Abraham Lincoln’s Frist Inaugural Address

On March 4, 1861, Abraham Lincoln gave his first Inaugural Address. The Inaugural Address provides Lincoln the opportunity to highlight his agenda, appeal to the Congress and the people he will govern for support, and provide further insight on the new leader and the principles on which he stands. It was clear that Lincoln would continue his pursuit of the emancipation of the slaves and made an appeal for a united north and south, or at least that is what the movie made it seem like.

“In our present differences, is either party without faith of being in the right? If the Almighty Ruler of nations, with his eternal truth and justice, be on your side of the North, or on yours of the South, that truth, and that justice, will surely  prevail, by the judgment of this great tribunal, the American people.”[1]

References to God are common in many politicians Inaugural Addresses, especially the President of the United States. Lincoln was no different and he continued his pursuit of emancipation for the slaves with references to the “Almighty Ruler of nations,” which would be the strongest reference to God that the researcher has found at this time of Lincoln’s life. But this Inaugural Address was drafted by William Seward.[2] Presidents often have speech writers to help craft the words that they present. After knowing the person for whom the speech writer is crafting the speech, the speech writer is able to write the speech as if they were the one for whom the speech is written. Seward followed the practice of Lincoln by not mentioning God specifically, but did provide a tone in his writings of a power greater than ourselves; someone who has all power in His hand. In attempting to avoid a hasty action, he wrote, “Intelligence, patriotism, Christianity, and a firm reliance on Him, who has never yet forsaken this favored land, are still competent to adjust, in the best way, all our present difficulty.”[3] The reference to “a firm reliance on Him” is a far different concept than Lincoln provided less than one month before when he wrote, “Without the assistance of that Divine Being” in his Farewell to Springfield Speech.[4] Lincoln wrote, poetically, the closing to the Inaugural Address, referring to “better angels of our nature,” but as in previous writings, not directly acknowledging God.

“I am loth to close. We are not enemies, but friends.  We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memorys, streching from every battlefield, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”[5]

[1] Abraham Lincoln, “First Inaugural Address,” In Lincoln’s Hand His Original Transcripts, Eds. Harold Holzer and Joshua Wolf Shenk, (New York: Bantam Dell, 2009) 82-3.

[2] Abraham Lincoln, “First Inaugural Address,” in In Lincoln’s Hand His Original Transcripts, 83.

[3] Abraham Lincoln, “First Inaugural Address,” in In Lincoln’s Hand His Original Transcripts, Eds. Harold Holzer and Joshua Wolf Shenk, (New York: Bantam Dell, 2009), 83.

[4] Abraham Lincoln, “Farewell to Springfield,” in In Lincoln’s Hand His Original Transcripts, Eds. Harold Holzer and Joshua Wolf Shenk, (New York: Bantam Dell, 2009), 78

[5] Abraham Lincoln, “First Inaugural Address,” in In Lincoln’s Hand His Original Transcripts, 82.

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