Analysis of Abraham Lincoln's First Inaugural Address

Top hat worn by Abraham Lincoln to Ford's Theatre
Top hat worn by Abraham Lincoln to Ford's Theatre | Source

Lincoln, the Man and the Myth

Abraham Lincoln is a hero that rose from poverty to America's highest office.

He was a self-taught lawyer, like attorney-author Erle Stanley Gardner, and an Illinois legislator who surprised many of the pubic as he beat several prominent men for the Republican Party nomination for President of the United States.

When he won the election, Southern states began to secede and his March 1861 inauguration marked just one month before the American Civil War (named the War of Northern Aggression in the South).

How did Lincoln fare? He became a shrewd military strategist, as shown in the Steven Spielberg film Lincoln. His writing was prose poetry that influences us yet today - his inaugural addresses, his letters, his Gettysburg Address, for examples. In fact, he is known as the Elvis of Presidents in some quarters, because he grows more mythical and famous in each year since his death (see link below) .

Source

Lincoln Monuments and Icons

If we were carving the presidential faces in the momument in South Dakota today, my nominations would be George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy.

Lincoln always wore a top hat made of beaver pelts, so he wore it during his inaugural speeches. The last US President to wear a top hat to his Inauguration in 1961 (Lincoln's first inauguration was in 1861, 100 years previous) was another that suffered assassination: John Fitzgerald Kennedy. The two presidents have been compared and linked for 50 years at this writing.

East Portico of the unfinished Capitol Building on March 4, 1861

This photograph captures the crowd gathered before the east portico of the unfinished Capitol to glimpse the inaugural ceremonies.
This photograph captures the crowd gathered before the east portico of the unfinished Capitol to glimpse the inaugural ceremonies. | Source

Abraham Lincoln First Inaugural Address Monday, March 4, 1861

President Jefferson Davis of the Confederate States of America had been inaugurated just two weeks earlier. President-Elect Lincoln was brought into Washington DC under cover by some secret route in order to prevent assassination attempts, guarded by troops under General Winfield Scott. This was a type of Secret Service unit that we take for granted in the 21st Century. Even so, Lincoln rode dangerously in an open carriage to the Capitol Building for inauguration.

At the Capitol, the President-Elect stood on the East Portico while Chief Justice Roger Taney administered the Presidential Oath of Office. The Capitol Building was covered by scaffolding at the time in the attempt to allow workers to complete the cast iron dome. Perhaps it represented a fractured nation in its incompleteness; and Lincoln ordered it finished during his first term to show that the United States was still operating as a country. This was a more substantial show of strength to the opposition than was the decree to go shopping in the US after at attacks on September 11, 2001.

Thus was the setting for the First Inaugural Address by the 16th President.

The Abraham Lincoln 1861 Time Line

Date
Event
Notes
November 20, 1860
Lincoln won the Presidential Election
Lincoln became the first Republican President of the United States
 
SECESSIONS:
 
December 20, 1860
South Carolina
Began the American Civil War or the War of Northern Aggression on April 12, 1861
January 9, 1861
Mississippi
 
January 10, 1861
Florida
 
January 11, 1861
Alabama
 
January 19, 1861
Georgia
 
January 26, 1861
Louisiana
Confederate States of America formed on February 9, 1861
February 23, 1861
Texas
 
(March 4, 1861)
(Lincoln Inauguration)
War began at Fort Sumpter on April 12, 1861. Lincoln responded with 75,000 military men to take back lost forts on April 15, 1861..
April 17,1861
Virginia
 
May 6, 1861
Arkansas
 
May 6, 1861
Tennessee
 
May 20, 1861
North Carolina
 
October 31, 1861
Missouri
 
November 20, 1861
Kentucky
 

The Haunting 13

A haunting fact inserts itself into Lincoln's first year in office. The United States began with 13 colonies and 13 States. By the end of 1861, the Confederate States of America included 13 States.

