Better known than Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address is his dedicatory speech at Gettysburg; this is sad. His Second, given the blustery March 4, 1865 morning, is as fine a piece of oratory ever produced.
Lincoln’s Second has this trademark turns of phrase (“with malice towards none, with charity for all”). There’s his political awareness (“to bind up the nation’s wounds”). Lincoln’s First Inaugural was lengthy; this one is brief.
Through the years presidents have become comfortable attaching “God” to their speeches, but rarely if ever has more sound theology been included. The 16th president’s exposition of God’s sovereignty over nations, not generally, but this nation specifically, is deep. His thoughts, overflowing with imagery, surpasses most sermons given before or since. His biblical considerations of the ways of God on earth are an example for all followers of Jesus.
Paragraphs two and three are below. The latter has long resounded with me:
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 avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war—seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came.
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. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses 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 the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a 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 God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”
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