Shortly after noon, March 4, 1865, President Lincoln, prior to his taking the Oath of Office for the second time on the East Portico of the Capitol, delivered a brief address. A week before, in the White House, he told a visiting Congressman and the resident painter, Francis B. Carpenter, that this address, which he called his “second inaugural”, had “lots of wisdom in it.” It was short, he said: “about six hundred words” – taut, spare, bare of ornament or rhetorical flourishes. It was, in fact, exactly the kind of speech, Lincoln biographer Lord Charnwood remarked, “a great man at the crisis of his fate on the sort of occasion which a tragedian telling his story would have devised for him,” might deliver." Thus, on Inauguration Day, in a clear, high voice that carried to the far edge of the crowd, Lincoln made what many consider the greatest speech in American history...
In setting out to examine the origins of “this terrible war” and its significance, Lincoln explained in the simplest terms possible the clash of unyielding and irreconcilable ideologies that brought on civil war. “Both parties deprecated war,” he declared, “but one of them would make war, rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish.” At this, there was so much cheering that Lincoln had to pause before finishing the sentence: “And the war came.”
In not assigning blame, in not inciting rancor, in assuming an equality of devotion – “Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God,” he reminded his listeners – Lincoln demonstrated his refusal to become The Other. The suffering wrought by the “mighty scourge of war” had come to the nation as a family, and had then, however inexplicably, to borne together. This augured well for the future – of which, disastrously, he had but forty-two days left.
Autograph Quotation Signed, as President, being a key passage from his Second Inaugural Address; 1 page, small octavo, no place or date [Washington, circa March 4, 1865]. Co-signed by Vice President ANDREW JOHNSON and written in an autograph album belonging to Secretary of the Interior John P. Usher.
Used with the permission of Shapell legacy partnership.
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