Depite Lincolns please in his Inaugural Address not to do so, on April 12, 1861 South Carolina soldiers fired on Fort Sumter to begin the War Between the States. On April 15, 1861 Lincoln sent a militia of 75,000 men to take back the forts seized by the Confederacy under Jeff Davis. So began the bloodiest war America has ever withstood.

A good idea of the magnitude of the slaughter occurring the Civil War is shown in the film Gone With the Wind (1939). In one scene particularly, a large battlefield is so strewn with bodies that there is no place to walk.

Lincoln's Speech

Lincoln's First Inaugural Address is respected in the world of literature. It includes 35 paragraphs and 3,668 words. In his first paragraph, he told his Fellow-Citizens of the US that he would be brief and the speech was the equivalent of about 10 pages in a modern paperback book.

First Things

The first order of business was to persuade Southerners that the incoming Republican Administration did not mean to interfere in any way with Southern property, personal security, or peace. Lincoln quoted previous speech for proof, insisting that he had no intention of interfering with slavery in the States in which it already existed. On this day, Lincoln meant what he said.

On March 4, 1861 Lincoln resolved to uphold States' and Territories' Rights and to prevent the unlawful entry of armed forces that intended illegally to disrupt any state or territorial governance already in place. He promised to uphold all States' and Territories' Rights to property, peace, and security whenever asked to do so, under the US Constitution and the law. He wanted to ensure that his actions were legal.

In 1865, he forced the issue of the Emancipation Proclamation, which ultimately led to the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution, in order to reunite the Union and the Confederacy. The Confederacy had no economy left at all without slavery. The South was starving because supply lines were cut. Without help from the Union, Confederates had no choice but to reunite and accept Reconstruction after the war.

In the March 1861 Address, Lincoln singled out slavery, a major issue for Southerners' dependence upon it to maintain their agricultural businesses. The President did not mention the morality of the issue, only legal matters related to it. He read a passage of the US Constitution that covered his duty:

No person held to service or labor in one State, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall in consequence of any law or regulation therein be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due.

The President reminded the South as well as the North that the US Congress was sworn to uphold the whole Constitution and not only part of it, whether Congressional Members agreed or disagreed with any part of it. This included returning runaway slaves to owners, when such owners made a claim to them.

Further, Lincoln stated that it should make little difference whether the US Federal Government or a State should return the fugitive slave, because the end result was identical. In 1861, he called the difference an unsubstantial controversy that the republic and its people did not need. He did not want the state government in combat with the federal government.

At the same time, Lincoln indicated that safeguards be put into place to ensure that no free man would be placed into slavery because of a mistaken or false claim of a slave owner. He suggested a Constitutional addition to ensure that the citizens of each State shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States."

The Secession

The President went on in his speech to say that legally, he considered the United States a perpetual unit from which no State could legally secede under the US Constitution without the federal government's approval, which that government would never give. He pointed out that it was the seceding states that were hostile and aggressive, not the Union and that he hoped the South would not see manace in the duty of the Union in preserving itself under the law. He assured the people that no martial law would be declared in States that seceded, stating that he would send in no "obnoxious strangers."

The President advised seceding citizens that they were running from the Union into bigger troubles that then realized existed. He likened the upcoming Confederacy to a Minority Opinion that must accept the Majority Opinion and work together with it or risk sure ruining of themselves. He warned that States of the South, having seceded from the Union, would likely secede from one another, based on future disagreements. He warned that if Secession were successful, then the foreign slave trade would run rampant in the South and in the North, no State would ever return runaway slaves.

Lincoln reminded listeners that the United States below to the people. They are permitted to exercise their constitutional right of amending the US Consitution or their revolutionary right to dismember or overthrow the Administration. Secesson is not an option.

Lincoln believed that the power of government rests with the people, not with government officials. He said in his Addess:

While the people retain their virtue and vigilance no Administration by any extreme of wickedness or folly can very seriously injure the Government in the short space of four years.

