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President Lincoln's Inaugural Address

The Illustrated London News, vol. 46, no. 1306, p. 247.

March 18, 1865


The following is the full text of President Lincoln's inaugural address, received on Thursday night through Mr. Reuter's office:--

Fellow-Countrymen.--At this second appearance to take the oath of the Presidential office there is less occasion for an extended address than at the first. Then, a statement, somewhat in detail, of the course to be pursued seemed very fitting and proper: now, at the expiration of four years, during which public declarations have constantly been called forth concerning every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs attention and engrosses the energies 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. It is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all with a high hope for the future. No prediction in that regard 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 avoid it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, the insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war, seeking to dissolve the Union and divide the effects, by negotiating. Both parties deprecated war; but one of them would make war rather than let the Union perish; and war came. One eighth of the whole population were coloured slaves; not distributed generally over the Union, but located in the Southern part. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew the interest would, somehow, cause war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected the magnitude or duration which it has already attained; neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph and a result less fundamental and astonishing. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God. Each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any man should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing bread from the sweat of other men's faces; but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayer of both should not be answered; and neither has been answered fully, for the Almighty has his own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offences, for it must needs be that offence come, but woe unto that man by whom the offence cometh!" If we suppose American slavery one of these 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 due to those by whom the offence came, shall we discern that there is any departure from those Divine attributes which believers in the 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 it be God's will that it continue until the wealth piled by bondsmen by 250 years' unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn by the sword, as was said 3000 years ago, so still it must be said that the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous. With malice towards 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 engaged in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for the man who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and orphans; to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and a lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

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