Lincoln’s Second Inauguration: 150 years later

150 years ago today, Abraham Lincoln stood before a crowd gathered in Washington D.C. and was inaugurated as President of the United States for a second time. A reporter for the New York Daily Tribune described the rushing crowds, writing in the March 6th issue that “at an early hour…unbroken lines of people were moving towards the capitol, and but for the presence and prompt action of the Marshal’s forces, the halls, galleries, and passage ways of the building would have been crowded in advance of the arrival of any of the public officers.”

Before the oath was taken Lincoln addressed the many gathered that March day. As the Civil War finally appeared to be drawing to a close and American slavery near its final end, Lincoln chose not to lay full blame for the destructive conflict on one side or the other. However, he did point that “all knew that this interest [slavery] was somehow the cause of the war” and suggested that the prolonged conflict may be God’s judgement for the horrors of slavery. Nonetheless, he concluded his speech with these conciliatory lines:

“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.”

With these concluding words, Lincoln expressed a hope that once the war was finished that forgiveness and reconciliation would triumph over bitterness and revenge. Sadly he would not live to guide the country through the difficult time following the war. Still, his words echo across the years as a reminder in our commemoration of the Civil War to lay aside hatred and take up understanding and goodwill instead.

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