Interestingly, many US Citizens have disageed with Abraham's Lincoln statement, represented by an increasing proportion of the country's population being irrately dissatisfied at each subsequent Presidential election year.

Lincoln asked the people of the South to reconsider their action of secession and to use the process of Consitutional Amendment rather than secession in settling their dissatisfaction. He went on to say

In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow-countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The Government will not assail you. You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors.You have no oath registered in heaven to destroy the Government, while I shall have the most solemn one to "preserve, protect, and defend it."

Lincoln placed the blame for the American Civil War squarely into the seceding States, for running away from interaction and in taking illegal action in secession.

Final Plea

Abraham Lincoln's final thoughts summed his attempt, upon becoming President, to prevent the breakup of the nation into two separate countries in dispute. The final words of his first Inaugural Address are poetic:

I am loath 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 memory, stretching 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.


Aftermath

In the end, President Abraham Lincoln called for the Southern States to remain with the Union, explaining that should any of them withdraw, it could be only by force of Southern aggression. He invoked the better nature of humans to want to continue friendship and partnership in a nation.

Regardless, the original seceding States continued secession proceedings and other states joined them as well, conprising 13 Confederate States of America.


REFERENCES

A House Divided; speech by Abraham Lincoln; June 16, 1858.

Killing Lincoln. Bill O'Reilly; 2012.

Lincoln's First Inaugural Speech; March 4, 1861.

Lincoln: Team of Rivals. Doris Kearns Goodwin; 2006; film Lincoln; 2012.

New Orleans Daily Crescent editorial, "The Policy of Aggression"; December 1860.

Republican 1860 Presidential Platform for Abraham Lincoln and Hannibal Hamlin: A ban on slavery in the territories, internal improvements, a homestead act, a Pacific railroad, and a tariff.

South Carolina's Declaration of Secession, December 20, 1860.

US Constitution: Preamble, Article II (Executive Power), Sections 1-3, and Article VI (Supremacy of the Constitution); 1787.


Tributes To History

Excellent literature and film works were released in 2012 that presented the personal drain that the enduring war and his wife's mental illness placed on President Lincoln. Both thoroughly researched, the movie Lincoln (2012) and the book Killing Lincoln (2011) should be required experiences in American History courses. After studying the life and presidency of Abraham Lincoln, I am convinced that had he not been assassinated, his deteriorated health would have led to his death in the first year or so of his second term. He was the caregiver to both a nation and his wife, and caregivers often become ill and die before their charges.

Lincoln
Lincoln

Daniel Day-Lewis won the Academy Award for Best Performance by An Actor in a Leading Role in this drama for his portrayal of Abraham Lincoln. The scenes of a rough and rowdy House of Representatives are unforgettable and true to life, including the antics and efforts of those depicted by Tommy Lee Jones and James Spader. Sally Field is as much Mary Todd Lincoln as one can become. The facial expressions of Southern officials passing by Black Union troops are priceless.

 

Lincoln Book and Film

5 stars for Team Of Rivals / Lincoln

Message by Steven Speilberg

I’m here also awestruck each time I visit Gettysburg to be in the presence of Lincoln’s still-eloquent ghost.…Lincoln wanted us to understand that equality was a small-democratic essential... [Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address was] his best and truest voice and the most perfect prose poem ever penned by an American.

I have Daniel Day-Lewis’ phone number in my speed dial. And if I start to really miss him (Lincoln) terribly, I can just call him up and ask him to tell me a story.

-- Steven Speilberg, Director of the Lincoln, speaking at the 2012 Dedication Day event on Veteran's Day at the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

Lincoln suggested here at Gettysburg and at his second inaugural address that to try to grasp the meaning of our existence is the great task always before us, before us all - historians, artists, statesmen, politicians, everyone on earth... the search for the meaning of our lives, and of our deaths, is the highest function of our capacities to reason, to remember, to imagine, and to dream.

