​unto the world because of offenses! for it must needs be that offenses come; but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through his appointed time, he now wills to remove, and that he gives to both North and South this terrible war, as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to him? Fondly do we hope—fervently do we pray—that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said, “The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations.

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38 thoughts on “The Second Inaugural”

  1. 10 Cents:
    The point of the OP was not what DocLor wrote. He missed the meaning of comment one. He is assuming that I would ever have thought these words magically brought about change. I do think years after the speech this speech set a template to deal with former enemies.

    Fair enough. My original response in comment #8 was simply to observe that the aftermath of the speech was the opposite of what Mr. Lincoln intended. Perhaps many years later, the speech had a positive effect, though there’s no evidence for that claim.  As I explained in comment #14, “My point was not that things didn’t work out in the long run.”

    I believe words in times of crisis can make a big difference. History is full of them. I find it hard to believe that anyone would think these words didn’t change hearts. I find they change the way I look at things. YMMV

    We agree: sometimes yes, sometimes no. However, there is a Pollyanna-like desire to expect too much of soaring rhetoric. You solicited opinion about the speech’s ability “bring a nation together.” I expressed skepticism about it, citing some facts that seemed to say otherwise. That’s all.

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  2. drlorentz:

    10 Cents:
    The point of the OP was not what DocLor wrote. He missed the meaning of comment one. He is assuming that I would ever have thought these words magically brought about change. I do think years after the speech this speech set a template to deal with former enemies.

    Fair enough. My original response in comment #8 was simply to observe that the aftermath of the speech was the opposite of what Mr. Lincoln intended. Perhaps many years later, the speech had a positive effect, though there’s no evidence for that claim.  As I explained in comment #14, “My point was not that things didn’t work out in the long run.”

    I believe words in times of crisis can make a big difference. History is full of them. I find it hard to believe that anyone would think these words didn’t change hearts. I find they change the way I look at things. YMMV

    We agree: sometimes yes, sometimes no. However, there is a Pollyanna-like desire to expect too much of soaring rhetoric. You solicited opinion about the speech’s ability “bring a nation together.” I expressed skepticism about it, citing some facts that seemed to say otherwise. That’s all.

    I wrote, “how one could bring a nation together”. In the OP I put Lincoln’s thoughts but I was wondering how I or others would say or do to “bind up the wounds”. I would have wrote something different if I was talking about how this speech did that. I did think about all the bad things that happened after this particular speech. No one will ever know what would have happened if Lincoln lived. Johnson at least would not have been impeached.

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  3. Haak I did not intend to relitigate the invasion of the Southern States. The causes of secession are rather inconsequential in my view that a collective of people no longer wished to politically align with another group of people and were forcibly prevented from such disassociation. I find that compelling because we find ourselves in a situation very much similar to the Souther States of the 1850s. We don’t like to think that way because of the bondage of humans and I am with you on that. The desire to self government is still legitimate even if expressed by slave owners. That should not deligetimize the idea of self government.

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  4. 10 Cents:
    I wrote, “how one could bring a nation together”. In the OP I put Lincoln’s thoughts but I was wondering how I or others would say or do to “bind up the wounds”. I would have wrote something different if I was talking about how this speech did that. I did think about all the bad things that happened after this particular speech. No one will ever know what would have happened if Lincoln lived. Johnson at least would not have been impeached.

    The point is, it didn’t go so well in at least this one particular case: the case in point. Think of it as an experiment, the outcome of which is known.

    Would some other words work in some other situation? Maybe. Hypotheticals are fun but reality bites.

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  5. drlorentz:

    10 Cents:
    I wrote, “how one could bring a nation together”. In the OP I put Lincoln’s thoughts but I was wondering how I or others would say or do to “bind up the wounds”. I would have wrote something different if I was talking about how this speech did that. I did think about all the bad things that happened after this particular speech. No one will ever know what would have happened if Lincoln lived. Johnson at least would not have been impeached.

    The point is, it didn’t go so well in at least this one particular case: the case in point. Think of it as an experiment, the outcome of which is known.

    Would some other words work in some other situation? Maybe. Hypotheticals are fun but reality bites.

    And you punt. 🙂

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  6. 10 Cents:

    drlorentz:

    10 Cents:
    I wrote, “how one could bring a nation together”. In the OP I put Lincoln’s thoughts but I was wondering how I or others would say or do to “bind up the wounds”. I would have wrote something different if I was talking about how this speech did that. I did think about all the bad things that happened after this particular speech. No one will ever know what would have happened if Lincoln lived. Johnson at least would not have been impeached.

    The point is, it didn’t go so well in at least this one particular case: the case in point. Think of it as an experiment, the outcome of which is known.

    Would some other words work in some other situation? Maybe. Hypotheticals are fun but reality bites.

    And you punt. 🙂

    Better than fumbling. 😉

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  7. Well Dime I have an idea about bringing the country together. First stop trying to rule 320 million people through a centralized detached governing authority. Two the more localized authorities should enforce the law including the protection of private property against vandalism and rioting. These two steps would go A long way in my view.

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  8. Robert A. McReynolds:
    Well Dime I have an idea about bringing the country together. First stop trying to rule 320 million people through a centralized detached governing authority. Two the more localized authorities should enforce the law including the protection of private property against vandalism and rioting. These two steps would go A long way in my view.

    When do you think your plan will take effect?

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  9. 10 Cents:

    Robert A. McReynolds:
    Well Dime I have an idea about bringing the country together. First stop trying to rule 320 million people through a centralized detached governing authority. Two the more localized authorities should enforce the law including the protection of private property against vandalism and rioting. These two steps would go A long way in my view.

    When do you think your plan will take effect?

    The day after never.

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  10. Robert A. McReynolds:

    10 Cents:

    Robert A. McReynolds:
    Well Dime I have an idea about bringing the country together. First stop trying to rule 320 million people through a centralized detached governing authority. Two the more localized authorities should enforce the law including the protection of private property against vandalism and rioting. These two steps would go A long way in my view.

    When do you think your plan will take effect?

    The day after never.

    That soon!

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  11. drlorentz:
    … the aftermath of the speech was the opposite of what Mr. Lincoln intended. Perhaps many years later, the speech had a positive effect, though there’s no evidence for that claim.

    Well, actually, these words were cited many times in the period from 1890 through the 1930s.

    There was a series of occasional reunion events.  Many of these involved parades, band concerts, political speechifying and “Chatauqua” style talks.  Frequently they involved fundraisers for monuments.  Yankee veterans would travel south and Confederate veterans would travel north.  They would appear at each other’s fundraisers and split the proceeds.  Monuments to the Northern generals were erected in their hometowns and state capitols, and monuments to the Southern generals were erected in their hometowns and state capitols.  Markers and plaques were installed at many cemeteries.

    World War I helped keep the energy going for these reconciliation events.

    You could read all about it in Buckley’s History of the Great Reunion of the North and South.

    Of course, in the decade just past, many of those Confederate monuments have been removed or destroyed.

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