Analysis of Abraham Lincoln's First Inaugural Address
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) .
Lincoln Monuments and Icons
If we were carving the presidential faces in the monument 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
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
November 20, 1860
Lincoln won the Presidential Election
Lincoln became the first Republican President of the United States
December 20, 1860
Began the American Civil War or the War of Northern Aggression on April 12, 1861
January 9, 1861
January 10, 1861
January 11, 1861
January 19, 1861
January 26, 1861
Confederate States of America formed on February 9, 1861
February 23, 1861
(March 4, 1861)
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..
May 6, 1861
May 6, 1861
May 20, 1861
October 31, 1861
November 20, 1861
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 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; the speech was the equivalent of about 10 pages in a modern paperback book.
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...
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 of Southern States
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 menace 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 Constitution or their revolutionary right to dismember or overthrow the Administration. Secession is not an option.
Lincoln believed that the power of government rests with the people, not with government officials. He said in his Address:
"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 disagreed with Abraham's Lincoln statement, represented by an increasing proportion of the country's population being irately 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 Constitutional 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.
The President's 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 of the Inauguration Speech
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, comprising 13 Confederate States of America.
Literary and Film Tributes
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.
Messages by Director Steven Spielberg
"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 Spielberg, 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; Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. at the Soldiers’ National Cemetery, Gettysburg PA. “I’ve never stood anyplace on earth where it’s easier to be humble than here,” the Associated Press reported Mr. Spielberg to say.
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.
Events of a 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 by Bill O'Reilly
Friday, April 14, 1865
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. 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. Abraham Lincoln drops Mary’s hand
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...
- 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 Papers: Mr. Lincoln's Virtual Library; Library of Congress.
- 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.
© 2013 Patty Inglish MS