-- Steven Spielburg, speaking at Dedication Day 11/19/2012; Gettyburg, Pennsylvania

Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

A markerSoldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. -
Gettysburg, PA 17325, USA
[get directions]

Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address. Saturday, March 4, 1865

President Abraham Lincoln had had premonitions and dreams about his death, but history wonders if he knew at his Second Inauguration, how close he was to death. In the light of his assassination, looking back the short time to March 4, 1865, we see new meanings in the lines of his speech.

Broadcaster and former English teacher Bill O'Reilly has written the best text on the subject of Lincoln's assassination, titled simply Killing Lincoln. Years of intensive research brings to the reader facts that have not been told in the classroom. The Day Lincoln Was Shot remains a masterpiece work in this subject, but O'Reilly's book goes beyond the limits of the older book.

Like author Jim Bishop, writing also about the John F. Kennedy death, O'Reilly wrote Killing Kennedy. Conspiracy theorists still draw an overwhelming number of connections between the two presidents - some that cannot be ignored - and the two O'Reilly books make an interesting set.

Both Presidents angered a large number of people, while doing good works. Attacks on such men and women, even assassinations, are no longer surprising.

Historic Footage From WBUR In Boston

Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination that Changed America Forever
Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination that Changed America Forever

No matter your opinion on the pundit O'Reilly, this book is well written and packed with research. It has become a National Geographic TV film narrated by Tom Hanks, who is related to Lincoln through Nancy Hanks, the President's mother. First shown on Sunday 2/17/2013 at 8:00 PM on the National Geographic Network.

 

Muddy Saturday

Before the 1865 Inauguration, Washington DC had been drenched in rain for weeks. Pennsylvania Avenue was all mud and puddles. Yet, thousands of people turned out and stood in that mud at the Capitol.

Lincoln stood on the East Portico of the Capitol, the completed Capitol dome finally visible over the head to the crowd.The work had continued and shown the strength and solidarity of the Union. The President had insisted it be completed, despite the war effort.

Perhaps he thought of the House of Representatives that met in what is now the Capitol's Statuary Hall - and how members drank liquor and smoked cigars during Congressional sessions; how they carried firearms and knives inside and sometimes used them; how they fought verbally and physically during their debates. The completed dome was a symbol of strength and unity, not only for the Union, but within the Union.

Chief Justice Salmon Chase administered the oath of office to the 35th President of the United States about month before Lincoln died.

Killing Lincoln on National Geographic; Original Air Date 2/17/2013 - Narrated By Tom Hanks

Quote From Killing Lincoln, the Book by Bill O'Reilly

Friday, April 14, 1865
Washington, D.C.
10:00 p.m.

The third act is under way. Soon the play will be over, and Lincoln can get back to the White House. Meanwhile, the unheated state box has gotten chilly. Abraham Lincoln drops Mary’s hand as he rises to put on his overcoat, tailored in a black wool specially for his oversized frame by Brooks Brothers. The silk lining is decorated with an eagle clutching a banner in its beak. The words on the streamer are Lincoln’s unspoken manifesto, and every time he slips on the coat he is reminded of his mission. “One country, one destiny,” it reads, quite simply.

Sitting back down in the horsehair rocker, Lincoln shifts his gaze from the performers directly below him. He pushes back the privacy curtain, then leans forward over the railing to look down and to the left, at the audience.

Lincoln lets go of the curtain and returns his attention to Our American Cousin.

It is seven minutes after ten. At the exact same moment, John Wilkes Booth strolls through the front door of Ford’s...

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Comments 14 comments

someonewhoknows profile image

someonewhoknows 3 years ago from south and west of canada,north of ohio

History repeats itself to some extent it seems every hundred years does it not?


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 3 years ago from North America Author

Sure seems like it some days!


wetnosedogs profile image

wetnosedogs 3 years ago from Alabama

What a wonderful write up on Lincoln and how closely knit he is to John Kennedy.

