Second Inaugural Address1
by Abraham Lincoln
A speech delivered March 5, 1865.2
The speech interprets the Civil War as God's will to remove the blight of slavery from the land; urging his war-weary listeners to strive on, Lincoln looks forward to a just and lasting peace.
March 4, 1865
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, insurgent 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.
1 Lincoln considered this to have been his greatest speech.
2 The Confederacy surrendered five weeks later.
PORTRAIT: Abraham Lincoln by G. P. A. Healey (1887), based on his 1868 painting The Peacemakers.CITATION INFORMATION (in MLA format): Lincoln, Abraham. "Second Inaugural Address." Gleeditions, 17 Apr. 2011, www.gleeditions.com/secondinauguraladdress/students/pages.asp?lid=412&pg=5. Originally published on The Avalon Project, 2008, avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/lincoln2.asp.