Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)
Inaugural Address, 1861
Page 2, 3,
Printed text with emendations
in the hand of Lincoln
Manuscript Division (2.6)
Gift of Robert Todd Lincoln, 1923
William H. Seward (1801-1872)
Holograph notes on
Lincoln's inaugural address
Manuscript Division (3.6)
Holograph diary [in shorthand]
entry for March 4, 1861
"Inauguration of President
Lincoln at the U.S. Capitol" and
stereograph view of the inaugural ceremony
Manuscript Division (5.9)
In composing his first inaugural address, delivered March 4,
1861, Abraham Lincoln focused on shoring up his support in the
North without further alienating the South, where he was almost
universally hated or feared. For guidance and inspiration, he
turned to four historic documents, all concerned directly or indirectly
with states' rights: Daniel Webster's 1830 reply to Robert Y.
Hayne; President Andrew Jackson's Nullification Proclamation of
1832; Henry Clay's compromise speech of 1850; and the U.S. Constitution.
Lincoln's initial effort was typeset and printed at the office
of the Illinois State Journal, edited and then reprinted. Lincoln
sent four copies of the second strike to his closest political
advisors for commentary, resulting in further changes.
The finished address avoided any mention of the Republican Party
platform, which condemned all efforts to reopen the African slave
trade and denied the authority of Congress or a territorial legislature
to legalized slavery in the territories. The address also denied
any plan on the part of the Lincoln administration to interfere
with the institution of slavery in states where it existed. But
to Lincoln, the Union, which he saw as older even than the Constitution,
was perpetual and unbroken, and secession legally impossible.
Until the final draft, Lincoln's address had ended with a question
for the South: "Shall it be peace or sword?" In the famous concluding
paragraph, Lincoln, following the suggestion of Seward, moderated
his tone dramatically and ended on a memorable note of conciliation:
I am loth 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,
stre[t]ching from every battle-field, 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.