Admirable.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 3 years ago from North America Author

Hi, wetnosedogs! - There are surely a lot of similarites and parallels and people are still talking about them, so many years after the JFK assassination. .


Ben Zoltak profile image

Ben Zoltak 3 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA

Not enough top hats made out of beaver pelts that's what is wrong with politics today. Another thorough piece Patty, I enjoyed it. I love Lincoln's eloquence, I have some legal experience, and in Lincoln you really begin to understand the prose that can sprout from all those courthouse words. My only beef with the man, is that according to an old friend of mine, he ordered the execution of many Indian people. Was my friend wrong? I'm afraid my history knowledge is lukewarm.

I also noticed Spielburg placed an Indian character beside Lincoln almost as if he was a cabinet member.

Well done and congratulations on being picked up by some publishers!

Ben


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 3 years ago from North America Author

Yes, Prez Johnson ruined the drama and fashion style of Inaugurations when he took the Oath of Office on an airplane in a wrinkled 1960s suit after the JFK assassination.

As for the Native Americans hanged in 1861, I blame Minnesota officials first and Lincoln second.

The Dakota War of 1862 was a problem in many ways for Lincoln. No matter what he did in remedy, he would have been hated more than he already was by factions. The Dakota Santee Sioux in Minnesota sold at least 24 million acres of land in 1861 to the Federal Govt and largely were not paid for it, although white settlers rushed in. Next, these Sioux were pushed off their lands by State officials to tiny reservations along the Minnesota River. Then, their agricultural crops failed that year and federal Indian agents held back food from the Sioux, because under Lincoln, they were not receiving kickbacks any longer.

Starving to death, the native people suddenly began a war - they saw no option; they killed some white civilian men and later, 13 Union soldiers, while taking women hostage. US General John Pope had been sent to quell the native rebellion, but he said his real desire was to exterminate them all -- He said that they were not people. Meanwhile, the Minnesota governor's administration wanted to execute 303 Sioux.

Lincoln, pressured by Pope, the Minnesota government, Indian agents, and factions wanting to exterminate "Indians"; and being more heavily immersed in the Civil War and Slavery issues, stalled the larger execution and narrowed the list down to 38 Sioux men, who were hanged the day after Christmas, 1862 by Minnesota.

Starving further on reservations during the winter, the remaining Sioux of the 303 were shipped off to Iowa, served three years in prison, and were once again shipped off - down the Mississippi, up the Missouri, and to South Dakota. Their descendants are right now blocking roads from truckers illegally crossing their reservatation without paying transportation fees to haul materials to the Keystone Pipeline construction to the South -- The governor waived the standard fees for Canadian truckers and facilitated their crossing the reservation without consulting the natives. Some natives have been arrested, but others take their places and the blocking goes on from time to time. It is almost a poetic justice of a kind.

We had a good number of Native Americans, Blacks, and Chinese soldiers in the Union Army during the Civil War; but I wish Lincoln had concerned himself with the Santee Sioux as much as he did with ending slavery to reunite the country - and he starved out the Confederate soldiers just as the Minnesota officals and Indian agents had starved out the Santee Sioux. I wonder if he might not have put all of the condemned Sioux into the Union Army instead of hanging them - forming their own unit? Would the natives have agreed to that or preferred death? Having killed 13 Union soldiers, they may have been shot by other Union soldiers, and additional negative sentiment would have risen against the President for adding them to the army, resulting in his being assassinated sooner than in 1865.

I would like to know what JFK would have done about the Santee Sioux in 1861.


Ben Zoltak profile image

Ben Zoltak 3 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA

Eloquent response Patty, I've reread this three times! Enjoyed it every time. I wonder if JFK would have given any lands back to the Santee Sioux?

Sidenote: I've been doing a genealogical search (well, mostly my active retired father-in-law and others...) anyway, my supposedly adopted full blood Indian relative, Valentine Franckowiak, according to his death certificate (and my father in law Bill's research) they say he was born in Poland. I do know that due to severe prejudice, people often did everything they could to distance themselves from American Indian heritage. What's your opinion? My ancestor was supposed to have come from one of the "orphan trains" specifically from the Great Lakes/French Canadian region. The genealogical/forensic journey continues....

