How did Lincoln use pathos/emotional appeal in Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

On March 4, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln delivered his second inaugural address and was then sworn into office. At the time, the Civil War was still being fought, but the North had made significant inroads into the South, and victory for the Union seemed inevitable. Lincoln explains the brevity of his speech by alluding to the timing of his first inaugural address, which he had delivered four years previously. He says that "four years ago all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war." This time, he sees no reason to recap news of the war effort, which is "reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all." He instead directs his attention to the issues that the nation must face going forward.

According to Dictionary.com, pathos is

the quality or power in an actual life experience or in literature, music, speech, or other forms of expression, of evoking a feeling of pity, or of sympathetic and kindly sorrow or compassion.

Lincoln uses pathos and emotional appeal by stating clearly what he considers to be the true cause of the war, citing Biblical scriptures to demonstrate the commonality of the bond between North and South, and challenging the entire populace of the nation on the steps they should take to ensure a "just and lasting peace."

First of all, Lincoln states that the issue of slavery was "somehow the cause of the war." The South was willing to rip the nation apart to "strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest." Lincoln goes so far as to say that although everyone prays for a swift conclusion to the war, because it was brought on by the terrible offense of slavery, it would be a righteous judgment of God if the war continued "until every drop of blood drawn with the lash (referring here to the beating of slaves by their owners) shall be paid by another drawn with the sword."

To emphasize his points and to evoke sympathy in his listeners, most or all of whom were at least nominally Christian, Lincoln refers extensively to Biblical passages. He states that people of the North and the South "read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other." His comment of "wringing their bread from other men's faces," referring to slave owners profiting off the labor of their slaves, is a paraphrase of God's commandment to Adam and Eve when they were thrown out of the garden in Genesis chapter 3: "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread." Lincoln also directly quotes the words of Jesus in Matthew 18, verse 7, about the offenses of the world. "The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether" is the second half of Psalm 19, verse 9. Lincoln's audience would have known these references, and they would have evoked deep pathos and emotional sensitivity.

Finally, Lincoln emphasizes forgiveness and a resolution to rebuild in his concluding remarks. He urges his listeners to forsake malice, embrace charity, "bind up the nation's wounds," and care for the many grieving widows and orphans in the aftermath of the war.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on April 13, 2020
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial