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Lincoln's Second Inaugural Speech

Originally published by America's Civil War magazine. Published Online: May 19, 2008 
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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, urgent 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 bondsman'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.


14 Responses to “Lincoln's Second Inaugural Speech”


  1. 1
    bobbybartram says:

    a great speech by the greatest american who ever lived abraham lincoln. ilove the man. he saved america.

  2. 2
    Susan Nolan says:

    The Civil War is an important part of our history and heritage. "Who cares?" I'll tell you who cares Naomi Stewart. People who care about our freedom, our history, our ancestors (no matter who's side you were on), and people who care to know all about our wonderful country's past be it good or bad information. Your comment is rude, unfounded and simply shows your low intelligence of what it partly is to be a proud American. Grow some heart for your country or move out. As for BobbyBartram's comment, I agree. We need more Abraham Lincoln's in the world today and less Naomi Stewart minded people.

  3. 3
    Charles Dishno says:

    Naomi Stewart, grow up. Where would you be if it was not for this great man! You should praise him every time you hold a penny in your hand.

  4. 4
    rickramey says:

    Bobby and Naomi, it's people like you that really piss me off, no one cares about our history, that's why we are deemed to repeat it, Obama would still be picking cotton for Bush, and i don't like obama

  5. 5
    Rikki Kerr says:

    As an outsider, it is comments such as that of Naomi Stewart that re-inforce the view that America has major problems. That someone has the time and inclination to post such a comment on a 'serious' web site is a sad reflection on the education system. Stick to u-tube and Face book Naomi, they are obviously your intellectual level.
    Rikki Kerr, Adelaide, Australia

  6. 6
    HistoryNet Staff says:

    Normally we don't edit comments – but in this case I'll make an exception. Naomi's post has been removed.

  7. 7
    Charles Dishno says:

    Hat's off to the History Net Staff for removing Naomi's post. Feel free to remove any of my comments if I sound un-patriotic.

  8. 8
    brandon baker says:

    Remarkable address. I had not read this until now. It sounds like something Cicero would write.
    I do not believe as some armchair historians say; that the American Civil War was fought primarily for 'States Rights' at all. It is clear to my mind what President Lincoln thought of it even as the war was winding down by the time of this Second Innaugrial Address. That this war and endless sufferring was a redemption of the lash of slavery.
    Still, to this day the controversy rages that should have ended with the Reconstruction. Namely; that a Union victory together with the belief in a just God, have been a dearly bought signal of redemption. For if we have a belief in the infinite goodness of God, we serve ourselves best when we serve justice. When God has seen fit to forgive us of the evil of slavery, who among ourselves cannot let us forgoe the debt?
    To my thinking, until we find the threads from which Mr. Lincoln intended this Nation to heal and of course follow them, then the undercurrent of slaveries insult to God will perpetuate and the evil will go on and on, recreating itself in revisionist historians and race baiting power elites. Here President Lincoln spells it out almost wearily yet monumentally sums up the herculean effort the union has made so far and the debt paid from both sides in order to forge a new country bathed in almost genocidal sacrifice ridding itself of slavery yet restoring itself through prayer and penance in the grace of almighty God.

  9. 9
    Jacob Frischknecht says:

    I dont get this article, isnt lincoln a president? Whos Naomi Stewart?

  10. 10
    Charles Dishno says:

    No, Lincoln is not a president, he was a president. and perhaps the greatest Lincoln is a car that congress is trying to bail out. Shame on them!

  11. 11
    Daniel Batten says:

    The point of all history is not to praise the men and women of the past, rather, to find a healthy and respectful way to honor a better the future. Men like Lincoln should be admired, in their place, and should be thanked for not merely accepting his own ignorance, but continue to evolve into a better man with hopes for a better future. If we praise a single soul too much, then their greatness and their truths become not a plus, but a hindrance to a progessive future. It is easy to look upon a person in the past and judge them, just as it is easy to see the errors of your friends as they happen, but none have the foresight to see it as it happens to themselves. This is the requirement for a better future, to not see the errors in the past, so much as the errors in our thinking not of the just the past but also the fiture. We need more eyes looking to the present!!

  12. 12
    Y.Walt says:

    We need men like Lincoln today, I find it so interesting that people ridicule a man in which they are enjoying the fruits of his labour. This country's history led to it's freedom and though many will say this country is not free I will say take your behinds to another country where you CAN"T have as many children as you would like or even recieve help for whatever you decide to do. Or better yet where your choice of religion is no longer yours. Men like this paid the way for freedom of speech and all that other good stuff as well as other great soldiers. Now we have lost respect for the very things this country stands for, sad part is all will regret it, this are changing and not for the good of the people. Priorities are all mixed up!!

  13. 13
    free0022 says:

    i want to know what did Naomi say,

  14. 14
    Norman James says:

    I gather that Naomi was on a rant, but I thinkyour decision to withdraw her coments is a bit blind in its own way. I belong to a Civil War Club and would like to use this controversy in my next presentation. How do I find out what she said? Norman James



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