PS: I take back what I said about politics and beaver hats. Beaver's need their skins and I swim in the Wisconsin river with them so I want my friends off the hook. You don't have to trap a varmint to make a fedora.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 3 years ago from North America Author

Very interesting, Ben Zoltak! You are on to something important.

When some of my UK ancestors arrived in America (in waves from 1600s - 1800s), especially in the early-to-mid 1800s, they apparently hid the fact that they had lived in Ireland, because of prejudice against the Irish. Prejudice can lead to murder, so I understand if Valentine's documentation was changed or misreported to ensure safety.

Probably kids' heritages were lost when they were put onto the orphan trains - so many of them from New York beginning in 1854 and cointinuing for 75 years. I don't know about policies in NY, but Ohio did not keep birth certificates on file until many years after statehood (1803) - If I had not been talking to Native Americans for years, I'd never had discovered my native heritage at all. In fact, I had to do a lot of research to find the European lineage in early Virginia and in the UK - I'd been told all sorts of false information as a child.

The tribal rolls of the First Nations/Native Americans for the Great Lakes Region can be searchable, often online -- you'll be looking for male children born about the same year as Valentine, give or take maybe 5 years and trying to see which train they were on. Since many of the orphan trains were related to Catholic church programs, I bet the Catholic church may have kept records -- you'd be looking for churches in Ontario and Quebec provinces, at least. If you or the family has any DNA from Valentine like a lock of hair, etc., then an analysis of it could answer your questions - the DNA analyses are getting cheaper.

How would Lincoln look in a wool fedora? or fedora and trenchcoat - lol Hey, there's an art project.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 3 years ago from North America Author

Ben, if you have not already looked at these databases, go here (take out spaces and put a period at "DOT":

http:// orphantraindepot DOT org/research-and-registration/research-resources/

and

http:// www.childrensaidsociety DOT org/about/history/orphan-trains

"Orphan Trains stopped at more than 45 states across the country as well as Canada and Mexico. During the early years, Indiana received the largest number of children. There were numerous agencies nationwide that placed children on trains to go to foster homes. In New York, besides Children's Aid, other agencies that placed children included Children's Village (then known as the New York Juvenile Asylum), what is now New York Foundling Hospital, and the former Orphan Asylum Society of the City of New York, which is now the Graham-Windham Home for Children."

Apparently, all the orphan trains left from NY and proceeded westward, usually stopping in the Midwest.


Ben Zoltak profile image

Ben Zoltak 3 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA

Thank you so much Patty, I'm going to share this with Bill and see if he can dig something up! My two year old and struggling art career are keeping me busy. If he can't I will. We also come from a rigorous Polish Catholic heritage so I may bounce pass this back to my mom who is in good with that club ;o)

Thank you again, I will be back to reread. Thanks also for redeeming Lincoln for me. One thing I've learned of many things learned about American Indian/First Nation peoples, is that there are so many nations/tribes/histories at play...who alllied with whom, who had pre-existing bad blood among tribes, who tried to stay neutral. I realize, as you said, he was damned either way, but still leaned naturally, to maintaining the Republic.

Posoh!

Ben


RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 3 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

I've long considered Lincoln the greatest of American presidents, but I must admit I never before knew about him being called the Elvis of Presidents. What high praise! And you know, I think with his sense of humor, Lincoln would probably enjoy the comparison.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 3 years ago from North America Author

That's probably right, RonElFran! He probably would have enjoyed it.


someonewhoknows profile image

someonewhoknows 3 years ago from south and west of canada,north of ohio

Elvis would probably be pleased but I'm not so sure President Kennedy would feel so comfortable in Elvis's shoes.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 3 years ago from North America Author

Possibly not, someonewhoknows.

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