The Civil War Connections Blog

With Malice Towards None

Hello again Connections followers! In honor of the 57th inauguration yesterday, this blog is dedicated to the second inauguration of Abraham Lincoln. In my research today I found a fun fact that might be of some interest. In both 2009 and 2013, President Obama used the same Bible to take the oath of office that Abraham Lincoln did. This past weekend however, President Obama also used a Bible that was owned by the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., which was stacked with the Lincoln Bible during the public ceremony, in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

 

In contrast to the inauguration this past weekend, Lincoln’s official reinstatement as president occurred in early March. At the time, inaugurations still took place in March, despite the multiple month gap between the election and the installment. It wasn’t until 1933 that the date was changed from March 4th to January 20th, with the passing of the 20th Amendment.[1] The 20th inauguration ceremony took place on March 4, 1865, and marked the start of President Lincoln’s second term in office. The days prior to the inauguration had been rainy, and the poor weather continued right up to the ceremony. Luckily however, the weather broke prior to the ceremony. In a little less than 700 words – which is not that much longer than this blog– Lincoln discusses the Civil War, with Scripture playing a huge role in outlining his words. This was a huge contrast to his 3628 word speech of four years earlier, in which he specifically states that “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.”[2]

 

 

Crowd at President Lincoln's Second Inauguration

Crowd at President Lincoln’s Second Inauguration, accessed through the Library of Congress online. (Note the rainwater and mud that people are standing in!)

 

After four full years of brutal and bloody brother versus brother fighting, Lincoln had long since stopped attempting to deny that the war was not a battle over slavery. Instead, in his second inaugural address Lincoln attempts to begin the process of reconciliation. Specifically, Lincoln states “Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other.”[3] With this phrasing, Lincoln effectively reminds listeners that the war had taken a heavy toll on both sides, and that citizens of the Union and the Confederacy were more similar than they might think.

However, it is Lincoln’s closing statement which truly defines his speech and outlines what one could assume would have been his plan for Reconstruction, had he not been assassinated. Lincoln states, “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.”[4] I can’t speak for anyone else, but I find it interesting how something that Abraham Lincoln said in 1865 after a war that ripped our country apart could still be applicable 148 years later.

 

Copy of Abraham Lincoln's Second Inaugural Speech.

Copy of Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Speech, accessed through Library of Congress online.

 


[1]“The Charters of Freedom: Constitution of the United States,” National Archives, Accessed January 22, 2013. http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/constitution_transcript.html

[2] “Address by Abraham Lincoln, 1965,” Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies: Fifty-Seventh Presidential Inauguration, January 21, 2013, Accessed January 22, 2013. http://www.inaugural.senate.gov/swearing-in/address/address-by-abraham-lincoln-1865

[3] “Address by Abraham Lincoln, 1965.”

[4] “Address by Abraham Lincoln, 1965.”