In understanding the inaugural addresses (first and second) by President Lincoln, we first look to the character of the man, shaped by tragedy but overcome by the purest belief that good things come from trials. Lincoln, by most historians' accounts, was predisposed to bouts of depression. Yet, in the face of mounting pressure, he can draw upon the strength that perseverance in his early life honed and fashioned as a positive outlook. Abraham Lincoln is a testament to how the humblest of circumstances produce the greatest of leaders.
In Lincoln's first address, he sent a clear message to Southerners and agitators for separation from the Union that while Lincoln's preference was for a peaceful resolution of the slavery question, he was not hesitant in enforcing federal laws against those who agitated in behalf of succession. Lincoln acknowledged the concerns of the Southerners, reminding them of their obligation to the Union and encouraging them to join him in coming to a final resolution of the question of slavery.
The second inaugural address takes a different tone. Lincoln, for all of his charm and rhetorical skill, had been ineffective in dissuading the South from the succession. Not sure of victory in his second election, Lincoln remained confident despite the negativity of his closest friends and advisors. The early war effort had gone poorly for the Union, and Lincoln accepted as Commander and Chief the blame. However, recent Union efforts had turned the tide against the Southern insurrection. Rather than celebrate, crow over the impending victory, and humiliate his opponents as many politicians tend to do, Lincoln chose words of reconciliation.
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.
There is no higher power forged against negativity than that of reconciliation and a positive message for peace. President Lincoln musters a tremendous inner force to announce to the world; the Union will remain whole and, over time, will be healed from the tragedy of the Civil War.
The Gettysburg Address eclipses Lincoln's inaugural speeches in tone, reconciliatory words, and positive hope for the future. Historians record witnesses on the train in which Lincoln traveled observed him greatly distressed as he worked on what he would say. When he arrived, Lincoln was second to speak after Edward Everett, renown and famous orator of the time. Everett spoke on the gray cloudless and cold day for nearly two hours before Lincoln addressed the crowd of more than twenty-thousand. Lincoln rose to speak to the boisterous crowd which had gathered on what, just a few months prior, had been the battlefield where bloated bodies unceremoniously buried in shallow graves had been exposed to the hot July heat after torrential rains flooded the shallow graves.
Lincoln's speech lasted a scant two minutes, and historical accounts record many in the crowd were unaware he was speaking. President Lincoln himself deemed his address as a failure and left Gettysburg feeling deflated and rejected. However, once in print in newspapers across the country, the Gettysburg Address became a topic of national discussion. The speech was met with much positive claim in parts of the country and became the rallying cry for national unity. Once again, when in the direst need for comfort and reconciliation, Lincoln delivered a positive rhetorical response. In each instance, the personal character of the man became the impetus for peace.