Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural speech dated March 4th, 1865 has been regarded as the most remarkable address by Lincoln while as the American president. Preceding the address, the American nation had been ensnared in civil war for about four years, and the skirmish had taken its toll on the presidency. Lincoln wasn't even sure of a win in his reelection following the storm of war that the union witnessed throughout the election year. During this period, the newspapers were full of reports of William T. Sherman's armies and those of Ulysses S. Grant. However, Lincoln would be inaugurated for the second term amidst rumors that abounded the congregants over Lincoln's possible abduction or assassination.
Many Americans had high expectations that perhaps the president's address will be about his reelection or give progress on the union armies or even point out policies on the widely known concept of "reconstruction." However, Lincoln did not address any of the above. Rather, the address provided a moral reconciliatory roadmap and also emphasized on maintenance of peace. The president's meditative speech addressed three main issues; nature of the war, the end of the war and life after the war.
Nature of the war
From the speech, it is evident that Lincoln believed that the war was largely about slavery. He strongly held that it is slavery that caused the war. The president reminded the audience that majority of the population in the south were of colored slaves. According to Lincoln, these slaves had a compelling and peculiar interest which might have been the cause of the war. The government had only an option of prohibiting territorial enlargement at the south but would not prevent the mutineers from perpetuating their interests whose outcome was a severe civil war.
In fact, the South wanted to have an expanded slavery and slave trade while the North passionately wanted to abolish the vise or at least prevent slavery from spreading to other Western regions. From the president's assertion, it is evident the North was not completely innocent in this matter. The Northerner's interest in slavery would not be ruled out following the high profit off of cotton where slaves used to work. Both the Northerners and Southerners were racists; slavery was a sin and the war as a result of that sin.
The End of the War
In the address, the president wished that American civil wars were to end soon. He was concerned with the horrific high cost more especially the cost of lives of solders that died in the line of duty. The president believed that the war would end after the American nation had paid the price for the sin of slavery. It was only God who would determine when the debt would have been cleared and this was God's will. It is in this context that Lincoln used phrases like "The Almighty has His purposes," "He now wills to remove" and "Yet if God wills that it continues" ("Abraham Lincoln: Second Inaugural Address. U.S. Inaugural Addresses 1989").
The president suggested that the revulsions of war would continue as long as the wealth piled by the beneficiaries of slavery for over two hundred and fifty years remained intact. As well, the horrors of war were to continue unless every blood drawn by lash is paid with a sword. In other words, the slavery which came about via violence had to end via the same means. Many have taken this perception as Lincoln's scales of justice. Lincoln alluded to the God's judgment as being faithful and righteous implying that the war was a judgment and its repercussions are in the proportion of the offenses committed. The end of the war will only come at the end of slavery.
The Life after the War
Perhaps, the time for the war to end was soon coming. In the past few months, the Northerners had made considerable progress in winning their fight. However, the Southerners were on the losing end for they were getting weak in the workforce and other crucial resources. In the address, Lincoln looked forward to the day when he would fully unite the Americans. He had set a reconstruction plan that was all about readmission of the union, pardoning of Confederates who would readily take an oath of loyalty and complete restoration of property and rights to the south. According to Lincoln, the nation's wounds had to be bended-up. It wasn't Lincoln's wish that division in the American nation to continue when the civil war would end.
In the address, Lincoln emphasizes the need for peace and unity after the war for not only within Americans but also with other surrounding nations. Towards the end of the address, he gives promissory and embracing statement "With malice toward none, with charity for all"; an indication of unification intent of the president. Many have viewed this proclaim as the enduring promise of reconciliation Lincoln gave to Americans. He went on to say "to impasse up to care for to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and lasting peace. " ("Abraham Lincoln: Second Inaugural Address. U.S. Inaugural Addresses 1989"). This is an indication how Lincoln valued peace at the last phase of his tenure.
Lincoln's address played a significant role in unifying the divided American nation. Initially, the southerners were reluctant to accept the Union's victory after the civil war. The white supremacist mindset had taken root in the south, and this would not allow the abolition of slavery and slave trade. In return, it was to be difficult to end the civil war, a possible challenge in reconstructing the torn nation. Lincoln's avoidance to embrace the triumphalism of radical Republicans serves as a unifying perspective that diminished acrimony between the victorious northerners and the defeated southerners. As well, the speech is lauded to be unbiased and universal. It cannot be said that the address is either favoring the North or patronizing the south. For this reason, the address would easily meet the intended purpose of uniting the American nation.
In conclusion, Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural address remains one of the most celebrated addresses by an American president. The address was rightly timed as well as had the right content therein. The address came at a time the American nation had suffered the horrors of civil war that emanated from slavery and slave trade. The North was committed to the abolition of slavery while the South strongly held onto the vice and at the end, civil wars erupted from defiant slaves. In the speech, Lincoln addressed three major issues; what the war was all about when the war will end and the American life after the war. The address played a significant role in unifying the American nation after the civil war.
"Abraham Lincoln: Second Inaugural Address. U.S. Inaugural Addresses. 1989." Bartleby.com: Great Books Online -- Quotes, Poems, Novels, Classics and Hundreds More, www.bartleby.com/124/pres32.html.
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