Ethics Alarms Celebrates Presidents Day: The Speeches. VI. President Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address

I think we’ll end our foray into Presidential oratory with the master, Abraham Lincoln. We have recently revisited his Gettysburg Address; in this speech. Abe gave us the famous words that grace his memorial in Washington, D.C.

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 enerergies 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. 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 offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!” If we shall suppose that American Slavery is one of those offences 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 offence 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 bond-man’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 a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.

4 thoughts on “Ethics Alarms Celebrates Presidents Day: The Speeches. VI. President Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address

  1. This has the proper formatting (please erase the first):

    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 a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.

    Huar huar huar!

    Correction:

    Lincoln presided over America during what remains, by leaps and bounds, its darkest hour. More tellingly, he was, at the very least, instrumental in making it its darkest hour, for Lincoln waged a war unprecedented (in our history) for its death and destruction, and he waged it against Americans. Whether or not he had the constitutional right to do so, whether or not the South was the aggressor, are utterly irrelevant considerations.

    To repeat, for our purposes here, Lincoln’s legal and moral prerogatives or lack thereof simply do not matter. What matters is that for four long years, the President of the United States conducted the bloodiest war that, before or since, our nation had ever witnessed, a war that laid waste to much of the country, to say nothing of the genuinely federal character of the government that the Framers of the Constitution ratified.

    And he waged this war against his fellow citizens, men and women who sought to peaceably secede from the Union—not usurp Lincoln or the federal government.

    This Nation in its second phase (as I might call it) was constructed on lies. It does not see its lies as lies though. It says they are *truths*. And this representing as truth what are in fact lies, is right at the center of America’s civil conflicts of the day.

    To see though lies is the objective. To tell the truth is the objective.

    Of course this is not true if one believes one gains more by *believing the lie* and convincing others to believe it. Lies after all have a very real & important function.

    • Oh those poor innocent Southerners who just wanted to keep their fellow human beings in servitude, Why couldn’t the big mean federal government let them keep whipping black people in peace?

      And before you come back with “it wasn’t about ending slavery” let me ask you, if slavery was NEVER a thing in the South, would there still have been states seceding? Are there any reliable sources citing secession for reasons OTHER than the slave question?

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