On the fourth day of March, 1865, the President of the United States stood on the east steps of the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. to deliver his second inaugural address. Four years earlier, Abraham Lincoln delivered his first inaugural address as disaster loomed. The divided nation that sent him to the White House after the divided election of 1860 was slowly but surely headed to war against itself. Now, four years and approximately 600,000 casualties later, Abraham Lincoln was taking the oath of office again. In a tradition established by President George Washington, Lincoln again addressed the American people.
Lincoln begins by observing that his second address need not be as lengthy as the first. For four years, the nation has focused intently on the Civil War. He has nothing new to offer, nor anything to say that hasn’t been said before. Lincoln expresses hope that the end of the carnage is within reach but declines to predict precisely when. He observes that everyone hoped to avoid the conflict, but he emphasizes that one side ultimately decided to take up arms against the Union.
Lincoln turns to the topic that most occupies his speech: slavery, the core issue that led to war. The South preferred to fight rather that acquiesce to the federal government’s efforts to limit slavery’s expansion into the Western territories. It could not have been predicted, Lincoln says, that slavery would end prior to the end of the Civil War.
Lincoln introduces the idea that God has been fully present in the turmoil. He observes the irony that men on either side of the war pray to the same God for the wherewithal to destroy each other. He further notes that neither side has seen their...
(The entire section is 442 words.)