Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address

by Abraham Lincoln

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Why does Lincoln emphasize religion and "God's will" in his second inaugural address?

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Religion played such an prominent role in Lincoln's second inaugural address in 1865 because he hoped to unite a divided nation by appealing to the Christian faith which most Americans shared. Lincoln used the idea of God's will to persuade his audience that they should accept as God's will the outcome of the Civil War.

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In March 1865, Lincoln took the oath to become the American president for the second time. At this moment, the end of the American Civil War was only a few weeks away, but the war had exposed fundamental and seemingly irreconcilable differences between the American people. In his speech, Lincoln focused on how America could heal and become once more a united nation. To do this, Lincoln had to persuade Americans on both sides of the war to accept the outcome, and to this end Lincoln spoke of God's will. He speculated that perhaps slavery was "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." The implication here is that ordinary men and women should not look to continue the war or hold on to their grievances, because to do so would be to question or contradict God's will.

Lincoln also appealed to God's will because he was aware that a shared faith in Christianity was something which still united the vast majority of Americans, regardless of what side they were on in the Civil War. He said that people on both sides of the conflict "read the same Bible and pray to the same God." The implication here is that the American people were united by their faith in the same God. By reminding his audience of this, Lincoln hoped to persuade them to put aside their differences in the name of this shared faith. To this same end Lincoln also alluded several times to passages from the Bible. Towards the end of the speech, for example, he quoted from Psalm 19:19 when he said, to reiterate the idea about God's will, that "the judgements of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."

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